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The Way Sorrow Tastes

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Wisdom always chooses these black eyes and these bruises over the heartache that they say never completely goes away

—Relient K

×

Maria paced carefully around the table in her basement. Tommy eyed her from a chair and across from him, Dina sat, bouncing her legs.

“I say we kill the bitch,” said Tommy, tilting his head. “’Fore she can kill us. She don’t have a loyal bone in her body.”

“Of course, Tommy, and I suppose you want the pleasure of doing so,” Maria slammed her hands on the table.

“I sure as hell do,” Tommy retorted.

Dina looked up and her brown eyes were solemn, “I have questions.”

Maria agreed, “While the both of you hold your grudges, I think it’s fair to get whatever information we can get out of her and then I will decide what to do. Jackson has had enough trouble and enough grief.”

×

Outside the gates of Jackson, Ellie and Dina shared the weight of Tommy. With a rag caked with blood on his face to match his anger, he growled. “Finally,” he said through his teeth. “This wasn’t worth losin’ an eye for.”

Ellie felt the panic swelling within her with each step, the throbbing of shame deep in her stomach. There was a part of her that didn’t believe she’d make it out of Seattle alive.

Seattle was a hole she jumped into. It swallowed her whole and lived underneath her skin like a parasite. She wanted to dig it out of herself with her mother’s knife. She wondered if it was all worth it.

Failure, she thought. She wasn’t dead and she had gotten the best of her. She will pay.

Maria had cried. Maria is not someone who cried easily, but she cried when Dina told her she was pregnant by Jesse who was gone.

She cradled Tommy in her arms after they tended to the loss of his eye better than Dina could. The gold necklace shimmered around her neck. Maria said, “Thank you for bringing him home,” but it couldn’t have been enough. Everyone in Jackson knew it was a miracle any of them came home.

Maria heard Tommy’s account of Seattle, heard Dina’s account of Seattle and finally, it was time for Ellie’s account.

“I wake up screaming every night,” she admitted, unable to look at Maria.

×

Maria braced herself on the table, sucked in air through gritted teeth. It wasn’t easy to lose Joel and in her own words, “It wasn’t fucking easy to see my husband come home without an eye and a gold necklace, but someone has to be the adult.”

After all, what was Jackson’s purpose? She thought. Wasn’t this supposed to be a sanctuary?

Maria had a soft spot for Ellie, what she loved most about her is that she knew that Ellie wouldn’t give up and it was just so hard to believe her when the woman at the end of Maria’s shotgun said—

“She let go of me. She told me to go. I was going to die and she let me go with Lev. I don’t know where she is. She was crying in the water as I left. I swear.” With a shotgun barrel to her head, Abby’s eyes locked with Maria's, wrists wrapped in metal and trembling.

Then she tracked her eyes to Dina, whose black hair framed her face and remembered how she gripped that hair and slammed her face into the floor until she saw enough blood. Abby remembered how she yanked her hair back with a knife to her throat.

“Stop,” Ellie said, her nose and throat filled with blood. “She had nothing to do with this.”

“She’s pregnant,” Ellie’s voice weakened at the admission, a last ditch effort.

Abby panted, the rush of the kill making her heart pound in her chest as she held the knife to the unconscious woman’s throat.

Good,” Abby replied, the ghost of a laugh under her tongue, placing her hand on the top of the woman’s head for the cleanest possible cut in front of Ellie, the more blood, the more turmoil.

Abby didn’t break Dina’s cold stare, not even with a gun in her face.

Abby opened her mouth to speak, but Dina rose from her chair and sneered, “Murderer.” She stomped up the stairs and slammed the door. Abby waited until she didn’t hear the footsteps anymore.

“Please,” Abby begged Maria, “I want to see Lev.” Abby’s voice broke as tears slid down her cheeks, “If you decide to kill us, you can do whatever you want to me, b-but not in front of him, not where he can hear me scream.” Maria rested the shotgun on the table and watched Abby break down completely. Abby breathed in hard.

Please, Maria, make his death swift.

×

“What if Ellie shows up and everything she said is true?”

“And what if she fucking doesn’t because the murderer killed her already?” A broken mug against the wall.

“Tommy, you need to calm down,” Maria started, her voice strong and steady, “That girl isn’t lying to me.”

“That bitch killed my brother!” Tommy shouted, rising and leaning his weight on his good leg. “Did you fucking forget that, Maria? How she took a golf club and beat Joel to death? Or am I the only motherfucker in this town that remembers?”

“Tommy, I have not forgotten Joel,” said Maria, placing her hand on Tommy’s shoulder. “Nobody forgot about Joel.”

“I hope Ellie put a bullet in her own head 'cause she was good for nothing. I could’ve killed that bitch on my own, I almost did. She swore to me, Maria, she swore to me!” Tommy screamed.

“I know Ellie promised you and I know Ellie promised herself she would get justice, but we both know Ellie wasn’t capable of it.”

Tommy broke down, something too familiar to Maria after the group’s return from Seattle. His voice broke as he sobbed. Maria had grown tired of the wounds Seattle left on Tommy, it had fractured their relationship.

Maria couldn’t shoulder the blame Tommy placed on her for allowing Ellie and Dina to go just as much as she couldn’t hold it herself. She considered herself responsible for Jesse's death, he shouldn't have snuck pass the patrols.

Tommy said it so many times before, “They weren’t killers, Maria, they were kids.”

×

Maria sat across from Lev, the boy with the thin scars on his cheeks. He recounted his story, admitted to shooting Tommy. “I want to tell him I’m sorry.”

“I stopped Abby from killing Dina. She was going to slit her throat in front of…” he trailed off, speaking her name, it felt wrong. Maria finished softly, “Ellie.”

“They kept us in cages and starved us. They terrorized us with the de—the Infected. They kept the Infected on chains. One night, Abby had tried to escape with me. It was because,” he drew in a deep breath, “One of them, they took Abby and I didn’t see her for hours, when she came back, she had a black eye, bruises on her arms, she was bleeding between her,” he gestured downwards.

“She was crying. She couldn’t say what happened or what they made her do. When another female prisoner, Alice asked her how many of them, Abby held up both hands, then three fingers.”

“Christ,” Maria breathed out. The thought of it made her stomach twist, it made her grit her teeth. Years ago, Tommy had told her about a girl about Abby’s age who rebelled against the poor conditions and a group of men in the military had their way with her, left her in a warehouse for dead until her sister snuck out and found her.

Maria considered herself fortunate to have her father and what they built in Jackson. The world was unforgiving and what was left of humanity was as scarce as the bare necessities needed to survive.

He shifted in his seat. “When we reached the Firefly base, everyone was dead. Abby told me stories about them and what she did with them. We just followed Owen’s lead.”

Maria sat back in her chair. She remembered in the months following Seattle, Ellie threw a Firefly pendant in her direction from across the room. Owen Moore.

“I can’t look at it,” she said. “I shouldn’t have—”

Maria sighed and reached for Lev’s hand. He didn’t snatch it away. “Why Jackson?”

Lev said, “Abby had told me about it after the theater. When we left the Fireflies, I told her it was the place that nobody would suspect her to go. No WLF.”

“And she didn’t go down easily with that idea, I imagine,” Maria said.

“No, she told me someone from Jackson could kill us both on sight. She didn’t know if Ellie or Dina were there. She said if it wasn’t them, it would be someone else. She didn’t want me in danger because of what she had done.”

Lev paused and breathed before continuing. “I told her we had to try, that maybe there were Fireflies at Jackson. I begged her and told her that if I died, I wouldn’t be angry at her.”

Maria sighed, removing her hand from Lev’s.

“Is Abby alive?” he asked.

“I am still questioning her,” Maria confirmed.

×

Abby was careful about what she chose to tell Maria. There were times where she felt as if she didn’t have a choice. There was so much that happened between the death of her father, the death of Joel, Seattle and Santa Barbara. It felt like it was too much ground to cover.

Maria noticed Abby answered questions easier when there wasn’t a gun in her face. Maria noticed Abby responded better when she wasn’t restrained either. Abby wasn’t scared of death.

Maria knew Abby didn’t trust her and Jackson was the last place in the world she wanted to be and yet here she was, the infamous murderer, the talk of the town.

“I heard you’re an ex-Firefly,” Maria said. Abby shuffled her feet.

“Yes,” said Abby, her voice thin. Maria undid the handcuffs around her wrists. Maria noticed her flinch, her eyes meeting Abby's. A hint of fear, then shame for making the fear visible.

Abby thanked her softly, nervously rubbing her wrists where the metal dug into the skin. Maria sat down across from her, gesturing for Abby to continue.

“Me and Lev, we were looking for them before we got captured.” Abby swallowed hard, closing her eyes, lifting her hand carefully to fidget with the end of her ponytail. “I should’ve been sharper, more careful, I saw the Rattlers’ graffiti on the wall. We were so goddamn close.”

Maria didn’t speak and then she saw it. Abby’s eyes watering.

“I was fifteen years old. In Saint Mary’s, I walked down that hallway. The alarm had gone off. It was my father who Joel murdered.” Abby shuddered, held back a sob. “My father was trying to help.”

She struggled to breathe. “I would dream I’m walking down that hallway, the red lights coating the walls, his blood all over the floor.”

“Downstairs in the parking garage, we found Marlene. She had been shot in the stomach and in the head. The Fireflies were trying to make a vaccine,” she finished through her teeth, “My father was going to make a vaccine.”

Maria’s face shifted from indifference to revelation. Abby shook her head, her eyes to her feet. “You don’t understand how we all lost that day.”

×

Tommy limped into the basement. As soon as she saw him, she looked down. “Yeah, you know who I am,” he laughed.

The Sniper.  

Tommy dragged the chair from across the table and sat inches away from Abby, the last time they were this close, she was standing over him, holding a gun. He smelled like old leather, tobacco and mint.

“You shot me in the head, girl, I know you ain’t scared to look me in the eye.”

Abby looked up, seeing the scar on his cheek and the aftermath of her pulling the trigger. She winced. Abby never got to see aftermaths like this, not when she had a winning streak. Abby shot to kill.

“You know, you look a lot different without those arms of yours, girl.” Abby didn’t respond.

“Ex-Firefly, ex-WLF, huh?” He gestures with a tilt of his head in the direction of Maria. “My ex-wife tells me that my brother killed your father.”

“Yes,” Abby responded.

“And you,” Tommy cut his eye at her, “You took it upon yourself to murder my brother. Five years you waited.”

Abby closed her eyes, “Yes, I got permission from Issac, the leader of the WLF, to hunt down Joel. I had heard about you first.”

“Hmm,” Tommy wet his lips, “You were about to get torn to pieces by that hoarde of Infected. Me and Joel saved your ass. The fear in your eyes, girl. But that fear didn’t hold you back when you shot that runner that was trying to make a meal outta me. I knew you were a force then.”

Abby took a deep breath, nodding. I don’t know if he’s complimenting me or insulting me.

“And your leader, you turned against him to protect that boy. Your man was gonna kill you, but then his sister shot him and you escaped with the boy, that right?”

“Yes, I fought my way out. I put bullets in the WLF soldiers’ heads to save me and him. I was Issac’s best.” There was no pride in Abby’s words, her eyes were empty. None of that means anything now.

“A traitor,” Tommy said sharply. “A traitor none of those Wolves stood a chance against.”

“I’m sure you don’t know I’d been looking for you, too,” Tommy drawled. “If it was up to me, I would’ve killed you myself, strangled you with my bare hands—Shit, I wanted to string you upside down, beat you with a bat tricked with nails like a piñata until your guts spilled out.”

Abby inhaled shakily. I knew he was a piece of work from the way he led the Infected to me and Manny with those shots, she thought. That’s not a swift death.

“You should know I left Jackson first. I left Maria a letter. I killed plenty of you Wolves along the way, three hundred and eighteen of them, including that friend of yours on the pier. And you should know I couldn’t come after you to make you number three hundred and nineteen because you took my eye,” he pulled the skin beneath his right eye, cracking open the eye with nothing but salvaged flesh to fill the space left behind.

Abby clenched her fists, looked to Maria and then back to Tommy. “I…”

“You should know my brother told me what he did before you beat him with that golf club.” Abby unclenched her fists, glanced down in her lap.

Tommy held out his hand, opening his palm. Abby tentatively took what was in his palm, a chain warmed from the body heat. She looked at the emblem, the Firefly sigil, flipped it over, Thomas Miller.

She couldn’t hold back the gasp. “You were a Firefly.”

Tommy scoffed. “And a killer just like you.”

Abby opened her mouth, closed it.

“See, the people of Jackson don’t trust you. Hell, I don’t trust you, but Maria and Dina been thinking about telling them why you killed Joel,” he leaned forward and Abby felt his breath on his face. Mint. Tobacco. “It won’t win you any points and if we let you speak, they might stone you, but a little clarity is the icing on top of the shit cake.”

Abby chose her words carefully with a trembling voice, “Lev… He had nothing to do with that. Don’t hurt him, please.”

“We know he didn’t, he wasn’t in the room when you tortured my brother,” Tommy said. “All the boy did was leave me with a limp. Now, did you kill Ellie?”

“No,” Abby said, she inhaled, “I told you,” she glanced at Maria, “She wanted to fight and she almost drowned me and she let me go. I don’t know where she is.”

Believe me for his sake.

There was a knock on the door. Maria called to open it. Dina’s voice.

“I brought Lev like you asked, Maria.” Abby looked up, her eyes widening.

Abby softened visibly as Dina let go of Lev’s arm at the base of the stairs and he ran over to her and hugged her. Abby rubbed Lev’s back like a mother would, pressed her lips to the top of his head, meeting Tommy’s gaze, then Maria’s and Dina's whose eyes lacked coldness this time.

“There, there, kid, I’m alright, are you okay? Have you been fed?” Lev nodded and Abby felt the wetness of his tears on her shoulder.

Maria said, “We decided not to kill you,” she looked towards Dina who continued, “We decided not to let you leave either.” Dina crossed her arms.

Tommy looked at Abby and Lev, Lev showed fear more than Abby. “It’s a goddamn liability to let you leave. I ain’t sure if you’ll leave and change your mind, come back with whomever and slaughter us all. You’re welcome,” he finished shortly, scooting his chair back.

“Thank you,” Abby whispered, feeling Lev squeeze her hand.

Dina spoke next, “We have rules at Jackson, rules that we expect the both of you to follow.”

Maria finished, “Abby, we aren’t tolerating anything. If someone here gives you a problem, you have to come to me. We don’t fight each other. I don’t want to hear about a single threat from you. You come to me. Understand?”

Abby nodded. “I understand.”

“I’m going to walk you to the home you’ll be residing in. Lev has already been sleeping there for the past two nights. I want you to get cleaned up and I will leave you dinner for tonight. You and I will talk more then.”

Maria looked towards Tommy and Dina and stepped up to place her hand on Tommy’s shoulders.

“I hope you know trust is earned.”

Abby looked down.

And forgiveness? A pipe dream.

×

A steel winter. Ellie left a track of footprints in the freshly fallen snow. Outside the gates of Jackson, she stood. It was just past 7, dark and cold. She shivered in the leather jacket she salvaged from a store in California.

When she was spotted outside the gates, they made her wait. She fiddled with her gloves, fingers tracing over the spot where her last two fingers were. Why the fuck are they making me wait?

Maria greeted her at the gates. “Follow me to my house, Ellie.”

It was a brisk wind in the air as their boots crunched against the snow. Ellie blew air into her gloved hands. I’m grateful I arrived at this time. No one knows I’m here. They’re all in their homes. I know Maria wants to talk.

Closing the door behind them, Maria and Ellie removed their boots. Maria gestured for Ellie to sit on her couch by clapping the brown leather.

“When’s the last time you ate?” called Maria from the kitchen.

“Yesterday,” Ellie replied. “I found a rabbit.”

Ellie removed her gloves, set them on the table and shrugged off her backpack and gear. She looked around the living room, her eyes falling on a photo of Joel, Tommy, Maria and her. She was young then, 16, her tongue out in the photo. She remembered Joel scolding her and Maria laughing it off.

“You don’t want to smile,” Joel rolled his eyes.

Maria said, “Let her be a teenager, did you smile in photos when you were a sixteen year old?”

“Maria, you know there ain’t no photos around—”

“Really? Tommy, go get the book.” Tommy chugged down his whiskey and laughed.

“What damn book?” Joel asked.

“Yeah, I wanna see pictures of Joel when he was my age!” Ellie laughed.

Tommy cracked open the book on the table, flipped to a page, “See, Joel never smiled,” pointed to a picture of him and Joel together, a younger Tommy with a messy head of blonde hair was beaming next to Joel who wore a dark buzz cut.

“Wow, you look like such a fucking old man now,” Ellie laughed, leaning over the book. “Who fucking knew young Joel would look like he was a part of the military! And you’re not even smiling!”

Joel laughed, “I’ll shave your head so you look like you were gonna join those bastards, too.” Ellie yelped, smoothing her hands over her hair, Tommy and Maria chuckled.

Maria’s voice cut through the memory and she placed a plate of rice, green beans, a breaded chicken breast and a glass of water in front of Ellie, but Ellie didn’t know what she said.

Ellie grabbed the fork, pushed around food on the plate.

“Eat,” Maria commanded and Ellie didn’t hesitate anymore.

“Are you gonna talk to me?” Ellie said after a swallow, holding her hand to her mouth.

“I don’t want you to leave again,” Maria started. Leave again?

“You left Dina and no one heard from you for over a year, Dina said you left to kill Abby. I thought you’d put a bullet in your head.”

“And?” Ellie said, putting down her fork, crossing her arms and staring at Maria.

“You didn’t kill Abby,” Maria treaded carefully, watching Ellie’s face change.

How does she know I didn’t k—

“Because Abby and the boy came here.”

Ellie stood up, “And did you kill her, Maria?” Ellie threw the fork and it hit a painting.

“Ellie,” Maria stood up with her hands out, walking towards Ellie, “I need you to calm down.”

Ellie turned away, running a hand through her hair. She collapsed to her knees, her hand on her chest as her breathing quickened. “Fuck,” Ellie said, her eyes squeezed close. “Fuck, fuck, fuck. The room is fucking spinning. Fuck.”

“Ellie?” Maria crouched next to Ellie, her arm around her neck only to remove it as Ellie lurched forward and gagged, the chewed rice, green beans and chicken breast returning and spilling onto the floor.

“Damn it, Ellie,” Maria said softly, holding back Ellie’s long hair.

Ellie retched again and Maria moved to go get a towel and a bucket.

When Ellie was done vomiting and Maria was done cleaning, she spoke, hands shaking. “So you just let her become a part of Jackson? After what she did?”

Maria crouched in front of Ellie. “I interrogated her several times, Ellie. I thought she killed you. With a gun to her head, she said she didn’t, but you let her go.”

Ellie gasped, “Fuck, I let her go.”

“Why did you let her go?” Maria placed her hands around Ellie’s shoulders and squeezed gently.

“I…” Ellie’s hands shook harder, her voice higher, “I remembered Joel.”

Did I make the right decision? I can’t do anything fucking right. She came back. Why did she come here? I should leave. I should leave. I should leave. Should I kill her before I leave? I fucked up. I fucked up. Where’s Tommy? Where’s Dina?

“Ellie?” Maria shook her as Ellie’s breathing quickened and her eyes zoned. “Ellie? Are you going to throw up again?”

Chapter Text

I’ve been left alone, all my time spent in my head, try defending all my sins, and if you could only know my body language, we could hold conversations, I’ve been patient

—Balance and Composure

×

Abby walked down the hallway again with her gun in hand. She neared the door to the operating room, breathing hard. When she opened it, she walked on the sand and into the murky water. Ellie came up from behind her, cold steel at her throat, “I got you,” Ellie hissed in her ear and Abby felt her throat open before she could scream.

Abby woke up in a cold sweat, gasping, holding her neck. She brought her knees up to her chest. She looked at the clock, watched it change from 3:32 to 3:33AM.

Abby laid down and tried to breathe. My chest is so tight. And her heart thundered underneath the skin. Abby swung her legs off the bed.

Abby walked downstairs into the living room. It had been three months since she and Lev came to Jackson to seek refuge. Abby sat on the couch, opened the window and watched the snow fall.

Jackson was quiet and as much as it unsettled her, she assumed she needed this. Lev needed this, she thought. The people of Jackson hadn’t warmed up to her yet. She had worried that Lev would struggle making friends. It seemed as if people liked Lev more than her. She could live with that.

Maria had gifted her a set of journals and a bunch of gel pens, a little early for Christmas as it was only a week away. “It might help,” Maria said to her.

Abby opened a page and the words flowed a little easier this time.

12-18-2040

I dreamt of her. This was the second time this week. She had slit my throat in the ocean.  I’m not sure what Owen would think of me for being here, he might want me to leave, but I did this for Lev. I saw Dina this week. The way people stared when she approached me, God. I hate being stared at. I know what they think I am. A murderer. Isn’t that what I am?

Dina spoke to me kindly. She asked me if I wanted to come to her home and have dinner. Honestly if she pulled a knife on me, I wouldn’t be surprised. I can’t back out, I already said yes. Dina and I avoided each other until now. Maria had told me I killed the father of her child, but I heard someone saying it to someone on the street the second week I was here. She said Dina wasn’t consumed by what I did. I still can’t trust her. And she still can’t trust me.

Abby closed the book, set the pen on top, closed her eyes and massaged her temple. She curled up on the couch and her breathing slowed.

She woke up to Lev walking as quietly as he could around her. She sat up quickly.

“I’m sorry,” Lev said softly. “Good morning.”

“No, I’m a light sleeper,” Abby said, rubbing the sand from her eyes.

“What does that mean?”

“It means I don’t sleep as deeply as others. I just wake up easily. You showered?”

“Yes,” Lev said. “I forgot to tell you last night, but my friend wanted to come to her house.”

“Your friend? Who? Iyra?” Abby teased. Lev reddened. “I don’t know what you mean? Why did you say friend like that? You don’t want me to go?”

“No, I’m just messing with you,” Abby said smiling, arms folded over the top of the couch. “Go and be safe.”

Abby fixed Lev’s scarf before he left and walked upstairs to the bathroom. She relieved herself and twisted the faucet to the shower. Kicking off her sweatpants and pulling her shirt over her head, with one hand she undid her ponytail and with the other, she tested the water.

She stepped into the shower, drenched her head. She wet her red cloth, squeezed the oil-based soap into it. It smelled like basil. She soaped down her body from head to toe.

She worked the soap into her blonde hair, squeezing gently. It was growing back nicely and when she let go, her hair slapped back a few inches below her shoulder blades.

She remembered what the Rattler had said to her, “You think you’re tough like a man, huh?” He had dragged her by her braid. Abby screamed. She scrambled with her legs beneath her. She felt the knife scrape the back of her neck.

“Stay fucking still, bitch!” She felt the knife sawing at her strands. He threw the braid in front of her. He grabbed the top of her head, sawed as she cried. Sawing and tossing, sawing and tossing until he was done.

Abby rinsed her head under the water, smoothing her hair behind her ear.

Don’t think about that.

Underneath the water, she breathed in to steady herself and the water went up her nose. She saw Ellie on top of her again, green eyes full of rage as she tried to get her head above water.

Abby hyperventilated, pinching the top of her nose breathing as hard as she could through to get the water out. “Fuck!” she yelled.

She turned off the water and wrapped her towel around and hurried out, nearly slipping and bracing herself on the sink.

“Fuck,” Abby said, leaning against the porcelain. “I’m glad Lev didn’t overhear that.” Abby strode into the room, smoothing the towel over her skin.

Abby slipped into her clothes, a pair of black underwear, a black sports bra, a pair of jeans that hung on her hips and a white henley. She went to the kitchen, bit into a piece of bread and heard a knock.

She opened the door to one of the patrols she’d seen around.

“Gabriel?” Gabriel was tall, muscular with skin the color of wet sand, his hair a mess of black curls that curved into each other. She stepped aside and he greeted her with a smile, “Abby,” and behind him, Maria coughed into her hands, nodded at Abby and she stepped in.

“Abby, I need to sit down with you.”

×

A few of Jackson’s residents saw her. They kept it short with her. She didn’t want to ask questions and frankly, neither did they. She turned her head as she saw them whisper. She walked the familiar path and tried to ignore how her hands shook. Everything is so damn different and somehow, still the same.

In the snow, she kneeled and whispered, “I’m sorry.” She thumbed the engraving on the stone. “I don’t know why I couldn’t… Would you have wanted me to?”

“I lost everything, Joel,” Ellie said. “You died because of me. Jesse died because of me. Tommy almost died because of me. I fucked up everything. I lost Dina and JJ. I killed so many people. I hear their last words when I can’t sleep.”

“I just—Fuck! I don’t know what to do. Maria let her come here. I don’t know how to feel. I feel like—I feel like I should’ve finished the job. I feel like I should leave, like Jackson isn’t for me.”

She breathed in shakily, closing her eyes to stop from crying. “Tommy said I was a coward. I guess it’s true. If I had just—fuck, if I had just not let go of her for one more minute, I would’ve—”

”You would’ve what?” Ellie turned around and Tommy stood there with a walking stick.

Ellie didn’t speak. “Now listen, Ellie,” he said, “I’m not about to argue with you over my brother’s dead body,” he closed the distance in between them.

My throat, Ellie thought, I don’t know what to say.

“It’s a little bittersweet seein’ you, Ellie. I’m glad you ain’t dead, at least.”

“Same to you,” Ellie mumbled. “You know about this? Abby and…” The boy’s name escaped Ellie, the last time she saw him, she was holding a knife to his throat and he was unconscious.

“Lev? I knew about it. I spoke to her. I was as angry as you. I was more angry thinkin’ she’d killed you. I thought you weren’t gonna go, but I went to visit the farm again and Dina was alone with JJ, bawling her eyes out, talking about how y’all argued and you left.”

Tommy continued, “I was more surprised to hear you let her go. I didn’t believe it, but I guess I do now that you’re here. Maria and Dina didn’t want to kill her. We didn’t wanna let her go either, might come back to haunt Jackson.”

“Dina didn’t want to kill her?”

“Dina ain’t nearly as bloodthirsty as you or me, Ellie. You knew what Dina wanted and you ruined it.”

Ellie looked away.

“I get how you feel. You forget I woke up in that room with you. I left you behind here in Jackson because I knew you could kill, but I never thought you could handle the reality of killing. Humans are different from Infected. And this was too close for you,” he gestured to Joel.

“And it wasn’t for you?” Ellie cut her eyes at Tommy, face flushing with anger and embarrassment.

“Goddamn it, Ellie,” Tommy said, “Shut up and listen to me! When me and Jesse walked into that room, you were throwin’ up and you couldn’t even fucking stand.”

“I’m not fucking weak, Tommy!” Ellie snapped.

“I never said you was weak, Ellie. You were too vulnerable.”

Ellie rose and stepped to Tommy, “Same shit, I’m not fucking weak, Tommy!” She was so close to him, looking up at his face and the fog of each other’s breath mingled.

“Who are you trying to prove that to? And what the fuck are you trying to prove?” Tommy snapped back at Ellie. “I may be crippled, but I promise you I’ll fuck you up right here where you stand if you raise a fucking hand at me, girl, I don’t give a fuck if my brother crossed the country to deliver your ungrateful ass to the Fireflies—Remember he asked me to finish that goddamn job? My brother saving your life was a fucking waste of time and I wish he left you there at that fucking hospital. I know my brother wouldn’t be dead today if it wasn’t—”

Fuck you!” Ellie shouted and lunged at Tommy and they fell back into the snow. Ellie and Tommy wrestled in the snow besides Joel’s grave, trading blows and insults. Tommy punched Ellie in her ribs and she cried out. As her body curled in the snow, Tommy, not nearly as disadvantaged as people treat him, placed his good knee on Ellie’s stomach to pin her down on the ground. He swung at her face in anger when Ellie let down her block to swing back.

“You fucking ungrateful bitch!” He shouted as he struck her and when he heard someone yelling and looked up, Ellie spat the blood in her mouth at him.

Two Jackson teens came rushing over, both of them screaming at the top of their lungs to stop. Ellie mustered up her strength to shove Tommy off of her. She spat again into the snow, staining it red, breathing hard, the cold air made her chest sting as her heart rate dropped. The girl grabbed Ellie’s arm while the boy helped Tommy up.

The Huntington twins, Ellie thought. Better them than anybody else.

“Come on, Ellie,” Ruth said and nodded in her brother’s direction, “Jordan, just, just stay there, I’ll back up.” Ruth was taller than Ellie with brown hair and blue eyes. “Are you okay? Should I take you down to the medics?” Ruth whispered.

“I’m fine,” Ellie said slowly, looking back at Tommy who walked the opposite way with Jordan, no second glance.

He was right. If Joel didn’t take me from the hospital, he would be alive. Jesse, too.

×

I should’ve known this was going to happen. That dream was a warning.

“Abby? Abby?” Maria touched Abby’s hand and she snatched it. “Abby,” she said sternly, sounding like a mother scolding a child.

“Do you want me and Lev to leave?” Abby asked.

“No,” Maria said. “I am just worried about the two of you here. I think… I think the two of you need to talk. We can keep you apart for now as long as we assign a few people to keep eyes on you both.”

Abby leaned on her elbows, eyes aimed at the floor, then at Maria’s. “You don’t trust me.”

“I didn’t,” Maria sighed, exasperated, “I didn’t say that. I… just want to diffuse everything. I need yours and I’m gonna take hers. Remember, I gave them back to you, I trusted you enough to do that.”

“Fine,” Abby was short. I can kill her with my bare hands if I need to.

Abby went upstairs to retrieve her guns, a pistol, a rifle, and a shotgun. She stuffed the pistol into the back of her jeans, held the long guns to her hips with her arm. She went into Lev’s room, another pistol into the back of her jeans, shouldered the handmade holder and its arrows to rest off her back, bow in the other hand.

She came down, unloaded herself. I’ll keep the knife under my pillow.

Gabriel took the weapons and gave Abby a sorry look. Gabriel was no soldier, but he knew a soldier without their guns is to sleep with no safety.

“I want you to sit down with her.”

“And if she lunges at me to strangle me again?” Abby slumped against the couch, defeated.

“We won’t let it get to that point.” Are you lying, Maria?

Maria sighed. “Do you have any plans tonight? Where is Lev?”

“Lev is at Iyra’s house. Dina invited me over for dinner, but I don’t know if I’ll go.”

“Okay,” Maria said, meeting Gabriel at the door. “Abby,” she called. “Please don’t take this personal. We aren’t taking sides anymore.”

Abby nodded and the door closed behind them. Abby retreated upstairs, her legs feeling like weights. She curled underneath the comforter and closed her eyes.

×

Ellie was outside her home, pressing a handful of snow to her face to bring down the swelling. She’d go in, eye herself in the mirror for as long as she could stand it, then go outside. Tommy went easier on her face, just redness. She did this three times until the side of her face went down. She pulled up her grey long sleeve in the mirror, her fingers hovering over the yellow and purple bruise on her ribs where Tommy hit her the hardest.

“Fuck you, Tommy,” she whispered, wincing as she pressed the bruise.

Ellie threw on her jacket and went out the door. Maria had told her where Dina lived. Ellie ducked down a few side streets and was grateful for her longer hair. If she kept her head low, people wouldn’t look too long. Four streets North and a detour that involved three streets East.

Just one more street to cut back over to, Ellie thought. The closer she got, the colder her feet became, but she forced herself to keep going.

She stood outside the door. She raised her hand to knock and she stared at her hand, it was trembling. Ellie hurried down the steps, eyes straight ahead, backing out. Such a stupid idea.

Behind her, Dina froze in the window, squinted, then moved out of view.

She opened the door, “Ellie?”

Ellie turned around.  Fuck. Her face was flushed from the cold, her nerves shot.

“Hi,” Ellie said, pulling at her jacket. Ellie looked at Dina, then away towards the snow-covered bushes in the front of her home. “I… I wanted to see you and JJ, but I’ll go if you want me to.”

“No, no, no, come in,” Dina said softly. “Please, I was just about to make dinner.”

Ellie removed her jacket, boots and sat down on Dina’s living room floor and grinned as she led JJ to her. “My boy,” Ellie gushed, scooping the child in her arms. “You’re so big!”

Ellie held JJ close. “Ooooh, you need a haircut. You’ve got your mommy’s hair, so thick!” Dina laughed, leaning against the wall’s frame.

“He needs a haircut? What about you? Your hair is longer than I’ve ever seen it.”

“I needed a change,” Ellie said, picking up JJ.

Dina set JJ’s food down in front of Ellie, locking eyes with her, pausing and saying, “Let me go put the broccoli on.” Ellie nodded. Their eyes lingered on each other, but neither of them spoke.

Holding JJ, sometimes it made everything go away for Ellie. This was one of those moments. She sighed as she fed him. She wasn’t thinking about Seattle. She wasn’t thinking about the blood on her hands. She wasn’t blaming herself for leaving to Santa Barbara or Seattle, or thinking of anybody who was. She was here in this moment.

“Shit,” Dina hissed over the clatter of metal. Ellie jumped up with JJ on her hip. “What?”

“I just dropped a fork, it’s not a big deal.”

Ellie resumed feeding JJ. She did everything she would’ve done prior to leaving, changing him, using his stuffed animals as puppets. Finally, she put JJ in his crib. The boy was on the cusp on of sleep, but his eyes lit up at the sound of her voice.

It’s hard to believe that I’m all alone, at least I have her love, the city she loves me, lonely as I am, together we cry…” Ellie took a breath and sang softly as JJ fought his sleep, his hand wrapped around her finger.

 “I don’t ever wanna feel like I did that day, take me to the place I love, take me all the way… I don’t ever wanna feel like I did that day, take me to the place I love, take me all the way, yeah...” JJ’s grip loosened and Ellie removed her finger, green eyes sparkling, softly vocalizing, nodding her head to drums she heard in her head. 

"Under the bridge downtown is where I drew some blood, under the bridge downtown, I could not get enough, under the bridge downtown, forgot about my love," Ellie looked up and saw Dina in the reflection of the window.

Dina's eyes widened in surprise, bit her lip, and when Ellie turned around, she mouthed that dinner was done. Ellie followed her down the stairs.

“I missed your voice,” she admitted as she made the plates. Sauteed broccoli, brisket and a side of pasta tossed in oil.

“I missed your food,” Ellie smiled into her arm at the table.

Dina turned around with both plates in hand, placing Ellie’s in front of her.

Dina sat down, pushed at her food with a fork. She stared at Ellie’s left hand. “Ellie,” she started to say.

Ellie noticed her staring. She swallowed. “I got bit twice in Santa Barbara,” Ellie said solemnly. She held up the hand with the blistered proof—“A Clicker,” then opened that same hand, incomplete, “Abby.” The woman’s name felt like acid on her tongue, the long-awaited apology stuck in her throat behind the damage.

Dina didn’t respond, just scooped pasta into her mouth. They didn’t say much more, exchanging glances. The silence was thick, heavy and Ellie waited for Dina to say something, anything. She didn't. Ellie got up and washed her plate, Dina came beside her, placed her hand on hers and said, “No, I got it.”

“No, Dina, I can do it.”

”Ellie, this is my house,” Dina tugged at the plate in Ellie’s hand.

“No, go sit down,” Ellie tugged back.

“Ellie, no,” Dina said and tugged the plate hard, breaking it on the side of the sink. Dina instinctively reached for the large shard before Ellie could and scraped her palm. “Fuck,” she said, reeling back, the blood pooling in her palm.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Ellie asked, stepping back.

“Me?” Dina replied in disbelief as she ran her hand under the water. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”

Me? Dina, you’re fighting me over a fucking plate!”

“And you fucking left us,” Dina snapped back, then saw Ellie’s face. Ellie’s eyes were wide in shock, her lips parted almost as if she was going to say something, but couldn’t. Dina reached for a towel, pressed it to her hand as Ellie backed up.

“Ellie, wait, please,” Dina pleaded. Ellie was just as quick-footed as she remembered and just as hard to follow. “I didn’t mean to—W-We should just talk this out,” Dina said weakly.

Ellie was twisting her foot into her boot, she wouldn’t even look at her.

“Fuck, Ellie, don’t leave, don’t leave,” Dina begged, trying to close the distance between her and Ellie, but Ellie jerked backwards as if Dina was a stranger who wanted her life.

Ellie threw on her jacket, opened the door and the freezing air filled the room, but Ellie’s words were colder, “Thanks for the food.”

Dina let out a sob as the door slammed shut.

×

When Abby pushed open the door of her house, glanced out, she slammed it behind her and pressed herself against it as she locked it. Fuck, Abby thought.

“Fuck!” Abby yelled, throwing her boots across the room.

Lev called out, “Abby? Are you okay?” Abby jumped at the sound of his voice. “Lev, I didn’t know you were here, why didn’t you wake me up?”

Lev hurried down the stairs. “You were sleeping really soundly.”

“Did you eat at Iyra’s? I can make something.” Abby pulled away from the door and tried to hide her full body freeze when she realized. Shit, I was supposed to go to Dina’s and I just slept. Fuck it. I’ll apologize and come over another time.

“Yes, the food her mom makes, it’s so good. She made this dish called chicken parmesan,” and Abby laughed as she poured herself a glass of water from the sink.

“Par-meh-san?” She grinned, repeating Lev’s pronunciation. “Parm-eh-zan,” Abby corrected with a grin on her face. Lev pouted, repeating the word a few times to himself while Abby nodded proudly when he got it.

Abby finished her water and sighed when she saw the worry in his eyes, the way Lev slightly scrunched his nose at her whenever he had a question he wanted to ask, but felt like he couldn’t.

As much as Abby didn’t want to be open, whenever Lev gave her that look, she felt guilt overtake her. Her father involved her in everything, there was nothing she really couldn’t ask him.

“Whenever I asked something my mother didn’t want to answer, she struck me with a stick. To question her was to disrespect her,” Lev explained, not looking at Abby, focusing on the fire Abby had built. He rubbed his arm almost as if he was lost in a memory. Abby had stared at him, munching on the deer he had shot as they traversed through the forest of Northern California where nature had overtaken much of what was left.

“You can ask me anything,” Abby responded, repeating her father’s words.

“Anything?” Lev looked at her.

Anything.”

Abby reeled back from her own memory, looked at Lev, “What do you want to ask me, kid?”

“Where is my bow? My arrows and pistol are gone, too.” Abby walked to Lev, grabbed him gently by the hand and led him to the couch where they sat.

“Maria came by with Gabriel,” Abby sighed, messing with her hair. “Listen,” she said, squeezing his hand, “It makes me uneasy, too, and we didn’t do anything wrong. Maria…” Abby struggled to find her words.

“The girl, Ellie, she’s back,” Abby said, her voice cracking when she spoke her name. Lev’s eyes widened and Abby continued.

“Maria, she… she doesn’t want any trouble and neither do I,” Abby rubbed Lev’s back. “She said she took her guns, too. I have a knife underneath my pillow just in case, but that stays between us.” Lev nodded.

“But what if you or me run into her? What if she tries to hurt you?” Lev asked.

I’ll defend myself, Abby thought. “We’ll go together everywhere, Lev. Don’t worry. Maria wanted me to sit down with Ellie and talk.”

“Talk? But Abby—” Lev cut himself off, struggling to find his words.

“I don’t want to talk either,” Abby admitted. “But in order to stay here and be safe, I have to sacrifice some things. I thought about us leaving, but it would be like California all over again. We were either going to die or get lucky. To find somewhere else like this, it’s rare and people aren’t trustworthy. And this is a new life for you. I want you to feel at home here.”

Lev’s worry deepened on his face. Abby threw her arms around him and Lev hugged her back. He buried his face in her chest and listened to her talk.

“Nothing and no one is going to stop me from making sure you and I are both safe here. We fought for so hard and so long,” Abby said softly. “I got you…”

Lev pulled back. “I’m scared she’ll hurt you and they’ll let them.” Abby looked down at him. “No, no, no, that won’t happen.” Deep down, she wasn’t sure.

They embraced each other and Abby thought, You and me against the world, kid. Some things never change.

×

Ellie found herself walking around Jackson in the dark. She was freezing, but not ready to go home. She turned down streets for the sake of turning down them. She walked while her mind raced.

I should’ve brought it up. Why didn’t I bring it up? I couldn’t have brought it up. Dina is not going to talk to me again or let me see JJ.

Another street she hadn’t been down yet.

Not only did I piss off Tommy and fight him, I pissed off Dina. Fuck, I’ll be surprised if Maria doesn’t kick me out of Jackson. Not even my first week back.

Why couldn’t she just let me wash the damn plate?

I missed JJ.

I shouldn’t have left to Santa Barbara. I shouldn’t have gone to Seattle.

Ellie ran a hand through her hair. Another street.

She stopped, gasped, hearing a stray cat shriek. It reminded her of the scream Nora let out, the scream that let her know Nora was ready to talk.

Relax, Ellie. But she couldn’t.

Nora looked up at Ellie and Ellie took a deep breath, looking at all the spores around her. Nora sobbed. “This is—” A strained cough, “fucking unreal.”

Nora wept on the floor in front of her. Her chest and neck were inflamed because of the spores. She wheezed, spat out blood and three teeth from the previous swing, one to her jaw.

Ellie groaned and turned around. No.

“Does Abby know you’re down here dying like this?” Ellie taunted.

Nora sobbed harder.

Ellie struck her kneecap with the pipe as hard as she could and Nora screamed again.

“When you turn, Nora,” Ellie looked at the tail end of the pipe, covered in blood, “You’re stuck inside your body until your brain is completely taken over. I’ve seen recently Infected call out their loved ones’ names.”

Nora hyperventilated, choked.

“I wonder whose name you’ll call as you lose your mind. My guess is that you’ll scream for Abby. Maybe Leah who's fucking dead. How about Manny? None of them will be here to put you out of your misery before you become one of them.”

“Please, stop,” Nora cried out.

Nora wheezed, held up her hand in front of her face to shield Ellie from striking her there.

Where—the—fuck—is—Abby?” Each swing made Nora scream. Nobody could hear her down here.

Ellie swung at Nora’s side as hard as she could, the breaking of her ribs audible to them both. Nora shrieked out in pain and cried some more.

“Stop, stop, please, please, please fucking stop,” she said coughing up blood, she used her good arm to wipe the blood and snot running down her face. “I-I’ll tell you.”

Ellie reeled herself back, breathing hard and bursting into a run. It was time to backtrack. When she couldn’t run anymore, she walked through the middle of the street briskly.

Ellie found herself close to the main strip of Jackson, yet still on a side street. Upon hearing the noise, she thought, I need a fucking drink.

Ellie rushed up the side of the bar, boots thumping against the wood. It wasn’t too late nor too early. She slid between people walking out, “Excuse me,” she mumbled.  

She sat down at the end of the bar. Seth looked up and noticed her. “It’s been a while, Ellie,” he greeted. “What do you need?”

Ellie shrugged. Something strong to get my mind off tonight. Ellie wasn’t too much of a drinker and yet alcohol didn’t bother her. She had ingested far worse than that.

“Give me something tolerable.”

She watched as Seth poured her drink. He slid it toward her and she caught it with her open hand. “A vodka with lime juice,” he said and she nodded. He turned his back to another person and she took a swig of her drink.

Ellie drank, scanned the room, drank again. She was being kind to Seth, so he gave her another. Even though Ellie knew the names of most of the people in the bar, she didn’t initiate or say hi. When someone’s eyes lingered on her too long, she stared until they looked away.

I feel like a ghost.

Towards the end of the night, people were leaving. She watched them stumble out of the bar in high spirits. Ellie was a lightweight riding a buzz. Alcohol warmed and numbed her all the same.

 She felt a hand on her shoulder and tensed. “Since when do you come to the bar?” Ellie inhaled sharply.

“I heard you got into a fight with my ex-husband in the cemetery today.”

“Maria,” Ellie sighed into her gloved hands. “He was talking so much shit and I just,” Ellie scanned the room again. Just a few people nursing their drinks like her.

Maria sat down next to Ellie, motioned Seth over. “Seth, won’t you be a sweetheart and pour me my usual before you close up?”

“Fuck,” Ellie groaned.

“I’ve been looking everywhere for you as soon as I finished my own shit. Tommy stormed through the back of my house, screaming my name. Christ, I thought we were all in danger. ”

“You kicking me out of Jackson?”

“No, but you need to control your emotions, Ellie,” Maria whispered as Seth walked over to deliver. Maria downed her shot, “Sheesh, Seth, just me or is this liquor stronger than usual?”

Seth grinned. “Maybe you don’t come often enough,” and caught the wave of a patron.

“He said he wishes Joel left me in the hospital,” Ellie said. “That he’d be alive if it wasn’t for…”

Maria placed her hand on Ellie’s shoulder, squeezed. “Don’t listen to that, Joel loved you. You were his daughter.”

Ellie winced at the word, unsure of how to respond. She remembered picking up the framed picture of Joel and Sarah. Sometimes, a younger Ellie wondered if she was Sarah’s replacement.

Maria watched as Ellie finished her drink. “Tommy didn’t hit you too hard, did he?”

“No,” Ellie replied dryly. “My bruise will be gone in a couple of days, maybe just in time for Christmas.”

“And I went to Dina’s house, she said the both of you argued over a dirty plate and—”

“She said I fucking left her and JJ, Maria.”

Maria waved at Seth, held up two fingers and squeezed Ellie’s shoulder again.

Seth came over, picked up the two glasses and poured Maria and Ellie two cold shots of liquor.

“I’m glad you’re back, Ellie, Jackson ain’t the same without you,” Ellie smiled lightly, probably because of the booze and he looked towards Maria. “You run this town, I’ll close when you say so.”

“I think you’re good to go, Seth! Thank you, you’re a darling.” Maria turned to Ellie, “And you left her house like a bat out of hell.”

“Yeah, how’s her hand?” Ellie scoffed.

“I helped her sew it up, talked her down and suggested the two of you should give each other space."

"Maybe... maybe," Ellie paused. "There was too much space."

"And earlier this evening, the two of you collided into each other like meteorites. All you'll do is burn up in each other's gravity if you rush it like this."

""Goddamn," Ellie whispered.

Maria nudged Ellie out of her train of thought and raised her shot glass. Ellie did the same.

“To waking up and feeling better tomorrow?” Maria suggested.

Ellie laughed and their shot glasses met. “A bad day is only twenty-four hours.”

The two women downed their shots, then walked outside. Maria adjusted her blue coat, smoothed her blonde hair out of her face.

“I just wish you had come to me.”

“I felt bad for throwing up on your floor,” Ellie shrugged her shoulders.

“That’s stupid, Ellie,” Maria said. “Look at me,” Ellie looked up and Maria’s eyes were soft, but stern.

“You’re too old for me to spell it out for you, but I’m here for you. Jackson is here for you. Tommy and Dina? They’re not short of their own issues. Shit, I almost put your gravestone next to Joel’s, but the two of them went against it. We never stopped hoping you’d come back. You belong here.”

Maria embraced Ellie who returned the hug. “You’re family, Ellie.” Ellie closed her eyes, squeezing back tears.

“You know, you soften up when you have a few drinks in you,” She laughed. Maria playfully hit her side. Ellie held back a wince and a hiss.

“I’m still a stone cold bitch,” Maria smirked. “Now go home and sleep it off, I won’t show up too early.”

“Yes, ma’am,” then Ellie and Maria walked their separate ways.

Chapter Text

Wake up early to black and white reruns that escaped from my mouth

Paramore

×

Abby saw the light of the sun through her eyelids and yanked the blanket over her head. She rubbed her feet together beneath the blanket for warmth and whined. She prayed in her head for a few more hours and she drifted back to sleep.

She was running through the woods. Her heart raced as she slipped in between trees. The shadows of leaves and the sunlight that filled the gaps blurred beneath her feet as she ran. She was tackled to the forest floor. She grunted, but it soon turned into a laugh as she was flipped over. Owen’s fingers slid up her shirt.

“Stop,” Abby laughed, feeling his fingers dance up her sides. “I’m ticklish.” Owen kissed her lips and Abby cradled his face. “My dad is going to kill me if I’m laying in poison oak right now.” Owen kissed her neck and she yelped. “What am I gonna tell him?”

“Tell him you fell,” Owen whispered in her ear. Abby shuddered.

Abby squirmed beneath Owen, breathing hard as he kissed her neck, and when her eyes opened, she looked at the light and shadow in motion across the forest as the wind shifted the trees back and forth. Owen kissed her again and she kissed him back, throwing her leg over his lower back. They kissed over and over again, Owen bit Abby’s lower lip and she gasped. He squeezed her breasts through her shirt and she sighed.

Owen unbuttoned the top of Abby’s shorts and slid his hand over the seat of her panties.

Abby moaned into her pillow as her hips twisted against the bed, her eyelids fluttering open.

“Shit,” Abby whispered. She grabbed the edges of the pillow until it cradled her face. Abby let out a muffled scream into her pillow. Seconds later, Abby heard a knock at the door.

“Abby? Are you okay?”

“Yeah, uhm, I’m fine,” Abby called, flinging the blanket off her bed. She heard the doorknob twisting, “Lev, don’t op—” Abby tripped and fell to the floor in an effort to get on her black sweatpants. “Fuuuuuuuck,” Abby moaned.

Lev cracked the door. “Abby? Dina is downstairs. She came with breakfast. Should I tell her you’ll be down in a second?”

“Yeah,” Abby sighed from the floor. God.

Lev’s footsteps faded and Abby rolled over, wiggling into her sweatpants. She opened the door and went into the bathroom. When she was done with the toilet, she washed her hands over the sink. She brushed her teeth and when she spat, she remembered spitting blood into the water as she evaded Ellie.

Will there ever be a day where I don’t think of her?

Abby looked in the mirror, stretching until she heard the pop in her shoulders. Ugh, I look a mess.

Abby brushed the sides of her hair and grabbed a red hair tie and pulled her hair into a messy bun, save for a section on the left side to frame her face. She jogged down the stairs, saw Lev and Dina sitting adjacent to each other on the couch.

“Sorry about last night,” Abby said softly, taking a seat on the floor in front of the table and the couch as Dina unwrapped the breakfast, passing Lev and Abby a croissant.

Dina shook her head, shoulder-length black waves framing her face. “You’re okay, I had something come up last night.” Abby looked at Dina’s hand wrapping with concern and curiosity.

Dina closed her hand. “I just broke a plate and cut myself trying to pick it up.”

Weird energy, but it’s none of my business, Abby thought.

Dina portioned the warm scrambled eggs, an extra croissant onto three plates, one to Lev and one to Abby, the last her own. She pulled out a container of apple juice, pouring a generous amount into the glasses Lev set out. Lev asked for seconds and Dina happily obliged, scooping out more eggs onto his plate. Dina shot Abby a look and Abby finished her apple juice and shook her head.

“Breakfast was great. Where’s JJ?” Abby said.

“Thanks,” Dina said, a hint of a smile. “He’s with his grandparents,” Dina said. “I needed a few days.” Abby digested her words, watched her cross her arms in front of her chest, Dina’s eyes tracked to the empty wall across from the couch. “Patrols found a spare television, a working DVD player and JJ’s grandparents have some type of stand that I think will fit. And I have a bunch of spare movies. I’ll have the boys come through and set it up.”

“Thank you,” Abby replied.

“What’s a television? A DV player? A movie?”

Dina grinned, twisting to talk to Lev. “Okay, before the Outbreak, apparently, all humans used to do is work, then come home and watch movies. Tommy told me they had this thing called WiFee? Wifi, I think. So basically if you had a Wi-Fi connection, you could watch movies and shorter stuff with a click of this bar—They called it a remote.”

“So the television was just a hunk of metal with a glass screen. Does that sound familiar? You probably saw one before. You’d point the remote at the television and Tommy told me you could select what you wanted to watch. Tommy said that was more popular than just DVDs.”

Lev tilted his head. “The DVDs?” Abby laughed.

“Circular pieces of plastic with a movie on it,” Dina drew a circle in the air. “You put the plastic in the holder tray and it would eat it! The movie is like… a story filled with characters that people were playing. It would play across the screen.”

Lev sat back and tried to imagine it.

“One of my favorite movies was 10 Things I Hate About You,” Abby said.

Dina said, “But I’m A Cheerleader was pretty high on my list. I know I have that one, that’s with the guy with the shaggy hair singing to the girl, right? I’ll pass it off to the boys to give it to you,” Dina said.

She’s not a horrible person, Abby thought.

“Thank you,” Abby said with relief. Truth is, Abby found herself bored. Her life was full of monotony and what registered in her head as mistrust. The WLF trusted her, she’d volunteer to go out even if it meant her life would be in danger. It was a way to get herself out of her head, even if it drove her further into her head.

Sometimes I can’t help but miss it.

“We’re short on patrols because Faye sprained her ankle and Jordan ate some bad deer meat. Maria wanted me to ask if you and Lev wanted to fill in this weekend. Maria said she thinks Lev is a little young to be running patrols, but… she knows he’d be great at it. It’s up to him.”

I think this is a test.

“Before we run down how this works with you, Maria sent me this morning to tell you and Lev to meet her at her house at 12. You have some time to kill. Get a shower, relax in the mean time. I’ll meet you out in front of Maria’s. You remember where it is, right?”

She and Lev’s eyes met. She noticed his tension, saw the glimmer of fear in his dark brown eyes.

“No,” Abby admitted. Jackson was big and the last time she was at Maria’s, she was in her basement. She never bothered to look back at the home Maria resided in. While trying to get to know the town, she’d become self-conscious. The stares and whispers were unwelcoming and at the first lick of Winter, Abby became reclusive.

Dina rose to her feet. “I’ll take you, don’t worry about it.”

Abby walked Dina outside, she tapped at the wood below her with her sneakers. Abby crossed her arms over her chest, covered by nothing but a sports bra. Abby shivered.

“Have you seen her yet?” Abby asked.

“Yeah,” Dina replied. “Ellie… According to Maria, she didn’t take it too well that you came here.” Dina looked away from Abby’s stare which was intimidating yet soft all the same.

“I’ll be seeing her today,” Abby said.

“I… Abby, listen, Maria isn’t the type to let anything happen. She vouched for you. And Ellie… Ellie’s in pain. Maria would rather the two of you sit down under her supervision than have the two of you run into each other in Jackson.”

Abby nodded. That could be bad.

“Please don’t,” Dina paused, “Please keep a cool head, no matter what Ellie says. Ellie can say things that come off… vindictive. Maria doesn’t want either of you walking out with more bad blood. Or fighting.”

Abby was silent.

Dina turned to Abby, placed her gloved hands on the woman’s shoulders. Dina looked at a scar below her shoulder, then back at her blue eyes. “She… she left me to go after you again. She couldn’t let go of it.”

Abby shivered again, but it wasn't because of the cold.

“This is your chance to hear each other. I hope Ellie will listen. Go inside, it’s freezing out here.”

Abby came inside and looked at Lev who was watching Dina trudge through the snow.

“Lev, did you shower?”

But Lev was lost. Abby waved her hand in front of his face. “Hello? Are you in there?”

Lev snapped out of it, “What?”

Abby touched his face. “I wanted to know if you showered.”

Lev nodded, “Yes, I woke up before sunrise.”

“Are you okay?” Abby noticed him staring after Dina. I feel bad about that day. Lev saw me kill a lot of people to survive, but never saw me kill to get back at someone. Or try to. I wish he didn’t walk into the room. But if he never did, then I would’ve killed Dina.

“Yes,” Lev said carefully. “Dina is a trustworthy person, right?”

Abby bit her lip. “She’s sweet, but she went with Ellie to find me.” Abby stretched out on the floor. She focused on her left leg, holding her foot firm as she leaned. “She’s trying obviously.”

Lev followed her lead.

“Hold your other leg like this. Lev. You see mine? Do it like that so you don’t strain the muscle in your leg. You should feel a stretch, a little bit of discomfort, but don’t force it and don’t hold it any longer than you can.”

Abby switched to her other leg, Lev followed.

“It’s hard to trust her,” Lev said what Abby was thinking.

“I know,” Abby said, exhaling. She drew her legs inward, pointed at them to demonstrate the position. Abby placed her elbows on her thighs, hands around her ankles. “30 seconds if you can, take a deep breath, lean your weight on your thighs and breathe out as you start to feel the stretch.

“That’s it, Lev, you got it.” Abby shifted to a plank position.

“You don’t have to do this one. It really hurts, but I like it.” Abby glanced at Lev who followed her lead anyway. She laughed. “This one is called a ‘plank’ and it kicks my ass, I’m not gonna lie. We’re gonna try to hold this one for four minutes, but you can back out if it’s too much.”

Abby counted the seconds in her head. Twenty-nine one thousand, thirty one thousand, thirty-one one thousand—

A minute passed. “Okay, one minute,” Abby said. She felt the sting in her core.

Another minute and a half passed. Lev groaned.

“Stay on it, kid,” Abby said through her teeth.  “Just a minute and a half left.”

“Annnnnnd done,” Abby collapsed to the floor, grinning. Lev let go, too.

“My stomach burns,” Lev sighed, looking at Abby who wore pride across her face. “Is this how you built up your body?”

“I did a lot of shit, Lev. Weight-lifting was my drug,” Abby sighed. “But a plank will work your back, your arms, your stomach and your chest. No equipment needed.”

“Drug?”

“Something I couldn’t get enough of.”

Abby peeled herself off the floor. “I worked up a bit of a sweat, so I’ll go shower.” Lev nodded at her.

Abby showered quickly and returned downstairs in a pair of smoke grey leggings, a white tank top with a black hoodie tied around her waist. Lev signaled her to the window from his place on the couch. “It’s snowing again and there’s a man outside the house.”

Abby squinted at the window, not recognizing him because of his ski mask. She saw the rifle on his back when he turned.

“Maria told me that we’d have a patrol outside,” Abby said.

Lev said, “Why does he have a mask?"

Abby flipped her hair down and squeezed it in a towel. “Fuck him and his mask. I hope his face is warm.” Abby scoffed.

“Lev, if you need your clothes washed, I’ll be washing tonight. Just leave them in the laundry room.” Lev nodded, went upstairs to grab his basket full of dirty clothes. Abby walked to the laundry room and threw the towel in her basket.

Abby crashed on the couch, legs stretched out across the seats, reached to grab her journal and then twisted around to look outside the window again.

The patrol was looking right at her through his scope and she rolled off the couch instinctively. She hit the floor and went prone.

“Lev?” She called. “Don’t come down.”

She heard Lev tentatively call her name from the top of the stairs.

“Don’t fucking come down here, Lev!” Abby yelled.

Abby crawled across the floor, her heart pounding. When she reached the back door, she opened it as quietly as she could. She heard the guy’s footsteps walking towards her direction. When he turned the corner, Abby threw her weight at him as hard as she could, his rifle falling in the snow. Abby yelped in pain as he backhanded her, and she grabbed his arms, tried to pin them to the ground as she straddled him.

He threw Abby off of him and Abby scrambled for the gun, yelling as he grabbed her ankle. She kicked at his face with her foot. “Get the fuck off of me, asshole!” The man grabbed her other ankle and yanked her and Abby let out a whimper of panic as she felt herself dragged through the snow.

No, no, no, no, no! N—

The man flipped her on her back.

She heard the voices of many men, jerked as they held her down.

“Get her shirt off,” one said.

“Don’t let her get up,” another laughed.

She felt two pairs of hands, one at either side of her hips. They tore her pants. Abby kicked with her legs, but felt them held down. The coldness of steel from her stomach to her collarbone that went with the cutting of fabric. Abby hyperventilated, squeezed her eyes shut as she froze over.

Her ears rung as the gun went off.

“Get the fuck off of her,” Dina said sternly. Abby’s eyes opened as the man removed her weight. Abby panted as she stood up shakily, backing up. Lev stood behind Dina.

Dina aimed her handgun at the man in the mask. “Take it off, motherfucker.” The mask fell from his hand to the snow.

Abby grabbed the rifle, pulled the slide back to see if it was loaded and aimed it at the back of his head. Dina glanced at the man’s face, then Abby’s.

Abby’s chest heaved with rage and grief, underneath it all was shame. Her blue eyes were wide and animalistic. Despite her panic, her grip on the gun was steady. A true soldier.

“Turn the fuck around right now,” Abby snapped.

Dina gestured at the man to do it, shifting her feet. The man turned around and Abby said, “Gabriel?”

Dina yelled, “Stop!” as Gabriel lunged at Abby, but Abby was quick, she pulled the trigger and the man dropped to the ground, blood and brains in the snow. Abby threw the rifle down.

“Fuck,” Dina said, “Shit!”

Lev rushed to Abby’s side and she backed away.

“Lev, please just don’t touch me,” Abby said softly. 

Dina sighed, rolling the man over, his curls stained with blood that wasn’t ready to stop flowing. She looked at his wound. A clean shot through the right eye, the orbital cavity destroyed from the force of the bullet, not to mention the close-range. She’s great with her aim. Aiming through the eye was intentional. Goddamn, what am I going to tell Maria?

“Listen, Abby, we’re late.”

Abby seemed as if she was a world away, staring at the blood-stained snow.

“Abby?”

×

Maria, Tommy, and Ellie looked up as Dina walked through the door. Behind her, Lev walked through and finally Abby.

“Sorry we’re late, we had an issue,” Dina said, clicking the safety on her gun and tossing it to Maria who leaned against the wall. She handed the rifle in her other hand to Tommy, who sat in a recliner.

She glanced at Ellie who sat in the other recliner, but Ellie didn’t see her, she was looking at Abby.

“Gabriel attacked Abby,” Dina explained. “Lev came out the front and pointed to the path around the house. When me and him got back there, Gabriel had Abby pinned. I told him to get off and I walked around to Abby’s side to get the rifle, forced him to take off the mask. He lunged at us, so I shot him with the rifle.”

Abby blinked at the floor. 

“What?” Maria and Tommy said.

“I pointed him out to Abby because we didn’t really see a patrol like that and then I went upstairs to get my laundry. I heard her yell not to come downstairs.” Lev interjected.

“When I looked out again, he was aiming at me,” Abby finished.

Ellie slid her eyes over to Dina, squinting for a moment. At least you’ve gotten better at lying.

“I saw Michael and told him that we needed to clean up a body. They’re taking care of it,” Dina said softly.

Tommy shrugged, “Well, shit, Dina.”

Maria sighed, pinched the bridge of her nose and said, “Abby, Lev, sit down on the couch.”

“We need to talk about what led to Seattle, what happened in Seattle, and finally, Santa Barbara,” Maria looked at Ellie, then back to Abby.

“Understand that nobody in this room is going to lay a finger on another person. There will be no fighting. I understand some of you talk a certain way and I understand some events are deeply wounding. I understand it’s hard to talk about. But we need to listen, we need to feel and we need to move forward.”

Maria traversed between Abby and Ellie, sat down on the pillow by the table. There were notebooks on the table, one open and filled with words. Maria opened a fresh one, wrote something in the top margin, set down her pen and looked at Abby.

“Abigail Anderson, start from the beginning.”

Abby exhaled shakily, meeting Ellie’s icy stare.

Fuck.

Chapter Text

Would you do it again, again and count backwards from ten?

—Taking Back Sunday

 

Maria held the pen in her hand, stopping to hit a tape recorder. Abby tracked her eyes away from Ellie who looked angry already, looked at Tommy whose eyes were on the floor, and Dina who sat on a pillow with her knees to her chest across from Maria.

She looked at Lev next to her on the couch. He nodded at her and Abby turned back to Maria.

“My father’s name was Jerry Anderson. He raised me as a Firefly. We were stationed in Salt Lake City. He was the head doctor at St. Mary’s Hospital. He was intelligent, caring and protective and kind to everyone we knew. He never lashed out at me or made me feel like I didn’t matter. I was lucky. There wasn’t anybody who loved me more.”

Maria’s pen glided against the paper, Maria tucked her hair behind her right ear, the ear closest to Abby. Abby tentatively continued.

“I grew up with Owen Moore, Mel and Manny Alavarez. They are all deceased,” Abby inhaled. “Nora, Leah, Jordan, all of us were Fireflies. Nick joined the WLF later.”

Tommy and Abby locked eyes. “I’m sure the last four I named are dead,” Abby said.

“None of you should’ve been involved in the Fireflies’ mess. You were too young.” Maria looked up at Tommy, sighed. She’d heard his story, too.

“That’s the life of a Firefly, you either die or stop looking for the light,” the recliner squeaked as Tommy leaned back in it. Abby opened her mouth like she was going to reply to Tommy, then she mashed her lips together in restraint.

“Keep going, Abby.”

Abby clasped her hands together and squeezed. “My father was the only surgeon and I was his only child. Fifteen years old.” Abby drew in a breath.

“Marlene, our leader, came to us in March 2034, she was excited to see us. I looked up to her. She was strong, smart and strategic.”  

Ellie shifted at the mention of Marlene’s name.

“Marlene was all of those things you said she was, Abby,” Tommy replied. “She was persuasive, demanding, and ruthless at times. She didn’t take shit from nobody. She liked to test people. That woman was hardened and she still believed that we could take back the world from the military and the Infected. I believed it, too, but we lost so many people. We were losing the war and yet she thought we were fighting the good fight.”

Abby stared at Tommy as he stroked his beard.  “It wasn’t worth my life or my friends' lives, dying for a fucking impossible cause. Marlene was relentless. If you starting growing hair on your armpits and if you were willing to die for the Fireflies, you were in. I used to look at her and see a leader. By the time I left, all I saw was delusion and a person who was good at granting a death wish.”

Abby shut her eyes.

“A month later, I was out looking for my father in the forest. I was helping him free a zebra caught in a trap when Owen ran up to us. We freed the zebra and Owen told him everyone was looking for him. Owen,” Abby drew in a sharp breath and directed her eyes at Ellie, “said one of the others found you in the tunnel with an old bite mark on your arm, no signs of infection.”

Ellie was silent as all eyes were on her in the room now.

“I almost drowned. I don’t remember anything.”

Abby carefully continued, refusing to look away from Ellie. “My dad and Marlene argued about you. I listened outside the door. Marlene didn’t want to take your life, not even if it meant millions of lives were saved.”

Abby closed her eyes. “My dad thought it was worth all the sacrifices the Fireflies made.”

“If this was your daughter, what would you do?”  

Abby quietly walked through the door with a plate of food.

“Abby,” Jerry said.

“I brought you some dinner.” Abby walked behind them, the girl’s x-rays on display on the wall behind her.

Jerry said, “Look, Marlene—”

Marlene raised her head, choking back a sob. “Do it.”

“Thank you,” he replied.

Marlene turned to Jerry and said, “I’m gonna go tell Joel.”

Jerry raised his arms partially and asked, “Why?”

“He travelled across the country with her. He has a right to know,” she looked at Abby, then back to Jerry. “Good luck with your surgery,” Marlene ended tightly, looking at Jerry as she left the room.

Abby squeezed her toes in her boots. “That was the first time I heard his name,” Abby inhaled, wetting her lips. “I told my father he was doing the right thing, that if it was me, I’d want him to do the surgery. I knew the weight of the world was on his shoulders.”

“The alarm was sounding off. I had my gun. I didn’t know what was happening. When I got to the operating room, I opened the door and Owen and Manny were there—” Abby’s voice was weakening as she recalled.

“Is he still in the fucking building?”

“Owen, he saw me,” Abby’s voice broke with despair, “He didn’t want me to see my father on the floor in a pool of his own blood, but I did.”

“His face was blue and you were gone.” Abby and Ellie didn’t break eye contact as the tears slid down her cheeks.  

Maria finished her note, closed her eyes and sighed deeply. “Abby, let me get you a glass of water.”

Dina glanced back at Tommy, then at Lev, and finally Ellie. The only sound was Abby trying to hold herself together. Maria passed Abby the cool glass of water, sat back down and when Abby was ready, she drank to her plenty.

“Where did you find Marlene?” Tommy asked.

“In the parking garage with a bullet in her head,” Abby said. “She was shot in her stomach, too. Her arm stretched out like she begged for her life.” Tommy and Ellie both cursed at the same time.

Ellie spoke softly, “You know, I woke up in the back of the car. He told me that there was a whole lot of people like me and it didn’t help. He told me the Fireflies stopped looking for a cure.”

“You were our only chance,” Abby groaned in frustration, wiping tears from her face.

“I made him swear to me outside of Jackson,” Ellie squeezed a handful of her hair at the top of her hand. “Goddamn,” Ellie hissed.

“Swear to me,” Ellie demanded, “Swear to me that everything that you said about the Fireflies is true.”

“I swear.” Joel said softly.

“Okay,” Ellie whispered.

“Joel lied to me, Abby,” Ellie’s voice was colored with bitterness.

“Why?” Abby breathed. “Why the hell would he lie?”

Tommy sighed. “I’ll tell you. Maria, you have any whiskey?”

Maria said, “Same place it always is. There’s ice in the freezer.”

Tommy limped to the kitchen, passing through Maria and Ellie, his walking stick clicking on the floor. He paused and looked at Ellie. “Joel,” he said, “He really looked at you like a father would look at daughter.”

The room was tense. Lev squeezed Abby’s hand. Ellie got up, followed Tommy into the kitchen. She poured herself a glass of iced water as Tommy tasted the whiskey, ice clinking in the glass.

“How’s your side?” Tommy asked.

“The bruise is fading,” Ellie replied, rolling her eyes.

“Come on,” Tommy said. “Ladies first.”

As Ellie crossed Tommy, he grabbed her shoulder. He squeezed softly, let go and the two of them took their seats.

Tommy took a long drink from his glass as everyone’s eyes landed on him. He bounced his good leg.

“I kept calling his phone that night,” Tommy cast his eye on the ceiling. “Nobody knew how bad it was, but it was bad. Finally, I called the phone in his daughter’s room. Her name was Sarah.”

Tommy sighed, “Sarah. Goddamn it!” Tommy slammed his open hand on the arm of the recliner. Maria winced, she knew this story. Dina stared at Tommy, waiting for him to go on in anticipation. Ellie did the same.

“Sarah, honey, I need to get your daddy on the phone,” Tommy said, turning the dial to his safe.

“She said, ‘Uncle Tommy, what—what time is it?’ She sounded tired, I knew I woke her up.”

“How do you explain this shit to an 12 year old girl? I had no idea where her father was. I didn’t want to scare her.”

Tommy put the combination in wrong, frustrated, he said, “I need to talk to your dad right now, there’s something bad going on, it’s an emergency! Sarah? Sarah? Shit! Fuck!”

Tommy swished the liquor and ice in his glass. “Dina, can you grab the bottle from the top right cabinet?”

Dina nodded, “Yeah,” and quickly crossed between Abby and Maria, trying to keep a distance from Ellie. Dina and Ellie met eyes as she crossed the room.

Dina returned and opened the partially full bottle of whiskey, filled Tommy’s glass and placed it on the table.

“Thank you, sweetheart. The phone cut out and I was worried. Joel wasn’t answering his calls or his texts and Sarah might have been alone, and I thought, “ he paused, “I thought something happened to Joel. I thought Sarah was in danger. I had to get to them.”

“Texts?” Lev asked.

Tommy shifted in his seat. “I forget that some of y’all kids don’t know what we had back then. A phone was a device to communicate with, and uhm, you could call and when the other person answered the call, you could hear their voice. A text was a written message to another person’s phone.”

Tommy continued, “Joel and Sarah met me outside. Joel had blood all over him, killed his neighbor, his first Infected. I drove, Joel in the passenger, Sarah in the back. Cell phone was out, radio was out. We took route 71.”

Tommy sipped his whiskey. “Sarah was asking questions. ‘Did they say how many were dead? Are we sick?’ She was a smart little girl, straight A’s and B’s in school, great at soccer. She had such a bright future ahead of her had everything been different.”

“Tried to stop for this family on the side of the road, Joel wouldn’t let me—I argued and said they had a kid. Sarah sided with me, ‘We have  room,’ but Joel ordered me to keep driving. Said I ain’t seen what he seen. Every decision was life or death.”

“Everyone took 71 to get out. I didn’t understand what Joel was talking about until I saw a man run up and attack a man who got out of his car. The Runner came after our car and I got us out of there. We were in the city, then, there was so many people running and screaming—You can’t run them over, you can’t drive around them. Me and Joel were arguing. Goddamn, he was such a passenger seat driver.”

“We got hit and the car flipped. I climbed out the top and was fighting them. I saw Joel get attacked by a Runner and I hit it with a brick. Joel helped Sarah get out while I kept watch for any other Infected. I tried to see where the Infected were coming from, there were so many people running. We had to go.”

“Sarah’s leg was injured. Joel gave me his pistol. He told me, ‘Tommy, you keep us safe.’ Everything was going to shit right before our eyes. We cut a street and went into a bar. There was a group of runners on the other side of the door and I was holding the door as hard as I could,” Tommy said, “I never saw my brother so scared, carrying Sarah. I told him to go to the highway. I had to give them a chance. They left and I thought, ‘If I die, then I die.’”

Tommy whistled. “It must have not been my time, see. I was quick. Joel’s gun didn’t have too much ammo. I remember bolting away from the door, throwing over chairs and tables so I could follow ‘em.”

Tommy squeezed his eye shut. “I ran as fast as I could. I should’ve ran faster. Maybe I shouldn’t have held the door back. I could’ve protected them,” Tommy took a deep breath, “He tried to save her. He didn’t succeed.”

“By the time I caught up with Joel and Sarah,” he took a swig from his glass, “I shot the soldier before he could kill my brother.”

“I heard Sarah crying. I was devastated. The sound she made as Joel tried to pick her up—God, there was so much blood.”

“When he looked at me, I knew. The last thing Sarah heard was her daddy saying, ‘I know it hurts, come on, baby, please, I know, baby, I know,’ and she died in his arms. I never saw my brother cry like that. He used to tell me, ‘You were never a father, you don’t understand, Tommy.’ Shit, well, he was right, it made me angry to hear him say that, but he was right.”

Tommy finished his drink. “I lost Sarah, too, but it was different. She wasn’t my child. I miss them,” Tommy admitted, wiping a tear from his eye.

Ellie squeezed her arms around herself.

Tommy set his eye on Ellie. “You weren’t Sarah, but he loved you just like he loved her. There was no difference.”

Ellie covered her mouth with her hand, closing her eyes. “Fuck,” she cried into her hand.

“I went back to the hospital and found out the surgeon died. He followed me, finally told me the truth,” Ellie whispered. “I had my suspicions, but I didn’t get proof until I went back.”

Ellie drew her knees to her chest in the recliner. “I was so angry at him.”

“I was supposed to die in that hospital. My life would’ve fucking mattered—But you took that from me.”

Joel set down his cup of coffee, “If somehow the Lord gave me a second chance at that moment, I would do it all over again.”

Abby leaned back into the couch, trying to take steady breaths. She knew nothing of this and it caused shame to permeate through every part of her body.

“I…” Abby started, “I get why he took you.”

Maria shut off the recorder, She turned to Ellie. “Ellie, look at me.”

“No,” Ellie said, turning away, her hair hiding her tears. Maria sighed. She would rather Ellie cry than get up and try to hurt Abby.

Maria turned back to Abby, pressing play. “From that day forward, you decided to kill Joel.”

“Yes,” Abby whispered. Just feet away, Ellie let out a cry of anguish, muffled by her hands. Maria twisted to observe Ellie, but Ellie didn’t move.

Dina started to get up and Tommy stopped her. “Don’t.”

“The Fireflies disbanded. We went to go join the WLF. We wanted revenge. I wanted revenge. I trained for it,” Abby said, “And I had a tip that you,” she looked to Tommy, “were here in Wyoming. Issac let me go and I took my crew.”

“I argued with Owen… He was my ex-boyfriend by then. We came for information, to question one of the patrols. He didn’t want to risk our lives, especially Mel’s, he told me she was pregnant that day,” Abby closed her eyes, seeing Mel in a puddle of her own blood. “I went to go do it myself, but ran into a horde in the storm.”

Dina swallowed. “Jesse found me and Ellie, and we split up to find Tommy and Joel.” Ellie closed her eyes, wishing she could’ve stayed there forever with Dina.

Tommy filled in, looking at Abby, “We ran into you, saved your life, told you who we were,” and Abby replied, “I lured the both of you back to the cabin.”

“Smart,” Tommy laughed bitterly. “Had you taken on the both of us, you would’ve died. Goddamn, the way everyone looked at Joel when I introduced him.”

“It wasn’t you I wanted,” Abby breathed in. “Just Joel. We knocked you out. I shot at his kneecap with a shotgun and I had Mel put a tourniquet on his leg to keep him from bleeding out.”

You stupid old man—You don’t get to rush this.”

Abby looked at Tommy, then Ellie, “I beat him with the golf club.”  

Abby remembered the sound of the club cutting through air to collide against skin and bone.

Maria asked the hard questions, “Why a golf club?”

“They were in the room,” Abby recalled. “Ellie walked in and she sliced Jordan across the face, then Nora and Nick restrained her on the floor.”

“Get the fuck off of me!” Ellie yelled, panting hard on the floor, squirming.

“Manny stopped Jordan from kicking Ellie’s ribs in.”

Ellie let out a scream of rage looking at Abby from the floor, “You’re gonna fucking die!”

“Everyone was arguing. I couldn’t focus. Owen told me I was done, but I didn’t feel like I was then,” Abby stared at her open palms in horror.

“I didn’t feel what I thought I was going to feel,” Abby started to cry.

“You want what I want, right?”

“End it. Now.”

Ellie panted from the floor in panic. “Joel, get up.”

“Joel, fucking get up.”

Ellie spoke, her voice was shaking. “I begged you to stop, I begged you to not do it.”

“Joel, please get up,” Ellie begged, looking at the broken man.

“And then you swung one last time,” Ellie felt like her chest was being crushed. “I… my ears started ringing. I couldn’t hear.”

“Your scream,” Abby said, “It was like nothing I ever heard in my life. In the back of my head, I knew that I’d taken someone from you.”  

Nooooo!” Ellie screamed. She grunted, trying to get up. She started to sob and hyperventilate.

“No,” Ellie cried on the floor, unable to breathe, “No...”

I’ll fucking kill you,” Ellie threatened through her tears.

Green eyes met blue.

I’ll fucking kill you.”

 

Chapter Text

But I can’t walk on the path of the right because I’m wrong

—Shawn James

“I hunted you,” Ellie said quietly. “I didn’t want to ask you why you killed him, I wanted you dead.”

Abby grimaced.

“All the fucking blood on my hands from Seattle,” Ellie whispered, And what bothered me the most is that it wasn’t yours.”

Ellie removed her gaze from Abby to cast it on Dina.  “Dina came with me because she loved me. She wasn’t in pain like I was.”

“Ellie. You go, I go. End of story.”

Dina squeezed her eyes closed. When Ellie didn’t come back, Dina went over the scenarios in her head often, scenarios where she told Ellie that she was pregnant before reaching Washington, scenarios where she talked Ellie out of it and didn't just blindly go. After all this time, I feel like I enabled her destruction.

Ellie shrugged. “Nobody was going to fucking stop me. Not Tommy. Not Maria. Not you. The only thing that stood between Abby and I was death. And I didn’t plan on fucking dying.”

Dina shot Ellie a look of disappointment, but Ellie shrugged, “It’s the truth, Dina.”

Tommy laughed, the kind of laugh that was filled with bitterness and joy. “When I wrote that note and asked Maria to lock you up, I meant it because I knew. Joel told me—He said, ‘You and Ellie? Two sides of the same goddamn coin. Y’all are reckless and emotional.’ And the thought of burying you next to Joel, I couldn’t take it.”

In Ellie’s laugh, there was sadness. Maria shook her head, “Not a lie told.”

Ellie closed her eyes as she recalled, “Day 1 of Seattle, I found the map,” and Abby’s blood ran cold.

“I grew up in a QZ. I’m not a stranger to navigating them. We opened the gates with a piece of paper that had the codes on it. The Wolves and FEDRA were at war and the Wolves won. There was no one to fight but Infected in Downtown Seattle, just dead Wolves at the Serevena Hotel.”

“I killed everyone in that son of a bitch. And I recognized one of your friends I met in Jackson, what was his name? Nick.” Tommy said. “The fury in me, he wouldn’t beg for his life. He didn’t want to give you up. That’s fine. Had the other one write down the gate code in his own blood.”

All eyes fell on Abby and the conflict in her face.

Dina continued, “Ellie and I rode off to the Eastbrook Elementary School. We ran Shimmer into a trip-mine and—”

“Some asshole shot Shimmer out of spite and he knocked me out.”

“I got away and tried to find a way into the building. I was walking on the roof and I saw Ellie being held captive,” Dina said.

“I woke up and I was tied to a table. Your friend who recognized me from Jackson tried to interrogate me,” Ellie touched her neck, remembering the kiss of a knife.

“You can’t stop this,” Ellie said.

“Then the asshole who shot Shimmer walked in and they argued. Issac wanted all trespassers dead and the motherfucker aimed his gun at me.”

Abby looked away, remembering how she’d spoken to Jordan about going to the school and how Leah would be back. “Fuck,” she mouthed.

Dina went on, “I shot the man who shot Shimmer, I was shot at and the glass broke. I fell through and the Jordan kicked me while I was on the ground. He grabbed me and started choking me.”

“I cut myself free with a shard of the glass. I saved Dina and stabbed him twice in the neck. I searched his body and found a picture of Leah and a letter. We fought our way out of the school, cleared Capitol Hill, and went to the Channel 13 station.”

“Did you kill Leah, too?” Abby asked sharply.

“No,” Dina and Ellie replied in different tones.

“Leah was shot with an arrow when we found her. When we got in the station, there were Wolves hung and disemboweled,” Dina said, wincing at the memory. She remembered how the smell of their bodies filled her with fear and dread.

Lev whispered, “Seraphites.”

Abby softened at the sound of Lev’s voice. She blew her breath. Stay calm, Abby. It’s his future that matters. I fucked up the lives of other people. I can’t fuck up his.

“Go on,” Abby said, staring at Ellie.  

“We were chased into the tunnels by the WLF. They caught up with us in a spore filled station. There were Clickers. I distracted them with a bottle I threw in the direction of the Wolves and I escaped with Dina, but we crossed paths with a horde of Infected.”

“Saw you breathe spores,” Dina whispered.

“Stop! I’m not infected, I’m immune. I’m not coughing, do you see? Fuck, Dina. Shit!”

“When we got out the station, there was this theater across the street,” Ellie said, remembering sitting in the empty audience, guitar on her lap, strumming sadly.

If I ever were to lose you, I’d surely lose myself,” Ellie strummed the guitar, then rested her face on her arm, reuniting with Joel in a memory.

“Your base,” Abby said. When she closed her eyes, she could see herself outside of it and feel the cold rain of Seattle against her skin.

Ellie nodded. “You know that already. That’s where Dina told me she thought she was pregnant and that was the end of the first day in Seattle.”

Ellie’s eyes fell on Dina and Dina was away, locked in a memory.

“I didn’t know, I wasn’t sure, okay? I didn’t want to be a burden—”

“Well, you’re a burden now, aren’t you?”

“Dina?” Maria said. “Dina?”

“Huh?” Dina said, raising her head.

“Ellie said she woke up and she found you upstairs, having an episode of morning sickness,” Maria repeated, slightly concerned. Dina tried to recover, “Uhm, yeah, I managed to fix the radio and hear the Wolves’ transmission. Ellie and I tried to figure out where to go next, but I couldn’t come with her, I felt too sick. We thought we found where Tommy was. The radio was talking about a lone male trespasser.”

Tommy shook his head.

“Day 2 of Seattle, I went to Hillcrest next. It was swarming with Wolves. I thought I was gonna run into Tommy because I saw this huge explosion, but I ran into Jesse, he stopped me when I was running from the Wolves. He was injured.”

“What the hell are you doing here?”

“Think I’d let you do this on your own?” Jesse replied.

Guilt colored Ellie’s face, “I don’t think I would’ve made it out of there alive if it wasn’t for him. There was so many of them. He had an idea to steal the truck and it wouldn’t start, I was shooting, trying to keep us alive. He was the father of Dina’s child.”

Abby’s stomach churned with shame. I didn’t think twice about pulling the trigger.

Ellie squeezed her hands together and first, it was Jesse’s face as he laid dead on the floor in the lobby of the theater, a flash of anger across her face, then JJ’s face, smiling and beaming, full of hope and life, the anger in her left as quickly as it came.

Ellie continued, “Had a run-in with some Wolves in a truck, I killed them and we crashed, he kicked out the windshield and then we got swarmed by Infected. Jesse knifed one of them that grabbed me through the window as he backed up.”

“We ran the Infected over, but a Clicker was hanging on the front of the car—Jesse was panicking when we were driving through the forest—God, I hate those fuckers, it wouldn’t get off the car and we crashed into some water.”

Maria tapped her pen, then shook her head in frustration. “I couldn’t believe he snuck out. I was pissed. Damn it, Jesse!”

Tommy eyed Maria. “I bet you were, but what did you expect from him?”

Ellie smiled, “He saved my ass out in Hillcrest, grabbed me when the truck was sinking.”

Dina smiled sadly, “No friend left behind.”

“My friends’ problems are my problems,” Jesse said.

“I followed Route 5, hit an apartment building. I was ambushed by WLF deserters—They thought I was a Wolf.  The next building I ended up having to go through was full of Stalkers. One pushed me out of a window and I fell into the water below, went through a tunnel. When I got out, I was next to a park.”

“I was shot in the shoulder with an arrow. They weren’t Wolves, they were whistling.”

Lev closed his eyes, “The Seraphites whistled.”

Ellie squinted at Lev, “They were also hanging and disemboweling people, right?”

“Yes,” Lev said, “To free people of their sin.”

Feel her love, right?” Ellie asked.

Lev nodded.

“Fuck, well, I had to get through them to get to the hospital. There was this Wolf I killed—Stupid, I got the information I needed, I shouldn’t have—” Ellie cut herself off, realizing where her story was headed.

“I killed everyone outside the hospital area and inside the immediate area, crawled through a vent and heard Nora talking about how you escaped.”

Abby swallowed. Nora? She was that close behind me?

“She didn’t see me, I aimed my gun and told her not to scream.”

Ellie stepped carefully with her gun aimed, “You remember me?”

Nora held her hands up.

 “Yeah,” Ellie said. “You remember me.”

“What do you want?” Nora asked, her voice cracking.

“Abby was here earlier. Where’d she go?”

“I don’t know.”

Ellie advanced a few steps.

Nora held her hands up in defense. “You shoot me—The sound will have every soldier come running.”

“You’ll still be dead,” Ellie replied, her eyes cold, the gun aimed at Nora’s face, “Tell me where she went and I’ll think about letting you go.”

“We could’ve killed you,” Nora said.

“Maybe you should have or maybe you should’ve stayed the fuck out of Jackson.” Ellie took two more steps towards Nora. “Where’s Abby?

“You still hear his screams?” Nora asked, looking away from Ellie.

“What?”

“I hear them every night, yeah…” Nora said, turning to look Ellie in her eyes, “Yeah, that little bitch got what he deserved.”

“You fucking cunt—” Ellie growled, being stopped by Nora who swung a pan at her head and took off running.

“I chased her,” Ellie said, trying to read Abby. “The Wolves chased me, caught up with us and I held her hostage with my gun to her head. I… I pulled us backwards and we fell into this room full of spores.”

Abby felt her heart start pounding.

“She ran out the other door. The soldiers followed us down and I set the Clickers off with a bottle and bolted for the door she ran through. I could hear her coughing from the other room.”

Abby felt cold chills running up and down her spine.

“I beat her with a metal pipe until she told me where you were,” Ellie said, looking up at Abby. Dina’s eyes widened in shock.

“May your survival be long,” Nora said to Abby.

“May my death be swift,” Abby replied with a grin, slipping through the door.

Abby felt something inside of her break into pieces as Ellie said, “Nora is dead because of you.”

“Owen and Mel? At the aquarium?” Abby stood up, shaking, from anger or despair, no one knew.

Maria, Lev and Dina jumped to their feet.

Lev grabbed Abby’s arm and tried to pull her back, but she wrenched away. “Don’t fucking touch me, Lev.”

Ellie was silent at first, sitting in the chair.

“I didn’t mean to kill them,” she said.

“You didn’t mean to kill them? Fucking bullshit, this is fucking bullshit—”

Maria held her hand out, “Abby, please—”

“Please what?” Abby yelled. “You want me to fucking sit here while she talks about how she killed my friends?”

“You didn’t have to fucking watch them die,” Ellie snapped, advancing towards Abby. Dina traversed around the table and grabbed Ellie, “Ellie, no—”

“Get the fuck off of me, Dina, I swear to God,” Ellie warned.

“Or what?” Dina whispered, squeezing Ellie’s wrists as she scanned her face. Ellie seethed. “Or what?” Dina repeated louder.

Maria looked back at Dina and Ellie.

“You’re taking up for her? After she killed Joel, after she killed Jesse and almost killed you? You didn’t see the look on her face when she was about to slit your throat.” Eye to eye, Ellie’s words cut like knives.

“You just talk so much shit, Ellie, like your hands are clean—”

“Is this is who you are? Forgiving her, but you won’t forgive me?” Ellie continued.

The sound rang clear in the room, and Ellie fell back, bracing herself on the chair with one hand, holding her face with the other. Dina was shaking, her palm stinging.

“I take that as a yes,” Ellie said, getting to her feet to step to Dina again.

“Ellie, shut up,” Maria commanded. “Dina, back the fuck up right now.”

Fuck you, Ellie,” Dina hissed. “I was there every time you woke up screaming or crying, bad enough my own child wakes up screaming or crying. You would say her name in your sleep at the farm—Abby, Abby, Abby!

Abby breathed in sharply at the sound of her name, Lev tried for her arm again and she didn’t snatch it back.

Ellie bared her teeth.

“You’re a fucked up person, Ellie—Seattle fucked you in the head! I watched it happen! And I still didn’t leave you!” Dina shouted in her face.

“Dina, tread carefully,” Ellie warned.

“I watched you take down Infected, I watched you slit people’s throats, I watched you put bullets in their heads after they begged for mercy. You couldn’t fucking stop, not even for me—You’re a fucking cold-blooded killer,” Dina ended in a sob, pacing to the wall, and slumping to her knees.

Ellie was silent.

But I know when I die, my soul is damned,” Ellie sang as she strummed the guitar, blood in her hair, on her clothes, seeping from open wounds.

Abby spoke up again, her voice trembling, “You killed Owen and Mel—She was pregnant by him.”

“I didn’t know until after,” Ellie said, feeling sick to her stomach. “I didn’t mean to. It happened so fast.

“You guys can survive this, I just need her,” Ellie said, reaching into her back pocket to pull out the map.

She pointed the gun at Mel, “You, come here.” Mel hesitated and Ellie snapped, “Fucking get over here!”

Mel walked over, her hands still up and Ellie instructed, “Point to where she is on this map.” She pointed the gun at Owen, “And then you—It better fucking match up.”

“Point to where she is,” Ellie demanded, pointing the gun at Mel again. “Fucking point!”

Owen reached for the gun to try and disarm Ellie, she punched him in the face.

“The gun just went off,” Ellie whispered.

“Owen!” Mel screamed, trying to stab Ellie with a knife. Ellie grabbed her hand, disarmed her gun and wrestled with Mel for control. Mel cornered Ellie and tried to lower the knife to her neck.

Ellie and Mel struggled to the floor with the knife, and she softly cried out as Ellie sunk the knife into her neck. Ellie veered to her feet, picking up her gun and pacing over to Owen.

“Tell me where Abby is.” Ellie pointed the gun down at Owen.

Owen pointed at Mel. “She’s…”

Ellie jabbed her gun into Owen’s neck and he choked harder on his blood. “Where the fuck is she?!”

Owen died right before her eyes, unable to form a single word. Ellie backed off, then turned to Mel, walking over to her body. “No, no, no, no, no…”

She knelt down, pushed Mel onto her back and unzipped Mel’s jacket, revealing her stomach.

Her ears started to ring just like before and Ellie whispered, “Oh, fuck.” She collapsed to her knees and said, “Oh, fuck,” louder. Ellie couldn’t breathe.

Tommy said, “She was a wreck when me and Jesse found her.” He was looking at Abby, but Abby's fists were clenched as she stared at the floor.

“I didn’t mean to,” Ellie said, looking at Abby. “I just—Fuck, I just wanted to know where you were.”

Abby couldn’t stop shaking. “W-Why did you come to Santa Barbara, then—” Abby closed her eyes.

“Help me… please,” Abby whispered, then she raised her head as much as she could opened her eyes, looking at the woman below her. “It’s you.”

Ellie went behind Abby and cut her free. Abby weakly  got to her feet, staring at Ellie who held her knife. She crossed past her, saying, “Lev,” to the boy tethered to the pole.

She untied him and he dropped to the sand. She touched his shoulder and with the other, she lifted his face to look at him.

“Abby,” he mumbled softly as she pulled the rope from his wrists.

“I got you,” Abby comforted him, lifting the boy from the ground and into her arms, “I got you.”

Abby turned to Ellie, gesturing to her left with her head. “There are boats this way.” She started to walk with the barely conscious boy in her arms.

Ellie followed, struggling to get up over the ledge of land.

Abby walked ahead into the ocean, pausing to look back at the woman behind her who pressed her hand to her side.

Ellie walked into the ocean, stood in front of the second boat as she peeled her backpack off and dropped it inside. She touched her side with a hiss of pain and she looked down at her bloody open palm.

“His face… Joel’s face… the last time I saw him, he was covered in blood,” Ellie whispered, ghosting her hand over her side. An injury long gone.

Ellie looked in Abby’s direction, her palm still open. She turned, walking through the shallow water. She stopped and Abby’s back was to her as she messed with the tether to the boat.

“I can’t let you leave,” Ellie said.

“I’m not doing this,” Abby said as her hands tried to unravel the rope. Her heart started to pound.

The next thing she felt was Ellie grabbing the hair at the crown of her head and her shoulder and pulling her into the water.

Ellie kicked Abby while she was on her knees in the sea and she fell to her side. As she twisted back over, she looked up at Ellie, breathing hard, “No.”

Abby started to get up and looked at Ellie again, “I’m not gonna fight you.”

“Yes, you will,” Ellie said, pulling her mother’s switchblade from her pocket, popping the knife and stalking over to Lev in the boat, holding it at his neck.

Abby stared at Ellie, “He’s not a part of this.”

Ellie’s breathing quickened as she replied, “You made him a part of this.”

 Abby rose to her feet, nodding at Ellie. “Okay,” she said, backing up, “Okay.” Ellie moved away from Lev, switchblade still in hand.

Abby rushed at Ellie and tackled her into the water, pinning Ellie’s wrist to the ground and with her other hand, Abby pressed her head down. Ellie struggled and pushed at Abby with her legs. Ellie bested Abby and swiped at her face with her switchblade and Abby screamed, backing up.

As she touched her face and looked at her fingers, she groaned, “Fuck.”

“You cut my face,” Abby traced the scar on the left side of her face. 

Ellie advanced on Abby with the knife and swung wildly, the blade sliced Abby’s arms. Abby threw a punch at Ellie and Ellie slid in, growling, driving the knife into Abby’s shoulder as she groaned in pain.

Abby held onto Ellie’s wrist only for her to rip the knife from her skin and slash her across the stomach.

Startled, Abby choked out a cry and fell back into the water. Abby got up again and when Ellie closed distance, she swung, hitting Ellie in the face, making her stumble back.

Ellie tried to close in to swing and Abby stopped her arm, tried to disarm her again, but Ellie maneuvered behind Abby and tried to force the blade into her neck. Abby twisted them both and they fell into the water. Ellie turned and quickly tried to stab Abby in the chest, but she moved.

Ellie placed her knee on Abby’s stomach and tried to plunge the knife into Abby’s chest. As the knife slid through her skin, Abby screamed, her scream growing louder and more desperate as she squeezed Ellie’s tattooed arm, pushing back and up to get the knife out of her chest.

She smacked Ellie’s blade out of her hand and it fell into the water, then slapped Ellie as hard as she could, then kicking her in the stomach to apply distance between them.

Now, the fight was fair.

Ellie rolled in the water, coughed, moaning as she got to her feet as her side throbbed. Abby closed in, swinging at Ellie, punching her in the face so hard she almost fell. Ellie recovered and the two women traded blows, both of them grunting and yelping when the other managed to hurt the other. Abby’s face leaked with blood that dripped into the shallow water.

Ellie struck Abby so hard, she saw her vision blur and she fell into the water. She blinked at the water on her hands and knees, trying to fight the stun.

Ellie advanced on Abby in the water and Abby held up her hand, sobbing. “No… no…” Ellie kicked her and she fell onto her back. She pinned her down in the water and Abby grunted, spitting out water as she fought for control.

Ellie forced Abby’s head down into the water with her left hand and Abby bit down on her last two fingers, forcing herself up in the water as Ellie screamed in agony, feeling them rip from her hand. Ellie punched Abby twice in the face with her other hand, knocking her back in the water.

Ellie forced Abby back down into the water, pushing her shoulders. The blood from Ellie’s fingers pooled over Abby’s face. Abby grunted from underneath the water as Ellie panted over her as Abby tried to remove her arms. Abby raised her lower body and Ellie used her knee to hold her down.

Ellie screamed as she held Abby down, the rage and grief filling her entirely. Abby smacked Ellie’s arm, her legs thrashing as the water filled her lungs. The gurgling of water from Abby, then the image of Joel on his porch, guitar in hand, his eyes welcoming, understanding, forgiving

Ellie let go of Abby with a scream. Abby got on her hands and knees, crawling backwards, coughing out water. Abby struggled to her knees as Ellie sat in the water, breathing hard. Abby walked around Ellie, staring at the woman full of grief in the water.

“Go,” Ellie wept as she held what was left of her fingers. “Just take him.”

Ellie looked on, crying as Abby departed with Lev. Abby glanced back at Ellie one last time and then she faded into the fog.

“I saw him as I was drowning you,” Ellie said, “The night before he died.”

“If somehow the Lord gave me a second chance, at that moment, I would do it all over again,” Joel said.

“It was our last conversation,” Ellie wrapped her arms around herself.

“Yeah… I just... I don’t think I can ever forgive you for that, but I would like to try.”

 Maria bit her lip. Tommy cursed softly. Dina sat against the wall and tried to imagine Ellie letting go of Abby. Abby looked to Lev, her hand intertwining with his. The pain of the women recalling their fight and the weight of Ellie’s words to Joel were thick in the air.

Abby looked to Ellie, “You let me save him again by sparing me. Thank you.”

Ellie looked at the woman, but didn’t speak, she just nodded.

You’re welcome.

 

Chapter Text

 It’s so much better when everyone is in, are you in?

—Incubus

“Please… help me,” Abby whispered, her shoulders aching because of the way she was tied.

In front of her, tethered to poles were Owen, Mel, Yara and Lev, weakened and malnourished.

She saw the woman in front of her. “It’s you.”

Ellie looked at her with her switchblade in hand. She cut her down. Abby fell to the ground and struggled to get up. Ellie kicked her onto her back.

Yara wept, “Abby, get up.”

“Please, no, I have to save them,” Abby begged, holding her hand up.

Ellie thrust her switchblade into Abby’s stomach, then pulled the knife and Abby screamed, her voice high and piercing as she felt her insides spill outside.

Abby woke up in a cold sweat. Her comforter was on the floor. She tried to steady her breathing as the dream flooded back to her.

“Fuck,” Abby whispered to herself, rubbing her eyes.

The Winter Solstice sun rose above the horizon and Abby spent the morning, cleaning and doing laundry for herself and Lev. She tried to sort through her feelings about Ellie. In the back of her head, she always knew the woman killed Mel and Owen. It was something she denied after the theater, seeing that multiple people from Jackson were there.

The less she knew, the better and with Lev sitting in front of her, she tried to let it go. It was better if she let it go. The fear in Lev’s eyes as he said her name as she was about to do what she’s always done—Murder.

Ellie was looking for me. Owen, Mel and her baby are dead because of me. I couldn’t fucking protect them because I left go to get Lev.

Abby remembered what it was like to go back to the aquarium after the theater. She sat over Mel’s body and thought about their last interaction.

“He may fall for your little act with these kids, but I don’t,” Mel said.

“What?” Abby asked, feeling the disdain in Mel’s eyes and her words. “There’s nothing to fall for.”

Mel continued, “Issac’s top Scar killer suddenly had a change of heart? Nothing to do with Owen, right?”

“I haven’t always done the right thing—” Abby responded softly. Inside her, Guilt was clawing its way out as she tried to speak.

Guilt had razor sharp teeth that chewed everything she fed it. Guilt had eyes that saw every sin she committed and her willingness to commit those sins. Guilt saw every smile. Guilt had ears that heard every thought, insult and threat from Abby.

Guilt heard all of the screams of pain, agony and shock. Guilt heard last words from people she murdered, their pleas for mercy. Last but not least, Guilt had a mouth that wanted to scream out all of her transgressions.

Just briefly, Guilt had kicked her in the stomach harder than Mel’s child would ever kick her. Does she know I slept with Owen? And it was enough for her to want to admit it and beg for forgiveness.

“You’re a piece of shit, Abby,” Mel said, her words like a machete, cutting her open so Guilt could roam free. “You always have been,” Mel softly said as Abby looked away from her, but it didn’t cushion the blow.

When Abby was looking away from her, she was thinking of Owen behind her and how she felt when he slid inside of her.

“I’m done with you,” Mel said, shouldering her bag to walk away. She paused, turning to look back at Abby.

“You wanna do right by these kids? Get out of their lives before you screw them over, too,” Mel walked away, disappearing through a door.

Abby turned to the view of plants in front of her, plants encased in water where they could only grow so much and so far, then she kicked a chair out of frustration and turned back to the trapped plants, whispering, “Fuck,” and started to cry.

And over Mel’s body, she cried and confessed to her sins, saying that Mel was right about her being a piece of shit, that she fucked Owen, but she would never ever screw Lev and Yara over.

Before Abby put Mel’s body in the water, she palmed her bare belly, wondered if there was a God for the millionth time, cried and asked Him to look after the unborn child. Then she wondered if she could be pregnant as the water carried Mel and her unborn child away.

Abby had seen more blood from other people than she had of herself.

After all, her period was irregular and when her father gave her the Talk, he said that a lack of food in the ongoing aftermath of the Outbreak made it more difficult for women to conceive. Her father said it was important for women and men to repopulate as the Outbreak could mean extinction. The Fireflies were big on that, too.

Not much scared the shit out of Abby, but the thought of taking care of two children did and it was as formidable as being thousands of feet in the air and falling to her death. It gave her more of a reason to follow Owen’s lead.

Abby threw down the broom and ran her hand through her long, dirty blonde hair. “Fuck, Mel loved Christmas.”

Her thoughts went to Owen and how she sobbed over his corpse. It took her an hour to find the strength to pick up his body. When she laid him down on the sand, she kissed his forehead, his cheeks and his blue lips. He was so cold. She was grateful his face didn’t have a bullet wound in it.

She curled up next to his body on the sand, threw her arm over him and rested her head on his shoulder, murmuring confessions and apologies.

“I got Lev, but Yara died. She was already going to die because a Wolf shot her, then she killed Issac and they opened fire on her. She saved us, gave me and Lev an opening to run. And I killed so many of Wolves, so many Scars trying to get me and Lev out alive,” Abby breathed in sharply, trying to quell a sob.

“I’m going to Santa Barbara,” she vowed to him as she closed his eyes and smoothed back his hair, “I’m gonna find the Fireflies.”

She sobbed as she picked up his body, waded into the water barefoot. It lapped at her shins as she went further. She walked further into the water where it covered her stomach. Abby lowered him into the waves.

We’re allowed to be happy,” she repeated his words, letting him go.

Lev came down the stairs and saw Abby leaning against the kitchen counter, her back to him. The broom was on the floor with a pile of dust and dirt inches from Abby’s feet.

“Abby?” Lev softly said. She didn’t respond. “Abby?” He tried louder. No response. Finally, Lev walked over to Abby, grabbed her wrist, noticed her squeezing the counter hard, and she snapped back.

“Huh?” Abby braced herself on the counter. “Fuck, Lev, I’m sorry, I was just thinking.”

“About what?” Lev asked.

“Owen and Mel, their child. I was thinking about you and Yara,” she sighed Yara’s name. Lev didn’t let go of Abby’s wrist and led her to the couch. Dina followed through on her promise and the dresser, television, and a stack of DVDs made the place feel less empty.

“I miss them, too,” Lev whispered. “If I didn’t leave for the island, I could’ve—”

Abby grabbed Lev and squeezed his shoulders, her face close to his. “No, no, no, Lev, no—Their deaths aren’t because of you. You know what happened and it caught up with me. It was my responsibility to protect all of you from what I did. I don’t blame you for leaving. Please don’t blame yourself.”

Truth is, had everyone been there and if Ellie came anyway, she may have given herself up to her on the conditions she didn’t hurt any of them. Or maybe she would’ve killed Ellie. Abby used to think about both scenarios when she couldn’t sleep after losing them.

Abby rose from the couch. “Dina is coming through to pick us up for patrol. Are you sure you want to come? I can go by myself.”

Lev nodded, the ghost of a smile on his face. “Yes.”

“Okay, wait here, I’ll go shower,” Abby said, ruffling his hair. “You need a haircut, kid.”

×

Ellie sighed as she stepped out of the steaming bathroom, squeezing the towel around her dark, auburn strands. She looked at the clock. A quarter to 10. She was ruminating over the sit down since it happened. Dina left without a word to anybody and slammed Maria’s door on the way out.

When Maria looked at Ellie, Ellie said, “I don’t want to talk about this shit anymore. I’m going home.”

Maria sighed. “Alright, I won’t stop you. Tommy, walk Ellie home.”

Ellie got dressed, pulling on a pair of grey underwear, and over them, a pair of black skinny jeans. They gapped a little at her waist. She pulled a white tank over her breasts and stomach. Finally, she donned a grey long sleeve. She grabbed and adorned herself with her leather jacket and gloves, then heard a knock at the door.

She unlocked it, opened it to Tommy.

Tommy said, “I have some breakfast for you inside.”

Ellie shrugged, “I’m not hungry.”

“That don’t mean starve, Ellie, let me do something nice for you,” Tommy said and Ellie rolled her eyes and followed him out. Tommy took over Joel’s house since he and Maria divorced.

Ellie walked through the door and noticed Tommy didn’t change much. She almost wished he had.

She sat down at the table and Tommy put the plate of food down in front of her, then sat down with his. Sunny side up eggs with bacon and some homemade bread.

Tommy and Ellie finished eating. Tommy sipped at his coffee while Ellie drank a glass of water.

“Since when do you drink coffee?” Ellie asked.

“Well,” Tommy started, glimpsing at the coffee, “Maria’s booze guys know a guy who grows coffee plants in Colorado and uh, we’ve had a steady supply of coffee grinds ever since. The smell reminds me of Joel, so I keep a decent amount in the pantry. It ain’t too bad with some milk.”

Ellie nodded. She smelled the coffee as soon as she’d came in and thought of Joel. He would’ve loved that.

“Dina, Abby and Lev are going on patrol today, maybe they left already by now.”

“Seems like they’re getting along great,” Ellie mumbled, cracking her knuckles.

“Dina’s just trying to do the right thing and we could use the extra help. The girl hasn’t given us any trouble since coming here a few months back. People in Jackson are still scared of her and those who aren’t scared, well, they hate her guts. Hadn’t seen much of her since it started getting colder, people say she’s the Lone Wolf.”

Tommy took a long sip of his coffee as Ellie said nothing.

Finally, Ellie said, “I’m glad she hasn’t given Jackson trouble.”

Tommy laughed, “Look at you, finding something nice to say. I take it you haven’t made up with Dina.”

Ellie shook her head.

“Dina doesn’t understand,” said Tommy. “You know, when you were M.I.A., she told me that your excuse to go to the hospital where Nora was at, she said you used me as an excuse. But she knew why you were going. She knew you were gonna kill Nora and God knows whoever else to find Abby.”

“Oh, yeah?” Ellie said, “I guess Dina thinks she knows everything that goes through my head.”

“No, no, no, no, Ellie, you admitted to it the other day. You said you were hunting Abby. She even lied to Jesse about her pregnancy so you had more time. And I get it, I would’ve done the same goddamn thing. I mean, I was doing the same thing, I was hunting Abby, too.” Tommy rose from his chair and walked over to his coffee maker, pouring more coffee in his cup.

He returned to the table, “And you have to realize that Dina isn’t like us. Now, you spilled a lot of blood you can’t clean. Now, you’re haunted. Even though Dina has spilled blood, too, it was for different reasons. She did what she did to help you. She killed for you.”

Ellie crossed her arms and leaned back in the chair. “So, what are you saying? That I didn’t kill for Joel?”

“Nah, Ellie. You killed for Joel. She just can’t see you. Yeah, you changed, but it’s not just that—Dina looks at you different. How many times did she see you kill somebody out in Seattle?”

Ellie pulled her long sleeve over her wrist. “Too many to count.”

“And when she couldn’t come with you, every time you came back, you had blood on you, whether it was yours or somebody else’s, it don’t fucking matter, that right?”

“Yeah,” Ellie said quietly.

“Did she know you beat that girl in the hospital with a pipe until she talked before this week?”

“No, I never told her how I made her talk,” Ellie answered bleakly. “She knew it fucked me up.”

“I don’t wanna lose you,” Ellie whispered.

“Now, see, you kept it from her, but she already saw enough. When Maria and I were together, I was transparent about the things I’d done. If we’re being honest, I told her, ‘I’d do it again if I had to.’”

Tommy set his hands on the table. “When somebody begs for mercy and you don’t fucking give it to them—You pull that trigger and you realize that killing’s become a way to cope. That’s when you realize you died. Then you can’t live with it, knowing you lived that way, knowing you needed it. Maria accepted that shit.”

“Fuck,” Ellie breathed out. “Fuck.”

“And I still love Maria. I won’t lie to you, Ellie, there were times where I limped to her house, begging on my goddamn hands and knees for her to take me back. ‘I’ll do right this time, I’ll let the Abby shit go,’ and when Abby came here, I tried. I’m still trying,” Tommy squeezed his hand into a fist.

“Man, I’d be lying if I didn’t say for those first couple of weeks, I daydreamed about going to her house and standing over her bed until she woke up, the last thing she would hear is me speaking my brother’s name, last thing she’d feel is a knife in her chest,” Tommy whispered.

Ellie sniffled and adjusted her hair over her shoulders.

“Years and years ago, Maria took me as I am when I came to Jackson, but she couldn’t deal with my guilt, my obsession, my need to hunt. She hated what it made me, what it took from me,” he gestured to his eyes, then he pointed at her missing fingers. “I was a killer again.”

“Dina killed because she had to, Maria killed because she had to, Jesse killed because he had to, but you and I?” Ellie was looking at him in the eye. “We killed because we wanted to and if there’s a God, then that’s the worst goddamn sin a human being can commit in a world like this. There’s only so many of us left.”

“I don’t sleep. I don’t eat… I’m… I’m not like you, Dina,” Ellie whispered as Dina stood across from her.

“I love Dina,” Ellie’s voice cracked.

“But killers belong with killers.”

×

Abby, Dina and Lev reached the outpost and strung up their horses. It was an old building, the paint faded and dull on the walls, deteriorating slowly with cracks and holes, giving view to the foundation beneath.

Abby pet her horse, a black stallion whose name was Diablo. He didn’t belong to anybody yet. Back at the stable, Dina said that he didn’t want to, he was a wild one they’d found last Spring.

Abby could’ve pissed herself when she mounted Diablo and the stallion snorted unhappily, shook his head and kicked his back legs, then took Abby in a few circles outside the gate. She ended up coaxing the horse gently, leaning forward and massaging his neck.

“See, I’m not that bad,” she whispered to Diablo after tying him up, smiling as the horse closed its blue eyes.  

“I’m surprised he didn’t get pissed and throw you off yet,” Dina said, stringing up Mercy, a golden horse with a white mane and tail. She gave Mercy a kiss and she huffed.

“Me, too,” Abby laughed. She looked over at Lev, “Let me help you out, kid,” and she walked away from Diablo over to Lev. The blood bay’s horse was named Hero. When Lev wasn’t with Abby, sometimes he went to go hang out with the horses and Hero took a a liking to Lev, something Abby noticed when the horse was vocal and licked Lev’s face.

“Abby, sign us in?”  

Abby walked over and picked up the pen, she curiously flipped a few pages back and noted Gabriel ran this route with Dina. She shook her head, flipped back to the present, signing 12-23-2040, Abigail Anderson.

“Alright, there’s two buildings that Maria wanted us to check today. We have to go back in the hardware store and go through the stock to look for a few flashlights, as many as we can bring back, the other one is a convenience store need to be cleared, scavenged, the works.”

Fairly easy, Abby adjusted her gear. Maria had given back Abby her guns, but she decided on the shotgun instead of the rifle and took her pistol. Lev went with his bow and arrow, but carried his pistol just in case.

They went for the flashlights first. The stock door was locked and Dina pulled out her lock pick. Lev walked around the shop, looking at the faded labels, picking up destroyed items.

“Who taught you how to pick?” Abby asked, leaning back on the counter.

“My sister,” Dina replied, carefully adjusting her tools, “She could pick a lock in seconds. She was just gifted. It takes me a little longer to do so—Oh, fuck, I got it! She’d be proud of me, that’s a new record.” Dina cracked open the door. “We’re in,” she gestured with her head.

Dina led them down the stairs, their flashlights on and Dina coughed, “Ew, is that—” Abby walked ahead down the aisle, shined the flashlight around the corner, then the other, landing on a skeleton in clothes.

Abby walked over, sighed as she saw the blood stain on the wall, a entry wound on the skull’s temple and of course, the smell of death in a room without ventilation.

She picked up a note and read aloud,

5-18-2035

I barricaded myself in the stockroom, found the keys in the drawer. We were just looking for food, didn’t eat in three days. I left behind McKayla. She got bit as we were running from a group of Runners.  I still hear her screams as the Runners fed on her, she screamed my name. I can’t face her sisters and I’m scared to leave. It’s better that they think we're dead. I loved her and I was supposed to protect her. I promised. I only have one bullet left and I’ll make it worth my while. At least I won’t be living a lie.

Abby set the note down, “Goddamn.”

Dina sighed, tapping her rifle against the floor, “You know, it really sucks when someone just doesn’t come back.”

Lev said, “I wonder if her sisters made it out.”

Abby shined her light above her, eying a series of boxes on a shelf.

“Not everyone does,” she said, sticking the flashlight in her mouth and reaching up on her tippy toes to grab the box. She got a good grip on the box lowered it to the floor and began to sift through it.

Dina and Lev went through a series of boxes as Abby walked around, pulling off more boxes off the shelf. She was bored and she thought, What supply run isn’t boring?

“Found a brand new toolkit and a set of 1,200 assorted screws,” Abby called.

“Good, grab it. I’m sure Maria will find a use for that,” Dina replied.

Abby loaded up her bag and walked over, struggling with a box that would’ve been so easy for her before Santa Barbara. She dropped it on the floor, sighing. My fucking neck.

“Score,” Abby grinned, shining her light on the USB flashlights as Dina and Lev looked in. “USB included.”

“Perrrrrrrrfect,” Dina said, rolling her r’s as she loaded up her bag. “Try to fit five, but don’t beat yourself up about it if you can’t. Besides, we got one more store to hit.”

Dina, Abby and Lev went upstairs and Dina locked the door again. “Such a fucking goldmine.”

“Where’s the other store?” Abby asked.

“Two streets up, but we’re gonna climb up the building next to it, there’s an entrance on the ceiling.”

Abby and Lev jogged besides Dina outside of the store and Dina linked her hands and kneeled below the ladder. She nodded at Lev, “Hit the ladder latch?”

Dina boosted Lev and he climbed the ladder and disappeared out of sight. Lev squeezed the rusted latch between his gloved hands and pulled as Abby and Dina waited in the alleyway.

Lev peeked over the building. He shook his head.

“Fuck, it’s not budging.” Dina motioned for Lev to come back down the ladder and he steadied his legs, let go and landed on his feet gracefully.

“Nice one, Lev, I would’ve fallen on my ass.”

“Thank you,” Lev rubbed the back of his head.

“Alright, follow me.”

The trio crossed around to the back of the building and Dina hopped the metal fence first, then Lev and finally, Abby.

They walked until they saw a backdoor and a window. Dina tried the backdoor and sighed, dropping her backpack on the floor. She messed with the lock pick for a few minutes until she heard the mechanics give. She rose and twisted the doorknob, shining her flashlight in.

“It’s clear so far.”

Abby and Lev followed Dina into the room and Dina pulled open drawers.

“Fucking empty,” Dina whispered. Dina opened the next door, walked into the hallway, shining her light at either end. She caught of glimpse of something moving in the dark and squinted.

Abby and Lev followed. Abby asked, “Did you see something?” Abby turned to shine her light behind her, but it was nothing but the end of the hallway.

Dina sounded unsure. “It looked like an animal.” She paced forward anyway. She shone her light up above where the ceiling had a gaping hole in it and walked further towards the stairway.

Dina paced down ten stairs, turned back towards Abby and Lev, put her flashlight under her face and mouthed, “Infected.” Dina switched to her chest-light. The two women readied their guns.

The double doors were open and the clicking got louder the closer they got to the doors. The three of them stuck close to the left wall, but Dina crept closer and from the under the stairway, a Stalker lunged out of the dark and pinned her to the floor. Dina struggled as the Stalker shrieked in her face.

Abby wrestled the Stalker off of Dina and pulled it backwards as Dina scrambled to her feet back towards the stairway.

They heard about three or four simultaneous croaks followed by shrieks and quickening footsteps in the direction of their noise.

“We got fucking company!” Abby hissed, trying to hold the Stalker back, her arms around its torso. The thing had started to get agitated.

When the first Clicker came through the door, Abby pushed the Stalker at it and it bit its own. Lev shot that one with an arrow, straight through its head.

The second Clicker came quickly behind the first swung wildly at Abby and Dina grabbed it from behind, putting a shiv in its neck and the Clicker squealed. Abby shot the last, two bullets in his deformed face, squealing as it went down.

All three looked up as heard heavy footsteps and deep groans.

“We can’t fight that in here, move forward!” Abby commanded as she passed them through the door.

Abby clicked on her chestlight as Dina and Lev flanked the other side. Abby slid over a countertop and stepped on glass. Shit.

The Bloater charged in her direction and Abby burst into a run, circling around the beast as she pulled out her shotgun. Abby shot twice and side-stepped and from the other side, Lev shot his pistol and Dina shot her rifle.

“Move!” Dina grabbed Lev as the Bloater turned and threw a bomb of gas in their direction. It exploded and the two of them coughed.

“You son of a bitch!” Abby yelled, shooting the beast again, gritting her teeth as her gun recoiled in her hand. She burst into a run again, reloading and panting hard as she forced herself to move as the Bloater charged at her again.

Dina across the room to Abby’s 2 o’clock, lit a Molotov cocktail, Lev covering her with his pistol. She pumped her shotgun as the Bloater charged at her, roaring, shot again and then dove out of the way as the Bloater knocked a shelf to the floor.

Dina passed Lev her rifle and yelled, “Shoot it in the head!” Dina sprinted to the other side of the room, slid to a stop and lit her Molotov, tossing it at the Bloater and the Bloater ignited, roaring louder. Lev shot the rifle.

“We’re gonna have a lot more Infected to kill if this motherfucker doesn’t shut the fuck up!” Abby snapped. “Fuck it, Lev, tell me you got those explosive arrows on you!”

The beast on fire stumbled in the direction of Lev whose back was turned, aiming at a Stalker he caught in his peripheral. The Stalker dropped.

“Come on, motherfucker, eyes on me!” Abby yelled, running in front of the Bloater, shooting at point blank range.

“Yeah, but you won’t like how I use them,” yelled Lev, switching to his bow and pulling the arrow back as a group of four shrieking Clickers ran in from the other door. As the explosive arrow hit, the Clickers exploded, blood, arms and legs being thrown across the room.

“That’s it, kid, you got it!” Abby screamed, pumping her shotgun again and sliding to the floor on her back, shooting the Bloater and recovering to her feet.

Dina aimed at the Bloater’s head with her pistol, the bullet lodging itself in one of its sacs. The Bloater groaned, faltering temporarily.

Abby, Lev and Dina heard a group of runners, growling and screaming as they thundered through the door at the opposite end of the room.

“Fuck this, we gotta move!” Dina yelled. Lev sprinted through the door first, he was the quickest, passing Abby as Abby shot at the Bloater who stumbled towards them again. Abby went next and Dina followed, throwing another Molotov past the door’s entrance.

The three of them ran up the stairs, panting hard, the sounds of Infected not far behind. They went out the way they came and Abby slammed the first door, locking it as the footsteps grew louder in the hallway and ran behind Dina and Lev.

As soon as they hopped the fence, they slowed down to a walk, then stopped and caught their breath in the alley.

“Are you guys good?” Dina asked as she sat her bag down.

Both Lev and Abby answered, “No.”

Lev panted, setting his bag down. “Fuck, I never saw that kind. Does it die?”

“Hard to kill,” Dina said, reloading her pistol. “That one will break your spine if you grabs you.”

Abby breathed hard, head back against the brick wall, “I fucking hate that type of Infected.”

“You have ones you like?” Dina joked, looking at Abby over her shoulder as she braced herself against the wall.

“Yeah, the freakshow I took down by myself in the Seattle ICU was my favorite,” Abby said, peeling herself off the wall.

“What?” Dina cocked her head at Abby, who tried to hide her smile.

“You’re gonna tell me I’m full of shit.”

“Abby, tell her,” Lev breathed out, picking up her bag.

“Okay,” Abby said, looking at Dina, “Once we’re closer to Jackson.”

Back at the outpost, Dina and Lev mounted Mercy and Hero and watched as Abby fussed with Diablo. Lev was laughing as Abby looked at the horse.

Dina sat her backpack between her legs, fished out a a quarter of an apple from a paper bag. “Abby, here,” she said, tossing it and Abby caught it.

Abby dangled the apple slice in front of Diablo. Diablo nudged Abby and Abby held up her other hand, “Alright, you’re gonna let me ride you back, Diablo,” and fed the stallion.

Diablo finished munching on the apple and Abby braced her hands on the horse, foot in the stirrup. Abby lifted herself up as the horse swished its tail.

The three rode out, the Winter Solstice sun high in the air, peeking from behind the clouds.

“You’re a great shot, Abby, and you’re bold—Fearless.” Dina remarked as the three navigated a field. “You, too, Lev, killing all those Clickers with an explosive arrow. I’m impressed and I know Maria and Tommy will feel the same.”

“Gotta be,” Abby nodded, looking to Lev who rode at her left-hand side. He was smiling.

She looked to Dina after a calm minute of riding. “Why did you lie to Maria?”

Dina’s eyes softened, “You know, I had no clue what happened between you and Ellie in Santa Barbara. I didn’t want to cause any more issues. It was better that way. Sometimes you lie to keep the people you love safe.”

People you love?

Abby nodded, her eyes tracking across the open field, the icy wind cutting at her skin through her clothes.

“I had to beg Maria to do this run with the both of you, to swap Gabriel out,” Dina continued. “She was pissed. But Maria forgot to tell him he was gonna take you both on patrol.”

“Thank you,” Abby sighed. Missed his chance to kill us both outside of Jackson, thanks to Maria.

“We’re about fifteen minutes out of Jackson, tell me about that freakshow Infected,” Dina smirked at Abby.

Abby groaned. “Haven’t you had enough of them today?”

“What’s wrong with me asking a question?” Dina said coyly. Abby looked at Dina from the corner of her eye and wondered what she really thought of her.

“I left Lev hiding outside the hospital. I had to get surgical supplies for Yara, Lev’s sister, she had compartment syndrome and needed her arm amputated. She was 16 years old. The Wolves caught me and held me prisoner because I went rogue, but Nora freed me and escorted me down to the ICU. She said it was ground zero for the Outbreak in Seattle. It was as horrible as you could think. There was so much fungus everywhere.” Abby closed her eyes. Nora.

“Damn,” Dina said and Abby wasn’t sure which part she was set off by.

“I got to the ambulance down there and I found the supplies and I hear this sound that was like cross between a Clicker and a fucking Bloater just as I’m shoving the stuff in my backpack. When it showed itself at the back of the ambulance, I—” Abby sighed. “I honestly thought I was gonna die and I scrambled to the front and kicked the driver’s window out. It chased me.”

“Tell her what it looked like, Abby,” Lev pushed Abby to go on and Abby shivered as Dina listened.

“Fuck, it was like a fusion of so many Infected. It was a fucking Bloater with six or seven arms, standing on two legs and the arm of a Clicker. So many Infected faces. It was the most disgusting thing I’ve seen in my life. It was like a rat king, but Infected.”

“Stop, you’re joking, right?” Dina asked.

Abby looked her dead in the face. “I swear. It was growing and mutating in the ICU for 25 years. There were so many people locked in that room. It was so horrific.”

“Shit.”

Abby continued, “Yeah, I tried to escape, but it was smashing through walls like a Bloater. It grabbed me, lifted me up into the air and I hit it with an axe until it let me go. When it wouldn’t die, I saw a Stalker rip itself from its body and it ran. The fucker would explode acid gas.”

“Goddamn.”

“I threw everything I had at it. Bombs, incendiary  shotgun shells, I blasted it with a flamethrower. It wouldn’t die. Then I finally killed it and I had to hunt the Stalker. It was throwing acid bombs at me like a Bloater. Fucking son of a bitch,” Abby finished.

Dina blinked at Abby.

“What?” Abby hated it when people stared at her.

“Nobody at Jackson is ever gonna believe you.”

Abby sighed, defeated. “What was I supposed to do? Take a picture of it with a Polaroid?”

Dina laughed. “It would help your case.”

Abby said, “Fine, the next time I’m fighting for my life in a dark, spore-filled ICU with a nightmarish abomination after me, I’ll be sure to take a picture.”

Dina rolled her eyes, “I didn’t say I didn’t believe you, Abby, I said nobody at Jackson will. Maybe Maria, and definitely Tommy if he’s drunk.”

Lev laughed and said, “Don’t worry, Abby, I got your back.” Then Lev coaxed Hero into sprinting ahead.

“Lev!” Abby called. “What the hell? Slow down!”

“Relax, Abby, you’re reminding me of me when JJ is crawling across my living room,” Dina said. “Gate’s two minutes ahead.”

Abby bit her lip.

Dina said to Abby, “That’s a great kid you found.”

“He saved me, him and Yara.” Dina knew already from Maria, so she just nodded.

“Yara would be proud. Kids change you. Give you something to live for.”

“Yeah, they do,” Abby agreed, framing her hand over her eyes to block from the sun.

“Wanna come to the bonfire tonight? Just gonna get drunk and party.” Dina didn’t give her the chance to answer upon seeing Abby fix her face to decline, “Come on, Abby—You isolate yourself too much. Go take a shower, a nap and then come back out to let your hair down.”

“Fine, can Lev come?”

“Adults only. Hasn’t he been staying at his girlfriend’s house?”

Abby shot Dina an incredulous look. “Girlfriend?”

“He didn’t tell you? Shit, you didn’t hear it from me!” Dina laughed. “Race you to the gate! Go, Mercy!”

×

“Coming to the bonfire tonight?” Maria said as Ellie opened her door.

Ellie sighed, “I don’t think—”

“I just got a shipment of alcohol in this morning. First come, first serve. My backyard.”

“Is that supposed to be a bribe?”

“Only if you want it to be, Ellie,” Maria shrugged. “You came back to Jackson, left to the farm, then left again and disappeared for a year and a half. I think I’m allowed to want you around.”

Ellie crossed her arms. “Is Dina gonna be there?”

“This isn’t about Dina,” Maria replied.

“If Dina’s there, then I can’t—”

“Are you just gonna avoid Dina every chance you get?” Maria asked abruptly.

“Maria, listen, I can’t be around her,” Ellie said, leaning her head against the doorway.

“We all have to co-exist here,” Maria said softly, reaching for Ellie’s hand, but Ellie backed up. Maria looked at Ellie and shook her head.

“Ellie, you don’t have to be defensive with me.”

“I’m not being defensive, Maria!” Ellie turned her back to Maria. “Fuck!”

“With all due respect, Ellie, if you wanted to avoid people, you should have kept running, but you can’t run from yourself.”

It didn’t matter how softly Maria said it, her words made Ellie’s heart sink.

“Have a nice night, Maria,” Ellie said bitterly and Maria closed the door.

Ellie swallowed a scream and her throat burned. She felt there wasn’t enough room for her heart in her chest. Her breathing picked up as she instinctively reached for her backpack, paused as she saw her right hand shaking.

×

Abby sighed as she splashed her face in the bathroom. She grabbed a hair brush and brushed her hair. Okay, bonfire, no pressure. Simple. Abby, all you have to do is sit there, talk and drink.

Shit, killing people is easier than that.

She stared at herself in the mirror and touched the scar on her face.

She changed into a pair of black sports leggings and a red tank-top. She eyed the scars on her arms and sighed. Some had faded in the California sun, others had not. Abby’s body was her temple and it was in ruins.

She threw on a black thermal hoodie and cursed. “Damn.”

Abby knocked on Lev’s door, inhaling as she looked up, exhaling as she looked down.

“Come in,” Lev called.

“Hey,” Abby said, walking through the door to see Lev laying in bed, yawning. “Ready to knock out?” She asked.

“Where are you going? Why are you dressed?”

Abby bit her lip. “Dina invited me to a party at Maria’s.” A shadow of pain crossed Lev’s face for a brief

“Can I come?” Lev tried to sit up, but Abby gently pushed him down and smoothed his hair back.

“Adults only, kid, I’m sorry.” Abby whispered, grabbing his chin and rubbing the side of his cheek with her thumb, looking at his scar. “You look tired and it’s been one hell of a day. Don’t wait up. Go to sleep.”

Lev sighed, then covering his mouth to mask his yawn. “Fine, Abby. Are you sure you’ll be okay?”

“You know I can handle myself, Lev,” she whispered, kissing his forehead. “Goodnight, kid.”

Lev closed the door and Abby went down the stairs of her home and out of the house.

Abby shivered as she walked through the snow. Fuck, I should’ve wore my coat.

The good thing about California was that it was warm, even sweltering sometimes. Seattle was cool and rainy for the most part, but Wyoming could get freezing.

It was tough for Abby to adjust from California to Wyoming. It was something that was far from her mind before she arrived to Jackson, her mind occupied with a possible impending death for her and Lev—a death she hoped would be swift for both of them.

Abby sighed, rubbing her gloved hands together and smoothing them over her cheeks as she walked. I wonder who’s there. Dina and Maria are a given, maybe Tommy. If Dina’s there, Ellie won’t be. After all, they fought pretty bad. Shit, I don’t know what happened after that fight. I shouldn’t assume.

She walked up Maria’s steps and tried the door. It was open. She rubbed her boots on the mat on the inside of the door and walked to the back of Maria’s house.

She never got the chance to look at Maria’s house closely, but Abby had to admit that Maria had a sense of style. She passed two framed pictures—One with her and Tommy. Maria was in a red dress, Tommy in a black jacket, white button-down and jeans. They were kissing.

Wedding photo, probably. They looked happy.

The second photo that caught her eye was a group photo. It was Maria, Tommy, Joel and a younger Ellie. Abby thought, This is after my father died.

Abby leaned closer. Joel had his arm around Ellie and Ellie was leaning against him and smiling. The two of them were smiling.

The only time I ever saw her, she was either raging, miserable or both. It was strange for Abby to see aspects of Ellie’s past. It filled her with shame to look at this photo and know that she had hurt these people in ways that no one ever had. And yet, Abby’s life had been destroyed, too.

Abby sighed and continued her walk towards the noise, appearing in the doorway. The smell of charred wood, tobacco, mint and marijuana filled her nose.

Abby scanned the room from the doorway. Three cut three trunks around the fire, one to her left with Maria’s boys—Michael, hazel-eyed with dark shaggy hair pulled back in a ponytail, Johnny, a blonde with blue eyes, he could pass for Abby’s brother. Finally, the boy on his knees, a boy Abby knew as Miguel, brown eyes with shoulder length hair. The first few times she saw Miguel, she had froze as if she saw a ghost. He resembled Manny.

A whistle followed by, “Look at the Lone Wolf finally coming out on the night of the Full Moon…” The other men let out a chorus of howls.

That’s what they fucking call me? Abby scoffed and leaned against the doorway, watching the three men do their best howl, one on their knees.

Maria threw a chunk of wood into the fire across from her, “Alright, that’s enough, boys, The joke isn’t as funny as you think it is.”

On Maria’s left was Tommy who couldn’t stand sitting on a log and compensated for a reclined plastic chair. He had a guitar in his lap. Behind Maria, Dina rose from where she sat on the last log.

“Abby! ” Dina called. Abby nodded at Dina as she came over. She wore a light blue zip-up hoodie with a black t-shirt underneath, and a pair of dark blue jeans and a pair of combat boots.

Dina grabbed Abby’s arm, leaned into Abby where her body brushed against hers and whispered in her ear, “Thought you were a no-show. Come on, MVP, sit down and I’ll grab you a drink.”

Abby replied, “You’re so drunk, Dina,” and Dina laughed, her face was flushed and her eyes were glassy. Abby glanced up as Dina let go of her arm and saw Maria observing quietly.

Dina disappeared into the house. Abby waved awkwardly, addressing a group with a short hello as she passed them and took her seat behind Maria.

Maria sighed, “Yeah, that’s it!” as the fire bloomed higher.

Abby sat and she felt eyes boring into her. Instead of taking the bait, she  favored her hands instead.

Maria sat down at the end of the log next to Tommy. She observed Abby as she looked at her gloved hands.

Michael said, “Where’s your cub, Lone Wolf?” Miguel howled, then burst into a laugh. Abby looked up at Michael, closest to her out of the Boys.

Maria cut her eyes at Michael, “Michael, call Abby a fucking Lone Wolf one more god—”

Abby cut Maria off mid-threat. “In the fucking den. That’s what you call us?”

Tommy laughed. He was waiting for Abby to discover her nickname in Jackson and Michael liked to press buttons and bust balls. He didn’t expect Abby to respond that way and Michael’s face, although brief, was priceless.

Michael shrugged, swigging his drink. “Isn’t it true?”

“Yeah,” Abby said, watching the fire crackle and whip as she ran her hand through her blonde hair in acceptance. “That’s me, the Lone Wolf and that’s my cub, I would fucking kill for him.”

Michael smirked, “So I heard.”

Maria sternly said, “Enough, Michael.” Then she glanced at Abby, she was watching the fire.

Dina returned with a drinks for herself and Abby as Maria scolded Michael, “What did you do?”

“I was christening Abby with her nickname and asking where her cub was! Nothing wrong with that!”

Johnny and Miguel howled. Abby rolled her eyes as Dina shot her an apologetic look, sat next to Abby and passed her a cup. She tried it and her throat burned as she swallowed, the taste was sharp.

“How is Lev?” Dina asked and Abby bit her lip and hoped the boy was sleeping. “He took a long shower when we got home. It’s been a while since we were out in the field like that.”

Dina nodded and turned to Maria. “Maria, Abby and Lev were amazing on patrol today.”

“Oh, yeah?” Maria said, looking at Abby. “Dina was actually tight-lipped about how patrol went, she wanted to wait until tonight to tell me.”

Abby took a deep breath, “Yeah, we ran into some Infected and it got hot.”

“How hot?” Tommy asked. He squinted at Abby, but Abby took no offense. It’s just a question, she told herself.

“Runners, Stalkers, Clickers and a Bloater that wouldn’t die,” Abby said after swallowing her drink, looking at Tommy.

“Well, shit,” Tommy raised his glass. “That’s the whole goddamn lineup.”

“Abby and Lev saved my ass back there, a Stalker pinned me down and she got it off me and fed it to another Clicker. Lev shot the Clicker and we took care of the others. Then Abby went through the doors when she heard the Bloater and she just started baiting it.”

“She’s a shot caller. She put more damage into that Bloater than anybody and put herself in its way repeatedly to protect me and Lev. I never saw anybody move and reload a shotgun like that,” Dina smiled. Abby’s cheeks reddened and she tried to hide it by swallowing half of her drink.

She’s impressed by me. It’s been a while since anybody’s complimented my fighting, I mean, besides Lev, of course.

Dina continued, “And Lev—You can tell Abby trained him. He’s not afraid to take risks either. He kept a huge group of Infected at bay while me and Abby took turns fucking the Bloater up. Then we had to bail when more Infected came after us.”

Abby pushed her hair back and turned to Dina, “Thank you.”

Dina shook her head as she swallowed her booze, “No, Abby, thank you.”

Maria locked her eyes on Abby. “I knew you wouldn’t disappoint.”

Tommy set his cup down, hit his joint and said, “Dina was telling us how you fought off some huge hybrid Infected in a Seattle, said you called it a ‘rat king.’” He blew the marijuana and tobacco smoke towards the fire.

“Fuck!” Abby cursed. “Dina, why?”

“So you wouldn’t have to,” Dina grinned at her.

Maria continued, “Dina said you told her it was ground zero for the Outbreak there and the son of a bitch chased you. You killed it by yourself.”

“Yes, ma’am, the ICU was filled with spores and Infected. I cleared the Infected, got what I needed and then I was fighting for my life,” Abby confirmed.

“Bullshit, Lone Wolf,” Michael said. Johnny and Miguel howled.

“Let me guess, you’re pissed a girl is better at killing Infected than you.” Abby was no stranger to competing with men.

Maria smiled, swirling her drink in her cup.

Abby leaned forward towards Michael, arms on her thighs, the buzz of alcohol making her cocky. “You would’ve died screaming.”

Dina covered her mouth to muffle her laugh.

Michael stepped to Abby and Abby stood up.

“Do you wanna kiss or do you wanna fight?” Abby asked, looking up at Michael. “Either way, I’ll knock you out.”

 Johnny and Miguel howled again.

Maria yelled, “Cut it out!” Michael backed off and turned around to walk back into the house.

Tommy called, “Mike, where the fuck are you going?”

“To piss!” He responded.

“Make sure you pull your head out of your ass after you’re done!” Abby smirked as Michael held up the middle finger.

“Haven’t seen anybody handle Michael like that,” Maria said.

“Tough guys think they’re tough until they meet me,” Abby let out a short laugh.

She looked at Tommy, the black guitar in his lap.

“Do you play?”

“I sure do,” Tommy grinned and Maria shook her head.

“He used to sit outside my house late at night the second summer he was here, playing the guitar and singing to get my attention,” Maria sighed over her cup.

“And it worked, she used to come out the front in her pajamas and yell, ‘Thomas Miller, if you don’t leave me the fuck alone, I’ll have my father put a bullet in your head!’ And I was scared of her old man, so I would take off running,” Tommy smiled at Maria, taking another hit of his joint and blowing the smoke towards her.

“What did your dad do?” Dina asked Maria.

Maria waved the smoke out of her face as she answered. “He used to ask when I was gonna marry him whenever I complained.”

Everyone laughed.

“Well, damn, I suppose that’s why I didn’t have a bullet in my head after the first eleven times,” Tommy said.

Despite missing an eye, Tommy still had his charm.

Michael returned in the doorway and took his seat next to Johnny and Miguel.

“There you are, Mike,” said Tommy, leaning over to pass the last half of his joint to Maria who quickly passed it to Dina. “Thought Ms. Abigail here scared you shitless. You never answered her about whether you wanted a fight or a kiss.”

Michael laughed and glanced at Abby from the corner of his eye, “Either way, I’m sure the Lone Wolf bites,” and Abby rolled her eyes. “I do.”

Dina passed Abby the joint, throwing her head back and blowing the smoke upwards in the air and Abby watched her, then curiously took a small hit, wincing as the smoke hit the back of her throat. Abby coughed, smoke coming from her nose and her mouth.

“Fuck,” Abby said, recovering as she rubbed her chest through her hoodie.

Tommy laughed, “Alright, we’ve got some baby lungs, I see,” and Dina giggled as Abby passed the joint to Michael.  

“I was just talking about how I used to sit outside Maria’s house before we dated and play the guitar to get her attention,” Tommy set his drink down on the ground and adjusted the guitar in his lap, the light of the fire reflecting off the guitar, off his skin.

“So there I was,” Tommy said, glancing at Maria, his fingers on the fret of the guitar and strumming, practicing a scale, “Hoping she would come out and hoping she wouldn’t.”

Maria laughed.

“I knew I was getting under her skin or at least I hoped so, I mean, the worst thing she could do was ignore me or have her father come out with a shotgun.” He strummed a lower scale.

“And goddamn, were my hands sweating when I spotted her in the window. She didn’t see me, but I saw her. Her back was to the window and she was changing into this slinky little red thing.”

“Shut up,” Maria said, her cheeks were pink.

“Man, I was so scared, but I sat down anyway and played one of my favorite songs,” Tommy started the first few notes and glanced up at Maria who looked away.

Scar tissue that I wish you saw, sarcastic mister know-it-all, close your eyes and I’ll kiss you ‘cause with the birds, I share,” Tommy strummed and sang, his voice smooth, tapping his foot.

With the birds, I’ll share this lonely viewin’ … with the birds, I’ll share this lonely viewin’… push me up against the wall, young Kentucky girl in a push-up bra, ah, fallin’ all over myself to lick your heart and taste your health ‘cause,”  Tommy strummed as if he played the song a thousand times. 

With the birds, I’ll share this lonely viewin’ … with the birds, I’ll share this lonely viewin’… With the birds, I’ll share this lonely view,” Tommy held the note and Maria finished her drink, smiling.

“Blood loss in a bathroom stall, a southern girl with a scarlet drawl, wave goodbye to Ma and Pa ‘cause with the birds, I share,” Tommy sang,  “With the birds, I’ll share this lonely viewin’ … with the birds, I’ll share this lonely viewin’…” Tommy looked at Maria like she was the only person in the room, in the world.

 Tommy played the riff, “Soft spoken with a broken jaw, step outside but not to brawl and Autumn’s sweet, we call it Fall, I’ll make it to the Moon if I have to crawl and—

Tommy looked up and saw Ellie in the doorway, a drink in her hand. He gestured to the log beside him and continued singing as Ellie sat next to him on the log, her eyes briefly looking at how close Abby and Dina were to each other.

Ellie watched his fingers as he strummed the ending solo, nodding.

The last note rang in the air and Tommy laughed. “Man, I was playing the solo and Maria opened that door and saw me sitting out there and I saw her in that slinky, little red satin gown that barely covered anything—”

“It wasn’t that short, Tommy,” Maria interrupted.

“Yeah, it was!” Tommy laughed. “I swear to God, it was. You came out and all I thought was, ‘This woman has legs for days.’” Johnny whistled.

“Then what happened?” Michael asked, smirking at Maria.

“Ha, I stormed over to him when he was finished, grabbed the guitar, set it to the side and pushed him on his back in the grass and kissed him.” Maria laughed and she sounded like a teenage girl, full of light.

“I was so stunned, I didn’t know what to do. It was like, ‘Now what, jackass?’ Anyway, we were there in the grass, rolling around and kissing and touching like it was the last time we were gonna see each other alive and then, her dad was in the doorway, screamed, ‘Maria!’” Tommy bellowed Maria’s name and Maria hid her face in embarrassment.

“God,” Maria winced at the memory. Besides her, Abby and Dina were giggling.

“He cocked that shotgun and I got off of Maria like I had ants in my pants and Maria got up, yanking at short little thing back where it was supposed to be—She was so red, yelling, ‘Daddy, please, please put the gun away!’ and her old man yelled at her to get back in the house, even though she was 26 years old at the time.”

He looked at Maria, his empty drink in hand, “He would’ve never caught us if you didn’t leave the door open. Refill, ma’am?” Maria sighed and grabbed his cup.

“Abby, come on, I need more hands.” Abby got up and grabbed her cup, then grabbed Dina’s when she held hers up. Maria nodded at Ellie, a welcoming look as she passed her. Ahead, Abby walked into the house. Maria grabbed Miguel and Johnny’s glasses, balancing them in one hand as she walked into the house.

“Here, let’s use a tray,” Maria said as she set the glasses down on her kitchen table, turning to her cabinets. Abby stared at her in awe.

“How did you just carry all of that?”

“Before the outbreak, I used to be a waitress. My job was take orders and serve people drinks and food, had to learn how to carry multiple cups and plates at once while being really, really, really nice. The money was amazing, the work was hard because we often got slammed,” she answered as she set the glasses on the platter and filled them with ice. “So picture a horde except it’s human beings who wanna eat.”

“Sounds better than killing Infected.”

“Except Infected don’t curse at you when their food is taking too long,” Maria poured vodka into two of the glasses. “Were you drinking brown or white?”

“White,” Abby answered. “Why?”

“You’re not supposed to mix them. Some people get wild or others just get sick,” Maria said as she cut lemons up. Maria waved Abby over and Abby joined her at her side. “Squeeze these into the whites, don’t be afraid to be heavy with it. We don’t have anything to chase the liquor with. God, I miss Sprite. Watch your eyes, Abby.”

Abby squeezed in silence and Maria opened her mouth to say, “I see Dina’s taken a liking to you, Michael, too, believe it or not.”

“Yeah,” Abby said as the fruit warped between her fingers over the glass. “She’s a nice person, great to patrol with.”

“That’s not what I mean, Abby,” Maria shook her head as she poured whiskey into the three other glasses. Abby froze.

What?

“Dina lacks boundaries when she’s under the influence, her body language and her voice when she interacts with you are… it’s obvious.” Maria paused, reaching for the lemon, “Tommy likes his whiskey to be a little sour.”

“I don’t know what to… I never thought…” Abby was so confused. The dinner invite. The lie. The way she acts when she brings her up. How Dina got up to stop her from fighting me the last time we were here. “People you love. Shit.

“Me, too. Well, I’ll tell you what, Ellie will be pissed and think Dina is trying to get back at her. Ellie might try to kill you or she’ll leave Jackson, probably both. Either way, I’ll have to stop her while she’s kicking and screaming. Dina can be a little sensitive. Keep it secret or let her down easy. I need you both for patrols.”

Abby ran her hand through her hair. This isn’t happening.

“I understand why Dina is drawn to you. You both have boys to take care of. She’s lonely and Ellie—” Maria sighed, picking up the tray of drinks. “Ellie broke her heart.”

Maria gestured in the direction of the noise. “Look alive, Abigail.”

Abby and Maria returned, passed the drinks around while Tommy was in the middle of another story. Abby noticed the way Ellie’s eyes tracked her.

“So I told the son of a bitch, ‘It ain’t my time, it’s your time!’ And  then I hit him with a brick!” Maria’s Boys all laughed hysterically. Then when they settled, Michael asked Tommy a question about a gun modifications and Tommy started to explain.

Abby and Maria sat down and Dina turned to Abby, asked, placing her hand on hers, her voice low, “You good?”

“Yeah, you?” Abby whispered, catching Ellie looking at them again. Dina knew what Abby caught, bit her lip and removed her hand.

“Sorry,” Dina whispered, pressing her glass to her lips and throwing it back. Abby did the same and set her eyes on the fire, wild and crackling.

Abby finished her drink as everyone socialized around her and stood up. “Alright, guys, I’m out for the night. I gotta make sure Lev isn’t waiting up for me.”

“Remember how to get home?” Maria asked. “Need a chaperone?”

“Yeah, no, I’m good, Maria,” Abby had the hint of a slur in her voice.

Abby bid the group farewell and walked out of Maria’s house, jogging down the stairs. She stood outside for a moment, heard the door open behind her and turned around.

“Sorry about earlier,” Dina said, kind of wobbling as she came down the stairs.

“No, no, no, don’t worry about it,” Abby replied softly. Neither of them knew what the other was referring to.

The December wind pushed Dina’s hair around her face as she stepped closer to Abby, her brown eyes lidded from smoking. Dina lifted up her hand and grazed her thumb across the scar on Abby’s cheek.

“I think… I think I want to make a mistake,” Dina whispered. She didn’t remove her hand from Abby’s face.

Dina closed her eyes and leaned in towards Abby, angled her face gently and pressed her lips to hers. Abby kissed back and the two women stood there for a moment, gifting the other wet open-mouthed kisses underneath the light of the Full Moon.

“I can’t,” Abby whispered as she pulled away.

“Me either,” Dina looked away, touching her gloved fingertips to her lips. “I have to wake up early. Don’t be a stranger.”

Abby just nodded and Dina walked down one street and she walked down the other, glancing up at the Moon.

I wonder if the Moon feels as lonely as I do.

Chapter Text

I’m the fury in your head,

I’m the fury in your bed,

I’m the ghost in the back of your head

—Foals

×

Abby moved through the waters of the Pacific. Her hands shook and her stomach ached for food. She tasted iron on her tongue. She squeezed her nose and blew, smeared the blood on her soaked pants.

She rubbed her arms. It was cooler out on the ocean than on land. There was nothing she wouldn’t give for a warm blanket and a hot plate of food.

Abby squeezed her arms, gasping softly as she felt the stretch of the lacerations on her upper arms from trying to defend herself from Ellie’s knife. She never dreamed of being able to get anywhere close to closing her hand around her biceps and yet, she was close. Her body was consuming itself as a means to save itself.

She looked at the boy, the weakest she ever saw him, fragile like glass. “Lev, we’re getting out of here,” she whispered hoarsely. “Lev?” She shook the boy, but he was motionless. Her breathing picked up.

“C’mon, kid, you’re not dying here,” her voice broke.

She pressed her fingers to his neck.

Nothing.

She pressed her ear to his chest and tried to focus over the sloshing of the waves around her. She pressed her hands to his face, opened one of his eyes, but there wasn’t enough light to see his pupils.

“No, no, no, Lev,” she sniffled as she rose, grasping his hand in hers. “Please, Lev,” she wept. “I’m sorry.”

When she looked up, she stared blankly ahead. Nothing but fog and water.

Abby gasped as she woke up. She squeezed her eyes shut. She threw the faded red comforter off of herself, swung her legs off the bed. She rubbed the back of her neck, pushing firmly against the knots. She crossed over to the dresser, pulling open a drawer. Her fingers touched the red stocking, grasping it and pulling it up to her eyes to examine.

She was never the greatest seamstress. Her specialty was violence. She could disarm and disable in seconds, it took her nothing to squeeze her arms around a person’s neck and with the right force, fracture the vertebrae and kill, but the stocking had taken her a month and a half to assemble.

She had tried to sew the boys name into it. It was crooked, the execution wasn’t clean. She sighed. A for effort.

The first Christmas they spent together, they were huddled together in an abandoned warehouse outside of San Francisco after finding the Fireflies dead on Catalina Island. Abby used what resources were left at the Casino to nurse herself and Lev back to health, then they left the island.

California itself was monstrous and unforgiving, a place Abby felt she could never tame. Christmas didn’t matter then, it was just another day of survival.

There had been times in her life where she felt her mortality wearing thin, like the horde outside of Jackson chasing her. But for months on end, with nothing and no one to fall back upon and Lev depending on her, she genuinely believed her luck was running out.

On the way to Jackson, Abby had thought in advance. She had snuck books into her backpack behind Lev’s back, even went out by herself at night to hit stores, thinking she would score something.

She slid her hand over the first book. They were in mildly great condition, wrapped in plastic by someone probably looking to preserve them. Abby read the title to herself and read the synopsis for the thousandth time. She picked up the other. Abby tucked the two books into Lev’s stocking, careful not to rip the books or her own work.

She picked up the plastic and cardboard container, flipped it to the back and pushed in the perforated tab. She peeled the cardboard back, removed the thing. Owen always had one of these, they were called yo-yo's and he could do all types of tricks with them, thanks to a book.

“Owen, quit! You’re gonna hit me with it!” Abby yelled, leaning away as Owen shot the thing past her arm. It was a warm Seattle summer, the sky was clear and the two lovers had found themselves on the sand. Abby benched on a piece of wood, orphaned from wherever it came from.

“You are such a fucking baby, Abby,” Owen wheeled the thing back into his hand. He stood in front of her, looking at her bare thighs. “Stay still,” he instructed.

Abby blew her breath, “What are you gonna do?”

“Just stay still.” Owen flicked his wrist and made the yellow and orange yo-yo glide across one thigh as Abby watched. He snapped it back into his hand. Then, he did it to the other thigh, snapping it back. Owen smiled at Abby. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?”

Abby sighed and turned over the toy in her hand. Lev’s was green and gold. Secretly, Abby had gotten one for herself, a red and black one. Relics of the past.

Abby tucked the yo-yo in the stocking.

Last but not least, Abby pulled three compression bras from the drawer, one green, and two of them black. They were similar to the ones she had with the WLF.

She thought back to a time in Utah where Lev pulled his shirt off in front of her. It was the first time she’d noticed him do it. His skin was inflamed from the bandages.

“Lev,” Abby said cautiously. “That doesn’t look comfortable.”

“My chest is growing,” Lev said. There were tears in his eyes. “I don’t want it to.”

Oh, Abby thought. That’s even more uncomfortable.

Abby pinched the bridge of her nose, trying to think of how to say it. As the daughter of a doctor, she couldn’t keep silent.

Abby knew when she started to build her body that breasts were unnecessary, but they didn’t bother her either. Leah had teased her and said she had no tits. Mel and Nora hissed for Leah to apologize. Abby shrugged and flexed her right bicep, “They went to my arms. Someone should definitely be squeezing these.”

She couldn't relate.

“You’re hurting yourself,” Abby said softly. “Do you understand? Come here.” Abby gestured for Lev to come close to her. When he did, she looked up at him for permission to adjust the bandages. He nodded. As she removed the bandages, noting to herself that they were tight. She saw where they dug into the skin, cutting off the circulation of blood at the top.

She noticed he was bruised around his ribs. “I’m gonna touch, okay?” Lev nodded. Abby noticed Lev was tense. She sighed as she pressed her fingertips into the purpled skin and he flinched.

“You can’t breathe, Lev. Every since I woke up, I can hear you struggling to breathe,” Abby pressed the other side of his ribs where the skin was purple and yellow, shaking her head. “Take a deep breath.”

Lev did as Abby instructed, but failed to hide the pain on his face.

“I know this is important to you—I know,” Abby started, her hands on Lev’s shoulders, looking into his eyes. He sniffled. “But you’re cutting off your blood circulation.”

She pointed to his rib cage, “Those bones surround your lungs, but from the pressure of the bandages, you could break one and if the bone punctures your lungs—” Abby took a deep breath and grasped his face, “You could die, Lev. My father was a doctor, but I became a soldier. I only know so much. Please don’t do this. We’ll figure it out, I promise.” She let go of his face and started to think.

“I’m sorry, Abby,” Lev whispered, wiping tears from his eyes.

“Don’t apologize,” Abby whispered.

Abby rolled the compression clothes. It was hard to find nice things in a world like this, but she managed this time.

Abby sighed, tucking the stocking underneath her arm and grabbing the trash. She walked downstairs, disposed of the trash, set Lev’s stocking on the counter and turned around.

“Hi, Abby,” Lev said. His eyes went to the counter, but he didn’t ask.

“Hey, Lev,” Abby breathed out. “Did you sleep good?”

“Yes, did you… have fun last night?” Lev asked, he watched Abby’s eyes look away from him and he squeezed his thumb in his hands. “You don’t have to say anything.”

Abby sighed, ruffling her hair, “It was okay, I just—” Abby remembered Dina, her eyes and her lips.

 Fuck, Abby thought.

“We just spent the night talking and drinking around a fire.” She bit her lip, hoping she didn’t sound as if she was hiding something.

“Drinking what?” Lev asked and Abby snorted.

“None of the Seraphites ever got wasted?” Abby was grinning and then at the sight of Lev’s confusion, she clarified, “Drank alcohol?”

Lev squinted, trying to remember. “Uhm… Only at ceremonies… for special occasions such as initiations and births of children. Other than that, alcohol was sinful.”

No wonder why they were assholes. No way to release.

Abby nodded. There was still only so much she knew about the Seraphites. She figured it was a touchy subject. There was always a sadness in his eyes when he brought something up about the cult.

“Iyra invited me to dinner with her family tonight,” Lev continued, watching Abby pour herself a glass of water. “She said today is Christmas Eve.”

“A special occasion,” Abby said, turning off the faucet. “Christmas was an old world thing. A big man named Santa Claus would come out on the night of Christmas Eve, riding a sleigh of magical deer and he would fly all around the world, sneaking into every house to leave gifts for good children. The bad kids got coal. Kids would write him letters in advance, asking for what they wanted.”

Lev scrunched his face in confusion and repulsion. “He was allowed to sneak into people’s houses?”

Abby choked on her water, laughing. When she recovered, she said, “Lev, no, Santa Claus wasn’t real. The parents got gifts for their kids.”

“Oh,” Lev said. “Then why would the parents lie?”

Abby was smiling, really smiling. “It was just a story to entertain the kids. It made it fun. My dad told me the same thing.” Abby turned and got Lev’s stocking. “Here. We would say, ‘Merry Christmas.’”

“A sock?” Lev bit his lip. “Where’s the other?”

“Jesus, Lev,” Abby laughed. “It’s a stocking, it’s a Christmas tradition. There’s gifts inside it.”

“I don’t have anything for you,” Lev whispered sadly as he took the stocking. He noted it was heavy and thumbed his name at the top. The little things Abby did to show she cared for him made him smile, he wished he could show her the same.

“I don’t need anything from you, Lev,” Abby shrugged and walked to the couch. “I just want you to be happy and safe.”

Lev joined Abby at the couch. Abby eyed him after drinking from her glass. “Well? What are you waiting for?”

Lev reached inside and pulled out the yo-yo. He turned it over in his hands. “I—Uhm, thank you, Abby,” his voice was unsure.

Abby reached over and grabbed it, “Here, look, middle finger through the loop, hold it like this.” Abby grasped it in her hand, holding it parallel to the floor. She let it go and the green yo-yo descended, spinning and the green and gold blurred together. Abby flicked her wrist up. Lev watched as the yo-yo came back into her hand.

“I know, it’s stupid, I shouldn’t h—” Abby felt her face flushing with embarrassment, like she failed.

“No, Abby,” Lev said. “It’s cool.” Abby handed the yo-yo back to him and he slid his middle finger through the loop, grasped it as she did. It took him two tries, but he got the yo-yo back into his hand.

“There you go,” Abby beamed, watching as Lev got the hang of throwing the yo-yo and calling it back.

“Here—uhm—You can do tricks—This one is called ‘walk the dog,’ watch,” Abby said as Lev handed the yo-yo back to her.

She learned this one from Owen. “So you hold your hand up like this, bring the yo-yo back to your upper arm and flick your wrist towards the floor,” Abby straightened her arm and flicked her wrist and the yo-yo descended from her hand. She let it glide against the floor and called it back.

When she looked up, Lev was smiling. She smiled back.

“Go ahead, check out the rest of your gifts,” Abby urged. Abby tossed the yo-yo to her other hand nervously. Lev pulled out The Giver first. He flipped the book over, mumbling the synopsis on the back to himself. Abby watched the curiosity bloom on his face. Then he pulled out Brooklyn, Burning.

“‘We’re in love, you can’t hurt us,’” Lev read aloud. He turned to Abby. “Thank you, Abby, I can’t wait to read these.”

Lev pulled out the compression clothes, stringing up the green one by his fingers. “What is this?”

Abby ran her tongue across her teeth before she answered. “It will compress your chest to make you feel comfortable, but we’ll be exercising soon.”

Lev smiled.

A few hours passed and Abby had been in and out the shower. Her hair was finally dry. She brushed out the tangles in her blonde hair until it was smooth to the touch. Lifting up her arms and bending her elbows, pausing to rotate her left shoulder, she started her signature Dutch braid, fingers looping and pulling sections of hair taut.

Abby looked in the mirror, smoothing her fingers over the beginning of the braid. Muscle memory didn’t escape her this time.

As she secured it with a hair-tie, Lev knocked on the door.

“Abby, I’m going to leave now.”

“Hold on,” Abby opened the door. “I’ll walk you there, just give a minute.” Lev nodded. He understood why Abby rarely left the house, save for mundane tasks like groceries or cleaning supplies. He knew that Abby couldn't figure out how to atone.

When Abby was being honest with herself, she found it challenging to be alone. The busyness of the Seattle stadium was the closest thing to a city she had experienced. Even if she didn’t know everyone there, everyone knew her. The same in Jackson.

With the WLF, she had an abundance of admiration, revered due to her ruthlessly high kill count. Issac was a hard man, but he had a soft spot for Abby and everyone knew it. One thing was for sure, those who didn’t like Abigail Anderson couldn’t beat her.

At Jackson, they avoided her. The stares and whispers had died down after a month, but as Abby walked the streets of Jackson with Lev, she noticed they increased.

Probably because of Ellie returning, Abby thought, her boots crunching the snow. It felt like Jackson was waiting for a certain pin to drop in the silence of Winter.

Abby tried to ignore the outright hateful stares, the lonely bastards who whistled at her and the women who cupped their hands to their friends’ ears as she and Lev passed them.

I don’t like to put him through this, but it scares me to let him go out by himself. By being with me, he has a target on his back.

“Kill the Apostate!” A woman screamed over the gunfire.

Fucking try it!” Abby hissed, reloading her sniper rifle.

Abby’s mind drifted to Dina’s kiss, a different kind of danger.

At least she knew it was a mistake, Abby thought. Abby neither felt one way or the other about the interaction. It was confusing. I don’t understand wh—

Abby snapped out of her thoughts as she felt something connect with her shoulder and reflexively turned around, ready to raise her voice.

“I’m sorry, Ms. Abby,” the girl blurted out nervously. “I was aiming for Lev. That’s her, right?” Abby scanned the people around her, just a handful of adults who looked on.

“Iyra,” Lev was smiling. Abby glanced at him, then back at the girl. Iyra had skin the color of terracotta and straight black strands that reached the middle of her back, dark brown eyes. She was a skinny girl, just as tall as Lev.

She can’t aim for shit, Abby sighed, crossing her arms. Opposites attract, I guess.

The girl jogged up to them. She stuck her hand out. “Ms. Abby—”

“Just Abby, Iyra,” Abby said, gently squeezing the girl’s hand. Iyra threw her arms around Lev and squeezed, giggling. Abby smirked, Lev looked away.

You can’t hide from me, Lev.

“Why did you throw snow at Abby?” Lev asked.

Abby cracked her knuckles and knelt down, patting the snow into a ball with her hands. She looked up at the two of them, grinning.

“Tell you what, you got three seconds to start running, especially you, Cheap Shot,” Abby said, nodding at Iyra and Iyra’s eyes widened as grabbed Lev’s hand and took off running.

“One! Two against one, first team to five wins!” Abby yelled, watching the two teens run.

“Two—I’m gonna win!” Abby taunted, patting her snowball. She watched as Iyra dragged Lev down to his knees in the snow, her mouth moving quickly to explain.

“Three! Don’t let your guard down.” Abby called and burst into a run towards the teens.

Lev yelped as Abby threw the snowball at him, hitting him right in the shoulder. Iyra threw her snowball next and Abby slid in the snow, dodging it and grabbing a handful of snow as she picked herself up.

“Damn, she’s quick,” Iyra said, getting a snowball ready.

Lev palmed his snowball and watched Abby’s pattern of evasion. “We have to flank her, Iyra!”

“What?” Iyra asked.

“Go around her!” Lev pointed to Abby’s 3 o’clock.

“Come on, I’m wide open,” Abby threw her arms up in the middle of the street, her face flushed and smiling. She saw Iyra duck under the porch of a house.

Not afraid to get dirty. Not bad, Lev.

Abby felt a snowball pelt her in the face. “Shit!” She wiped the snow from her face, shaking off the icy sting. She saw Lev laughing. Abby growled and caught Iyra in her peripheral, jerking back before the snowball connected.

Abby threw the snowball at Iyra and it connected, hitting her in the chest. Abby dove in the snow to avoid Lev’s shot, her braid swinging. Abby grabbed a handful of snow and rolled.  

“That’s two to one!” Abby yelled, getting to her feet and watching Iyra advance. Abby moved with grace, her braid following her movements. Abby didn’t drag her feet as she played defense for herself.

“Come on, Princess, show me what you got!” Abby nodded at Iyra. Behind Abby, Lev crept closer and took cover behind crates, rolling the snow into a firm ball in his hands.

Iyra threw and Abby veered back, spinning and throwing the snowball at Iyra who moved to her left as Abby predicted. Iyra squealed. Lev saw his opening of Abby’s cockiness and pelted her in the head faster than Abby could say, “Fuck, yes!”

“Lev, I’m gonna fucking get you!” Abby yelled, bending her knees and scooping snow into her hands.

“Three to three, Abby!” Lev burst into a run and threw a snowball at Abby again and Abby cursed, stepping back to avoid Iyra’s assault. Lev slid through the snow, scooping up snow as Abby did before.

Iyra and Abby traded shots, both missing each other. Iyra recovered faster than Abby, distracted by Lev. She threw the snowball at Abby who swore as it connected with her chest.

Abby aimed for Lev and laughed in triumph, getting him back for the face shot.

“How’s that feel, Lev?” Abby taunted.

“Abby, it hurt!” Lev yelled, smearing the snow from his face as Abby grinned.

“Only for a second!” Abby laughed, scooping up snow into her hand.

“Heads’ up!” Iyra sunk the winning shot as she ran past Abby, a solid headshot. Abby groaned in frustration, hearing the applause from the adults. 

“Lucky!” Abby rolled her eyes. Iyra ran into Lev and together, they fell back in the snow, giggling.

Iyra looked up at Abby as she walked over. “You let your guard down.” Abby shrugged, smiling and all three of looked up to the call of Iyra’s name. Two houses ahead, her mother waved.

The three of them graced the porch of Iyra’s house and her mother welcomed them with a smile.

“Mama, Lev and I beat Abby in a snowball fight! She’s so quick, mama! She almost won!” Iyra chattered and her mother looked at Abby curiously.

“My name is Laurel and Merry Christmas to you,” said the woman, shaking Abby’s hand. Iyra was a splitting image of her mother.

“Abigail, but Abby is fine—Merry Christmas,” Abby said as Laurel closed the door behind them. Laurel smiled as Lev and Iyra walked down the hallway. Abby looked around her, several series of lights stretched across the ceiling. The house was even more cozy than Maria's home. 

“Come, I made some cinnamon tea,” Laurel beckoned. Her dark hair was pulled back in a high ponytail.  Abby stuffed her hat and gloves into coat  and hung it over the chair, sat at the table, watching Lev and Iyra disappear upstairs. Abby held back a snort.

Been there, done that. Abby questioned herself, Do I have to explain sex to him?

She imagined how the Seraphites would explain sex to him. Not good enough, Abby.

Laurel poured herself and Abby a mug at the table. “Lev speaks of nothing but amazing things when it comes to you, Abigail.”

“I don’t know what he’s talking about, he’s a thousand times the kid I was at his age,” Abby whispered, blowing at her tea. “He’s lived through so much.”

Laurel’s eyes softened. “I scolded Iyra for referring to him as the new boy with the scars. I told her—‘Every scar has a painful origin, I didn’t raise you to judge others by their pain.’ Instead, I told her to ask his name and befriend him.” Laurel smiled. “I didn’t think they’d become this close.”

“Thank you,” Abby whispered. Laurel was cool, yet radiant, like the Spring Equinox Sun in Seattle.

“I had neighbors and strangers in Jackson instruct me to keep my daughter away from Lev, that because of you, he would only hurt Iyra. I understand why you stayed to yourself this entire time, Abigail. A Lone Wolf, that’s what they call you.”

And so much more.

Abby set down her cup and stared at the dark, aromatic drink. “Lev would never hurt Iyra, not because of me or what I did in the past.”

Lev and Yara are the reason I’m alive. Yara should be here. Not me.

Laurel smiled, “I see his heart and I believe it is a reflection of yours,” her eyes tracked across Abby’s face, seeing humility and sadness. “It’s a privilege to finally put a beautiful face to a beautiful name.”

Abby tucked a stray hair behind her ear as she looked down at the table, mumbling words of gratitude.

Abby had a strange relationship with women, especially in the process of building her body. She wasn’t used to women like Laurel treating her kindly, women who chose to be wives to soldiers and bear their children.

When one of the female medics gossiped that Abby’s regimen may resort in the loss of her period, something she believed came from Mel, Abby became a beautiful yet lethal temptation amongst men who feared bringing children into a hell like this and the bane of every mother’s existence.

But today, she was none of that. Abby sipped her tea. Perfect for the Wyoming frost. 

“Are they together?” Abby asked.

Laurel nodded. “Iyra told me she asked Lev to be her boyfriend a few weeks back. You didn’t know?”

“He never spoke about it. There was too much going on anyway,” Abby explained. Abby tried not to take it personal, but she wondered why Lev never said anything.

“Do you have a boyfriend, Abigail?” Laurel grinned.

“No,” Abby said softly, looking down at her palms.

That ship sailed away.

×

Ellie stood outside, taking slow, deep breaths. Her right hand was trembling. It was the evening of Christmas Eve. It was piercing cold and snow had been falling for most of the day.

I should just fucking go home. I deserved for her to slap me. I deserve for her to pretend like I don’t exist.

She sniffled and glanced at the tote clutched to her chest.

I can’t.

Ellie closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She squeezed her unsteady hand into a fist and breathed out. Then she raised her hand and knocked on the door three times.

Ellie heard footsteps advancing towards the door and she opened her eyes, wishing the wooden panels below her feet would break and she would fall forever.

But haven’t I already been falling?

“Hey,” Dina whispered as soon as she opened the door. “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas,” Ellie whispered back. The two women stood looking into the other’s eyes for a moment.

“Come in,” Dina opened the door farther, her hair was wet and loose curls fell around her face, framing the dark eyes that used to make Ellie weak. Dina wore a violet nightgown, stopping just above her knees. “It’s cold outside.”

Ellie stepped in carefully, tapping the toe of her boots one at a time on the doormat. It smelled like firewood and in the chimney, the wood smoldered. On a table, a vinyl played, the soft voice of a woman, describing the euphoria of falling in love. Dina  closed the door behind them and bit her lip, watching Ellie place the tote down.

The night before filled Dina with confusion and shame and the sight of Ellie amplified it to an unbearable degree.

“I missed his birthday,” Ellie whispered, her back turned to Dina. She closed her eyes. “I’m sorry.”

Likewise, the sight of Dina filled Ellie with shame, so many regrets plagued Ellie’s mind, the same regrets that pushed her to return.

Dina squeezed her hair at the roots and opened her eyes, fixing her gaze on feet.

The first few days were trying. Dina had lasted all of a month staying in that house by herself. She told no one that Ellie left. By the third week, Dina had packed up most of the house. The fourth was full of tears, pushing all of Ellie’s belongings into her studio.

Tommy returned to apologize by the end of that fourth week, attempting to reconcile with Dina and Ellie.

He sat at Dina’s table.

“How long have you been by yourself?” Tommy looked around, the walls were blank, paintings resting against one another against the couch, half opened boxes on the floor. There was no life in this house, only grief.

“A month,” Dina admitted, standing with JJ in her arms. She bounced the boy nervously.

“You look like you haven’t had any sleep worth a damn,” Tommy sighed. “She wasn’t supposed to leave you here.”

“But she did, Tommy,” Dina said, a tear sliding down her cheek. “She left us here. She didn’t leave because of you, she left for herself. If I didn’t wake up that morning, she… she…” Dina inhaled shakily and JJ fussed.

Tommy held out his hands, “Here, Dina, give him here.” Tommy made the best judgement, thinking she’d never had a single break from her child since Ellie left. Dina handed JJ to Tommy and Tommy saw that Dina’s nails were bitten down to their quicks. He held JJ in his arms, hushing the boy.

“Dina, sit down,” Tommy said softly, watching the woman pace back and forth.

“I can’t,” Dina replied, enclosing herself in her arms. “He cries so much more now that she’s gone.” And so did she.

“I take it you’re coming back to Jackson?” Dina threw her hands up.

“Fuck, I don’t want to leave, Tommy, but I can’t sit here and wait for her when she might—” Dina started to cry. “What if she dies because she couldn’t let it go? What if she’s fucking dead already? What if she gets torn apart by Infected? What if that woman kills her and leaves her for dead?”

JJ started to wail at the sight of his mother’s tears. Tommy patted and bounced the child in an attempt to soothe him.

“Don’t think about that, Dina, you and I both know Ellie can handle herself,” Tommy said after a moment. “I shouldn’t have come here last month, Dina. I apologize. I’m to blame. Had I never come here and let her in on what I knew—”

“She was going to leave anyway, Tommy, she… she couldn’t stop. I couldn’t stop her. Not before Seattle, not after.”

Tommy shook his head, shushing JJ again. “She would’ve combed through Seattle again, forced an answer out of any Wolf she could find.”

“I lost Jesse, I can’t lose her,” Dina choked out. Dina clasped her hand to her mouth, turned her back to Tommy and JJ, her shoulders heaving.

At Jackson, nothing changed for Dina. The days blurred together and the nights were sleepless. Even with Robin and Aaron, Jesse’s parents, being a single parent was the challenge of Dina’s life. Tommy and Maria checked on Dina frequently.

“I’m concerned about you, Dina,” Maria said, her eyes tracking over Dina’s face and her body. The bags beneath her eyes, the loss of weight. “I feel like I’m watching you deteriorate.”

“Everything’s fine,” Dina replied. 

No matter how brave of a face Dina put on, by the time JJ was finally sleeping, she spent her nights, muffling her cries into a pillow. When JJ stayed at Robin’s, her cries were screams. Dina couldn’t recognize herself in the drawings and paintings Ellie patiently created. She couldn’t bear to look at them and they collected dust in a downstairs closet that Dina never went into.

Tommy put the word out about Ellie—“A scrawny girl, short, dark auburn hair, green eyes, a moth and fern tattoo on her right forearm, armed and dangerous.”

Surely, if he could find Abby, he could find Ellie. By then, six months came and went.

“Six months too long, Tommy,” Dina nursed her drink at his home. Dina squeezed her eyes shut, her heartbeat quickening.

“Just be patient, Dina,” Tommy leaned over and squeezed Dina’s hand. “Finding people takes time.”

“She can’t be fucking dead,” Dina whispered, closing her eyes. “She can’t be.”

To love is to grieve, but Ellie’s absence was a slow, painful death.

And there Ellie was. Dina squeezed herself. There wasn’t a single moment that Dina didn’t think of Ellie and in some way, she blamed herself. If it wasn’t for JJ, Dina would’ve gone after Ellie. Dina felt responsible and it suffocated her.

“I just wanted to drop this stuff off and I’ll be on my way,” Ellie said, her back to Dina. Ellie was staring at the Christmas tree. Some of the Christmas lights didn’t shine and all of the Christmas ornaments seemed to come from different sets. She saw a multitude of different gifts from other people in Jackson and the thought of the previous Christmas before made her stomach churn in regret.

Ellie carried the tote and sat down in front of the tree. She caught herself in a silver ornament, she leaned closer for a second, then turned back to the tote, removing the items and placing them under the tree, a stuffed dinosaur toy, a box of stackable blocks. The last thing Ellie removed was a sketchbook. She placed it under the tree gently.

Ellie turned around as she heard Dina walking behind her. Dina grasped her face, looking at her freckles, the spots of earth in her green eyes. Ellie tried to turn away from her gaze.

“Dina, please,” Ellie whispered, pulling away.

“Ellie, stay,” Dina’s hand slid from Ellie’s face to the back of her neck. The other hand snuck into Ellie’s open jacket, Dina’s fingertips resting at the small of Ellie’s back.

I can’t.

Dina pressed her forehead to Ellie’s, her nose brushing against hers. She was losing herself in Ellie’s eyes, if she stared hard enough, she felt as if she could disappear again and they would never be apart ever again.

Don’t abandon me again.

Ellie’s voice was filled with restraint, a whisper that carried the weight of the world. “Dina, why did you run after her when she left?”

Tell me the truth.

Dina swallowed. “I was drunk, Ellie…” Ellie pulled Dina’s hand from her neck, but the two women were still so close to each other.

I don’t know what came over me.

Ellie’s bottom lip trembled, but her voice was strong. “Did you fuck her?” Ellie inhaled, trying to ignore how the room felt so much smaller. “Don’t lie to me.”

I kissed her.

Dina closed her eyes, opened them to look Ellie in the eye and breathed, “No, Ellie.” Dina was calm, but on the inside, her stomach sank.  

Don’t say my name like that, Ellie thought.

“I’m… just a girl. Not a threat ” Ellie whispered, trying to register what Dina said to her. She was filled to the brim with confusion and excitement and beneath it all, the closeness between her and Dina, her warmth, only fed Ellie’s desires.

Dina pushed a strand of Ellie’s hair behind her ear, looking into her eyes.

Oh, Ellie, I think they should be terrified of you.

Dina’s eyes, like a doe’s, looked to Ellie’s lips, then back to her eyes and with the bravery of a lion, she pressed her lips to Ellie’s. When they broke the kiss, Ellie couldn't hide her smile.

It was like everyone disappeared in the room except for us.

Dina pushed Ellie’s jacket off her shoulders, taking it from her hands and tossing it behind her. Ellie removed her gloves, discarding them to the floor. Dina threw her arms around Ellie’s neck as Ellie rested her hands at the small of Dina’s back and Dina led them into a slow dance, her face pressed into Ellie’s neck. Ellie inhaled the scent of her—Dina smelled like Spring.

As long as I shall live, I’ll hold you dear and I’ll reminisce of our love through the years from now until  forever… and ever, my darling… Forever… You will always be the only one… You will always be the only one…

Ellie’s chest felt tight and she breathed in, wishing the tears could be avoided like a storm passing over.

If you should ever need me, unfailingly, I will return to your arms and unburden your heart, and if you should remember that we belong together, never be ashamed, call my name, tell me I’m the one you treasure… Forever…

“Dina—” Ellie started to say. It’s too much.

Dina mumbled into Ellie’s neck. Ellie didn’t understand what she said and her mind started to race as she felt Dina kiss her neck.

I shouldn’t say it. Not tonight. Maybe I should’ve kept running like Maria said.

Dina raised her head and held Ellie’s face. She angled hers and leaned in, pausing as Dina’s breath tickled her lips. Dina pressed her lips to Ellie’s. Ellie kissed back.

Forever… You will always be the only one...

Ellie broke the kiss and disappointment colored  Dina’s face. Those doe eyes yearned and begged. When Ellie looked into them, she couldn’t place it, but it all started out with the memory of their first kiss.

It’s not the same. I’m not the same.

Ellie,” Dina said her name like she did before.

“I want to see JJ,” Ellie whispered. “Can I?”

“I won’t keep you from him,” Dina whispered back, letting go of Ellie. “He’s upstairs sleeping.”

Ellie nodded, turned to the stairway. She walked up the stairs to his room. Ellie lingered in the doorway, hearing Dina climb the stairs behind her slowly.

Ellie broke away from the doorway and leaned on the rail with her elbows. Ellie noticed the bed in the corner and figured it was time for the boy to finally have his own bed. Her eyes travelled around the room, landing the toys she’d never seen before. Finally, her eyes landed on a painting she had done so long ago, a portrait of him.

She looked down into the crib, the boy slept soundly, an angel wrapped in dark blue. Ellie carefully pulled the blanket over his tiny shoulder and watched the boy sleep.

Did you dream of me the way I dreamt of you while I was gone?

Ellie woke up from those dreams filled with guilt, dreams of being back at the farm, JJ in her arms while the sunset smoldered like fire against the sky.  

One day, I’ll tell you why I didn’t come back right away.

Ellie heard the wood creak beneath Dina’s feet behind her.

I broke your mother’s heart. I’m sorry for breaking yours.

Ellie turned her head to the side and swallowed. With her hands, she forced herself away from the crib. She met Dina at the door and let her take her hand.

Dina let her to the bedroom. Dina stood, looking at the window, lost in thought as the light of the waning Moon poured onto the walls and the blue sheets of the bed. Ellie sighed and encircled her arms around her waist and Dina melted back into Ellie, breathing out. Ellie pressed her face into Dina’s hair.

Ellie’s hands slid over the fabric of Dina’s nightgown slowly. Dina held fast onto Ellie’s arms, her eyes glancing at the tattoo she missed. Ellie lifted up the gown, feeling nothing but skin. She squeezed her eyes shut and kissed Dina’s ear. The sound of Ellie trying to breathe slow made Dina’s heart pound.

“I’m sorry,” Ellie whispered, her calloused fingertips ghosting below Dina’s stomach. Dina shivered, holding back a gasp. Ellie pressed her face into Dina’s hair again, biting her lip. Her inhibitions were falling away.

“I’m sorry, too,” Dina breathed. Ellie held onto Dina and stepped them towards the bed. Ellie kissed Dina’s neck, her lips moving and sucking against the skin.

Ellie caught the sight of herself and Dina in the mirror. She looked away. A mirror meant reality to Ellie. Truth.

She sighed into Dina’s neck, watched as Dina’s eyes fluttered. The feeling of Dina’s nails digging into her arms was enough. Like a gun, the girls’ steps were loaded as they aimed for the bed.

Dina broke away from Ellie and sat onto the bed. She looked up as the woman removed her black long sleeve, then her black bra. Ellie kicked off her boots, then unbuttoned her jeans, sliding them over her hips and finally stepping out of them, leaving a pair of white boy-shorts. She advanced on Dina, Dina scooted back on the bed and made space for her.

“Take this shit off.” Ellie whispered, watching Dina as her hand sliding up Dina’s inner thigh. Dina felt that surge of desire in the pit of her stomach at Ellie’s command. Together, their hands slid the gown up Dina’s body and over her head.

Ellie wet her lips and leaned into Dina, kissing her hard and pushing her down. Their legs intertwined on the bed and Ellie grasped Dina’s hips, pressed her thigh between Dina’s legs. Dina arched her back and moaned at the pressure.

Ellie supported her with her hands and looked down at the woman, Dina’s breasts heaved with every breath. In Dina’s eyes, there was anticipation, lust and something Ellie couldn’t place. What Ellie loved the most about Dina in bed was her ability to let go. To Dina, nothing else mattered but the present.

Ellie took control of Dina’s hips, sliding her pussy against her thigh, slowly up and down. Dina gasped as Ellie made her grind against her, pushing and pulling her deliberately, over and over again. The two women traded glances that threaten to consume the other entirely.

In minutes, Ellie’s thigh was slick where she pulled Dina against her. Still, Ellie didn’t pick up the pace, she kept the rhythm and held Dina still when she squirmed too much, her fingers digging into Dina's skin to remind her that she was in control. Any other time, Ellie would indulge Dina’s greed, but not now, not tonight.

In everything else Ellie did, she was quick and impulsive. Ellie was a patient lover the same way she was a patient artist. Sex was just like art to Ellie. To her, both required patience and intuition.

“Ellie,” Dina moaned, “Fuck, I—”

Shh,” Ellie hushed her, pushing her down, pulling her back. “I feel you throbbing, I’ll make you cum just… like… this.”

Dina’s heart thundered in her chest. Her eyes skimmed from Ellie’s hands and what they were making her do, then back to her face. Ellie was a storm, often unpredictable in her nature.  Dina lost focus when Ellie pulled her against her thigh again, her breath hitching from the pressure.

Dina squeezed her thighs around Ellie’s thigh. Ellie pushed her down with more force, making Dina moan again and release her thigh. Up once more, down again, another gasp from Dina and a sigh from Ellie over how wet and hot Dina was. Nostalgia was persuasive, but seduction and nostalgia was a monster that wouldn't die.

Dina grabbed Ellie’s forearms and Ellie let out a controlled breath, watching as Dina’s face got the familiar flush of pink, listening to her pant quicker.

“Yeah, that’s right,” Ellie whispered, looking into Dina’s brown eyes as she pulled Dina against her thigh with just a little more pressure than before. “I told you I was gonna make you cum like this.”

“Ellie, please,” Dina groaned, throwing her head back against the bed and deepening her arch.

“Right there?” Ellie asked, continuing the rhythm. Dina panted beneath her, squeezing Ellie’s forearms. Dina twisted for leverage, leverage Ellie wasn’t going to give.

“You’re so fucking wet,” Ellie breathed.

“Fuck!” Dina hissed.

“How close are you?” Ellie asked, lowering her eyes to read Dina.

“Oh, fuck, Ellie, please—” Dina broke off in a gasp.

“Tell me,” Ellie’s voice was a low whisper that made goosebumps rise on Dina’s chest.

“Ellie,” Dina’s voice was high and desperate.

“On a scale of one to ten?” Ellie asked.

“Shut up,” Dina gasped.

“Tell me, Dina,” Ellie applied more pressure.

“Nine, fucking nine!” Dina moaned. Ellie nodded, a smirk gracing her face. 

Ellie kept going like that, watching the muscles in Dina’s stomach tense as she held her breath.

“Breathe, Dina,” Ellie whispered, staring into Dina’s eyes.

When Dina breathed, her eyes rolled back and her body froze with brief tension. Dina panted, her fingers digging into Ellie’s forearms. Ellie pushed and pulled her through, letting go as Dina gasped once, her eyes open and wild, wet with tears.

Ellie leaned over and wiped the tears away before they could journey down her face, traced Dina’s lips with her thumb and coaxed her mouth open. Dina sat up to look at Ellie. Ellie sighed as she felt Dina’s lips close around her thumb, keeping her eyes on Dina to remind herself it wasn’t her.

Dina’s hands yanked Ellie’s panties down. Her fingers spread Ellie’s folds and Ellie sighed, releasing her thumb from Dina’s mouth.

Dina leaned in and sucked Ellie’s nipple. Ellie gasped as Dina pulled at her nipple with her lips and moaned as she felt two of Dina’s fingers slide inside of her.

“Fuck,” Ellie whispered, her mouth opening, her head starting to fall back. The sound Dina’s fingers made as they slid inside and out made Ellie want to grind against Dina’s hand, but she fought it.

Ellie squeezed her eyes closed as Dina fucked her slow. Ellie grabbed Dina’s hair and pulled her head back gently, pressing her lips to hers. Dina opened her mouth and Ellie moaned as their tongues slid against each other.

Dina removed her fingers and pulled away from Ellie, replacing Ellie’s tongue with her fingers, tasting the essence of Ellie’s desire.

Ellie felt herself weaken at the sight. “Dina…”

Dina shot Ellie a look, that look that Ellie knew so well, and Ellie fell sideways against the pillow and rolled into her back. Dina pulled Ellie’s panties off and sighed. Dina spread Ellie’s legs and Ellie inhaled sharply, her eyes looking up at the ceiling.

Dina wasted no time, her tongue sliding between Ellie’s wet folds. Ellie gasped once, then again as Dina repeated it. Dina slid her two fingers back inside Ellie and started to suck on her clit slowly. Dina fucked Ellie with her fingers at an unbearably slow rhythm. She knew she could make Ellie cum quickly this way, as she had so many times before.

This moment had to count for something, so Dina went slow and Ellie was losing her mind.

“Fuck, Dina, fuck,” Ellie moaned. Just like two things could be true at once, two things could happen at once and Ellie’s hips jerked from the latter. Ellie grabbed a fistful of Dina’s hair as she felt lust taken over.

Ellie’s feet slid against the bed against her own control and she craned her neck to watch Dina work between her legs, panting. Dina fucked Ellie with her fingers slowly and in a smooth transition from legato to staccato, Dina flicked her tongue against Ellie’s clit.

“Goddamn, Dina!” Ellie cried out. This was a memory Ellie chased in her absence, finally resting in her sleeping bag, unable to quite remember what Dina’s tongue felt like. Her hand between her legs, trying to replicate, panting quietly as the forest stirred around her. The harder she chased the memory, the more it escaped from her. With Dina between her legs, a new memory was born.

Ellie gasped in desperation, her grip on Dina’s hair becoming tighter. Her eyes opened and her jaw fell slack as Dina pushed up and in with her fingers. Dina flicked her tongue again, stoking Ellie’s fire as Ellie threw her head back against the pillow.

“Oh my fucking God, Dina, please,” Ellie begged in a strained whisper, trying to keep her voice down.

Dina took a breath, “I know, I know… I know how good this feels to you… I know you want more.”

Dina soaked up the sight of Ellie, something she hadn’t done the last time they were in bed. It was something she would’ve done had she known Ellie would leave for California. Ellie was beautiful underneath the influence of sex, the way she lost herself in it, the way sweat crawled between her breasts, how her face and breasts would flush and make her freckles stand out more—And the sounds she made giving herself over.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck—Oh,” Ellie moaned as Dina added a third finger, the heat inside her blooming. Dina teased Ellie’s clit with her tongue, gentle pushes as she continued to fuck Ellie. Ellie panted heavily, moans escaping her mouth with every breath. The stretch warred between pleasure and pain, but Dina was patient.

“Dina…” Ellie looked at the ceiling, inhaling. “I might fucking—I’m going to fucking—” Ellie broke off in a moan when Dina flicked her tongue again. Dina groaned as she felt Ellie squeeze her fingers. Dina sighed with her tongue swirling against Ellie’s clit and wished this moment could last forever, her name rolling off Ellie’s tongue like it was her favorite song.

Dina pushed inside Ellie and went in for the kill, flicking her tongue with no end in sight. Thirty seconds pass of tongue tricks and slow, slick fingers fucking and Ellie sat up, pulling Dina’s hair to look at her in her eyes.

Fuck,” the both of them moaned, eyes wide as Dina felt Ellie’s walls seizing around her fingers, unwilling to let go. Ellie’s lips were parted, her eyes blinking slowly, pupils dilated, legs trembling.

She didn’t let go of Dina’s hair and Dina didn’t remove her fingers. They stared into each other’s eyes for a moment, breathing the other in. Dina circled Ellie’s clit with her thumb, watching the woman’s eyes close, her breasts rise and fall. Finally, Dina removed her fingers from Ellie, coaxed her mouth open and let her taste herself.

“You don’t know what you do to me,” Dina whispered, watching Ellie suck each finger clean, her green eyes meeting the brown of Dina’s.

Dina crawled on top of Ellie to straddle her hips, their bodies grinding against each other. They kissed desperately, Dina biting Ellie’s lip and making her whimper. Ellie fighting for control and losing as Dina pushed her down into the bed. Dina sunk her teeth into Ellie’s neck, biting hard. Ellie hissed and pushed up against Dina as she raked her fingernails down her back.

Dina pinned Ellie’s wrists to the mattress and tore into Ellie’s chest, sucking and biting, making the girl hiss. She left a series of dark blotches across her chest. Dina flicked her tongue over her nipple and watched Ellie’s mouth open, a breath of desire.

Dina sat up, straddling Ellie, strands of dark curls in her face as she rocked on top of her. Their panting and moaning echoed each other and Ellie egged her on with her hands on her hips. Then Dina stopped and crawled slow, pausing to look down at Ellie while her hips cradled Ellie’s chest.

“What are you doing?” Ellie asked.

“Something I read about in a book six months ago.” Dina positioned herself with her knees to the side of Ellie’s head as Ellie snorted. Ellie looked up at her, wrapping her arms around Dina’s thighs when it finally registered.

Ellie slapped Dina’s ass and Dina yelped. “Getting cold feet?”

“Shut up,” Dina breathed, letting her legs slide apart to close the distance between herself and Ellie’s mouth. Ellie pulled her closer and her tongue slid in between Dina’s soft folds and Dina’s hips bore down in response. Dina braced herself on the headboard and slowly started to rock her hips against Ellie’s mouth. The both of them moaned.

Ellie followed Dina’s rhythm, syncing them together, her arms locked around Dina’s thighs as she let Dina ride her mouth. Ellie squirmed because it was getting her so wet. Dina threw her head back and let her hips circle, panting.

Ellie held Dina still and sucked on Dina’s clit. Dina’s body stiffened and her nails dug into the headboard.

Ellie,” Dina whispered her name, but it sounded like a warning.

Ellie flicked her tongue mid-suck and Dina hissed her name again, looking down at the woman whose eyes were closed.

Ellie applied a focused suction and held Dina still as her hips attempted to buck. Dina leaned back on her hands and bit her lip, fighting back a scream that would ruin the entire night. Ellie smoothed her hands over Dina’s hips, pulled back for a deep breath as Dina started to come undone.

Dina sat back to straddle Ellie and covered her mouth. Ellie looked on as Dina’s buckled legs underneath her. Ellie smoothed her hands over Dina’s calves, amused.  

“Easy,” Ellie directed, smirking as Dina’s hips bucked again. Ellie sat up and pulled Dina to her side. Then Ellie swung her legs off the bed.

“Where are you going?” Ellie turned back to Dina and saw it again, the need in her doe eyes.

“I’m just gonna clean up, stay there.”

Ellie went to the bathroom and cleaned up, then she stood at Dina’s sink and splashed her face with cold water. When Ellie looked at herself in the mirror, she turned away.

She wrapped a towel around herself and checked on JJ. She shook her head over his crib.

It’s been a while since we got away with that.

Ellie returned to the bedroom and found Dina under the sheets, fighting her sleep and losing. The comforter was pulled back, welcoming a space for her. Ellie got underneath it and pressed her hand to Dina’s face.

“Cold,” Dina mumbled sleepily.

“Sorry,” Ellie whispered back.

Minutes on minutes passed and Ellie watched Dina sleep. She tried to relax in bed, tried to quiet her mind. She rolled over in bed onto her side, glanced at the clock. 10:36pm.

The more Ellie laid there, the more suffocated she felt. Quietly, she got out of bed and climbed back into her clothes. Guilt ate at her for leaving, but she couldn’t do this again. She couldn’t be up all hours of the night, tormented for one reason or the other. Ellie pulled her shirt over her head and looked at Dina.

This doesn’t feel right. Why?

She wanted to take off her clothes and climb underneath the covers, wrap her arms around Dina and never let her go. But there was a part of her that begged her to leave.

Ellie lingered in the doorway, trying to stop her hands from shaking. She couldn’t place the reason this time. She went to JJ’s room and stood over his crib, her eyes landing on the child's portrait again.

What did she do with the others?

Ellie walked quietly down the stairs, putting her boots and jacket at the door. She paused as she started to put on her left glove, looking at her left hand, incomplete.

Pieces of myself I'll never get back.

Ellie froze as she heard the wood creak upstairs. 

We’ll argue if she catches me leaving, she thought, craning her neck to see up the stairway. She waited a second, thinking of how to explain herself. Dina never came running down the stairs.

Goddamn old houses. 

Relieved, Ellie twisted the doorknob and closed it behind her. 

Ellie left the house the same way she came, quiet and filled with shame. She stopped and looked up at the waning Moon.

If the Moon can love at a distance, can I?

 

Chapter Text

It’s not the weight of the world,

It’s just the way that I am

Motion City Soundtrack

×

Abby rubbed her eyes as she answered the door.

“Don’t tell me you forgot, Lone Wolf.” Michael stood there, tall like a mountain. He wore a black hat and leather gloves, his shotgun and rifle slung over his shoulders. His beard was growing in and his hazel eyes were teasing. The winds of Winter whistled around him.

“Shit,” Abby breathed, her blue eyes opening.

Michael eyed the woman in nothing but a white t-shirt with a case of bedhead. “You’re a sight for sore eyes.”

“Shut up before I make you sit outside and wait for me.” Abby retorted, her voice hoarse from a heavy sleep. She turned her back, motioning him inside.

Michael closed the door behind him and kicked off his boots at the door. He leaned on the couch, the stack of DVDs caught his eyes. “You wanna watch a movie later?”

“Fuck you,” Abby said, climbing the stairs.

Michael looked at the clock on the wall and mumbled, “I wish.”

He walked over to a desk. His eyes went to a framed portrait of Abby, looking serious. He picked it up and her smoky blue eyes followed Michael. The next picture was Lev, holding his bow, a soft smile on his face. The last framed picture was Lev with his tongue out and Abby had her eyes crossed, holding bunny ears behind Lev’s head.

“A different side of you,” Michael mumbled to himself as he set it down.

Upstairs, Abby spat the last of the toothpaste into the sink and proceeded to splash her face with cool water to shake off the sleep.

Abby glanced at the shower and sighed. I could use a hot shower, but it has to wait.

Abby bumped into Lev on her way out of the bathroom, “Shit, Lev, I’m sorry,” Abby apologized. He was rubbing the sleep from his eyes as well. “Did I wake you up?”

“No,” Lev said. “I slept late this time. Did you want me to make breakfast?”

“For yourself,” Abby said as she turned and went into her bedroom. “Patrol with Michael today.”

“Running late!” Michael yelled.

“You should eat, Abby,” Lev cautioned as he watched Abby clamber into a pair of black cargo pants. She almost fell putting them on. He turned away as Abby removed her shirt and saw Michael near the top of the stairs.

“Michael, go away! She’s getting dressed!” Abby had her back to the doorway and looked over her shoulder towards Lev’s voice as she pulled her sports bra over her breasts.

Abby grabbed her pistol off her bed and pointed it at Michael. “Come closer, Michael, I’ll give you some sore eyes.”

“Abby, that’s not funny,” Lev said, giving Abby a scolding look.

“Chill out, Lev, it was a joke,” Abby said, tucking her pistol into the back of her pants. “Kind of,” she added quietly, grabbing a blue long sleeve and slipping into it.

Abby slipped into a black jacket, donning some red gloves and a scarf. She walked to her gun case, a Jackson hand-me-down.

She eyed the rifle with the scope through the glass. She opened the case and grabbed the gun. She checked the safety and stuffed it into her backpack.

Finally, she ran a brush through her hair, brushing out the tangles. She didn’t have time for a braid, so she brushed her hair back into a low ponytail, securing it with a rubber band. She strapped on her holster belt and switched her pistol to her holster. The last thing to go on were her combat boots and she laced them tightly, too many stories of people running from Infected and tripping on their laces.

She shouldered her backpack and jogged out of the room and down the stairs, throwing on her beanie.

She met Michael and Lev downstairs. The smell of eggs, pepper and spinach filled her nose.

“You clean up pretty nice, Lone Wolf,” Michael remarked, looking at Abby from head to toe.

“Shut up,” Abby said, catching Lev’s voice mirroring hers, but way softer. She grinned. He disapproves, it’s never gonna happen.

“Ready to be outshined?” Abby asked.

“If I outshine you, will I get a kiss?” Michael leaned in closer to Abby and Abby held back a laugh, hearing Lev huff over the sink.

“In your fucking dreams,” Abby pushed Michael away, turning to the door.

“Abby!” Lev called and threw something. Abby caught it with one hand and turned her hand over to see. It was a green apple.

“Thanks, Lev,” Abby called. “See you later!”

Lev called back, “Be safe!”

Abby let Michael out, smirking as she said, “Whatever happens today, just know that I'm a better shot than you."

“You’re a pain in my ass, Lone Wolf,” Michael said, his boots sounding as they touched the ground. Abby took a bite out of her green apple, the juice bittersweet on her tongue.

“Good,” Abby said through a bite. She swallowed. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Abby and Michael cut down a few streets and went through Jackson’s main strip and Abby ignored the stares as usual.

“They always stare at you like that?” Michael asked.

“Yeah,” Abby said calmly.

“Does it bother you?”

“No,” Abby held her guard, but her eyes jumped from face to face, then straight ahead again.

“Abby!” a voice called.

Abby turned around and Laurel was there at the grocery store. Laurel set down her totes and embraced Abby, pressing her face to hers. Abby embraced the woman back. Laurel is a light.

“Cold today, isn’t it?” Laurel rubbed her gloved hands together.

“As hell,” Abby responded. Laurel laughed.

“Are you going on patrol?” Laurel asked, looking at the rifle sticking out of Abby’s backpack. She tucked a spare strand of Abby’s hair behind her ear.

“Yeah,” Abby said, adjusting her gear. “It’s better than sitting in the house.”

“I won’t hold you any longer, why don’t you and Lev swing by the house when you’re done—That is, if he isn’t already there when you come back?”

“Sure,” Abby said, smiling. “I’ll just grab a shower before I head over.”

“Perfect, I’ve missed you over the last few weeks.” Laurel said warmly. She embraced Abby again. “Good luck, darling.” Abby smiled into Laurel’s shoulders and let go. Abby turned from Laurel to Michael and Michael shrugged.

Out of Laurel’s earshot, he said, “Well, that’s one more person to the list.”

“What list?”

“Of people who like you in Jackson,” Michael rolled his eyes.

“And let me guess, you’re at the top?” Abby stopped, her arms crossing.

“Whoa there, don’t bite, Lone Wolf,” Michael held his hands up as he crossed in front at Abby, seeing the anger in her face. “I thought it didn’t bother you?”

“It doesn’t,” Abby snapped. Michael gave Abby a knowing look and he turned, gesturing with his head. Abby cursed underneath her breath for letting him get underneath her skin so easily.

“Stables this way, Elizabeth Bathory.” Michael walked ahead, waving to the stable master and jogging over to have a chat.

“Who the hell is that?” Abby asked herself.

Abby waved to the stable master and the woman waved back. She walked up to Diablo’s stable and whispered, “Guess who?”

The stallion snorted, Abby sighed and Michael pulled a grey mare with a silver mane and tail from her stable. He clicked at the horse affectionately. Michael looked up to see Abby letting Diablo free.

“God, I told Maria to let that son of a bitch go,” Michael sighed.

“I’m glad Maria doesn’t listen to stupid suggestions,” Abby smirked, petting Diablo’s neck.

Abby fixed the saddle onto Diablo and fixed her lips together for a kiss noise which prompted the stallion to walk as she led him on a leash to the gate.

Michael mounted his horse, saying, “Come on, Angel.”

Michael and Angel trotted past through Jackson’s gates. Abby waited until she was outside to mount Diablo. He seemed to fare better when not around other horses.

Diablo trotted back and forth and Abby gently coaxed the stallion, “Easy, Diablo, easy…”

Michael took off into the field and Abby clicked her tongue, making Diablo follow behind them. As the world blurred around her, her focus returned.

What Abby turned out to like the most about patrolling with Michael is that he had a soldier’s focus. He didn’t make her hold a conversation. As he and Abby sped through the ruined neighborhoods outside of Jackson, Abby looked around her, her blue eyes widened.

Abby and Michael got off their horses in a culdesac.

Abby imagined the homes pre-Outbreak. The grass might be under control. The paint wouldn’t be faded, the windows in tact. Kids would be running around outside. It’s what we could’ve had if my father… Her eyes fixated on a house with a garage half-open.

2425 Constance.

Michael waved his hand in front of Abby’s face. “Hello? You in there? It’s freezing out here and I wanna go home!”

Abby blinked, her heart skipping a beat and her stomach sinking. “Yeah, lead the way.”

Michael led Abby to a wooden fence. A part of the fence had been either kicked in or forced open. A few stray pieces of wood was in the way. Michael lifted it up and nodded for Abby to go through.

“Careful, splinters,” Michael said, looking behind them.

Abby came out on the other side and heard the snarling of Runners. She looked up to two of them running across the yard. Abby got off her hands and knees and aimed her pistol.

She squeezed the trigger and the gun went off. The first Runner, a woman, dropped with a bullet between the eyes.

“You good?” Michael asked, peeking at her from under the destroyed fence.

“I got it, come through,” Abby said, firing off at the other, a younger boy, and watching the Infected drop, a bullet through the eye. Abby let her arms fall to her sides. “Easy.”

Michael struggled to get through the fence and Abby turned to him, held out her hand and pulled him through with a grunt.

“Fuck, I used to be able to squeeze through,” Michael sighed, getting to his feet.  

“Lay off the alcohol,” Abby suggested. Michael scoffed, held up his middle finger and Abby smirked.

Michael went first through the backdoor, the wood creaking. Michael froze and so did Abby. Two of them, croaking and clicking in the living room. Michael stepped to his left carefully, navigating around a kitchen island, looking back at Abby. Abby slipped through the doorway and went forward.

Michael stepped on a piece of glass and the two Clickers shrieked sharply. Abby shot Michael a look. Seriously?

The two Clickers came for the noise and Abby grabbed a plate off the shelf and threw it at the first Clicker. It shattered and the Clicker shrieked, stunned. Abby reached and grabbed her rifle, switching off the safety and aiming for the one in front of her. Michael shot it twice with his rifle, blood splattering on Abby and it dropped, then shot the other swinging towards him at point blank range, leaving a spray of blood across the cabinets and wall.

Abby glared at Michael. “I had that.”

“Runners are a point each, Stalkers are three points and Clickers are f—”

“Then that was practice,” Abby rolled her eyes. “Had time to explain the point system before.”

“Whatever you say, Lone Wolf, it’s still eight to two,” Michael laughed. “Come on upstairs, find what we can and we’ll go out the front.”

Abby followed Michael upstairs and they split up, Michael in the bedroom and Abby in the bathroom. Abby sifted through bottles of expired medication, picking up a crunched box of black hair color, trying to imagine what she would look like with black hair. She shuddered. No.

Abby blew her breath, “What were we supposed to do again?”

“I did it,” Michael held up a book in the doorway. “I knew I saw it here. Maria asked me to bring it back.”

Michael handed Abby the book and Abby turned it over in her hands. It was some cooking book from a brunette woman. She peeked inside at a dessert recipe, then closed it.

“As seen on TV,” Abby mumbled. That woman is probably dead. “Just this?”

“Well, Maria sends us out to clear any Infected, help any survivors and if we spotted something before, she’ll send us out to get it if she needs it.”

Abby shrugged. “Practical, I guess.”

“Stuff that in your bag and let’s get out of here.” Abby did as she was told and they left the house. Abby rode next to Michael in silence and Michael looked over at Abby.

“What?” Abby asked. The horses’ hooves clicked on the asphalt.

Michael looked ahead and adjusted his hat. “You’re… formally trained, right?”

“Yeah,” Abby confirmed. “You?”

“I left the Fireflies before my training was finished. My brother was overseeing it.”

“Fireflies?” Abby paused. “Where were you and your brother stationed?”

“Well, I was born in Chicago, two months before Outbreak Day. I grew up in a Quarantine Zone,” Michael sighed, his hand tightening around the leather reins. “Dad left Mom about six months before I was born because Mom refused to get rid of me, my brother, Daniel, sixteen, had to grow up overnight. He joined FEDRA, they started recruiting younger, just to protect me and Mom.”

Abby stared at Michael, watching the restraint give on Michael’s face, from indifference to pain.

“My mom was a nice lady, you know? She looked out for people. Daniel would get extra ration cards and she would share. She looked out for my brother’s best friend the most. My brother said he snuck out a lot, was rebellious, would’ve made a great Firefly. They came to blows over FEDRA often and Mom always brought them back together.” Michael shrugged.

“Well, he comes back to our place, looks pretty sick. My brother was on guard duty on the outskirts of the QZ. Mom wakes up in the middle of the night and you know… I just remember her screaming at the top of her lungs for me to hide, screaming for help. I was six.”  Michael swallowed. “She said, ‘Mikey, don’t you dare come out until Danny comes.’ She was fighting for her life. She lost.”

Abby closed her eyes.

“I waited forever in that closet, listening to the Runner just...  guess my brother finally got off and he puts down his best friend. He calls for me and gets me out of the closet. He was crying and covered in blood.”

“Goddamn,” Abby bit her lip.

“Then the rebellion started. People didn’t feel safe under FEDRA and the Fireflies took note. My brother begged for his life, swore his allegiance, gave them valuable intel and we were move for safety when they realized Daniel had a bounty on his head. There were a few bases over the years and so much violence. Daniel and I met Tommy in Denver. Daniel said the Fireflies weren’t any better than the FEDRA. Tommy wasn’t ready to leave. Daniel and I were moved to Oceanside.”

“I heard about that base,” Abby recalled a memory. “It was attacked. There was a FEDRA infiltrator.”

Michael nodded. “A bloodbath. FEDRA ambushed Oceanside’s Fireflies on three separate missions. They suspected my brother, knowing his past with them. My brother had a failsafe, a soldier named Jasmine.” Michael breathed in, looked at Abby, conviction coloring his voice. “My brother never sold the Fireflies out. He would never put any of us in danger like that. It was always him putting himself ahead of others.”

“I believe you,” Abby whispered.

“He made her promise to get me out of Oceanside, back to Denver to Tommy. Shortly before the base got hit, we left and I was in tears. I was sixteen years old. We never made it. She got bit and I put her out of her misery. I was on my own.”

Abby’s stomach sank. “I’m so sorry.”

“I looked for Tommy for years. There was a lot of dead end leads, a lot of close calls with Infected and Hunters, I could never interact with the Fireflies and tell them who I was. Jasmine told me that they’d kill me immediately because of my brother.” Michael laughed, but it lacked joy.

“I left Alberta, Canada and was making my way down to Mexico, just wanted to live somewhere warmer. I crossed through Wyoming and ran into Jackson just two years ago. Maria took me in and Tommy remembered me after all these years.”

Abby put her arm up to her face as a freezing wind blew by. “So much for warmer. I’m sorry about your brother.”

“He was a good man, I would’ve died without everything he taught me.” He looked at Abby, his hazel eyes appearing gold in the Winter Sun, “You’re doing the right thing, taking care of your cub. It’s a cold world and kids suffer the worst.”

Abby’s stomach flipped. She heard so many stories from her father.

Michael slowed up with Angel and Abby followed his lead. Michael looked over at her, pointed and said, “There’s our checkpoint. Library.”

It was a small building, isolated from the others. Abby noted the run-down pharmacy as she went passed.

“Watch for Infected and survivors,” Michael instructed. “Usually, this area is clear, but every now and then, we find a few of them.”

“Infected or survivors?” Abby asked.

“Both.” Michael answered.

Abby and Michael arrived at the library, stringing their horses up outside. Once inside, Abby signed them in at the librarian’s deck and turned to Michael. He stared at her and sighed.

“This wasn’t a patrol,” Michael admitted. He looked at the floor. “I mean, it was, but not really.”

Abby pointed her pistol at Michael, her eyes jumping from behind him, to his forehead and to the door. Michael wasn’t fazed.

“Then, what the fuck was it?” Abby hissed.

“Maria,” Michael called. Maria walked out of an aisle. Tommy followed shortly behind her, walking stick in hand. “Relax, girl, it’d be a damn shame to put you down now. Best believe we had our opportunity to do so multiple times,” Tommy drawled.

Abby didn’t put down her gun, her finger ready on the trigger.

“It’s rude to point,” Tommy suggested.

Maria held her hand and her pistol up where Abby could see it. Michael did the same, setting his pistol, shotgun and rifle down. Maria held her hand out and Tommy slapped his pistol into her hand, then she set it down and kicked it away from her.

“Easy, Abigail. Nobody is gonna hurt you,” Maria whispered. “Not unless you shoot first.”

“Tell me why you brought me here and I’ll put it down,” Abby’s voice was sharp.

Maria sighed, looking at Michael and Tommy. She turned to Abby. “Tommy.”

“Ellie’s gone AWOL,” Tommy said it with his eyes on the floor, then he raised his head to look at Abby.

Abby shook her head, anger flashing on her face, “Don’t fucking put that on me, I had nothing to do with it.”

“We know. It was her arrows up on the gates. She used some type of plant to make the guards hallucinate and slipped out.”

Smart, Abby thought, lowering her gun.

“How long has she been gone?” Abby glanced at Maria. Time is important.

“Two weeks, going on three.” Maria spoke, “We need you to go with a team to find her.”

Abby looked at the floor. Two weeks is a lot of distance. And Lev…

“Do you have a lead?” Abby asked slowly.

Maria looked at Tommy, then fixed her eyes on Abby’s face. “No.” Michael blew his breath.

Abby shook her head and put her gun in her holster. “I’m not going without a lead.”

Tommy growled, “Abby—”

“It’s a fucking suicide mission for everyone involved and you know that,” Abby snapped, Lev’s smile was in her mind’s eye. “None of you have a goddamn idea where she’s at and people are going to die.”

Tommy barked, “She spared your fucking life!”

Abby yelled back, “I spared her twice!” Abby turned to the door, her voice low as she stomped to the entrance. “I’m not doing this.”

Maria called after the young woman, “Abby, don’t leave. We need to talk about this.”

Abby opened the door and looked over her shoulder, her ponytail swishing. “Kill me if you want—There are fates worse than death.”

×

Abby rubbed her arms in the evening air. Spring was far away and she looked forward to it. Abby pulled out her key ring and inserted a key into the door, turning it. Her sneakers squeaked against the floor in the dark and she felt along the wall as usual for the switch. She turned on the lights and looked at the weights.

She was grateful Maria chose her to maintain the gym after it was restored. Between patrols and keeping the space perfect, she felt clearer.

Not just that, but Abby had built up some muscle back and managed to spend more time with Lev when he wasn’t running off with Iyra.

She didn’t mind picking up after people’s dirty towels or wiping down the equipment. It kept her mind away from blood, death and the gamble of survival.

When Abby couldn’t sleep, she worked out until she was ready to collapse, then she dragged herself back home.

There was times where she just passed out on the floor only to see the light of morning creep in through the windows. She would end up running to the back and splashing her face with cold water, hoping nobody saw her through the window. Abby would sneak out the back and take the quieter streets, passing out on her couch again. In the morning, she would return with Lev before other residents came in for a quick forty minute workout.

Since turning Maria down, Abby worked out to escape Guilt. Guilt always caught up.

Her rest days were on Wednesdays. She spent them in bed.  Lev and Laurel noticed her withdrawal. Lev saw through her excuses and Abby knew he did. She couldn’t tell him, knew he wouldn’t outright confront her, so she kept making excuses.

Abby maintained her usual routine on a snowy evening. Sweat crawled between Abby’s breasts as she started her cool down.

As Abby sat up during a crunch, she spotted Maria in the mirror, behind her, leaning against the wall. She gasped softly.

“Which one is that? Forty-three?” Maria asked.

“Twenty-two,” Abby answered and grunted as she fell back. She did eight more crunches, her braid strung of gold following behind her. Maria walked over to Abby and sat on the wooden floor next to her. Abby panted softly and Maria was silent.

“You’re not the reason why she left,” Maria squeezed Abby’s shoulder.

Abby didn’t reply, looking away from Maria.

“Don’t shut me out, Abby,” Maria’s voice was soft, close to begging.

I destroyed her life and then I took her place in it.

“Maria, I don’t want to talk about this,” Abby crossed her arms.

“Then don’t talk, just listen,” Maria ordered. Abby bit the inside of her cheek. “Lev came to me and said you shut yourself off.”

Abby groaned, “Why would he—? It’s not that serious.”

Maria stared at the side of Abby’s face. “It is to him.”

“Did you tell him she left?” Abby asked.

“No,” Maria said. “He’s a smart kid, he’ll figure it out.”

Abby scoffed. “Yeah.”

“You don’t win by keeping people away, Abby.” Maria looked at Abby through the mirror. “You’re not on your own anymore. You’re not running anymore. I know people in Jackson still treat you like a monster, but you can’t shut down and prepare for the worst. It’s not coming.”

“I’m tired, Maria, I’m going home,” Abby got to her feet.

The load got heavier with each passing day. Abby pushed weights to cope, but as each night concluded, Abby stared up at the ceiling in her bed and Ellie sat on her chest, making it impossible to breathe.

×

Dina stood in Maria’s house with a hand on her hip and the other over her mouth. Maria took in the sight of Dina and grimaced. She looked to Tommy, then Michael.

Just like before, Maria thought, her eyes taking in Dina’s face. Shadows underneath Dina’s eyes that broke the magic spell she casted on everyone she encountered, a spell that made people feel like Dina was unbreakable.

Dina became reclusive when she realized Ellie was gone. Maria had Michael and Miguel making rounds to her house after Robin told her that Dina needed help with JJ. The grandmother and the mother of the boy compromised, JJ would spend one week with Robin, the next with Dina. Robin didn’t mind, she was always happy to have JJ, but she begged Maria to keep a close eye on Dina.

Maria grew tired of Michael and Miguel saying Dina would open the door and send them away. She intervened.

“Man, I just—” Dina started, her voice was hoarse. “I just want a fucking answer.”

“Ellie ain’t the type to give answers,” Tommy mumbled as his finger slid over a map, pausing to glance up at Dina and Maria. “She never told us where she went after Santa Barbara.”

Dina paced in front of Maria without words, her eyes were vacant and swollen.

Dina squeezed a handful of hair at either side of her head, eyes shut in frustration. “How could she do this to me again?” Maria walked forward and placed her hands on Dina’s shoulders.

“Dina, I need you to calm down—"

“Calm down? Calm down?” Dina asked in disbelief. “It’s been almost two months, Maria, when are you going to put out another search party for her? Or are you going to start digging a fucking grave for her?”

Maria inhaled, but guilt constricted around her throat like a snake. She let go of Dina and backed away. I told her she should’ve kept running. This is on me.

Maria didn’t want to answer Dina. She was damned if she did, damned if she didn’t.

“We don’t have the people for a search party.” Michael said from his chair, his voice was stern. “Have you forgotten what it’s like out there? Ben slipped on ice and fell to his death just an hour out of Jackson. Jordan was ripped apart by a group of runners in Rock Springs. Caleb was bitten by a Clicker in Mountain View, saving my life. Those were people we cared about, too. Lives sacrificed for a woman who’s as good as dead.”

“Fuck you, Michael, fuck you!” Dina yelled.

“No, Dina, fuck you, they had families, too, and if it was JJ in any of their places, you would’ve begged on your hands and knees for him to stay.” Michael spat, cutting his hazel eyes at the woman. “If Ellie didn’t want to be here because of the Lone Wolf, that’s her decision.”

Dina opened her mouth to speak again, but Maria silenced them both. “Enough.”

Tommy shook his head over the map. “That right there may be the truth.”

Maria rubbed her temples, opening her eyes to Dina grabbing her belongings and the sound of her footsteps approaching the door carried her grief and her anger.

Ellie, come home, Maria thought. You’re missed.

×

Abby walked down the stairs in a pair of black shorts and a black tank-top. Fuck, what now? It’s so late, not that I’m sleeping.

“Hold on!” Abby called angrily as the knocking became impatient.

Abby pushed her hair back over her shoulders and Abby pulled open the door with a sigh.

Michael stood there in his jacket. He was somber, not smiling or smirking. He looked like a child in an adult body, lost and forsaken.

“Michael?” Abby stepped aside and let him in.

“You’re hard person to get a hold of, Lone Wolf,” Michael whispered. He leaned down to untie his boots as Abby shut them inside.

Abby leaned against the door, hugging herself. “I didn’t know you were looking for me.”

Michael pocketed his gloves. “Yeah, I guess you didn’t. You point a gun at someone’s face and the last thing you expect is for them to look for you.”

Abby sighed. “Not in every case. Sorry about that, by the way.”

Michael waved her off. “You were ready to defend yourself, it’s a reflex for someone like you.” He crossed his arms, sitting on the arm of the couch.

“Where’s your cub?”

“With his girl,” Abby answered. She waited for Michael to make some comment about Abby being his girl, but it never came.

Abby crossed in front of him and he reached for her hand. She almost pulled away.

He looked up at her. “Maria and Tommy sent a search party out.”

Anger quickly bubbled inside Abby as she stared back at Michael. “When?”

“Right after you turned her down,” Michael’s voice was low.

Over a month ago.

“Did you go?” Abby asked.

Michael nodded. Abby cursed again underneath her breath, her face flushing in anger.

“How many died?”

“Three out of four. We didn’t make it out of Wyoming.” No, not with the weather.

Abby ran a hand through her hair and squeezed at the crown. “Goddamn it, I told them. Why w—Why did they keep it from me?”

“It was on a need to know basis. You opted out,” Michael said. “Lucky. I’m sick of seeing people die.”

Abby nodded, names and faces coming to mind.

“I know why you didn’t go,” Michael squeezed Abby’s hand.

“No, you don’t,” Abby pulled her hand away.

“Lev is his name, right?” Michael squinted over at the framed pictures.

Abby inhaled.

“I would’ve followed my brother anywhere. It’s a family thing, whether it’s blood or chosen family. They’re all you have,” Michael whispered. “You’re like a mother to him. You hunt together, Lone Wolf.”

Michael rose and looked down at Abby. He tucked the piece of hair in front of her eye back behind her ear.

“When you almost die,” Michael’s voice wavered, “You think about what your life could be or what it should be. What have you thought about?”

Abby closed her eyes as she remembered the long hot days and the even longer cold nights at the pillars. She never thought about it, it was too painful. She only wondered if Lev’s next breath would be his last. Her soul was damned and this was her punishment.

She felt Michael’s lips on hers, his hands pulling her against him.  She was stunned and he kissed her with edge, biting her lower lip as if to say, Open. His kiss was like thunder in the dead of night, telling of his loneliness. She kissed him back and Guilt surged within her.

Abby pulled away with a gasp. She squeezed her eyes closed.

Owen.

“Wait, I—” Abby held up her hand. “I just—”

Michael stared, his eyes probing into her, seeing the weakness.

“Fuck,” Abby whispered, her voice high, looking away from Michael. She touched her lips. They were tingling.

Owen.

Michael sighed, his face flushed with embarrassment.

Abby tried to get her words together, “I—There—We—” She breathed out barely. Her chest felt like it was crushed.

Owen.

“Sorry I grew up,” Abby said with a smirk on her face. “You should try it.”

Owen broke away from the counter and turned to face her. “Oh, yeah, how do I do that, Abby?” He gestured away from them. “Should I go find the people that killed my family?” Owen stared into Abby’s soul.

“Cut into ‘em?” Owen suggested. Abby felt as if she was shrinking and Guilt was swallowing her whole. The older man collapsed below her, his blood on the floor, the golf club in her hand flashing before her eyes.

“I can torture them until they’re crying in their own—” Abby shoved Owen back into the door of the boat twice, he grunted and gripped Abby’s shoulders as she seethed with anger and shame, tears in her eyes.

Owen grabbed her braid at the base of her neck, pulling, the pain seared and Abby whimpered when he didn’t let go, pushing at him weakly.  Her hands squeezed his shirt and as they stared at each other, the two softened their grip.

Owen’s hand moved from her braid and Abby looked at Owen, his hand cradling her face. Abby was breathless and the two lost lovers felt the anticipation. Abby’s left hand slid down his chest.

Abby gasped softly,  then Owen spoke, “Abby.”

Owen pulled Abby to him and pressed his lips to hers, letting out a sigh between kisses that tried to compensate for all that was lost between them.

Abby stepped back from Michael, breathing hard. “Get out.”

As the door closed behind Michael, Abby kicked the couch.

“Fuck,” she whimpered, her hand clasped over her mouth, a tear slid down her cheek. "Fuck," she sobbed.

 

Chapter Text

 There’s a feeling I get

When I look to the West

And my spirit is crying for leaving

In my thoughts, I have seen

Rings of smoke through the trees

And the voices of those who stand looking

It makes me wonder

—Led Zeppelin

×

Dina woke up and threw her legs off the ottoman in the back of the theater. She looked in the mirror and walked out of the room. The posters in the hallway were ripped off. She opened the next door and navigated the backstage.

She stopped in front of one prop, a giant statue of Themis, blindfolded, holding a scale and a sword.

Dina pressed on, pushing the heavy scarlet curtains back and slipping past them. She stopped, seeing the guitar leaning against the front seats.

“Ellie?” Dina called. There was no answer. “Where are you?”

Dina pushed forward past the empty audience. She grabbed the door handle and opened it, seeing Jesse sitting on the couch.

“You’re awake,” Jesse greeted. “How you feeling?”

“I’m fine,” Dina looked around. “Did Ellie come back and leave again?”

Jesse sighed, getting up and grabbing her by her shoulders. “Dina...”

Dina looked up at Jesse, dread creeping in. “What?”

Jesse paused, looking away from Dina. He breathed in.

“Jesse, just fucking tell me—”

“It’s been five days. Ellie isn’t coming back.”

Dina woke up in a cold sweat, looking at the clock. She slept in pieces. She swung her legs over her bed, breathing hard. She curled her toes against the floor and engaged in slow, deep breaths.

I should’ve known. It was too good to be true.

“I’m so stupid,” Dina whispered. “How did I not see it?”  

Her mind wandered back.

“You can still change your mind, you know,” Ellie whispered as they approached Joel’s house.

“I know,” Dina replied. Dina couldn’t be talked out of leaving for Seattle with Ellie. There wasn’t anything she could say to make her stay.

“I just don’t want you to feel like you have to,” Ellie’s voice was colored in guilt. Dina stopped, her hand on Ellie’s shoulder as Ellie turned to her. Dina gently touched Ellie’s face.

Dina looked into Ellie’s eyes, hoping she could feel what she felt. “Ellie. You go, I go. End of story.”

Dina placed her hand on her chest and tried to breathe.

What is she still carrying? Is she searching for the Fireflies? Is that why she didn’t come back? Does she know something we don’t?

Dina curled back up into bed, yanking the comforter over her. She reached under her pillow and grabbed one of Ellie’s longsleeves she hadn’t washed. She pressed her face into it, inhaled deeply, a nightly ritual when she couldn’t sleep.

I’m so fucking mad at you, Ellie.

Dina closed her eyes shut, inhaling again.

Ellie. Come home to me.

Dina breathed in Ellie again, a tear sliding down her cheek as a memory from Seattle resurfaced.

If I ever were to lose you,” Ellie sang softly, strumming at the guitar.

Dina leaned against the doorway, holding back a smile, her arms crossed. “What was that?”

“Nothing,” Ellie said, looking down at the guitar,  a soft laugh escaping her lips. It made Dina smile. The girl didn’t smile much on the way to Seattle and as far as Dina knew, there was no reason for Ellie to smile.

“Hmm,” Dina looked down, then stepped forward towards Ellie and Ellie rubbed her bottom lip with her finger, watching Dina come closer. “Well ‘nothing’ sure sounds nice.”

“Remember that night by the bonfire?” Ellie asked, looking at Dina, joy dancing in her eyes.

“Yeah,” Dina replied, smiling. She watched as Ellie turned back to the guitar, positioned her fingers and strummed a few chords. Dina got on her knees and crawled closer to Ellie, grinning and then sitting back as Ellie sang.

Talking away, I don’t know what I’m to say, I’ll say it anyway,” Ellie sang, strumming. “Today’s another day to find you—Shying away, I’ll be coming for your love, okay—

Ellie’s fingers switched positions as she strummed, “Take on me… Take me on… I’ll be gone in a day or two.”

Needless to say, I’m odds and ends, but I’ll be stumbling away, slowly learning that life is okay…  Say after me, it’s no better to be safe than sorry… Take on me… Take me on…

Ellie looked at Dina as she strummed and tapped her foot, “I’ll be gone in a day or two… in a day or two…

Dina looked up at Ellie, her heart swelling, her brown eyes full of mischief. “You should’ve kissed me then.”

Ellie leaned on her arm and the guitar, sighing. “I wanted to,” she admitted with a shy smile.

“Me, too,” Dina replied, smiling at Ellie.

Dina rolled onto her back in the bed, Ellie’s shirt on her chest. She sniffled as she looked at the empty spot next to her, shifting to her side as she rested her hand on the empty spot.

“Come back,” Dina whispered, her voice cracking. Dina closed her eyes, sniffling.

Dina laid awake until exhaustion seized her mind.

×

Abby awoke with a gasp. She squeezed the top of the couch, her breathing soft and erratic. She pushed the dark blue blanket off of her.

That dream.

She leaned back against the couch, stretching her arms. She yawned. She squinted at the clock on the shelf under the television, then over her shoulder at the window. Still dark, but the clouds had touches of purple underneath the grey.

Good morning.

Abby walked upstairs, the wood creaking beneath her bare feet. She pushed open her door, turned on the lamp on  the nightstand. She kneeled in front of her bed. She squeezed her hand in the space between the mattress and the frame. With her fingers, she touched a book and she pulled it out. She leaned back against the bed and opened the book, thumbing back through the pages.

Even after your death, I can’t move on. You’re haunting me. The way he bit my lip, it reminded me of you. Is that a blessing or a curse?

She flipped backwards, rereading her words.

Lev knows something’s off. I told him I was fine. He’s angry I won’t say anything.  I can tell from how he slammed the door. I don’t know how to say it to him.

Abby flipped a page.

Lev asked me if I was coming to Laurel’s tonight. I said no. I gotta show my face sooner or later. I’m scared of being upset around her. She reads people well.

Back again.

Maria gave me the keys to the gym. This is the happiest I’ve been in a while. I missed the burn. I don’t know if she was being nice or if this was to soften me up… The better part is some of the people speak to me when they see me. Some guy asked me about lifting and I explained it, he trusted me to spot him. It’s nice to feel useful.

Abby pinched the bridge of her nose, then thumbed back.

She’s gone. Tommy and Maria tried to get me to go after her with a group. I can’t. Dad… I feel guilty. She spared my life, but I spared hers. I don’t know what to do. The nightmares I have… I force myself to stay up, but I always pass out.

Abby continued, even though it was hurting her.

I saw Michael and Miguel when I went to pick up food for the house. I looked up and he was staring at me. He didn’t say anything.

The only other person who looked at me like that is dead.

Abby sighed, a few more pages backwards.

Laurel and I talked all night. She makes me feel safe. Maybe we were friends in a past life. I crashed on her couch and I woke up to breakfast. I have to ask her what she uses on those potato chunks. I’m craving.

Laurel had to wake up Iyra and Lev. I guess they sleep in the same bed when he stays there? His face when he saw me at the table. He was embarrassed and couldn’t even look at me during breakfast. There was a hickey on Iyra’s neck. I saw it when her hair moved. I don’t know what to say. I won’t say anything. Been there, done worse.

Abby stopped at a page, the words jumping out at her.

Dina is avoiding me. I don’t know what she wanted from me. I don’t know what she thinks I can give. I don’t even know if —The words were blacked out in scribbled ink—It should have never happened. I’m so stupid. I haven’t seen—scribbled out—around. If she knew, she would’ve broke into my house already.

“Abby?” Lev called  from the doorway. Abby’s eyes widened as she looked up and she closed the book.

“Yeah?”

“I…” Lev closed his eyes, pausing.  Abby shoved the book behind her under the bed and got to her feet. Lev opened his eyes.

“What’s up?”

“Nothing,” Lev brushed it off, turning away from her. “I’m gonna go shower.”

“Okay,” Abby whispered. “Breakfast will be ready when you’re done.”

Abby spread the butter along the pan with her fingers and cracked the eggs into the pan, one for her, two for Lev. Her father liked them this way and usually, she scrambled them like Lev did. She reached in the cabinets, grabbed two plates and a few slices of the bread Laurel baked. Lev would always bring an extra loaf home.

She seasoned the eggs and placed them carefully on a slice of bread on the plates.

Abby balanced the two plates on her palms and walked to the couch, then grabbed glasses of water for them. She sat down and Lev came downstairs, sitting next to her.

“These are eggs?”

Abby nodded. “You always scramble them, I did the same thing when I was your age. But my dad made them like this. They’re called ‘sunny-side up.’ You can break the yolk if you want.”

Abby forced herself to eat and Lev looked happy enough.

His happiness is all that matters.

The weight of the world was on Abby’s chest. Guilt filled her knowing she hadn’t been using her time well with Lev.

I want to talk to you, Lev. I just don’t know how.

Abby cast her eyes at the floor, then turned her head to look at Lev, “Do you wanna hit the gym this morning?”

×

Dina sighed as she pulled open the dresser drawer, pulling out a book. She was wrapped in a green towel, still wet from her shower.

Dina sat on the bed and cracked open the sketchbook. The first page was all pencil and cross-hatching. It was Dina, naked but relaxing with a poem or a song scribbled off to the side.

You shine on me,

The scars on my surface,

Flawed and damaged

I have no light of my own

I reflect yours

Fears of an eclipse

Dina closed the book abruptly, whispering, “Fuck, Ellie.” Dina placed her hand on her chest, her heart quickening. Dina breathed deeply and slowly.

Dina put the book under her pillow and got dressed in silence. She pulled her blue jeans over her hips, a black button up to go with it. She pulled a black sweater over herself and walked downstairs, grabbing her blue jacket off of her dinner chair. She looked out the window at the flower bushes in front of her home. They wouldn’t bloom yet, to bloom was the essence of change and change was inevitable.

Temporary, Dina thought.

Dina slipped her feet into her boots and fanned her face in front of her front door, preparing to face the day. People made Dina reclusive. The months following the return from Seattle were filled of pitiful looks, well-meaning condolences and outright wrong rumors about the tragedy. It gave Dina more of a reason to move out to the farm. The two women needed more privacy.

Dina walked and lost herself in a memory.

“I keep having dreams of a boy,” Dina whispered to Ellie. The two women were laying on their sides in the bed, facing each other. It was a late summer evening, the cicadas sang outside their window.

Ellie opened her eyes, “Oh, yeah? Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

“I thought I was going crazy,” Dina admitted.

“Sometimes you just know. You should trust your gut.” Ellie pressed her forehead to Dina’s. Ellie closed her eyes and smiled. “Think of a name. Any name.”

Dina looked up to the sky and breathed in the crisp air.

”The woman got up and waddled to the bathroom. Her last trimester wasn’t being kind. Her feet were swollen and she hardly slept. She could feel the child’s feet against her ribs. It stung when the child kicked. She was suffering from mild cramps over the last week, but she didn’t tell Ellie because they always went away. Today, the cramps were there for most of the afternoon and early evening. She figured she’d feel fine tomorrow.

She was in the doorway when she felt warm liquid gushing from between her legs. Dina grasped the doorway and looked around. Ellie left to Maria and Tommy’s house an hour before.

“Shit! ” Dina whispered. “Is that?” Her hand touched her swollen belly, then hiked up her nightgown.

Dina waddled down the stairs after cleaning up in the bathroom and sat on her couch.

I’m not sure if I just pissed myself or if my water broke.

The mother gasped as she continued to leak. She put her face in her hands and the tears started to come. She felt the dull ache grow in intensity. Fear set in and Dina cried for an hour.

She walked into the kitchen and started to do the dishes.

Dina sobbed as she cleaned a cup. She moved on to the glasses. On the third glass, she felt like she was being torn apart from the inside. She gasped and dropped the glass and the shards flew across the floor.

Dina braced herself on the counter until the pain passed and then stepped away from the sink, her foot stepping on a shard.

“Fuck,” Dina moaned. She could see the blood pooling around her foot. Dina limped to the couch, leaving a trail of blood and sat down. She couldn’t even see the wound. She was too big.

When the next contraction came, Dina yelped and started to cry again.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck,” Dina hissed, getting to the floor on her knees. She grasped her belly. “Stay right where you are!”

I should get in bed, Dina thought. The woman worked her way up the stairs, grabbing the rails. Her heart thundered in her chest and her knees cried for mercy.

She crawled to the bedroom as the pain faded. She knew it would come back.

Dina leaned against the bed, unable to find the strength to get into it. She wiped sweat from her forehead and let out a controlled breath that cut off into a scream as she felt her belly harden beneath her fingers.

A hour passed and the room felt like it was shrinking. She heard voices from downstairs, Ellie yelling her name, then footsteps pounding the wooden stairs.

Ellie slid in front of the door. She braced herself with her hands on the doorway.

“Hey, you,” Ellie whispered. Her eyes went to Dina’s foot. “You scared the shit out of me.”  

Dina sniffled. “Ellie, it’s happening.”

Maria yelled from the bottom of the stairs and Ellie started to answer, but Dina’s bloodcurdling scream interrupted them and Ellie jumped.

Dina couldn’t hear what Maria yelled from downstairs, but Ellie called back, “In the other closet!” then rushed to her side.

“My foot,” Dina whined.

“Nothing we can’t fix,” Ellie said, twisting her foot at her ankle. “You don’t need stitches.”

Ellie held Dina’s face in her hands, her green eyes full of strength. “I’m gonna get you up, okay?”

Dina moaned back, “Ellie, I don’t wanna get up.”

“I know, I know,” Ellie whispered, “But we need to be downstairs in case we have to get you to the medics. Hold onto me.”

Dina threw her arms around Ellie’s shoulders and Ellie lifted her to her feet, straining.  The two women walked to the stairs, Dina trying to keep weight off her wounded heel.

“Hold the railing, okay?” Ellie’s arms held Dina steadily, with Ellie backtracking down the stairs.

When they got to the bottom of the stairs, Dina looked up and saw Maria pumping air into an inflatable baby blue pool with a bicycle pump.

“Sit her on the couch, Ellie,” Maria instructed, “Then we’ll start filling this pool.”

Ellie sat Dina on the couch and squeezed her hand, then left to the bathroom downstairs.

Maria smiled at Dina, her hands pushing the piston down, “No going back now, Dina.”

Dina groaned in response.

“Is there any time to get Sharon?” Dina gasped out, wondering about her midwife.

“You tell—” Maria watched as Dina screamed again, squeezing the arm of the couch. “No.”

“How do you know?” Dina spoke through her teeth.

“You’re not the first woman to give birth in Jackson, Dina,” Maria laughed. “I know that face when I see it.”

“Is it ready?” Ellie asked as she struggled into the room, holding a basin of hot water with rags underneath her arm.

Maria nodded and Ellie poured it into the pool.

“Sit with her, her contractions are getting stronger.” Maria grabbed the bucket and Ellie hurried to the sink, running cold water on top of two rags. She grabbed a roll of bandages and some alcohol

“Fuck, Ellie,” Dina breathed out as Ellie placed the cool cloth on her head. She clutched Ellie’s arm and dug her fingernails into her skin, bursting into tears as the pain started to build again.

“You’re gonna have to let me go for a second,” Ellie squeezed Dina’s hand. “I want to clean that scratch and bandage you up before we get you in the pool.”

Dina reluctantly let go of her arm and Ellie wiped away dirt and blood from the scratch. Ellie poured alcohol over Dina’s wound.

Maria came back with another bucket of hot water and nearly dropped it when Dina screamed again.

“Goddamn it,” Maria whispered. Dina’s face was pale. Ellie was bandaging her foot with focus. Maria poured the hot water into the pool.

“Is it almost ready?” Ellie asked, her back to Maria.

“Two more buckets should do,” Maria replied, looking at the pool and without hesitation, she went to fill it up again.

“I don’t know if I can—” Dina broke off in a gasp. The pain was surging and when it peaked, Dina screamed again.

Ellie grasped her face, pressed her forehead to the mother’s, whispering, “You can, Dina, you can and you will.”

Dina got closer to her destination. The sun was closer to the middle of the sky. Her stomach growled, but she ignored it. She tried to remember. Giving birth felt like a dream.

It was Ellie and Dina in the water on their knees. The mother couldn’t stand to lay back. Maria held Dina’s hand in hers, pressing it to her lips. Maria softened her tough exterior, favoring a gentle woman for Dina instead. When Dina squeezed, Maria squeezed back, reminding her of her presence.

Ellie held Dina’s other hand and Ellie started to see the pattern in her face, the way Dina’s hand would ease off and then gradually tighten and her panting would become desperate and almost animalistic. Their fingers intertwined. The two women whispered words of strength to Dina.

Ellie and Maria traded glances as Dina let out a long scream, squeezing their hands for dear life. Worry and fear crossed Ellie’s face. Maria caught her doubt.

“Her body knows what to do, Ellie.”

There was the ring of fire. Dina threw her head back and screamed as Ellie massaged her thighs beneath the water. She panted and squeezed Ellie’s forearms.

“Fuck, he won’t come, I think he’s stuck!” Dina started to panic, looking between Maria and Ellie. “I don’t want to die.”

“Look at me, Dina—” Ellie urged. Dina was all blood, sweat and tears, unable to face her. “Look at me.

Dina raised her eyes to Ellie, they were full of pain and fear.

“You’re not going to fucking die,” Ellie’s hands were firm against her thighs in the warm water, her eyes full of resilience. “Survived worse, right?”

Ellie leaned in and pressed her lips to Dina’s, something Ellie never did enough during the life or death days of Seattle and it filled her with shame. Dina kissed back, opened her mouth, let her inside for a moment. Ellie broke the kiss.

“Okay,” she whispered. “You’re ready.”

Dina gasped, “Ellie…”

“Ellie, reach down and feel for the head,” Maria moved behind Dina to massage her neck. Maria felt the tension in her shoulders. “He’s not stuck, Dina, he’s right where he’s supposed to be.”

“I feel him,” Ellie gasped. She used both hands to support Dina and the emerging child. She looked in the Dina’s eyes, glassy with pain and doubt. She breathed in when Dina screamed out. “Relax, Dina.”

“I can’t, I can’t, Ellie, I fucking can’t,” Dina cried out, the pain was searing and as she remembered, Dina swore she was going to split in two. The pain blinded her thoughts. It was all instinct from here.

“He’s right there,” Ellie whispered. “You got this, Dina.”

Minutes of tension passed, Dina’s screams and curses filled the room. She couldn’t push. Her body did for her and Dina sobbed as she felt the child slide out of her into this life.

Ellie let out a squeal of joy as she caught the child, looking up at an exhausted Dina and an elated Maria. She brought the child above water.

“A boy…. You knew,” Ellie crooned, looking up at Dina, the magic dancing in her eyes. “God, he’s so big.”

Dina caught her breath as Ellie handed her the child. Dina’s heart fluttered as she cradled him.

“Look at that,” Maria grinned as she peered over Dina’s shoulder.

“Ellie…” Dina looked up. “Cut the cord.”

Ellie reached over the edge of the pool, the water sloshing, and grabbed her switchblade from her back pocket.  

Ellie popped her switchblade and cut the umbilical cord and the child began to wail.

Ellie and Dina locked eyes, a memory blooming between them. The two lovers were breathless with the sound of their child crying and gasping at the top of his tiny lungs.

Dina looked over at Joel’s house, now Tommy’s, then at the cemetery.  She turned her back to the home and pushed forward.

The morning air was crisp and cold. She could smell the rain from a few hours before, a symptom of pregnancy that never left her. Underneath her boots, the ground crunched.

Dina navigated carefully through the graves. She sat down, legs crossed. She nervously pulled her hair out of the bun.

“Jesse,” Dina’s voice was hoarse from the crying spell this morning.

She stared at the gravestone and touched the earth. She swallowed. There was a bitterness in not being able to bring his body home. Ellie and Dina wrapped the man in cloth they’d found backstage in the theater. The two women agreed to not put his body outside in case Infected found him. He was back at that theater in the lobby.

“You should see JJ,” Dina sighed, taking a deep breath and wiping a tear from her eye and folding her hands. “He’s getting so big. I got him his own bed. He’s ninety-percent you and ten percent me, down to the snoring.”

“I’m trying to be the best mother I can, but it’s… I don’t feel like I’m real sometimes and then, it’s too real and I can’t shut my thoughts off—”

Dina held her throat, imagining a cord loosening itself from her neck.

“El left. It’s been forty nine days,” The mother’s voice broke. “I can’t do this again.”

“I… I…” Tears ran down her cheeks. “Every time I close my eyes at night, I see her body and there’s so much… there’s so much blood.”

Dina’s hands squeezed the earth in front of Jesse’s gravestone.

“I don’t think she’s coming back,” Dina’s voice gave out on the last word, a whisper of hopelessness.

×

Abby’s blood was rushing through her veins. She smoothed her hand across Lev’s back as they exited the gym.  

Lev was lifting heavier weights from last week. It filled Abby with excitement to see the boy push himself, lifting the barbell.

“You’re getting stronger. I’m so proud of you,” Abby smiled. God, I sound just like my dad.

“I feel stronger,” Lev looked at his hands, then tracked his brown eyes across Abby’s face.

“It’s nice, isn’t it?” Abby laughed, brushing her finger against her nose. “When I was at my strongest, I felt like nothing could destroy me… until I ran into shit that could destroy me.”

The pair looked at each other, recalling the same memory.

“That fucking bridge!” Abby hissed. The memory of the fall alone made shivers run up and down her spine. She used to dry heave when she remembered it.

Lev laughed. “It was the only way, Abby.”

“The only way, Lev? The worst way,” Abby hugged herself. “Then there was that building.”

“I thought you were going to die when you went through that door,” Lev admitted.

“Almost did a few times,” Abby shuddered, thinking of walking past a wall of thick fungus wrapped around a body only for the body to burst free and lunge at her.

 “Good times,” Abby mumbled.

“Good times?” Lev asked.

“Sarcasm, Lev,” A smile tugged at the edge of Abby’s lips.

Lev laughed.

“I’m hungry, do you think Laurel is making lunch?”

“You want to come?” Lev’s eyes lit up. Abby nodded, sorry she didn’t come sooner.

The pair continued on their path back to the house.

“What’s going on between you and Iyra?” Abby said quickly, eyes up at the blue sky.

“Abby!” Lev reeled.

“I mean—” Abby nervously rubbed the back of her neck beneath her braid. “Have you reached third base yet?”

“Third base?” Lev looked at Abby as if she was speaking a different language.

“Fuck—Nevermind, forget I said that, Lev,” Abby’s stomach did flips. Why did I ask him—

“No, Abby,” Lev crossed in front of Abby. “What does ‘third base’ mean? Why is your face red?”

Abby backed away, “I’ll tell you when we get ba—”

Abby turned around when she heard someone call her name.

“Oh,” Abby breathed out, watching as Dina pushed a stroller towards them. Thank God.

Dina stopped in front of the pair and JJ yelled, the boy of the fallen lover had a grey jacket, a navy blue hat and tiny jeans with even tinier boots on.

“Is this your baby?” Lev asked, kneeling down. “His eyes are so big.” The boy reached out with his tiny gloves to Lev and Lev laughed as the boy wrapped his fist around his two fingers.

“Yeah,” Dina smiled. “That’s my boy.”

Abby kneeled on the ground, too. She smiled at the boy, but the smile didn’t hide Guilt. I took his father’s life. They say you become what you’ve always hated.

“What’s his name?” Abby’s voice was short of a whisper.

“JJ,” Dina answered softly. The boy reached for Abby next and Abby wanted to recoil, but she didn’t. Abby leaned in to make a face at the boy and he grabbed her braid, yanking hard.

Abby winced and gasped. Get your licks in, kid, it’s what I deserve.

Dina stepped from behind the stroller and gently pried JJ’s hand from Abby’s braid. “JJ, please—I’m sorry, Abby,” the mother whispered.

Dina let go of Abby’s braid, her hand slowly sliding down the last few inches as the two stood up.

“He likes soft and shiny things,” Dina appeared to be embarrassed as soon as she said it.

“It’s a compliment then,” Abby didn’t miss the layer behind Dina’s words. She glanced down at her feet, then to JJ, then back to Dina. She looked like she hadn’t slept well. She was a little pale.

“I’m sorry about that night,” Dina’s eyes combed over the blonde’s face, stopping at her smoky blue eyes, the freckles across her nose and Dina stopped herself before she could look at her lips.

Lev looked between Dina and Abby curiously.

Abby opened her mouth, then bit her lip, rubbing her shoulder. “It is what it is.”

“Have you heard?” Dina squeezed her eyes shut. Lev looked at Dina, then to Abby.

“Heard what?” Lev’s voice sounded a little angry. He restrained himself well like Abby, but Abby heard it loud and clear.

“Yeah, I heard,” Abby whispered. “I’m sorry. Now’s not a good time to talk about it.” Dina saw Abby’s eyes flicker toward Lev. Then Dina realized.

“Okay,” Dina nodded. “Where are you off to?”

“Showers, then lunch,” Abby answered.

“I’ll see you around, Abby,” Dina grabbed a hold of JJ’s stroller.

“Yeah,” Abby said, swallowing. Dina walked off and Lev looked at Abby.

Teenage rage, Abby called it like she saw it.

“C’mon, Lev, let’s go home.”

Lev was silent for the rest of the ten minute walk, and he walked through the house first. As soon as Abby closed the door behind her, Lev turned on his heels.

“What are you hiding from me, Abby?” Lev demanded.

Fuck me.

Abby went on the defensive, avoiding looking at Lev. “I’m not hiding anything.”

“Michael came looking for you a few times and said he thinks you’re avoiding him. You’ve been avoiding me, you don’t want to come to Laurel and Iyra’s. I didn’t do anything for you to avoid me. Neither did Laurel and Iyra.” Lev crossed in front of Abby.

“I’m coming with you—” Abby closed the distance between her and Lev, moving to place her hands on his shoulder.

“Stop avoiding it, Abby,” Lev snapped, shoving Abby away. “You said I could ask you anything. I asked and you lied. Why are you lying?”

“I’m not lying—” Abby yelled, the anger and distress showed in her face and in the veins beneath the skin of her neck.

“Stop lying!” Lev yelled. Abby flinched as the boy raised his voice. She wanted to open the door and run as far as her legs could take her.  

“What happened between you and Dina? You just avoid everything! I’m not a child! I’m fifteen!”

“Lev—” Abby squeezed her hands into fists. I can’t believe this is happening.

“Do I mean anything to you? Or did you just take care of me to ‘lighten the lo—” Abby recognized those words as hers and she argued back. She didn’t want to hear them.

“You mean everything to me, Lev—” Abby’s voice was small.

“Prove it,” Lev grabbed Abby by her arms, his face looking up at hers. “Be honest.”

“Dina and I kissed the night I went to that party. Ellie left Jackson. Maria and Tommy wanted me to go after her with a team. I said no. They sent a team with Michael anyway, he’s the only one that came back.” Abby confessed, but the weight didn’t get lighter.

“Anything else?” Abby asked, breathing softly as Lev let go of her and backed up.

“Third base?” Lev turned to her.

God, I fucking c—

Abby took off her hat and threw it in the direction of the couch.

“Having sex,” Abby snapped, then she looked away. Abby slid down against the door, pulling her knees against her chest, hiding her face from him. She felt Lev sit down next to her, his arms touching hers.

“The Seraphites promised me to an Elder for a reason. They said sex was sacred, that my purity was a gift. It was something I was supposed to learn from the Elder.” Lev whispered.

Those people are fucking crazy, Abby thought. It’s not that serious.

“I don’t know how… not as a man or anyone else,” Lev finished.

 A problem and I’m sure there’s a solution, Abby squinted at the wall.

“We just kiss and touch a lot. Does that count? How did Owen have sex with you?”

“Goddamn it, Lev,” Abby felt a rush of heat to her face.

She remembered Owen sneaking into her room back at Salt Lake. It was her first time.

Abby gasped as Owen’s hands slipped up her t-shirt.

Owen’s mouth was near her ear. “Shhh, Abigail. We have to be quiet, Mel’s sleeping.” The other girl was across the room.

The challenge became harder the lower Owen’s mouth went.

“Owen, what are you do—” Abby broke off in a squeak as she felt his tongue slide against her folds.

Abby became a squirming, shaking, muffled mess. When Owen came up, she could tell he was smiling in the dark. She tasted herself on his lips and tongue.

“Do you want it?” Owen whispered into her ear. Her hands were on the back of his neck and his head.

“I want it,” Abby gasped back, panting softly. She felt him, the entirety of him sliding against her folds.

“I want what you want, Abby,” Owen breathed into her ear and Abby trembled underneath him. He adjusted himself and Abby was aching. He slid in slowly and Abby gasped, wincing as she felt him stretching her open.

“Are you okay?” Owen asked when Abby dug her fingernails into his back.

“Yeah—You’re just—Fuck—Keep going,” Abby was breathing hard.

Owen slid inside and out of her slowly and the ache went away. Owen kissed her lips and Abby opened her mouth.  He lifted her thigh for a better angle and Abby gasped as he went deeper and slower.

“Owen,” Abby sighed, the shape of him inside her, opening her up. She was falling in love with the way her body made space for him. The friction of his skin against her was making her lose control. She felt something coming.

The lovers were close when Mel sat up suddenly.

“Abby?”

“Can we give that question a raincheck?” Abby swallowed. She could feel the heat in her face and her neck.

“A ra—”

“Meaning ask me later,” Abby quickly said, hoping he would forget.

“Did you and Dina have sex? Is that why Ellie left?” Lev probed.

Abby gasped. “What? No way. That’s not why she—” She looked at Lev. She saw the doubt in his eyes. “Lev, Dina and I did not have sex.”

“Okay,” Lev said slowly. “Why didn’t you go look for her?”

“I didn’t want to leave you,” Abby whispered.

“I would have come with you, Abby,” Lev whispered back, reaching for her hand and squeezing it

“I know,” Abby said softly, unable to look the boy in the eye as she squeezed his hand back. That’s why I said no.

“Go get a shower,” Abby said, looking at the clock as she stood up. “It’s almost noon, Laurel might be making lunch right now.”

×

Laurel chopped the chicken into chunks as the peppers and onions sizzled in the pan. She hummed along to the music playing in the living room. Iyra popped her head into the kitchen.

“Mom, can I change the record?”

“Sure, my love, go ahead. Lunch is almost ready,” Laurel replied, reaching in a cabinet.

Laurel laughed to herself as she heard her daughter start to sing along and dance in the living room. She paused and went to the door, opening it. Her eyes widened as she saw Abby behind Lev and looked behind her, smiling at her daughter’s release.

“Come in, food’s almost done.” Lev hugged Laurel, letting go and it was Abby who took Lev’s place in the woman’s arms. Abby looked up. Laurel left the Christmas lights up.

“Hey, stranger,” Laurel whispered to Abby, giving the younger woman a firm squeeze.

“Hi…” Abby squeezed Laurel back. “I’m sorry, I’ve been going through a lot.”

“I’m here for you should you need an escape, a shoulder to cry on or just a hot plate of food,” Laurel squeezed Abby’s shoulders. “Remember that.”

Abby and Laurel joined Lev in the kitchen. Iyra was oblivious as she spun and sang to the rumbling beat.

This is what the world is for, making electricity, you can feel it in your mind—” Iyra turned to see the amused smiles of her mother, Abby and Lev. She rushed into Lev’s arms, the both of them giggling.

Iyra looked at Abby from over Lev’s shoulder, “I missed you!”

“More than him?” Abby teased.

Iyra squinted at Abby through her hair, messy from jumping around.  “Uhm… yes.”

Lev huffed. “Really?”

Iyra kissed Lev on his cheek. “Mom says that distance makes the heart grow fonder.”

“Alright, love birds, lunch in ten minutes,” Laurel smiled. She motioned for Abby to follow her into the kitchen.

“How you been?” Abby asked as she sat, watching as Laurel dumped the chicken, the peppers and onions into a bowl and then topped it off with a homemade red sauce.

Me? What about you, Abigail?” Laurel looked over at Abby, stirring the mixture with a questioning look on her face.

“What about me?” Abby played with her braid nervously.

Laurel lined up four rolls of bread and started to slice into them. Abby noticed the tomatoes on the countertop, freshly washed off with droplets of water sliding down them.

“You play the disappearing game. I see you and then I don’t. I worry about you. Lev looked upset whenever I asked about you, so I stopped asking.”

This crushed Abby.

Laurel finished slicing the bread. She rinsed off the knife and grabbed the first tomato, the edge of steel cutting through the skin, making the juice run.

Abby breathed in before she answered, crossing her ankles under the table. “It’s just been difficult for me.”

Laurel scooped the mix into the wedges of the bread, adorning it with tomatoes. “I’m sure of that. I don’t blame you.”

Laurel turned to look at Abby while she was finishing the third sandwich. “You should never pretend to be okay when you aren’t, Abby.”

Abby blew air through her nose. “I don’t—”

“You are right now. I’ll do my best to lift your spirits.” Laurel turned and placed a sandwich on a plate in front of Abby, her eyes full of wisdom as Abby looked at her. She held the homemade sauce up. “You like it super spicy like my daughter?”

“Yes, please,” Abby grinned and Laurel added more of the red sauce to her sandwich. Laurel called for Lev and Iyra, then started the table with the rest of the plates, then the glasses. She grabbed a pitcher of juice from the fridge, it had mint leaves in it.

She paused, looking at Abby, pouring her a glass.

“What are you waiting for? Not them? They’re probably necking on my couch. Eat, Abigail,” Laura was smiling and Abby quelled hers, raising her sandwich to her mouth.

“Mom, I heard that!” Iyra walked into the room, hand in hand with Lev.

Laurel shot the pair a knowing look. Lev reddened and Iyra hid her face with her hands.

The three of them sat down to eat and drink. Lev next to Abby and Iyra next to her mother. Abby was half way through her sandwich and thirstily drank from her glass.

“You like it?” Laurel smiled as Abby nodded. “Aloe juice and mint.”

Iyra and Lev finished their sandwiches, trading looks across the table. The two sat up at the same time.

“Dishes, Iyra,” Laurel sipped her juice as Abby pushed her plate away.

Iyra groaned. “Fine.” Lev joined her, stacking Abby and Laurel’s plate on top of his.

“Such a gentleman,” Laurel remarked. “I appreciate you, Lev.”

Laurel waited until the teens’ footsteps faded out of earshot and shared the faucet with Abby as they washed their hands. Laurel led Abby to the living room. Abby blew her breath out nervously as she sat down, the smell of herbs filled the air.

She stared at the wooden table in front of her.

“Your hair,” Laurel sat down next to her on the sofa and touched the braid. “I like the way you wear it, it makes you look elegant.”

“Thank you,” Abby replied. Elegant? I’m just keeping it out of my face.

“Unburden your heart, Abby,” Laurel said, squeezing Abby’s hand. “I won’t tell a soul.”

Abby breathed in. She didn’t say anything for a moment. She was thinking of the dream she awoke from.

“If I leave…” Abby paused. “Will you watch over Lev for me?”

“You have my word,” Laurel replied with a sense of dread in her eyes.

“And if I don’t come back…” Abby breathed in, her eyes closing. “Will you raise him for me?”

“My word is my bond.”

“I don’t want him to follow me,” Abby whispered, her heart pounded at the thought.

“I won’t let him,” Laurel whispered back. “Give me your word, Abby.”

Abby gave the woman a look of confusion.

“Tell me you’ll come back,” Laurel pleaded.

“I can’t guarantee—” Abby knew the stakes.

“Yes, you can,” Laurel whispered. “You’re no sheep. You’re a Wolf.”

Abby sighed. “My word is my bond.”

Laurel excused herself for a moment and Abby took in the living room as she and Laurel communed in the kitchen. Laurel had a gorgeous tapestry of a wheel.

I recognize those symbols. Leah had a book with them all over it.

When Laurel returned, she placed a deck of cards in front of Abby.

“What is this? Are we playing War?”

Laurel laughed and shook her head. “No, but we will when you return. Do you know where you’re going?”

“No,” Abby admitted.

“Then shuffle until your heart tells you to stop.”

Abby picked up the deck and started to overhand shuffle, glancing at Laurel. She continued, her eyes closed as the cards slid into each other and over each other. Abby put down the deck and cut it into seven piles. She rearranged the piles on top of each other without thinking.

She flipped the first card, recognizing the artwork. Leah was into this, too. She remembered asking Leah if she was going to get caught sneaking out.

Abby looked at Laurel, then back to the card. A person laying awake in a dark room, their face in their hands, swords stacked on the walls above them. Abby bit her lip and flipped the next one, a person, their back to Abby walking away underneath the light of a Crescent Moon.

Abby flipped the next card and moved to turn the card upright, but Laurel stopped her. “It is significant in that position, too.” At first glance, it looked like a compass.

Abby picked the next card, putting it on the table and looking over the others. It was a woman on a throne with a wand in her hand. There was a black cat sitting at her feet. This card was upside down as well.

Abby flipped the next card. An armored skeleton on a white horse, holding a flag with a flower. There was a body underneath the horse, a man pleading on his knees and more. The word DEATH jumped out at Abby.

Abby scoffed and Laurel leaned over, pulling the stuck card free. Laurel set it down. It was a woman surrounded by swords in the earth, she was blindfolded and tied up.

“Alright, I’ll bite. What does this mean?” Abby crossed her arms, trying to quell the uneasiness within her. Leah used these to have fun, but something told Abby that Laurel didn’t have the same motivation.

“You’ll be leaving Jackson to return to somewhere familiar to you. There’s a woman here,” Laurel pointed at the upside down queen. “She’s weakened, I see blood all over her.”

“What if I don’t leave?” Abby challenged.

“Your conscience won’t let you stay,” Laurel pointed to the person in their bed with their face in their hands. “You’ve been dreaming of her.”

She’s better than Leah, Abby thought, running her thumb over her finger.

“Where am I going?” Abby asked softly.

Laurel gestured to the card that looked like a compass and the card that spoke of death. “Back to the beginning… where you were weak and powerless, where you lost someone.”

Abby swallowed. I never told her about my father.

Laurel asked again, “Do you know where you’re going?

“Yeah,” Abby whispered.

Laurel touched the card of death and the card with the woman tied and blindfolded. “It will be dangerous even when you think it’s safe. You need to be careful this time. Watch your back.”

Laurel flipped the deck. Abby honed in. It was a card with a Full Moon facing them. Two wolves howling at the celestial body, a scorpion in between them.

“What does that mean?” Abby looked at the path, it seemed endless. She looked at the wolves.  The card unsettled her and she didn’t know why.

“I’m not sure,” Laurel bit her lip. “But you’ll find out.”

Iyra and Lev came down the stairs as Laurel packed up the cards. “Mom, is there any chicken left?” Iyra spotted the deck. “Were you reading Abby? Is she getting a boyfriend soon?”

“In the kitchen, my love, and yes, a handsome soldier,” Laurel told one truth and a lie. Iyra giggled, leaning against the frame of the wall as Lev stood behind her.

“Last summer, my mom said I’d meet a boy, someone new to Jackson,” She glanced back at Lev. “She was right! I can’t wait to meet your husband, Abby.”

Great, she has a track record, Abby thought.

“Me, too,” she said softly.

Iyra ducked into the kitchen. Lev glanced at the deck on the table, then at Abby and saw the brief sadness flash across her face. Abby saw the mistrust in his eyes and looked away. Lev turned and followed Iyra into the kitchen.

“Young love, right?” Laurel nudged Abby’s arm, then put something in her hand, pressing her mouth to her ear. “This will protect you like it protected me.”

Abby opened her hand. It was a Wolf fang on a chain.

“Remember who you are,” Laurel whispered.

×

The sun had set and Maria, Michael, Tommy were sitting around the table playing cards and drinking when they heard a soft knock at the door.

“Michael, go get that, my leg is bad today,” Tommy ordered, sipping his whiskey sour.

Michael snorted. “How do I know you’re not gonna look at my cards when my back’s turned?”

“Because I already saw, you got no Kings or Queens, no doubles or triples and you’re gonna fucking lose… again.” Tommy slammed his hand on the table, laughing as Michael seethed.

“Go get the goddamn door, Michael,” Maria groaned, hitting Tommy's shoulder. “We’ll start the game over.”

Michael walked out of the kitchen and opened the door, his mouth opened in shock.

Abby was shivering in her hoodie, her face flushed from the cold. Her hair was down, framing her face underneath the hood.

“Now, who the hell is that?” Tommy yelled from the next room.

“Me,” Abby called.

“Me who?” Tommy called back, looking at Maria. “Lemme see ya.”

Abby walked through, pulling her hood down. Her eyes briefly met Michael’s as he shut them in. Abby walked in front of the table and Michael followed.

“Well, look what the cat dragged in,” Tommy squinted at Abby with his good eye. “Better be worth it if you were interrupting our game.”

“Fuck you, Tommy, you were cheating anyway,” Michael spat.

“What do you need, Abby?” Maria asked. Her cheeks were a little red from the alcohol. She started to drink.

“I need you,” Abby breathed in, her hands balled up in her gloves, then breathed out as she said, “to let me leave to go find her.”

Maria swallowed her drink hard. “Excuse me?”

Tommy raised his glass. “We don’t have enough men to help us with that situation, Abby, but we appreciate your change of heart. Better late than never, I guess.”

“I can go by myself!” Abby argued.

“No, you can’t,” Michael’s voice was sharp.

Abby pushed him and Michael regained his balance. “You don’t fucking know what I’m capable of!”

“No fighting,” Maria scolded, standing up. “Let me get this straight, you want to go find Ellie?”

Abby nodded.

“I’m coming with you,” Michael stared at Abby. His eyes floated to the necklace she was wearing.

“No,” Maria and Abby said at the same time. Maria continued. “Michael, I need you here.” Michael started to argue, but Tommy spoke up again.

“Not a single one of my goddamn ties has heard anything about her, how in the hell are you going to find her?” Tommy asked.

“Just trust me,” Abby braced herself on the table. “I think I know where she went.”

Maria stood up and went through one of her drawers. She grabbed a map of the tri-state area and placed it on the table.

“Show me, Abby,” Maria ordered, handing her a marker. Michael and Tommy leaned in as Abby dragged her finger across the map. She circled Salt Lake City, Utah.

“She went on foot, right?” Abby asked.

“She did,” Maria confirmed. “And then there was another storm. It probably slowed her down.”

“If she’s there, then she’s been there for a while.” Michael argued.

“Doesn’t matter.” Abby said. “People camp out all the time when they travel.”

“Why would she be there?” Maria asked.

“It’s where she was supposed to die,” Abby replied, crossing her arms. “It’s close. It’s a lead.”

“It’s a fucking guess, Abby,” Tommy stared at the woman.

“Supposed to die?” Michael was in the dark, but Maria and Tommy knew what she was referring to.

Maria sighed. “What if she’s dead already?”

“She can’t be,” Abby said, remembering Laurel’s words.

“When you do want to leave?” Maria asked.

“Tomorrow morning, sunrise,” Abby replied.

Tommy scoffed, leaning towards Abby with his arms on the table. “Your guilty conscience is going to get you killed, girl. If I were you, I’d just sit my ass in Jackson, enjoy the running water and electricity and wait for her to show her face again.”

“That’s not what you fucking did when you came after me,” Abby retorted.

Tommy stood up. “I’m not sure you wanna revisit that with me, girl.”

Maria held her hands up. “Stop it.” Maria’s blue eyes were on Abby’s face. “Is Lev coming with you?”

“No, Laurel will be watching him,” Abby inhaled. “You can’t let him leave. He’ll try to come after me.”

Maria nodded. “Laurel’s trustworthy, a smart woman.”

“Let’s say you find her, let’s say you cross paths.” Tommy paused, staring into his whiskey sour, then staring at Abby. “What makes you think Ellie will come back with you?” Tommy asked.

“She’s not getting a choice.” Abby said.

“Sounds familiar,” Tommy laughed, remembering Joel bursting into Maria’s house a few years back before he went to Salt Lake City.

“What if something goes wrong?” Michael asked.

“She handles herself better than many of the men I know, Michael,” Tommy said. “Ellie, too.”

Abby nodded.

“Okay,” Maria sat down. “Scope it out. If you find anything of hers, like her jacket or her backpack, even a body,” Maria sighed, “Come straight back here. I’ll meet you tomorrow at 7:30 in the morning to let you out with Diablo at the West gate. You’re gonna head towards the sunrise and run straight into 189.”

Tommy edged the map towards him and grabbed the marker. He started to mark up the map. He pointed to a road. “That’ll lead you to I-15 once you’re in Utah. Straight shot to Salt Lake City. I assume you know that city.”

“Yeah,” Abby replied.

Tommy handed her the map. “Go home and get some rest.”

Abby tucked the map into her pocket and left. She was a few paces from Maria’s house when she heard footsteps behind her. She turned around.

“You sure you wanna go through with this?” Michael asked, walking up to Abby.

“I have to,” Abby replied softly.

Michael reached for her hand. Abby didn’t pull away. “You don’t have to go at it alone, Abby.” It was the first time he called the woman by her name and he hoped it wouldn’t be the last.

“Then you forgot who I am,” Abby said, letting go of the ex-Firefly’s hand to continue walking home as the Moon rose in the sky before her.

×

Abby took a long shower when she woke up. She didn’t know if it would be her last, so she relished in it. She scrubbed herself raw as the hot water ran over her skin. She rinsed the soap out of her hair standing under the stream of water. She sighed unhappily as she turned off the water, grabbing the towel and throwing her head down, wrapping her hair in the towel.

Abby wiped the foggy mirror with her hand. She looked at herself from the waist up.

You can do it, Abby. Just find out if she’s there and bring her back.

Abby grabbed another towel for her body, wrapped it around herself and walked into her bedroom. She scanned the clock.

Lev will be up in an hour, right as I’m leaving out.

Abby squeezed her hair until it was semi-dry. She brushed it back away from her face and started the braid. Her fingers added hair onto the strand until she reached just above her neck. She finished the rest of the braid and secured it.

Abby got dressed, her most secure sports bra, a dark green one, a white tank top and finally, a black thermal longsleeve. She slid a pair of black underwear on, then a pair of black jeans on. Abby donned a pair of black knit gloves and threw her leather fingerless gloves into her backpack, then slid her black hat over her head. She finished off with her jacket and put her arms through the backpack straps.

Abby grabbed her military rifle and her shotgun out of the gun case and shouldered them, slipped her pistol into the holster around her belt. She slowly closed her bedroom door behind her. She peeked into Lev’s bedroom quietly. She took him in.

You’re just a kid just like I was. You need to be a kid.

She closed his door and walked down the stairs. She put on her boots at the door and closed it quietly behind her.

A fog loomed over Jackson this morning as Abby walked. She could smell the rain in the air. Abby navigated her way to the North Gate.

“You’re early,” Maria remarked as Abby walked up. Maria glanced at Tommy next to her and Abby saw Michael behind them, holding a frustrated Diablo. The gate was open already and Abby looked to the sky.

Sunrise is probably ten minutes away.

“Yeah,” Abby replied, blowing her breath.

Tommy spoke next, “In and out, Abby. If she gives you shit, guilt trip her about Dina and JJ, that’ll press her buttons just right. If she swings at you because of that, which she will, hit her back and make it hard enough to knock her out. Tie her up on the back of Diablo and bring her home.”

Maria opened her bag for Abby to see and set it on the floor. “I can’t give you much, but here’s some ammo. I’ll put it in your bag.” Maria moved behind Abby, unzipping her backpack and stuffed the ammo in her backpack.

“It shouldn’t take you too long. Three days is pushing it, but knowing Ellie, she’ll give you a run for your money. Anything after four days, we’ll dig two graves for the both of you. Understand?” Maria looked at Abby in her eyes.

“Loud and clear,” Abby replied.

The three of them exited the gate, Michael gently coaxing Diablo out.

Michael gave her Diablo’s reins, but didn’t let go.

“Nothing is stopping—” Abby started to say.

Abby froze as she heard her name being screamed.

Shit.

“Abby!” Lev ran out of the fog. “Abby, please! Don’t leave!”

Abby swallowed, dropped her backpack and opened her arms as Lev got closer. He slammed into her and she almost lost her balance. Lev was sobbing and gasping. She held him close.

“It’s fucking cold out here, what are you doing?” Abby removed her hat and placed it on his head, then zipped up his jacket, sighing.

“So you—you were just going to fucking leave me and not say anything? You’re not going to take me with you? I heard you packing last night!” Lev collapsed to his knees and Abby met him on the ground. Tears fell from his eyes.

“I just needed to lighten the load a bit,” Abby whispered. “Come on, Lev, stand up.” She lifted the boy to his feet.

She glanced at Tommy, Michael and Maria’s faces, a mix of conflict and pity.

“What if you get jumped by Infected?” Lev asked. “What if you get captured?” Lev shoved Abby, sobbing. “Did you forget what happened to us in California? Do you ever think, Abby?”

Abby grabbed Lev’s arms, pulling him in and enunciating every word. “I didn’t forget what happened to us.”

Lev cried and Guilt tore through Abby. “You're gonna let me do this.” Abby squeezed his arms. “I’ll just be gone for four days, maybe less, nothing more.”

“Take me with you, Abby,” Lev begged, breathing hard.

Abby let go of the boy’s arm and grasped his face. “Look at me, listen—You need to be here with Iyra and Laurel. You need to be a kid.” She wiped away one of his tears with her gloved thumb, sighing. “I didn’t get to be a kid.”

“And if you fucking die? Then I'll—I’ll be just like you,” Lev was clinging to Abby’s arms.

“You’ll be nothing like me,” Abby hissed. “There will be nobody to find. You won’t repeat any of my mistakes, you hear me? If I die, you honor me and Yara by living your life, Lev.”

Abby squeezed her eyes closed, grasping his face. “Let go of me, Lev.” The boy wouldn’t. “Let go,” Abby said softly. Lev loosened his grip.

“That’s it, kid. Let me go,” Abby whispered, then the boy’s arms dropped to his sides. Abby squeezed the fang around her neck, then let go.

Abby turned to Michael, Maria and Tommy. “Do what you have to do to keep him safe.” Maria moved behind Lev, rubbing the boy’s shoulders.  

The sun was rising over the mountains. It made Abby’s face glow as she mounted the horse. She got a better grip on her reins and the black stallion stamped his hooves.

Abby took a deep breath and Lev yelled, “May your survival be long, Wolf!”

Abby let out a soft laugh, looking at Lev’s watery eyes. “And may my death be swift.”

Abby whispered a command to the horse and took off with great speed into the yellow and green field towards the Sun, her braid flying in the wind behind her.