Author's Note - Thank you to Sammy, who I could not thank for their review personally. Also, many thanks to my returning readers (and sorry for the long wait!).
Disclaimer - I do not own D. Gray-Man. The original plot and its characters belong to their respective owner, Katsura Hoshino.
There wasn't time to act.
Heck, there wasn't even time to blink.
Within moments, water was enveloping her, slapping against her from all sides. As wave after wave of water crashed onto her, she gasped for breath, fighting to keep herself afloat. The more she struggled, however, the more tired she became. Her strength was quickly becoming subdued by the frigid water.
A rock came into reach. Extending her arm as far as she could, she grasped onto it. The surface was so slick with water and moss, however, that her hands slid right off. She gave a sharp hiss as its sharp edge dug into her her skin, and before she was swept away once more she caught sight of the cut that now marred her skin.
Gritting her teeth, she shoved her hands under, effectively numbing the pain for the time being. Blood mixed with the water, but there was no time to dwell on that. Frustration ebbing away at her, she tried invoking her Innocence. It was no use, however. Her body was numb from the cold. Everything seemed so dull.
She couldn't give up yet, though. Not when her friends were still fighting. Not when people were counting on her.
Bracing herself for the pain, she reached upward. Almost immediately, her hands brushed against something hard and smooth, and she grasped onto it tightly. It was just as slippery as the rocks, and her hands stung as she tightened her grip, but she ignored it. She lurched forward, and she tightened her grip instinctively, so much she was certain her knuckles were turning white.
When moments passed and nothing happened, she forced her eyes open, blinking droplets of water out of her eyes as she did so. Water gushed passed her, but she was able to see the object she was now clinging to for dear life was a long branch. She heaved a sigh of relief, grateful to be alive, but didn't waste any time in dragging herself out of the water, using the branch as a lifeline. The task was difficult, and several times she'd nearly been swept away by the current or the branch neared its breaking point, but after what seemed to be forever, she finally made it back onto land. As she did so, she collapsed onto the bank, panting heavily.
It was several minutes before her body relaxed and her breathing slowed, and when it did she bit back a laugh. When she became an Exorcist, she'd imagined several worse case scenarios, but escaping a near death by drowning had not been on that list.
Hard as she tried, she was unable to suppress the grin that broke onto her face. She'd escaped a raging river, nearly drowning in the process. Several months ago, she would have been on the verge of a panic attack, and yet here she was, grinning like an idiot and probably resembling that of a drowned rat.
A gust of wind brushed passed her, and she froze, the revelation of the kind of trouble she was getting herself into having now been effectively delivered. The crisp air was frigid on her dampened skin, and she shivered involuntarily. Not only was she along in the middle of nowhere, but she was left with nothing but the clothes on her back.
Clothes that were soaked.
Pushing herself onto her feet, wincing as her hands throbbed in protest, she glanced at her surroundings. One thing was obvious at first glance: the fast moving current had taken her far. The area around her was flat, expanding several miles. That was it, though. Other than herself, there was nothing else present.
Pain welled up in her hands once more, and she grimaced. Turning her hands over so the palms were facing upward, she examined them closely. Not only were her gloves now stained with blood, but they were covered with long clean gashes from when the rocks had torn into them.
She needed to tend to her wounds, but now was out of the question. There was nothing to work with. At the present moment, she was probably better off leaving her gloves on to protect the wound.
She was torn from her thoughts as the sound of rustling reached her ears. Immediately alert, she invoked her Innocence, only to hiss as it swelled with pain. Only, this wasn't the same pain being emitted from the cuts on her hands – no, it was far worse. And upon glancing at her left arm, she was alarmed to find several long, deep scratches decorating the metal-like skin.
Crown Clown was damaged; that much was obvious.
That struck an even larger fear in her. Being on your own was one thing, but being completely vulnerable was another.
She wasn't given much time to ponder over a new course of action, because right at that moment the patch of tall, dead grass rustled once more before a figure rolled out of it. They gave an undignified yelp – far too high-pitched to be male – before sitting up, rubbing their head.
Madelynn blinked in surprise, deactivating her Innocence upon recognizing the intruder was not an intruder at all but a Finder.
And a rather clumsy one at that. Not that she was in any position to judge – she'd just nearly drowned in a river after slipping into it.
The Finder spent a moment catching her breath. She must have run a long distance. "Thank goodness I found you," she breathed, her voice giving out near the end as she let out a cough. "I saw you struggling in that river… you really had me worried there for a moment!"
She studied the Finder, frowning as she noticed just how many bruises and cuts she had. Toma had never mentioned finding anyone from his unit after they had been separated. Was this Finder among the missing or another party the Order may have dispatched?
"Are you okay?" She asked.
The woman laughed, blue eyes falling on the small Exorcist. "Never better!" she answered with a grin. Concern soon overcame her, however, and she rushed over. Her grip was gentle, yet strong as she grasped onto her wrist. "Oh my gosh! Are you okay? No, wait – don't answer that." Madelynn blinked as the woman delved into her backpack. "Take off your gloves, please."
Madelynn obeyed without protest, hissing in pain as she did so. Thankfully, the Finder was far gentler than she was with wounds, and expertly managed to free her hands from the gloves with little pain to count for it. Blood oozed from her wounds, trickling down her fingers.
The Finder let out a small gasp. "Oh, you poor thing," she breathed as she began wrapping the wound on her right hand.
"It's okay," she offered as a response, at a loss for words. "It doesn't hurt too much."
The woman smiled. "No, no, it's quite alright, Miss Exorcist. You're always looking after everyone; let us Finders take care of you for a change."
Surprisingly enough, the woman was skilled in caring for injuries. Madelynn watched in awe as the Finder worked. Her hands moved so articulately it appeared as though she did it on a frequent basis. Before long, both of her hands were bandaged, and the woman was packing away her supplies.
"So you're the new Exorcist everyone's been talking about," the Finder started casually. She smiled. "It's great to finally meet you."
Madelynn blinked. "Oh. Um..."
The woman slapped her forehead. "Oh! Pardon my manners. My name is Rosanna. I was a part of the first group of Finders stationed out here."
She perked up. So she had been right after all. "Where are the others?" She asked, hardly able to contain the edge of hope in her voice. "Are they alright?" Remembering the Finder had introduced herself, Madelynn added, "oh, sorry. My name's Madelynn."
The amused look that had been plastered on Rosanna's face disappeared as she lowered her gaze. "Many of them are no longer with us. We were searching for Innocence out here in these fields when we were ambushed by Akuma." She stared at the ground. "I've been searching for days, but I haven't found any of them." She paused in her mourning to look back up at Madelynn, eying her quizzically. "Are you with others?"
"I was, but we were separated," she answered. "The others are somewhere up river."
"Guess it can't be helped," the older woman replied, springing to her feet. Her dark brown hair, which was kept in a braid, swung with the sudden movement.
"Miss Rosanna–" Madelynn started, but was cut short by the woman as she shook her head sternly.
"Just Rosanna. We are comrades, not acquaintances. If we are going to be relying on one another for survival, I expect that you leave the formalities."
Well, one thing was for certain: Rosanna did not like formalities.
Her first instinct was to shy away, but she held her ground. "Alright, then," she responded with a grin. "So, what do you propose we do now, Rosanna?"
"Much better." Rosanna grinned back. "Well, I think it would be best to find the others before searching for the Innocence."
And so their search began. The task seemed easy enough; with little trees, both could see ahead of them for miles. Rosanna and she had agreed the rest of their comrades would most likely be on the bank, looking for any traces of her, so they walked along it.
Finding the others proved to be difficult very quickly. The river's current had swept her further downstream than she'd originally thought. None of their surroundings looked even vaguely familiar, and they had yet to come across the battlefield. And to make matters worse, it was getting dark. Which meant temperatures would drop soon.
It took some time, but they finally came across somewhere suitable to rest for the night. The brush was uncomfortable, poking and prodding her no matter what position she took, but it was better than being out in the open. Rosanna immediately set to work, tucking branches behind other branches so as to make space for them to sit without the hassle. Once that was done, she pulled out two blankets, handing one to her.
"I grabbed as many things as I could after our camp was destroyed," Rosanna explained, unpacking what food she had collected earlier in the day. She appeared to have been living on her own for several days now. What was that like, she wondered? What was it like to live on your own in the wilderness, knowing you might very well be the only one alive?
She couldn't fathom it.
"Are you Parasitic?" Rosanna asked suddenly, drawing her from her thoughts. She nodded meekly, and Rosanna scooted more food over to her. "Here, eat this. I'll find some more."
"No, it's alright," she reassured the Finder. "I got plenty to eat today. Here, eat some more."
"But if Akuma find us, you'll need energy to fight," Rosanna protested.
In reality, if Akuma did find them, she had no clue what she'd do with Crown Clown damaged. She didn't want to worry Rosanna any more, though, so she decided to keep those worries to herself.
"Rosanna, I need you to eat too," she said sternly, pushing the cloth the food was currently resting on toward her. Seeing the woman shake her head stubbornly, she let out a frustrated sigh. "Look, I can survive off of what I already have for one night. Tomorrow we will return to town, and if we don't find the others by then, we'll contact Headquarters for help. We can't do that if we aren't well rested and have the energy to do it, though."
Rosanna pressed her lips, no doubt debating on what to say next. "Eat half of mine. Deal? Enough for you and your Innocence, and enough for me not to starve."
Madelynn frowned. Rosanna was going to be difficult, she could tell. "One fifth."
"One forth. Take it or I don't eat."
Madelynn twitched. "Eat some of the fish."
Odd. She'd never given away fish that was on her plate before.
"Madelynn," the woman warned.
"What?" Both women were on the edge of their patience.
"Eat your food or else."
She raised an eye brow, but something about that tone screamed motherly so she didn't dare push it. If Rosanna was anything like her mother, she didn't want to know what 'or else' meant.
Her frown deepened, but she bit into the piece of fish, watching carefully to make certain Rosanna held up her part of the deal. Sure enough, she popped some of the berries she'd picked into her mouth, smiling warmly at her.
"There you go. Now that wasn't so hard, was it?" Rosanna said, tilting her head to the side.
The rest of their meal was spent in silence. As she ate, Madelynn's thoughts wandered to the others. There was no doubt in her mind that they'd been able to handle the rest of the battle on their own. But what about afterward? Were any of them injured? Or were they doing better than Rosanna and she was right now?
A drop of water fell on her face, and she blinked, looking up. It was difficult to see in the dark, but through the thin maze of branches above her there was no denying the dark clouds that were looming. "Aw, crud." The words slipped off her tongue as she took note of the soil beneath them.
Judging by the look of misery on Rosanne's face, this wasn't the first time she'd encountered this weather. "I hope it doesn't rain too hard…" she murmured. Madelynn opened her mouth, but before she could speak lightening flashed across the sky, followed by a roar of thunder that made Rosanna flinch. Almost immediately, the skies opened up, and rain pounded down on them.
Rosanna's eyes widened. "Madelynn! The food!"
She snatched up the remaining pieces of fish, wasting no time I stuffing them in her mouth. Rosanna blinked momentarily before she followed suit, scooping up the rest of the berries and stuffing them in her mouth. Then, without skipping a beat she flashed two thumbs up, grinning. The rain continued to fall relentlessly, and both stared, processing what had just happened.
And Madelynn was certain Rosanna had lost her mind when she suddenly doubled over, cracking up with laughter. Hard as she tried, she couldn't contain herself either, and soon joined in, clutching at her stomach.
This was crazy. Here they were, soaked to the bone and in the middle of nowhere, laughing without a care in the world. As they sat there in the discomfort of the brush, however, all of her worries seemed to wash away. It felt as though she were back at home again, standing barefoot on the front lawn and letting the rain caress her skin. Those days, which she believed had been too far out of reach for her, were suddenly just within reach. It couldn't compare to home, but it came close.
After several minutes, the rain seemed to take mercy on Rosanna, who was beginning to look like a drowned rat, slowing its pace. Both were silent for a moment, each lost in their own thoughts, before the older woman looked up at her. "I was born in Russia," she told her. "I grew up in a small village I was born in with my sister. We were raised by our mother and grandmother." Rosanna smiled at her. "What about you, Madelynn? I heard you were… American, was it?"
She nodded, smiling. "Yes. I lived in a small town in Washington. It's a state located on the West Coast."
For a moment, neither of them spoke. Madelynn watched the older woman with mild interest, water dripping down her face.
"America. Sounds nice," Rosanna mumbled. Running a hand through her wet hair, she asked her curiously, "how old are you, Madelynn?"
"I wasn't much older than you when I joined the Order." She smiled wistfully. "I first heard of the Millennium Earl after my village was destroyed by Akuma. I was one of the few survivors, but I lost everyone I loved because of the Earl."
Madelynn watched the woman, far too surprised to conjure a proper response.
Rosanna shook her head. "I was a completely different person back then. I hated everyone, especially the Earl… but mostly I blamed myself. When a group of Exorcists who'd been dispatched to survey the wreckage told me I was the accommodator for Innocence the Earl had been after, I was eager to join the Order."
Madelynn blinked. Rosanna had been an accommodator? But why was she a Finder?
"It was hard at first," Rosanna continued. "I couldn't speak an ounce of English, and people thought I would be useless because I depended so much on a translator." She laughed at the memory. "That translator became my best friend. He spent hours teaching English so I could get through the training needed to become a Finder."
"Wow." Madelynn smiled wistfully. "You've been through so much."
"Many of us have." Rosanna gazed out in the distance, watching the rain fall steadily on the river. "Whether we are Exorcists or Finders or supporters of the Black Order, we feel the same pain. The Earl brings grief upon us all, but it is what brings us together. Each of us yearns to help – to make him pay for the destruction he has caused – so we bind together and offer whatever resources we have." She smiled at her. "There is a spark in your eyes that wasn't there the first time I saw you. You've found your resolve, haven't you?" Upon seeing her confusion, she added, "Exorcists stick out, especially when you're new."
"I've come to terms with it." Madelynn answered. "I don't understand why you're a Finder, though. Weren't you an accommodator?" Suddenly, everything clicked into place. "Oh. You weren't compatible with the Innocence, were you?"
"No, I wasn't. But I'm happy being a Finder. I can't see myself in any other department."
Both women lapsed into silence once more, and as she listened to the rain's steady rhythm she found herself slipping into her own thoughts. Memories of her life in Washington resurfaced. Memories of looking outside water-stained windows; memories of wearing that bright rain jacket with the matching boots and jumping in water puddles.
Her favorite had to be the time Maria brought that giant umbrella to school. Maybe Kyle still had the pictures of her fighting with the strong winds that had been blowing that day?
She really hoped so. She missed those days so much…
It was only then she noticed Rosanna looking at her. As she met the older woman's gaze, Rosanna flushed with embarrassment. Madelynn smiled sheepishly.
"Well… this sure puts a damper on things, doesn't it?" She spoke awkwardly. The pun hadn't been intended.
"Certainly," Rosanna responded with a grin.
Madelynn couldn't help but grin back.
"It's nice, though – the rain, I mean," she replied, flushing as Rosanna blinked. "I mean, sure, the sun's nice, but haven't you just wanted to dance in the rain?"
"Dance? In the rain? Lavi and Allen are right – you do say weird things."
"Isn't the first time I've heard it; won't be the last either."
Rosanna frowned. "If I didn't think I was half crazy, I might assume you loved this weather by the look the look on your face."
If possible, her grin grew wider.
"Nah. I just live for it."