Something to Die For
Ellie woke up just as we were leaving the city. I heard her groans as she stirred.
"What the hell am I wearing?" she muttered as she looked at herself.
"Hey, sleeping beauty" I spoke with forced cheer "How you feeling? You've been out for a while now"
"Like shit" she groaned as she tried to sit up.
"Just take it easy" Joel said "Drugs are still wearing off"
"What happened?" she asked as she rubbed her eyes.
A knot twisted in my stomach, thinking back to the carnage we caused. Unable to bring myself to speak, I looked to Joel to explain.
"We found the Fireflies" Joel explained "They saved you, Kenneth too. Turned out though there's a whole lot more like you, Ellie" He spoke in an almost robotic tone, as if he were reading a script, pausing in places like couldn't believe his own lie "There's been other people that are immune. Dozens actually. Ain't done a bit of good neither. They've actually st-" He stopped, the words seeming to catch in his throat "They've stopped looking for a cure"
Ellie looked at him with disbelief. She turned to me, as if she wanted me to clarify.
"It's..." I almost choked on the words "It's true, Ellie"
Ellie wouldn't look either of us in the eye. She looked absolutely crestfallen.
"I'm sorry" I whispered.
The car was quiet for a long time before Joel spoke up "Now. Let's go home"
The car ran out of gas about a couple hours later. Joel claimed without the car the most direct way back to Jackson would still take a couple days on foot. This actually got me angry enough to punch the fucking car which I immediately regretted after. My only hand was now hurting as badly as my arm. I still kind of needed the release though. I'd started getting a little crazy stuck in a car with two people I genuinely did not want to talk to.
Don't get me wrong, I didn't hate them. I still cared about them. But I couldn't look at either of them without remembering what Joel... what the both of us had to do. That and the pain in my arm was making me a little cranky. Since we left the Fireflies the phantom pains had been replaced by something with a little more sting. A burning sensation that went straight through my entire arm.
"Jesus Christ, it's freezing" I complained as we walked.
"What are you talking about?" Ellie asked, her own face glistening with sweat. We had managed to find her some new clothes, considering hospital gowns weren't exactly fit for the outdoors. She was now dressed in denim jeans and a red flannel shirt.
"I'm just saying, it's cold"
"You feelin' okay?" she asked
"Yeah, I'm fine" I assured her "Arm's just a little sore, y'know"
"Gotta admit, it's a little weird seeing you with only half an arm" she said
"Think it's weird for you? How do think it is for me?"
We spent the whole day walking through the woods until we came to what seemed like a ranger's cabin of sorts.
"We'll rest here for the night" Joel announced.
"Thank God" I exclaimed "I'm fucking knackered"
"I could sleep for a week" Ellie stated
"Amen to that" I agreed with her.
As we found places to sleep, I noticed the pain in my arm was lessening, much to my relief.
"I'm gonna need a wash soon" I claimed
"Yeah, I didn't want to say anything" Ellie smiled "But you smell like shit"
"You'll need to clean your arm while you're at it" Joel reminded me.
"Yeah, tomorrow man" I promised "I swear"
Joel hmphed in response, and was out like a light.
I was about to doze off myself, when I felt something poke my bad arm. I hissed in pain and turned to see... Ellie, who had come over to sit next to me.
"The fuck was that for?" I hissed.
"You're hiding something" Ellie whispered, so not to wake Joel.
"What are you talking about?" I asked
"Both of you are" she continued "Something happened with the Fireflies. What was it?"
"Nothing happened" I argued
"You're shit at lying. You know that right?" she claimed "I'm also not an idiot. I know when people aren't honest with me"
I could only grind my teeth in response.
"Kenneth" Ellie spoke again after a moment of silence "It's better if I hear it from one of you guys"
"So go ask Joel" I snapped "And quit bothering when I'm trying to sleep"
"You're being an asshole. You know that?"
I bit my tongue to stop me from saying something I would regret. With a breath and a moment to recollect myself I spoke again "Ellie, everything I do, everything Joel does. We just... we want to keep you safe"
"What do you mean?"
"We..." I sighed "It's nothing. Nothing. Just get some sleep okay?"
Ellie obviously wanted to talk more, so I turned away from her and slept on my side.
When I woke up the next morning, the first thing that hit me was the smell. God, Ellie wasn't kidding when she said I stinked.
"Morning" Ellie said when she saw me. From where I was lying I could see that she was up and if my ears were telling me anything, Joel was outside.
I tried to get up, but immediately felt dizzy and fell back on my ass.
"Can I get a hand here?" I asked her, hand outstretched. She helped me up.
"You feeling okay?" she asked
"Yeah, just a little dizzy" I admitted "You got anything to drink?"
She gave me a swig of water from her bottle and I managed to feel a little better, though it was really warm that morning.
Joel came back in "If I'm right, we're not far off from a lake. We can stop there, and clean up that arm of yours" He gestured to me.
"Alright then" I spoke. And then we were off.
As we walked I started to daydream about the good soak that awaited me in the lake, and how refreshingly cool it would feel. God knew how I needed it. It felt like a hundred degrees out and I was smelling something foul. So foul that Ellie felt the need to comment on it every two minutes.
We eventually made it to the lake. Ellie charged in with all the grace of a three-legged bull, while I tried to wade in slowly, wary of the sting I would undoubtedly feel.
Tried being the word there. I was in up to my knees when I was suddenly overcome with a sharp pain in my chest, and I fell face first into the water.
I can't remember whether I cried out or not, because the next thing I was aware off was a pair of strong hands dragging me out of the water, and some strange god-awful smell.
I could hear a couple of voices, fuzzy and fading in and out like a radio.
"Jesus..." said the larger man.
"Kenneth!" the girl spoke to me, at least I think it was to me. "... hear me?"
Her face looked familiar. Why did it look familiar? Did I know her?
"Eh..." I tried to speak, but my tongue felt heavy in my mouth "Emma?"
This seemed to upset the girl, as she looked to her large friend/father/whatever and said something, panic drawn across her features.
The man said something to her, and then I felt a firm smack across my face.
I stared hard at them, the man and the girl. Then their names came to me. Joel and Ellie! How could I forget?
"Guys?" I spoke
"Kenneth!" Ellie cried "Oh, thank God. We thought you were gone there"
"What happened?" I asked, grimacing as my chest hurt with every breath, and I was breathing hard. I was leaning against a fallen log. I tried to move, to make myself more comfortable, but I felt as weak as a kitten, and I hurt all over.
"We don't know" Ellie answered "You kinda just collapsed. Joel had to drag you out the water"
"Kid" Joel spoke to me, worry evident in his voice "How does your arm feel?"
"My..." I stopped speaking as I my lightheadedness came back "My arm? Feels... feels like nothing"
Joel shuffled over to my arm, taking the bandaging in his hands. There was a sound of crackling paper, and all of a sudden my arm didn't feel like nothing anymore. I bit my tongue before I could scream. The pain became unbearable as Joel painstakingly unwound my bandages. The smell had become ten times worse, if that were possible.
As Joel finished unwinding my arm, I heard him whisper "Christ". Ellie was less subtle. She went "Oh fuck" and turned away retching. If it were possible, I would've joined her. I wasn't too sure what an amputated stump was meant to look like, but it definitely wasn't meant to look like that. The skin was purple and brown, almost black in some places, and there was some kind of yellowed pus leaking from it. The stench was suffocating.
I tried to speak, but between the bile in my throat and the pain that wracked my body I could only hiss "The fuck?"
Ellie was back again, her face an unnatural pale shade. "What the hell is that?"
"That... is not good" Joel answered.
"No shit" I wheezed "How bad?"
Joel gritted his teeth before speaking "Well... your arm is pretty much dead. This black shit, I don't know how it all works, but I think that's like rot"
"But I'm not dead!" I cried, panic giving strength to my voice "I'm not dead"
"Your arm is" Joel stressed "All this rot has poisoned your blood, and it's going everywhere else"
"Is that why..." I paused as more chest-pains came "Why I'm hurting all over?"
Joel was quiet now "Yes"
"And my chest" I continued, the reality of the situation was making my eyes a little watery "That means it's got to my heart?"
I was crying now. My chest hurt, my arm hurt, my head felt like a lead weight. I knew what was happening.
I was dying. I wasn't going to make it.
"How long do I have? Realistically?"
"I dunno, kid. Not long enough to get you to Tommy's"
"We have to try though, right?" Ellie looked at us, searching for the answers in our eyes
"He won't make it" Joel was blunt about it. I wasn't too sure if that made it better or not.
"We can get you medicine" Ellie assured, or herself. "Antibiotics or something"
"Ellie," Joel started "The closest source of supplies was the cabin we just left. There ain't no meds back there. And there's nothin' else for miles"
"I'm not losing anyone else Joel" Ellie argued "We need to do something"
"Hey" I spoke, my voice breathless "Don't count me out just yet"
They both turned to look at me. Their faces identical masks of sadness and pity. I hated that. Their pity. It seems irrational now but that just made my skin crawl.
"What are my options?" I asked Joel.
"Well... we can try and carry you to the road. We might find a car, might be able to get you to Tommy's in time. But you're a deadweight now, so it won't be easy. And it'll hurt you"
"I'll go into shock or something, won't I?"
I might. That was his answer?. I might just die? Is that really his fucking answer?
I took a deep breath to try and calm myself, only to wince as chest flared with pain.
"Option 2 is that we leave you here, and you die for sure" Joel answered
"That's not a fucking option guys!" Ellie snapped. She grabbed me by the shoulders, ignoring the face I probably made as my pained body suffered under her stressed grip "We're not leaving you. I'm not leaving you"
Their were tears in her eyes. She was close enough I could see that. She was so afraid she would lose someone else. No, she knew I was a goner no matter what we would do, she just didn't want to admit it. It would be to painful. I knew what that felt like.
I gazed out over her shoulder. Beyond me lay the lake, its body clear and blue. The trees on the other side a beautiful spectrum of greens.
"It's a nice view" I sighed "I think... I think I'll stay here"
"No!" Ellie cried. "No"
I looked to Joel, wiping a sheen of sweat away from my forehead with a stiff hand. "You take care of her" I told him "No matter what happens. You hear me?"
Joel's face was sombre "Yeah kid, I hear you" I knew he would protect her anyway, but it helped to hear him say it. He started to speak again "Kid. Kenneth. I... I ain't gonna lie to you, this ain't a pretty way to go. The easiest way, the... the gentle way would be..."
I nodded, knowing what he meant "Boom"
Ellie started getting to her feet "I can't watch this"
"Wait" I spoke, reaching to grab her wrist. She stopped. I gently pulled her closer to me, close enough that she and I could knock our heads together if we so desired. "You... you keep living, okay? No matter what. No matter what happens you stay strong, you find something worth fighting for, something worth living for and you stay alive. Okay? Promise me, Ellie"
She was definitely crying now "I promise"
I pulled her closer, so I was whispering in her ear "I'm sorry I lied to you"
We seperated, her face a look of grief, but her eyes understanding. She knew what I meant.
"Now go over there" I flailed my arm away "I don't want you to see this"
Ellie walked away, silent tears streaming down her face. I looked to Joel, who was holding his gun.
"I'd rather not have your gun be the last thing I see"
Joel gave a grim nod, "Behind you then"
I stared out over the lake, to the small untamed world that lay before me. I sighed, my pain growing ever stronger. But strangely, I was at peace. Ellie would be safe with Joel, and they were going back to the safe haven of Jackson. I could suddenly see it. The pair of them living in the town.
Joel, old and grey, his face a warm smile as he played guitar on the porch of his house. I bet he had a nice smile.
Ellie, a young and beautiful woman. She'd be watching movies with the families, maybe Joel would be sitting next to her. Or maybe a friend, someone closer to her age. Maybe even a girlfriend.
"You ready?" Joel asked.
My thoughts made me smile. "Yeah"
I held onto those thoughts of Joel and Ellie. Those happy faces. Safe. That's what I had fought for.
When I started this story, I always knew how I was going to make it end. What I'm not sure about though, is whether or not the send-off was good enough. If you want to criticise or praise, leave reviews. I always welcome them.
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