By the time you woke up, the rest of them had left–quite a while before, you’d hazard a guess. It had definitely been night when you’d passed out on that pile of dirty rags. It was sunset again now. Load of shitty freeloaders. It didn’t take a genius to realize they’d taken all the food with them, too. In the hazy light filtering through the trees outside, you could see far enough to know that much.
You were far too woozy to try moving, but your brain didn’t catch on to that. Your teeth ground into each other as you reached desperately around yourself to find a pistol. If those fuckers had even taken your weapons, you were going to track them down and get your things back the hard way. You’d given practically everything you had to get that meat back there.
Everything, it occurred to you, including the arm you were using to try and find your gun. Shit. You struggled into a seated position, panting as you lifted the remaining stump to get a good look at things. Blood seeped crimson through the bandages that made up most of your desperate tourniquet. Of course, those shitheads couldn’t be bothered to do it up better for you before they ran out. At least that explained your extreme lightheadedness.
Something next to your makeshift bed gleamed, catching your eye. You scooped it up with your still-existing hand. Thank god. It was a pistol. At least they had left you that much, and maybe a little more. A torn fragment of paper was stuffed into the barrel.
Apparently those fuckers hadn’t thought about how you were supposed to get that paper out with only one hand. Despite the massive throbbing in your head and chest, you bashed the gun against the wall until the scrap fell out. It was a wasted effort; your reward was nothing but a hastily scribbled note about not sticking around until you got infected. As though you hadn’t cut off your own fucking arm as soon as that bastard runner got you!
But then, you supposed you would have done the same thing. Hell, you would have shot the moron that thought amputation was the answer. So, in addition to being a bunch of jackasses, your old group was also apparently made up entirely of morons, leaving you and letting you live. You tossed the paper lethargically into the corner. Well, you’d been right. If you were going to become infected, you already would have got there.
What remained was the problem of how the fuck you were supposed to survive with a single arm, and your non-dominant hand at that.
“Hey, Joel! I’m gonna check over here, all right? There’re tracks leading away; maybe some hunters left us something good.”
A whoosh of nausea filled your stomach. Before you could do so much as throw the rags over you in a sorry attempt at disguise, the door to your tiny shack in the middle of buttfuck nowhere drifted gently open. With you in the state you were in, you could hardly get up and strangle the intruder. There was nothing to do but sit very still and hope she left.
Upon seeing no movement, however, the door creaked open farther still, and into your shack stepped a girl that could have been no older than fifteen. Her green eyes wandered over the remains of whatever people had lived there twenty-something years ago, but clearly saw nothing interesting until they landed on you.
You wasted no time in lifting your pistol, fat load of good it would do you. Your arm trembled simply at holding the weapon; there was no question that you wouldn’t have the strength to actually fire–and that was if you even had any bullets remaining from the firefight the night before, or your gang hadn't taken what was left.
“Shit,” the girl yelped, and leaped backward, back toward the door. You winced at your continued effort; you could feel more blood rushing to the site of your missing limb. Somehow, that must have made you look a lot less threatening, because the girl crept forward, bringing her large eyes and freckled cheeks into high relief. “Hey, are you okay?”
You just snorted in response, but that didn’t make you a more formidable opponent. The girl bent down next to you to get a closer look, as though you were some interesting sideshow she hadn’t seen advertised.
“Oh, man, you’re really bleeding.”
“Get–” Your words got caught in your throat; you screwed up your face before trying again: “Get. Out.”
“Get out or I’ll shoot you, you little bitch.”
Her eyes narrowed in response. Meanwhile, your eyes caught the pistol gripped loosely in one of her hands. Shit. If it came to actually shooting, she’d slaughter you, and then what would you have cut your damn arm off for? Getting killed by a kid seemed laughable compared to being torn up by infected.
“I doubt you can aim properly in your condition,” she said calmly.
“Try me,” you spat.
“Hey, why don’t you try showing a little respect?”
“Respect me, you–”
The sharp click of gun interrupted your pissing contest with the twerp. She looked up immediately, but it took you several seconds longer to get your gaze up to the face of the newcomer.
“Do you want to try dropping that gun, or do you want me to make it so you don’t need it anymore?” he asked.
Even if you weren’t near-dead, you would have been intimidated by the girl’s bodyguard. He was enormous, grizzled, and wearing an expression that quite clearly told you the “near” part of your label wasn’t going to last much longer. You doubted that even dropping your pistol would net you your life, but just then your hand gave such a tremendous shudder that the weapon slipped from your fingers anyway. Sure enough, the gun pointed at your head didn’t budge an inch.
“Joel,” said the girl.
“What, kid?” he said angrily without taking his eyes off you. In response, she got to her feet and lifted her hands in some strange attempt to pacify him. He looked at her only for a moment before rolling his eyes and returning to your stare down.
“Joel,” the girl said again. “She’s hurt.”
“And what does that matter?”
“She obviously wasn’t going to shoot me!” Suddenly, the calming note in the girl’s voice was gone. Her tone flared up like a rocket, though that didn’t seem to have much of an effect on Joel. “So put the gun down!”
“Just do it!”
At last, he stopped watching you to take up glaring at Ellie in your stead. She scowled up at him for half a minute, but didn’t wait for him to do as she said. With a sound of great annoyance, she tore her gaze away and threw herself down at your side. After a moment of casting about for something, she looked down at her shirt, pulled a knife from one of her pockets, and proceeded to slice a long strip of fabric from her clothes.
“Kid, what are you doing?” Joel asked impatiently. She glowered at him as she proceeded to wrap the fabric tightly around your stump.
“Helping,” she answered. Joel groaned and jammed his rifle back into the pack on his back.
“And what good is that supposed to do her?”
It was exceedingly frustrating being spoken about as though you weren’t there, but the energy you had expended on snapping at Ellie was all that you had had left. You slumped back against the wood wall of the shack and stared blearily between the two of them. Why they weren’t gunning you down, you had no idea. Hopefully they weren’t part of that cannibal crowd all those miles back.
"It’ll last longer than the shitty tourniquet she’s got now.”
“So, it’ll get her back to Jackson!”
“Get her back to–” Joel almost spluttered. Instead, he just stopped speaking. “You are not taking her home with us.”
“Yes, I am.”
“Are you insane? You know how she lost an arm? Probably got bit.”
“Looks like she acted quickly to me. Hey.” Ellie nudged you, and then nudged you much harder a second time when you didn’t react. “Hey, you. When did you get bit?”
“Huh?” you asked. You could have sworn you were paying attention, but suddenly the question had slipped your mind. Ellie’s eyebrows lifted, and she spoke much more slowly to say:
“When did you get bit?”
“L-Last night,” you answered, closing your eyes with pain as she finished tying the tourniquet. “Hours ago.”
“See?” Ellie asked lightly as she stood. “She’s fine.”
“Kid, you can’t be the savior of every goddamn straggler we run into.”
Her eyebrows furrowed as Ellie opened her mouth to reply. She must have thought better of what she was going to say, though, because she shrugged and adjusted her pack before trying again: “You owe me. And I owe it to the world.”
“Not now, Joel.” She spun back toward you. “Do you think you can walk? We can’t really make a stretcher. I guess Joel could carry you.”
“Like hell I’m carrying her. This is your project.”
“Fine,” Ellie snapped. “Then you can lean me. Just so long as you can walk a bit.”
“You’re overestimating your own strength again.”
“If you aren’t going to offer a solution, then fucking shut your trap. Can you walk?” she asked you again. The old you would have told her to get the fuck away and take her old man with her. You could handle it on your own. This time, though, you were pretty sure you couldn’t. You didn’t have food, you only had a single magazine in your pistol, and you were significantly down on your ability to protect yourself. “We’ve got a settlement, a really cool place, totally self-governed. You can come with us.”
“You really think Maria and Tommy are just going to let us waltz in the front door with some woman that’s probably gonna turn at any minute?” Joel asked.
“She’s not infected. Besides, they’ll let me waltz in the front door with her. After all, I’m their delightful little niece.”
"You are not their niece,” Joel said flatly.
“Yeah, yeah.” She must have heard that a lot, because Ellie didn’t appear bothered by that statement. Ducking slightly, she grasped your shoulders and, ignoring your tensing, heaved you to your feet. It took several minutes; you didn’t have the strength to help her–nor, really, did you have the desire to. Survival instinct was telling you to get away from those two as quick as you could. Unfortunately, your body was not up to listening to those instructions, and Ellie got you standing soon enough. She even had you taking several steps toward the exit. “You wanna be at least some help and open the door?” Ellie asked Joel.
Although he didn’t look pleased about it, Joel made to open the door. His large fingers had only just wrapped around the knob when a horribly familiar clicking noise issued from somewhere outside. Each person in the room froze, even you. A second later, and that clicking was answered by another, only slightly more distant.
Joel reached for his gun. Whatever Ellie planned to do, you didn’t intend to find out. Summoning up the last vestiges of your strength, you tore yourself free of her hold. Without any energy left to keep yourself upright, you fell back onto the floor.
Your pistol was sitting several feet away, entirely useless to you. You began to thrash wildly, desperate to get back to it. You might not have been able to shoot properly, but you weren’t going to go down without a fight. Sounds of fear, normally easy to quash, began to claw their way out of your throat as you moved.
Joel’s boot smashed down onto the gun. Your head snapped upward to see him glowering down at you, his rifle aimed once more at your head. “Shut the fuck up,” he hissed. “They can hear you.”
“I know what clickers are!” you panted. What the fuck was Joel on, thinking he had to explain infected to you? You’d been surviving just as long as he had! If you weren’t so exhausted by your escape attempt, you would have shown him what for. As it was, you could only lay there in a heap, breathing heavily, and watch as he maneuvered toward one of the broken windows. Ellie followed suit, though she paused to smirk at you once she was stationed, and held a single finger to her lips.
Of all the shitty people to land yourself with. Your last group might have been stupid, but at least they weren’t sarcastic teenagers.
Joel and Ellie both looked out, never relaxing, even when the time between clicks was longer than the last. Sweat broke out across the back of your neck. The three of you were trapped there, in that shitty shack, with no food and you probably bleeding to death. If either of them shot a clicker, it would bring every single infected in the vicinity right to your door–and after the hunt last night, you knew there were quite a few infected in the vicinity.
“As far as I can tell, there’s only two,” Joel whispered, though even that much was risky. “You stay here.”
Ellie nodded. With an impressively silent tread for a man so large and carrying so much weaponry, Joel moved across the room, opened the door, and slipped out into the growing night. A few more clicks sounded, but after that, everything went completely quiet.
“Did you get them?”
You started, having not even realized that Joel had returned. In fact, he was right above you, and before you could react, he had hefted you into the air and thrown your arms around his shoulders so that he could carry you on his back.
“Yeah,” he growled. “Let’s get going before more show up. Dragging her along definitely isn’t going to be quiet.”
“I know how to be quiet,” you murmured, too worn-out for much more. Maybe it would have been better if he just dropped you there to be turned. The stress you had from dealing with those two for just an hour or so seemed to be draining you more than the amputation.
“Good.” He did not sound as though he believed you. “Because if you pull another stunt like that, I’m dumping you in a nest of clickers and leaving you there.”
Cool night air hit your face at last. Although you were fading quickly, you were aware enough to hear Ellie’s quick, quiet footsteps as she caught up to you.
“Don’t worry,” she said, with a smile that was supposed to be reassuring. “Joel treats everyone like that. You’ll grow on him.”
“Fantastic,” you said hoarsely.
Joel jostling you harder than necessary was the last thing you remembered from that night.