Alyssa awoke to a hissing sound and the feeling of teeth grazing her neck.
Suddenly wide awake, she shoved the body on top of her away and reached for the pocket knife that she always kept under her pillow. She jumped up, knife held out in front of her, ready to defend herself against whoever- or whatever- was in her room in the middle of the night, only to be met with… laughter?
Rubbing the sleep out of her eyes, Alyssa looked to the floor to find-
Emma was laughing, clutching her side as she caught her breath. “Ow, I landed on my hip.”
Alyssa lowered the knife slightly as Emma struggled to her feet, rubbing the spot on her neck that Emma had bitten.
“What the hell, Em? I thought I was bitten!”
“I know,” Emma giggled. “It was kind of hilarious.” She looked at the knife and raised an eyebrow. “You’re not gonna kill me, are you?”
Alyssa looked down at the knife she clutched in her fist. She took a shaky breath, folded it up, and placed it back under her pillow. Silence hung in the air for a while, the only sound coming from the rain hitting the window.
“Emma, I… I haven’t seen you in... I don’t even know how long.”
Alyssa looked up at Emma, a questioning look in her eyes. Emma’s cheeks were tinged with pink.
“Well, 46, technically. but who’s counting?” Emma breathed out a laugh, sticking her hands in her pockets. “Wanna know what I’ve been up to?”
All Alyssa could do was shake her head in disbelief, the reality that Emma was in front of her and as alive as ever setting in. “All this time I thought you were dead.”
She saw Emma visibly soften, and for the first time, Alyssa noticed the prominent bags under her eyes, as if she hadn’t slept in a while. Her shoulders slumped, her gaze dropping to the floor. “Yeah. I’m… I’m sorry about that.” Reaching around, Emma undid the clasp of the chain that was hanging around her neck that Alyssa hadn’t noticed until now. The chain disappeared under Emma’s shirt, so Alyssa couldn’t see what was hanging on it until Emma took the chain and handed it to her. “Here. Look.”
Alyssa’s brow furrowed as she took in the pendant, which turned out to be a sort of dog tag, but circular rather than the rectangular ones that soldiers usually wore. Engraved on the piece of metal was an all-too-familiar symbol: two stylized Fs, back to back, resembling insect wings and an abdomen, with two small points at the stop to symbolize antennae. “No way.”
When she looked up, Emma was no longer looking at her. Rather, she was looking at the vacant top bunk, a teasing look on her face. “Still no roommate? They haven’t found another troublemaker to room you with in hopes of ‘rehabilitating’ them or whatever, little miss Warden’s daughter?”
Alyssa barely registered Emma’s words, her focus back on the pendant. She flipped it over, running her fingers lightly over the text engraved on the back.
Alyssa’s stomach turned. Emma running away made sense- unlike Alyssa, she had a life before this academy, and she always did chafe under the sheer amount of rules and regulations- but a rebel militia didn’t really seem like Emma’s crowd, either. Well, until now. She looked up to see Emma looking back on her with an apprehensive look on her face. “You’re a Firefly.”
Emma shrugged and reached for a picture that was taped to the wall, her eyes softening. She took it and, after a moment of looking at it, held it up for Alyssa, smiling. It was a polaroid photo, taken what felt like years ago but couldn’t have been more than a couple months ago at the most. “You still have it up- what?”
Emma startled as Alyssa brushed past her, carefully opening the door and looking both ways before shutting it quietly.
“What are you doing?” Emma whispered.
“I’m making sure I don’t get caught with a Firefly in my room.”
“Relax. There aren’t any soldiers on the entire floor.”
Alyssa took another look at the pendant in her fist before holding out to Emma. “Here. Congrats.”
Emma took the pendant, but caught Alyssa’s wrist when she went to pull away. Alyssa ignored the sparks that flew up her arm at the touch.
“Hey.” Alyssa met Emma’s gaze, and she saw hints of fear in her eyes. “Are we cool?”
Alyssa scoffed. “Are we cool?” She said incredulously.
Emma sighed. “I disappeared and you’re mad-”
“That’s one way to put it.”
“- And I owe you an explanation.” Emma took a deep breath and backed off, stepping a couple feet further away from Alyssa. “Let’s get out of here and I’ll tell you all about it.”
“It’s almost morning and I have military drills.” Alyssa deadpanned. “You know, where we learn how to kill Fireflies.”
Emma simply scoffed, grabbing Alyssa’s jeans from where they were hanging off the back of the desk chair and throwing them to her. Alyssa caught them and blushed, just now realizing that she was just wearing a t-shirt and a pair of boxers.
“Put some pants on and let’s go.”
Alyssa weighed her options for a moment. On the one hand, since Emma had run away and joined the Fireflies, she was technically hanging out with a wanted criminal, and something told her that even being the superintendent’s daughter wouldn’t get her out of this one if she were to get caught, especially since she would be turning 18 soon and was already running out of second chances at the academy.
On the other hand, she hasn’t seen Emma, her best friend- honestly, her only friend- in over a month, and to see her now, alive and well and her usual playful self, filled her chest with a level of warmth that scared Alyssa a little.
Emma looked at her expectantly. “So?”
Making a decision, and ignoring the voice in her head that was listing all the ways this could go wrong, Alyssa began putting on her jeans. “This is so dumb. I am so dumb.”
Emma laughed. “Now, c’mon.” She opened the door, grabbed a backpack that had been set down on the floor, and began padding out. Stopping for a moment in the entryway, Emma turned back to face her, a smirk appearing on her face, a teasing, almost flirty lilt to her voice. “What’s wrong with a little rule breaking every once in a while?”
Alyssa rolled her eyes, picked up her own backpack, and followed Emma out the door.
“Up here! Hurry!”
Alyssa scurried up on top of the generator, following Emma into an open window. The moment her feet were on solid ground, she put her hands on her knees and stopped to catch her breath.
“That was too close, Nolan. That patrol almost caught us.”
Emma laughed, shaking her head like a dog in an attempt to dry it out. Alyssa laughed, too shielding her face from the water droplets that came flying at her.
“Good thing we’re both pretty fast, huh, Greene?” Emma reached out and brushed a wet lock of hair away from Alyssa’s face, sending a shiver down her spine. “Seriously, I’m kind of impressed.”
“Thanks.” Alyssa said lamely. Emma turned and continued down the hallway towards a staircase, not catching the way Alyssa cringed.
“Well, come on. To infinity and beyond.”
Alyssa rolled her eyes at the overly dramatic way Emma spoke. “You’re such a dork.”
They turned on their flashlights and started on a light jog, less concerned about making noise now that they were out of the military compound.
“So. How did you find them?”
“Remember that Firefly you bit and stole his gun?”
Alyssa chuckled. “Yeah. I remember him.”
“That’s Noah. I saw him walking down the street, so I tailed his ass. Followed him into this alley and all these Fireflies ambush me. I swear, there were like, six of them. They took me right to their hideout. To Dee Dee. Watch your head.”
Alyssa crouched to avoid the boards. “Were you scared?”
“When have I ever been scared?” Emma shook her head, laughing. “I was terrified. I thought this time around she was actually gonna shoot me, but instead she just says ‘What took you so long?’. She was expecting me.”
“And she just… made you a Firefly?”
Emma shrugged. “Something like that. That whole ‘almost killing me’ thing was a test. She wanted to know that I was… I don’t know. Ready? Committed to the cause?”
“Oh.” Alyssa tried to ignore the sinking feeling in her stomach. She knew Emma wasn’t happy back at the academy. That Emma was too used to being on her own and free to do well in that kind of environment.
But at least she was safe. Out there, as a Firefly, with the military hunting them down and the infected running rampant… Alyssa couldn’t protect her there.
Alyssa shook her head and continued to follow Emma. She watched as the other girl climbed up a set of metal lockers towards a collapsed portion of the ceiling. Turning back, Emma held out her hand and helped Alyssa climb. “We’re making good time. Just watch your step here.”
They pressed themselves against the wall to step around the large hole in the floor that they had just climbed through, then jumped through a hole in the opposite wall into another room. Truth be told, Alyssa wasn’t quite sure where they were anymore, but she trusted that Emma knew where she was going.
“Who do you hang out with these days? You know, now that I’m not there to get you into trouble.”
“I don’t know. No one, really.”
“What about Kevin and the rest of the guys? How are they doing?”
“Emma, those were your friends.”
“But you talked to them!”
“Yeah. When you were there too. Being the superintendent’s daughter doesn’t exactly make me popular.” Alyssa sighed at the bite that had suddenly found its way into her voice. She hated this, the stilted nature of their conversation, how much has changed between them since Emma disappeared.
Looking to her left, she saw the Firefly emblem spray painted onto a wall with the words “Look for the light.” She scoffed.
“So, have you found the light yet?” She teased.
“Oh, har har.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend your people.” Alyssa’s voice turned serious again, nothing the way Emma avoided eye contact and crawled under another shoddy patch job on a broken wall. “So, what? You buy into this whole thing now?”
Emma swallowed thickly, jaw clenched. “All I know is that I’m not a soldier, and… and I want to believe there are people out there still trying to do some good. I have to believe that.”
They walked for the next minute in tense silence, the rain outside falling harder, the only other sound being the occasional hum of the patrol vehicle making its rounds around the city, until an announcement rang out on the loudspeakers dotted around the streets.
Attention. We are pleased to report the zone has been free of cordyceps infection for thirty days. Your cooperation and dutiful attention to suspicious activity keeps this city safe.
Emma rolled her eyes. “Thirty days my ass. People are getting infected all the time, they just do a good job of hiding it.”
Alyssa’s forehead creased in concern. “You’ve run into more infected?”
Emma’s eyes darkened. “As part of my initiation they actually made me kill this...“ She shook her head. “Let’s talk about something else.”
Emma jumped through a window to the roof, back into the pouring rain. She jumped to another roof, and then another after that, Alyssa following her all the while, before she stiffened and crouched behind a short wall, the telltale hum of a vehicle approaching. “Shit. Hide.”
Alyssa crouched beside her, peering over the wall to get a look at the vehicle. It wasn’t an armored patrol vehicle- it was two smaller trucks that seemed to be carrying supplies of some sort. Emma let out a deep breath and leaned her forehead against the wall before getting up. “Sorry. I’m a bit jumpy lately.”
“Are you alright?”
Emma smiled crookedly, though it seemed forced. “Yeah. Don’t worry about it. Let’s just keep going.” She pointed over her shoulder to a plank that had been laid out as a makeshift bridge between two roofs. She stepped onto the plank and slowly made her way across, arms held out to her side to keep her balance. “Be careful, it’s a little slippery.”
Alyssa followed, unable to keep the worry off her face. Something was up with Emma, but she couldn’t quite figure out what. She wanted to hold her, but she wasn’t sure where they stood right now. It was frustrating.
A glimmer of an idea entered Alyssa’s mind. “Hey, so… maybe I should join the Fireflies too.”
Emma froze momentarily and sighed before moving on. “Alyssa, that was the first thing I asked Dee Dee. She wants you safe at that stupid school. I’m not even supposed to come see you.”
“That’s stupid.” Alyssa said, taken aback. “Why does she care?”
“Apparently she’s worried I’ll get you into trouble.”
“Whatever.” Alyssa grumbled. “I can get into trouble just fine on my own.”
“Oh, I’m perfectly aware. Alright, it’s just through here.”
Looking around, Alyssa suddenly recognized where they were. Just a couple months ago, Emma had led her to this very mall, albeit via a different path. Alyssa fondly remembered that night, a night seemingly without a care in the world. They had drank, and they had taken those dumb pictures, and they had ransacked several stores, entertaining themselves with whatever they found, and they had…
And then Emma had disappeared.
“Remember the first time I brought you here?”
“What are we doing here, Emma?”
Emma turned around to face her, slightly taken aback by the ice in Alyssa’s voice. “Well, um… I have a surprise for you.”
“What is it?”
“Is it a puppy? I’ll be your friend again if it’s a puppy.”
“You know, I got them back.”
Emma looked at Alyssa, a question in her eyes. “Got what back?”
Alyssa gestured towards the advertisement on the wall. “Our water guns.”
Emma grinned. “Bullshit. You’re telling me Corporal Dickhead gave them back to you?”
“Of course not.” Alyssa snorted. “I had to sneak into his office. Emma, I had them in my hands.”
“But you got caught.”
Alyssa sighed. “But I got caught.”
Emma laughed lightly, shaking her head, a fond look in her eyes. “What’d he do to you?”
“He wanted to give me scrubbing duty for two weeks. Bathrooms.” Emma winced sympathetically. “My mom talked him into making it one week, but boy was she upset.”
“Oh, Alyssa.” Emma tutted and placed a hand on Alyssa’s shoulder. “I keep telling you to give up on them. They’re never coming back.”
“Not with that attitude.” She pushed Emma’s hand off of her shoulder, earning her an affectionate laugh from the other girl. “They will be mine again.”
Emma turned and kept walking. “Whatever you say, Lys.”
Alyssa turned from where she was rifling through a stack of magazines to find Emma, holding up a bottle with some sort of amber liquor in it.
“Want some?” Emma asked, the challenge clear in her eyes.
Fixing Emma with a look in return, Alyssa grabbed the bottle. “Sure.”
“Watch out, that’s not beer.”
“Please.” Rolling her eyes, Alyssa twisted the cap off the bottle and took a swig before promptly spitting it out. Emma wasn’t joking. “Oh my god.” Alyssa coughed, handing the bottle back to Emma. “Here. It’s fucking disgusting.”
“I tried to warn you.” Emma raised the bottle. “Cheers, Alyssa.” She watched as Emma took a large gulp, trying to avoid looking at the movement of her throat. Emma cringed and shook her head. “Jeez, it’s stronger than I thought.” A sly look crossed Emma’s face. “Wanna give it another shot?”
Refusing to let Emma win, Alyssa took the bottle and gulped the rest of it down. Emma’s laughter rang out through the mall.
“Damn, Greene. Didn’t think you had it in you.”
“You know I never back down from a challenge, Nolan.”
“I do love that about you.”
Alyssa’s heart skipped a beat.
Emma was knelt on the floor, peering under the small gap under bent and rusted metal support column. “Alyssa, help me lift this.”
She grabbed the beam, Emma on her right. “Alright. Lift on three, and put it on the bigger rock just to the right. One, two…”
They heaved, faces scrunching in concentration. “I hate crawling through here,” Alyssa said. “It always feels like we’re gonna get crushed.”
“It’s fine.” They placed the end of the beam on the larger rock, leaving enough space beneath it that they could crawl under it. “I’ll go first-”
The rusted metal groaned before giving way completely, sending up a cloud of dust as more debris came crashing onto the ground.
“... Or not.” Emma coughed out, swiping at the dust in front of her face. “You know what? What about we find another way?”
“Yeah, that sounds good.”
“This door’s a no-go.”
Alyssa puffed out her cheeks, looking around. Something caught her eye just above the door that they had been trying. “Hey Emma, up there.”
The panelling in the wall above the door had been taken out, leaving a hole big enough to climb through. “If I boost you up, you might be able to unlock the door from the other side and let me in.”
Emma hummed. “Good call.”
Alyssa placed her back to the door and laced her fingers together in front of her. Emma placed her hands on Alyssa’s shoulders and stepped into her hands, and Alyssa pushed up, letting out a small grunt. “Shit, Nolan, you’re heavier than I remember you being.”
Emma pulled herself up and over, laughing as she went. “All muscle, Greene. All muscle.”
Alyssa heard the sound of Emma’s feet hitting the floor, and then several beats of silence. “Well? You see anything?” Even more silence. Alyssa started to worry. “... Emma?”
There was a click, and the door in front of Alyssa opened ever so slightly. A shiver ran down Alyssa’s spine as she cautiously walked forward and pushed the door open, one hand hovering near the pocket where she kept her knife.
Alyssa yelped and jumped to her right, placing a hand on her chest to calm her racing heart when she realized that it was simply Emma, wearing some sort of strange, grotesque clown mask. She had her head thrown back in laughter.
“You asshole, that’s the second time tonight I’ve nearly stabbed you!” Alyssa said, shoving Emma’s shoulder playfully.
“It would’ve been worth it for the look on your face,” Emma gasped between laughs, clutching at her stomach. She pulled the mask off, and Alyssa felt herself soften at the way Emma’s eyes crinkled with joy. “So worth it.”
Alyssa bit her lip and shoved her shoulder again.
“Ask Skeleseer a question, and shake for your fortune.” Alyssa read. She hummed, taking in the strange plastic skull with two plastic eyeballs in the sockets that rattled when she picked up the object. “Alright then… are we gonna die today?” She shook the skull, but nothing seemed to happen. “Nothing? What a ripoff.”
Emma snorted from behind her. “You gotta turn it over, genius.”
Flipping the skull over, Alyssa saw the little translucent window that revealed some sort of multifaceted shape with different messages on the sides. Her face heated up in embarrassment. “Oh.” She cleared her throat. “Well, according to this thing, death ‘seems dreadfully unlikely’, so at least there’s that.”
She looked over to Emma, who had moved on from the masks and was inspecting a wall full of foam weapons and fake cadavers. “I can definitely relax now that Skeleseer said we’re not gonna die today.”
“Hmm. Are we ever gonna get out of this stupid quarantine zone? … ‘The answer is in limbo.’ So it’s saying that there’s a chance?”
“You do know that thing’s bullshit, right?”
Alyssa rolled her eyes. “Hey Skeleseer, is Emma a buttface?” She asked, giving the skull another shake.
“Real mature, Lys.”
“Aw, but look!” She held the skull up so that Emma could see the message, which read ‘I am dead certain it is true.’ “Skeleseer agrees with me!”
“Alright, give me that.” Emma snatched Skeleseer from Alyssa’s hands and began shaking it herself. “Skeleseer, will Alyssa ever be actually funny?”
“Oh no!” Emma gasped. “Would you look at that. ‘Not in this existence.’ Maybe in another life, Greene.”
Alyssa placed a hand on her chest dramatically. “I’m hurt, Emma.”
“Hey, it wasn’t me,” Emma said, raising her hands in surrender. “Skeleseer said it.”
“Ooh, I have an idea.”
Alyssa looked at Emma, encouraging her to continue.
“You see those two cars down there?”
Looking over the railing outside the store they had just exited, Alyssa saw what Emma was talking about: two cars, looking essentially the same except for the colors, were sitting in the middle of a courtyard area a floor below them. “Yeah?”
Emma picked up a brick off the floor, passing it between her hands a couple times. “You take red, I’ll take blue. We’ll throw bricks. Whoever breaks all the windows on their car wins.”
Alyssa grinned, rolling her shoulders. She picked up another brick that was laying around. “That’s it? I’m the brick master. You know you can’t compete with this aim, Nolan.”
“Whatever you say, Greene. Loser has to…” Emma trailed off for a moment, biting her lip. “Loser has to answer a question. Any question. Complete honesty, no sarcasm. Sound good?”
“Let’s do this thing.”
“Okay.” Emma went to stand right next to Alyssa, and all of Alyssa’s focus went to the task at hand. There were many things she wanted to ask Emma.
“Three, two, one, go!”
Alyssa hurled the brick she was holding at the rear window, smashing it. In her peripheral vision, she saw Emma do the exact same, and the race was on. They threw brick after brick at the vehicles, neither one of them getting a clear lear on the other. Alyssa could feel her arm tiring, and she growled in frustration when she missed the driver’s side window.
“Damn, Alyssa, you feeling off today?”
Alyssa barked out a laugh, feeling herself run out of breath as she ran around the corner to get a better angle. ‘Don’t even start with me, Em. I saw you miss the sunroof.” She punched the air when she finally managed to smash the driver’s side window, leaving only the front passenger side window.
Taking a deep breath, Alyssa raised her arm and threw the brick with laser precision, nailing the window right in the center and shattering it-
Only to see Emma take out her final window at the same time.
They stared at each other for a moment before both of them burst out laughing.
“How the fuck does that even happen?”
“You know,” Alyssa took a second to catch her breath. “I actually think mine hit, like, a millisecond before yours did, so…”
Silence fell between them as their laughter subsided. Alyssa’s eyes flickered down to Emma’s mouth, her bottom lip between her teeth, before she looked Emma in the eyes again, hoping she didn’t notice.
“Well,” Emma shrugged. “A deal’s a deal. You ask first, then me?”
“Okay.” Alyssa took a deep breath. There were a million different questions she could ask Emma. Why did she decide to join the Fireflies? What exactly was going on between them? What were they doing here, tonight?
“Why did you leave without telling me?”
The question left Alyssa’s lips, unbidden, before she could really think about what she was saying, but Alyssa knew that’s the one question that she wanted answered most of all. A part of her knew that Emma was never going to stay put in the academy, but to wake up one morning, after everything that had happened, to see that Emma had left without a trace…
Emma swallowed hard and looked down, running a nervous hand through her hair. “I was in a really weird place. Look, I didn’t tell anyone.”
“But… I wasn’t just anyone,” Alyssa said, voice small. “Was I?”
Emma shot her a strained, lopsided smile. “One question, Greene.”
Alyssa sighed. “Okay, then. Your turn.”
A faraway look entered Emma’s eyes for a second before they focused again. She took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. “What will it take for us to get back to how we were?”
The question caught Alyssa off guard for a split second. The way Emma was looking at her was so earnest, and vulnerable, and Alyssa’s heart ached.
“I… I don’t know.”
Emma nodded, a sad smile on her face. “That’s fair.” She started walking past Alyssa. “Follow me, we’re almost there.”
“Wait.” Alyssa grabbed Emma’s wrist as she walked past, and Emma looked at her hand, and then at her, a questioning look in her eyes. “I… I’m not quite sure how I feel right now, but… just keep doing what you’re doing. It’s working.”
Emma relaxed, and this time, the smile on her face looked genuine and almost relieved. She nodded.
“Like I said, we’re almost there. Come on.”
Alyssa slowly let go of Emma’s wrist.
“What are we doing here?” Alyssa asked, shining her flashlight around the dark basement. “This place is creeping me out.”
“So. You know how we thought they only powered certain areas of the city?”
“Well,” Emma grunted as she used the back of her flashlight to break off a padlock on some sort of metal box on the wall. “Turns out, the whole city has power.” She opened the box to reveal a lever. “They just flip the circuit breakers. All you have to do is flip them back.”
Alyssa looked at Emma skeptically. “There’s no way this is gonna work.”
Emma raised an eyebrow, gesturing to the circuit breaker with a flourish. “Care to do the honors?”
Alyssa laughed softly, shaking her head. She grabbed the lever and flipped it up.
Around her, the fluorescent basement lighting flickered on. Alyssa looked around in wonder as the previously pitch dark basement became almost too bright.
When she turned back to Emma, the grin on her face rivalled the room around them, and Alyssa found herself unable to fight the smile growing across her face as well.
Emma laughed softly. “What did I tell you?”
“Wait, so the whole mall is lit up now?”
“Let’s go find out.” Alyssa felt the lightest brush of Emma’s fingertips across the back of her hand as she walked past. “This way.”
Emma finally came to a stop in front of a pair of metal doors. “You ready to see this?”
Alyssa stopped her before she opened the door. “Wait, I…” Emma looked at her, concern written across her features. “I know what you’re trying to do, and…” She took a deep breath and looked into Emma’s hazel eyes, praying that Emma would understand everything she wanted to say. “I’m really glad you’re not dead.” Emma’s eyes softened, and she looked at her feet. “I mean, I’m really glad you’re here, and-”
“I meant it.”
Alyssa trailed off. The silence between them was heavy as Emma looked back up, searching Alyssa’s eyes.
“Everything I said when- before I left. I meant every word.”
In a flash of bravery, Alyssa took Emma’s hand, heart fluttering at the way Emma’s eyes widened and looked into her own with more vulnerability than Alyssa had ever seen in the other girl.
“Emma.” She shook her head and smiled. “You’re such a sap.”
Emma laughed softly, vulnerability lingering in her eyes. “You started it.” Clearing her throat, Emma turned back towards the door. “Shall we?”
They both pushed forward, opening the double doors. The moment her eyes adjusted to the different light level, they widened in awe.
“Are you kidding?” Alyssa said.
In front of them, in the midst of all the debris and overgrown foliage, was a fully-lit-up carousel. Alyssa looked at Emma, who was staring at Alyssa fondly. “Told you.” Emma walked towards the carousel, and Alyssa followed.
“But… won’t the soldiers spot the mall being all lit up?”
Emma shook her head. “The exterior lights don’t work.”
Alyssa raised an eyebrow. “How do you know that?”
“This other Firefly, Jess, told me all about it.” Emma shrugged. Alyssa felt a flash of jealousy go through her at the mention of another girl, but before she could comment on it, Emma was speaking. “This thing looks fancy. Wanna give it a spin?”
In lieu of words, Alyssa flashed Emma a bright smile and walked over to one of the horses, mounting it in one smooth, familiar movement.
“Are you ready?” Emma said, moving to stand by a metal box that was next to the carousel.
“Will this actually work?”
“Only one way to find out.” Emma pressed a button on the box, and the carousel jerked to life, revolving slowly. Alyssa grabbed the pole in front of her, stabilizing herself.
“Emma, get over here!”
Looking back at Emma, she saw the other girl leaning over the railing, a soft smile on her face. “I’m fine right where I am, thanks. Horses were always more your speed.”
Alyssa rolled her eyes playfully, grin splitting her face. “Suit yourself.” She closed her eyes, held her arms out, and laughed, feeling lighter than she had felt in years. Behind her, she vaguely registered Emma laughing as well, the sound music to her ears. When she inhaled, she could almost taste fresh air instead of the dust of the abandoned mall.
All too soon, the carousel was grinding to a halt. Alyssa whined in disappointment, but when she opened her eyes, she found that she had stopped right in front of Emma. Emma’s expression was somewhat faraway.
“I loved it. I… Thank you.”
Emma blushed, breaking eye contact to stare at her shoes. “It’s the least I could do.”
“You know,” Alyssa said, slowly. “You might just be my favorite person again. Just saying.”
“Well,” Emma shrugged nonchalantly, but her expression was soft. “I know my girl. Just saying.”
Alyssa stared at her, eyes flitting between Emma’s eyes and her lips. She found herself leaning in slightly, but before she got too close, Emma cleared her throat.
“Uh, I actually have more to show you. This way.”
Alyssa took a few deep breaths in a vain attempt to calm her racing heart before following.
“How does this thing even work?” Alyssa laughed, letting Emma pull her into the photobooth.
“We’ll figure it out.” Alyssa blushed at their proximity within the enclosed space, her face close enough to Emma that she could feel her restraint waning. “I mean, how hard could it possibly be?” Emma turned to fiddle with the buttons. “Besides, you owe me this since you broke my camera.”
“That was an accident!”
“The camera doesn’t care.” Emma looked at her, an impish grin on her face. “Smile.”
“Wh-” Alyssa was cut off by the flash going off in the booth.
Emma was doubled over in laughter, arms clutching her stomach. Alyssa couldn’t help but laugh, too.
“What the hell, Emma?” Alyssa’s breath hitched in her throat as Emma leaned on her for support. “Give a girl a warning.”
“I did. And here’s a second one.”
The flash went off again, but this time, both of them were smiling, albeit a little goofily.
“So, should we try and take a nice one, then?”
Alyssa turned to face Emma, and their faces were inches apart with Emma leaning on her. Her voice dropped to a whisper.
“I don’t know.” Alyssa swallowed, mouth suddenly dry. “Should we?”
Emma still had a small smile on her face, but her gaze was intense. Alyssa wasn’t sure if she was imagining Emma’s eyes drifting downwards.
The photobooth flashed.
Emma blinked a few times, as if breaking out of a trance, and leaned back against the wall of the photobooth. She looked at the strip of images that had been printed.
“Huh. I can’t believe that printer still works.” She looked at Alyssa, then nodded towards the photos. “You keep them.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. You know, to…” Emma shook her head. “You wanna keep exploring?”
Alyssa bit back the question that lingered on the tip of her tongue and nodded wordlessly, not trusting her voice.
“You hear that?” Emma said, eyes bright. Alyssa listened, and she could faintly hear the muffled sound of music playing, probably a few rooms over. “Let’s go check it out.”
“Hey, you know,” Emma stopped in her tracks, turning to face Alyssa. “We should head back. I need to head back.”
Emma waved her off. “You’ve got plenty of time.”
“Em… I don’t have any more strikes left at this place. My mom said so herself.” Alyssa sighed before shooting Emma a hopeful smile. “Tomorrow. We’ll just pick up where we left off.”
Emma sighed heavily, shoulders slumping. She fidgeted with the hem of her shirt. “I can’t.”
“Well, we’ll just do it another day, then?” This time Emma remained silent, eyes trained towards the floor as she shook her head minutely. “Okay, then, Firefly. When?”
“They’ve asked me to leave.”
“Boston. I’m supposed to join a group in another city.”
Alyssa’s heart sank, and the myriad of emotions she was feeling must have been apparent in her face, because Emma hurriedly continued.
“I- I argued with them to stay here, Lys, I swear, but you know how Dee Dee is. Nothing’s easy with her. Everything’s some sort of test.”
“When do you leave?”
Emma ran a nervous hand through her hair. “They’re picking me up tomorrow.”
Alyssa took a deep breath. “Okay.”
Emma looked up at her in confusion. “That’s it?”
“What do you want me to say, Em?” Alyssa winced slightly when she saw Emma step backwards at the sudden fire in her voice.
“I don’t know, maybe some friendly advice?”
“I’m serious, Alyssa.”
“Why did you bring me here?”
Emma opened and closed her mouth a few times, eyes filled with uncertainty and a hint of fear. “I wanted to see you.”
“You know that’s not what I meant. Why did you bring me here?”
Emma was silent for a long while. “I don’t know.”
“I don’t know,” Alyssa repeated, crossing her arms in front of her. She shook her head. “You want my advice? Go. Let’s just say our goodbyes now and stop dragging this out.”
Emma shifted her weight back and forth, clearly conflicted. Alyssa bit her lip. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to hear what decision Emma would make, because she knew that it would break her heart no matter what.
“I’m gonna go check out this music.”
Emma turned around, face blank, and walked towards the door.
“Emma, you can’t just-”
The door shut, and Alyssa found herself alone. She took a few deep breaths, placing her hands on a nearby counter and leaning forward, letting her head drop.
Emma was leaving. Emma was being forced to leave. After tonight, Alyssa may never see Emma again, if not because of the distance, then because the survival rate of Fireflies isn’t exactly promising, and if this really was goodbye, then…
No. Alyssa wasn’t going to let Emma just walk away from this. She wasn’t going to let that be their last conversation. She straightened up with a newfound resolve and pushed open the door, calling Emma’s name.
Alyssa found Emma in a store at the end of a winding hallway and a series of storage rooms. She was standing in front of a lit up mannequin display, her back to Alyssa. Above the mannequins was a spinning plane mobile. Emma spoke up first, her voice light despite the palpable tension between them.
“You ever seen anything like this?”
Alyssa ignored her. “Are we just done talking?”
“I don’t know. Are we?” Emma responded, a similar bite to her voice.
Alyssa barked out an incredulous laugh. “You don’t get to be pissed off at me. I’m pissed off at you.”
“For what? Asking you what you think?”
“And since when did you care about what I think?” Alyssa felt the pace of her words pick up, her voice taking on a frantic tone, but she couldn’t stop herself. “We were good. We were… we were better than good, Em, and then you kissed me, and then you just up and vanished.” Alyssa saw Emma’s jaw clench, as if fighting to keep her expression impassive.
Alyssa continued. “This whole day…” She sighed. “What, do you feel guilty? Do you want an out? Because I’m- I’m giving it to you.”
Emma shook her head. “Lys, I’m supposed to be holed up on the other side of town. If I get caught as a Firefly, I’m dead meat.” Her eyes turned pleading, and Alyssa felt her resolve crumble. “Guilt didn’t make me cross a city full of soldiers, Alyssa. And yeah, I did some shit that, frankly, I don’t know how to take back, or- or fix, but… I’m trying.” Emma fiddled with the strap of her backpack. “Speaking of…”
Emma shouldered off her backpack and threw it to the floor between them, and Alyssa’s eyes widened as from the open zipper spilled the handles of two familiar plastic guns.
“I nearly got shot for these. Surprise.”
Alyssa turned her wide gaze towards Emma, who was biting her lip in anticipation. She slowly made her way to the backpack and picked up one of the water guns.
They were the exact ones that had been confiscated from the two of them. Upon closer inspection, Alyssa noticed that they had been filled with water, as well. The knowledge that Emma had not only snuck her way through the city past curfew to do this, but had also managed to break into the Corporal’s office to retrieve their water guns…
The last of Alyssa’s anger melted away.
Alyssa picked up the other water gun and held it out to Emma. “First, I’m gonna destroy you.” Emma’s breathless, relieved laugh made Alyssa’s heart flutter. “Then we’ll talk.”
Emma took the water gun and slowly began backing away. “You’re about to get drenched.”
Alyssa returned Emma’s smirk. “Let’s see what you’ve got, Nolan.”
Emma raced behind some shelves just as Alyssa pumped the water gun and took the first shot, their carefree laughter ringing through the empty store.
“Shit, Lys, has your aim gotten better or have I just gotten slow?” Emma laughed, running her hand through her now-wet hair. A mischievous glint appeared in her eyes as she raised the water gun again. “Best three out of five?”
Alyssa sighed, reaching out to push the barrel of the gun to point downwards. “Emma, you know I’d love to do this all day, but…”
“But you have to go back.” Emma said, resigned.
Alyssa smiled sadly. “But I have to go back.”
“Okay, fine,” Emma said, scuffing her shoe on the floor a couple times as she bit her lip. “Can I at least walk you home?”
Alyssa felt her face get warm. “I guess.”
“Alright, let me just get my backpack.”
Alyssa trailed behind her in silence, but this time, the silence was more comfortable. They still had to talk, however, so Alyssa reluctantly broke the silence.
“Hey, so…” Emma slowly turned to face her. “I said it like an asshole, but… I totally meant it.” Alyssa swallowed thickly. “You should go. I mean, if this is something you really want to do, then who am I to stop you?”
Emma breathed out a small laugh, a wistful smile on her face. “The one person that can.”
Alyssa’s jaw dropped slightly at the weight of Emma’s statement. Here she was, telling her that if Alyssa really wanted her to stay, she’d stay.
There was nothing that Alyssa wanted more than for Emma to stay. Deep down, though, she knew that she couldn’t make that choice for Emma.
She took a deep breath and leaned on Emma, a hand placed dramatically to her own forehead. “Noooo, please don’t go, I’ll be so miserable without you!”
Emma laughed, snaking an arm around Alyssa’s waist to stabilize the two of them. Alyssa basked in the contact for a moment before stepping back and turning serious once more.
“Emma, I’ll be fine. And you’ll be fine. And it’s not like this is goodbye forever, right? We’ll see each other again. I just know it.”
Looking up at Alyssa through her lashes, Emma nodded. She handed Alyssa her water gun. “You should keep these. They’re not gonna do me any good where I’m headed.”
Smiling, Alyssa shouldered off her backpack and unzipped it. Emma peered into her bag.
“You still carry that walkman around?”
“Can I see it?”
Without looking up, Alyssa handed Emma the walkman and started stuffing the water guns in her bag.
“What’s in it?”
Alyssa froze, her face heating up once more. “Um. The tape you gave me.”
“Wow.” Emma said, shoving her shoulder lightly as she walked past her. “You really will be miserable without me.”
“Leave that. Follow me.”
Alyssa followed without a second thought, leaving her backpack with the water guns on the floor behind her. From what she could tell, Emma was walking towards the source of the music. “What are we doing?”
She watched as Emma took the walkman and plugged it into something. After pressing a few buttons, the soft classical music that was playing through the speakers was replaced by the upbeat melody of Etta James’ version of I Got You Babe.
Emma smiled brightly and climbed onto a display case, shimmying a little to the beat.
“What are you- really?”
She held out her hand to Alyssa. “Get up here and dance with me, Greene.”
Alyssa took her hand and stepped up onto the display case. She shuffled awkwardly for a moment. Emma rolled her eyes playfully and grabbed Alyssa’s wrists, bringing her in closer. Alyssa let out a breathless laugh and let Emma twirl her around.
Alyssa found herself captivated by the beauty of Emma’s smile, and Emma’s laugh, and Emma’s eyes, and soon all she could see was the girl in front of her. A pang went through Alyssa’s heart at the thought of Emma leaving, and she stopped dancing, though the music played on.
Her sudden stillness didn’t go unnoticed by Emma, who stopped as well, concern written across her face. “What is it? Lys, what’s wrong?”
Looking deep into Emma’s eyes, Alyssa’s voice came out the lightest of whispers. “Don’t go.”
Emma’s lips parted, and a million different emotions crossed her eyes before she closed them for a second. When her eyes opened, Alyssa saw an intense resolve that knocked the breath out of her lungs.
Emma firmly grasped her dog tags and pulled them off, pocketing them.
Overcome with relief, Alyssa reached up, screwed her eyes shut, and pressed a quick, yet firm, kiss to Emma’s lips.
She felt more than heard Emma gasp and she pulled away as quickly as she leaned in, keeping their faces close and her fingers twined in Emma’s hair.
Emma brushed the back of her hand across Alyssa’s cheek, and Alyssa leaned into the gentle touch, eyes fluttering closed.
This time, they both leaned in at the same time, coming together in a tender kiss. Emma tangled one hand in Alyssa’s hair, the other holding her around the waist. Alyssa gasped when Alyssa pulled her in closer, pressing their bodies together, and Emma took the opportunity to lick into Alyssa’s mouth, both of them letting out a soft moan.
Reluctantly, Alyssa pulled away to catch her breath, but kept their faces close enough that their lips were still brushing.
“So what do we do now?”
Emma stole another chaste kiss. “We’ll figure it out. But I don’t think that Dee Dee w-”
Alyssa saw movement out of the corner of her eye and pressed a finger to Emma’s lips. Her eyes widened in panic as she saw what had to have been at least half a dozen Runners speed past them, one of them taking notice of the two and speeding directly towards them. They had been so caught up in their own little bubble that they didn’t hear their footfalls, or their demented groans.
Emma whipped around, taking the pistol from her back pocket and firing two shots cleanly into the Runner’s head, freeing them from one threat but garnering the attention of the rest of them.
“Alyssa, run! I’ll be right behind you!”
Alyssa cursed her lack of a proper firearm and broke out into a sprint, looking back once to see that Emma really was following her.
Alyssa forced a door closed, and watched as Emma pushed a heavy metal garbage bin against it, barricading it shut.
“Which way, Em?”
“Um…” Whipping around, Emma pointed towards another doorway. “That way. Follow me.”
They sprinted towards the doorway, but when Emma wrenched it open, more Infected were on the other side, fast heading towards them.Cursing, Emma quickly slammed the door shut, grabbing a mannequin arm off of the floor and using that to barricade the door.
“That’s not gonna hold. Any other ideas?”
In her periphery, Alyssa saw a large metal garage door. “There. Help me lift it up.”
Together, they heaved the door open. “Okay.” Emma panted. “Find something to prop it up with, I’ll hold it.”
Alyssa reluctantly let go of the door, causing Emma to buckle slightly under the additional weight. She grabbed a nearby supply cart and pushed it under the door. “Okay, you’re good!”
Emma crouched under the door and shot another couple bullets into a Runner that was trying to crawl through. “Let’s move.” She shot the lock off the door on the opposite end of the room and opened it. “Through here.”
They were immediately greeted with the sound of even more Infected. Alyssa could feel her legs getting fatigued, but she pushed through, speeding up when she heard the moans of the Infected get closer.
“Alyssa, you with me?”
“I’m right behind you, Em! Keep running!”
She watched as Emma crawled through a hole in a pile of debris, but just as she approached it, she felt hands grasp her leg and pull her to the ground.
“Fuck- get off!” Managing to free one leg, she got in three solid kicks to the Infected’s head, and he collapsed, still.
She didn’t even get a moment to catch her breath before she heard Emma yelp. Whipping around, she found Emma grappling with another Runner. Alyssa sprinted up and jumped onto its back, grunting as she plunged her pocket knife into its neck and shoulder repeatedly. “Get off of her!”
The Runner fell to the floor below her, and she stabbed it once more in the head for good measure. She turned to see Emma looking at her with wide eyes.
“Em, which way are we going?”
“Oh, right! Um, up the stairs, come on.” They broke into a sprint once more. “The scaffolding. That’s our way out.”
Alyssa’s legs were really starting to burn, but she pushed her way up the stairs and vaulted over another pile of debris, taking care not to lose sight of Emma. It felt like wherever they turned, more Infected appeared. There was a gap in the scaffolding that Emma leapt over, but when Alyssa got to it, she didn’t get quite as much lift, and she collided hard with the ledge, just barely managing to catch herself.
“Lys!” Emma shouted, clearly out of breath. She began to run towards Alyssa, but Alyssa waved her off, pulling herself up. Behind Emma, she could see more Infected fighting their way through a closed door.
“I’m good! Just keep going!”
Emma hesitated for a split second, only continuing when she saw Alyssa get up.
“There!” Emma pointed to where morning sunlight and fresh air were streaming into the mall. “There’s an open window! We’re almost out!”
She trailed just behind Emma as she climbed another set of scaffolding towards a broken window, the sounds of more Infected closing in behind them.
Emma made it to the window and turned, holding out her hand. “Reach up, I got you!”
Alyssa began to climb, but this bit of scaffolding felt much less secure, and she felt it groan under her weight. “Shit!”
The scaffolding toppled backwards, away from the window, sending Alyssa tumbling towards the floor. She hit the floor hard, wind getting knocked out of her lungs. Wrapping an arm around her sore torso, she struggled to get up, only to get pushed back down by an Infected.
“Fuck!” She pressed with all her might against it as it kept trying to bite. She braced her arm against its neck, trying to keep its teeth away from her own neck. It was close enough that she could smell its rancid breath. Vaguely, she registered the sound of another gunshot ringing out. “Emma!”
Emma grabbed the Runner by its hair and pulled it back, firing two quick shots into its head and pushing it off of Alyssa.
“Quickly, get up!”
Alyssa weakly reached for Emma’s hand, but before she could take it, Emma was knocked over by another Infected running at her at full speed. They skidded across the floor a couple feet, Emma struggling to keep its teeth away from her body. “Em!”
Gathering the last of her strength, Alyssa pushed herself to her feet and ran to the two, ignoring the pain in her arm and plunging her knife into the Runner’s back before grabbing its hair and pulling it up, stabbing it in the neck and slashing, hard.
Emma kicked it off of her, scrambling backwards towards the wall and leaning against it. The room was silent, save for Alyssa and Emma’s rough panting.
“I think it’s clear.”
Turning slowly, Alyssa looked into Emma’s eyes, wide with fear.
“Lys, your arm.”
A chill ran down Alyssa’s spine as she raised her right arm and wiped at the blood that was collected there. She dropped her knife in horror.
A fresh bite mark, still bleeding.
“No.” She swiped at it faster as blood continued to flow from the puncture wounds. “No no no no…”
She looked back at Emma, still leaning against the wall wearily. Emma shot her a sad look and held up her left hand. There, Alyssa saw a similar bite mark, marking a crescent onto Emma’s palm.
Emma ran her other hand through her hair as she let her head drop against the wall and let out a broken sob.
Alyssa slumped against the wall next to Emma, tears carving a path through the grime on her face. She tossed away the pipe she had been using to smash apart several clay pots and wiped her tears.
“There’s some more stuff over there that you can break.” Emma said flatly.
Alyssa let out what could have been a sob or a laugh- she wasn’t quite sure at this point. “What are we gonna do, Em?”
Emma took a deep, shuddering breath. “The way I see it, we have two options,” she said softly. “Option one…” She picked up the pistol that was lying on the floor next to her. “We take the easy way out. It’s quick and painless.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Emma’s eyes analyzing Alyssa, but Alyssa couldn’t bring herself to look at the other girl.
Emma tossed the pistol to the floor. “I’m not a fan of option one.” She scooted even closer to Alyssa, placing a comforting hand on Alyssa’s thigh. Alyssa bit back another sob. Here they were, both bitten, both completely and utterly screwed, and yet Emma was still trying to comfort her.
“Option two… we fight.”
Alyssa let out a bitter laugh. “Fight for what? We’re gonna turn into one of those things.”
“There are a million ways we should’ve died before today,” Emma said, slowly, her thumb rubbing circles into Alyssa’s thigh. “And a million ways we could die before tomorrow. But we fight for every second we get to spend with each other. Whether it’s two minutes, or two days, or two years…”
Alyssa felt Emma’s hand come up to cup her jaw gently, and she finally turned to face her. The softness in Emma’s eyes was enough to send more tears spilling, which Emma wiped away with her thumb. “We don’t give that up. I don’t want to give that up.”
Emma swallowed thickly before continuing. “My vote? Let’s just wait it out. We can just…” Emma pressed their foreheads together gently. “Be all poetic and lose our minds together.”
Alyssa brought her own hand up to hold the back of Emma’s neck, playing with the soft hair at the nape of her neck. “What’s option three?”
Emma smiled sadly. “Sorry.”
Pulling her closer, Alyssa kissed Emma gently, afraid that she might break her. When she pulled away, Emma’s eyes remained closed, a small smile gracing her lips.
Emma got to her feet. “Come on. Let’s get out of here. Most people start showing real signs of turning within 24 hours, so…” Emma helped Alyssa to her feet and pressed an impossibly tender kiss to Alyssa’s forehead. “Let’s make the most of it. Sound good?”
“Sounds good to me.”
Emma smiled, twining their fingers together, and Alyssa smiled back.
Alyssa watched, enraptured, as Emma plucked at the strings of the guitar they had found, trying her best to tune it.
“You didn’t tell me that you could play.”
“I guess you never asked.”
Alyssa’s heart squeezed painfully at the thought of how much she didn’t know about Emma. How much she wanted to know about Emma.
How much time they didn’t have to really learn everything about each other.
“Can you play something for me?”
Emma froze for a moment, and then resumed. “Any requests?”
Emma paused, a thoughtful expression on her face, before she started plucking out a simple melody on the strings. Alyssa was mesmerized at the way her fingers defly transitioned from chord to chord.
And then Emma started singing.
I took my love, I took it down
I climbed a mountain and I turned around
And I saw my reflection in the snow-covered hills
‘Til the landslide brought me down
Alyssa was breathless. She had heard Emma hum a melody or two here and there, but she had never heard her sing before, and her voice was clear and sweet.
Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
Tears sprung to Alyssa’s eyes as they met Emma’s, and for a moment, the outside world melted away, and it was just the two of them.
Well, I’ve been afraid of changing
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I’m getting older too
Emma stopped playing, head dropping between her shoulders. A few errant tears fell onto the wooden body of the guitar. Alyssa got up from where she was sitting, gently took the guitar from Emma’s grasp, and hugged her tightly.
“I’m so sorry, Lys. This entire mess- it’s my fault. If I hadn’t dragged you out here- I’m so fucking sorry.”
“No.” Alyssa cupped Emma’s cheeks and forced her gaze upwards so she could look into Emma’s eyes. “Don’t you dare blame yourself.”
Emma looked downwards again. “Do you regret it?”
Alyssa’s forehead creased. “Regret what?”
“I don’t know. Everything. Not going home when you said you had to. Coming out here with me in the first place.”
“Emma, please look at me.” Emma did, and Alyssa hoped that her eyes conveyed everything that she wanted to say. “I could never regret a second spent with you, Emma Nolan.”
Alyssa wiped away Emma’s tears and kissed her nose lightly. She picked up the guitar and handed it to Emma. “Play another?”
“Anything for you, Alyssa Greene.”
“May I have this dance, Miss Greene?”
Alyssa chuckled. “You may, Miss Nolan.”
Alyssa took her hand and stepped up onto the familiar display case, the soft music playing more quietly this time so as to not attract the attention of any errant Infected that may still be milling about.
They swayed slowly, Alyssa’s head pressed to Emma’s chest. Emma’s heartbeat was irregular, and slow, and her hands were twitching every so often, despite the fact that it must have only been 10 hours since they were bitten. Her skin was clammy and cooler than normal.
Alyssa felt completely fine, and that worried her more.
“Tell me more about your life before the academy.”
Emma hummed. “What do you want to know?”
“Is this what it was like? Being out there on your own?”
“Well, there were were much less beautiful girls dancing with me,” Alyssa felt Emma’s chest moved when she laughed. “But pretty much, yeah. It’s hard, constantly watching your back, struggling to survive every day, but… I was free.”
“I wish… I wish we had done this earlier. I wish we had more time to be ourselves, together.” Alyssa pressed a kiss to Emma’s neck, feeling Emma’s pulse jump under her lips.
“Maybe in another lifetime.”
Alyssa thought back to a conversation they had the previous day, when they were messing around with the Skeleseer and everything had seemed so simple. “Is it the lifetime where I’m actually funny?”
Emma pulled back to look Alyssa in the eyes. “It can be whatever you want it to be.”
Alyssa tried to ignore the way Emma’s eyes were already slightly hazy.
“That one over there is Canis Major. It’s a dog, I think? And it has the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius.”
Alyssa hummed, continuing to run her fingers through Emma’s hair. The night air was warm, and the weight of Emma’s head in her lap was comforting.
“Where’d you learn all these things, anyway?”
“My grandma taught me a few.” Emma groaned in pain, and Alyssa took her hand and squeezed it, biting her lip in worry. Emma was getting worse by the minute, and Alyssa hadn’t even begun to show any signs of turning. “She used the stars to help us navigate through the wilderness sometimes.”
“Do you miss her?”
“All the time.” Emma moved her gaze from the night sky above them to look Alyssa in the eye. “We’ve gotta talk about this eventually, you know.” Emma whispered.
“Talk about what?”
“You know what.”
Alyssa did know, but she had been avoiding the topic. “I don’t know, maybe… maybe it’s just taking longer for some reason?”
Emma shook her head, a wistful smile on her face. Chills went up Alyssa’s spine when Emma tenderly ran her fingers along the bite mark on Alyssa’s arm, which had begun to scab over. “Look. Yours is healing like a normal injury.” Emma raised her hand so both of them could look. Alyssa’s stomach turned at the sight of the bite mark, growths spreading outward from the wound underneath the skin. “I can’t exactly say the same. I can barely move, or see, and you- you feel completely fine, don’t you?”
Alyssa clenched her fist. “Shit. I’m- I’m immune.”
Emma reached up and brushed a lock of hair away from Alyssa’s face with her good hand. “Can you promise me something, Alyssa?”
“Can you promise me you won’t blame yourself for this?”
Alyssa’s throat closed up, because it was her fault, in a way. If she had been a little faster, if she’d just pushed herself up a little farther, Emma wouldn’t have had to save her.
It didn’t help that this felt far too much like Emma’s final wish for Alyssa’s comfort.
“Promise me, Greene,” Emma said, pleadingly. “Please.”
Alyssa nodded. “Okay.”
She left it at that, unable to promise Emma that she wouldn’t blame herself, but unable to lie to her face.
It felt like a part of her would always blame herself for this.
The early morning sun cast a warm glow all around them, but Alyssa doesn’t think her world has ever felt this dark.
Emma was clutching to her desperately, chest heaving with every strangled sob. “It hurts so much, Lys.”
“I know, baby.” She kissed Emma’s forehead, which was beaded with sweat. “I know.”
“Alyssa, I…” Emma gulped. “I don’t want to turn into one of those things. I can feel it. Moments where I can feel myself losing control, minutes at a time where I don’t remember anything.” Emma weakly wiped away her tears and continued. “I want to die me, Alyssa.”
Emma struggled to her feet, and Alyssa went with her, supporting most of her weight. Emma reached into her back pocket and pulled out her pistol, handing it to Alyssa.
“You know what to do.”
They looked at each other, tears streaming down both their faces.
"I... I can't, Emma. I can't do this. I can't lose you."
Emma smiled sadly, hands shaking as she reached into her pocket to retrieve her dog tags. She took Alyssa's wrist and pressed the dog tags into her hands.
"You're going to lose me anyway. Please."
Alyssa let out a broken sob, staring at the pistol and set of tags in her hands. “What am I going to do without you?”
“Find... “ Emma took a shuddering breath and fell forwards, Alyssa just barely catching her. “Find Dee Dee. She said they have a lab out west that’s still working on a cure. You could be the solution, Alyssa.” She pressed their foreheads together. “You can do this.”
Alyssa sniffled. “I’m sorry, Emma.”
“You have nothing to be sorry for.”
Emma gathered the last of her strength and leaned up to kiss Alyssa.
Both of their lips were dry, and chapped, and salty from their tears, but Alyssa savored every last second. If she focused hard enough, she could almost pretend that her world wasn’t ending. That they were two normal girls, sharing a perfectly normal kiss.
That maybe, just maybe, if she never pulled away, then this wouldn’t be goodbye.
All too soon, Emma was breaking the kiss.
“I love you, Alyssa Greene.” She gently took her own dog tags from Alyssa’s grasp and put it on Alyssa’s neck. “I love you, and I will always be with you.”
“I love you too, Emma Nolan,” Alyssa whispered. “So much.”
Emma took a step back and smiled. “This is just see you later, okay? Not goodbye.”
Alyssa nodded. “Never goodbye.”
“For the record, I’m glad you’re the last thing I’ll see in this life.”
Sobbing, Alyssa brushed her fingers over the dog tags before raising the pistol with shaking hands, letting herself look into Emma's eyes for one last moment.
Her heart broke at the way she could tell that Emma was barely hanging on to humanity, her eyes clearing for a few milliseconds before glazing over again. She could see it, the amount of pain Emma was in, and knew that she had to do this.
She thought back to the previous days, back to everything they had been through. To Emma breaking into her room and asking her to do this, to water guns and throwing bricks at cars and Emma’s beautiful voice. To photo booths and dancing like fools and the feeling of Emma's lips on hers-
Alyssa screwed her eyes shut and pulled the trigger.
She heard Emma’s body hit the floor, and immediately turned around and vomited. It eventually subsided into dry heaving, and after what felt like hours but what was probably only a matter of seconds, Alyssa straightened herself up, eyes stinging, and wiped her mouth with her shirt.
Alyssa looked at the dog tags now hanging around her neck, and determination filled her body. Emma was right. She could be the solution. She could be the end to this madness.
Today, she would find a way to bury Emma, and she would grieve. But tomorrow, she had some Fireflies to find.