Lumy (luminations) wrote,
Lumy
luminations

"Accretion" Chapter 27: "False Impressions"

Title: "Accretion" - Chapter 27: "False Impressions"
Fandom: The Last of Us
Word Count: 5664
Rating (for fic as a whole): R
Chapter Summary: I just love awkward conversations >.>


Ellie caught up to Max in the library that afternoon and persuaded him to join her in the magazine room, where they could talk privately. She tried not to think about the last time she’d been there, with Annie. Only a few weeks ago, although it felt like ages. Ellie felt much older and wiser now.

Max was seated across from her at the center table. “How’re you feeling? Like a sledgehammer hit you?”

“Not really,” she answered honestly. Her head still didn’t feel normal, but it wasn’t all that bad. She’d certainly felt worse over the course of the past year, when she and Joel were roughing it every day. Max didn’t look hung over to her… not that she knew what hungover people were supposed to look like, really. “Are you okay? Did Joel come talk to you? You don’t have a black eye or anything so I’m guessing no?”

Max chuckled. “Nope, haven’t had the pleasure yet. Maybe he really does believe I was an innocent bystander and you came along and hijacked the liquor.”

Ellie snorted. “He might leave you alone. I dunno. We sort of had this big fight.” But if Joel did decide to talk to him, he would track him here if he went to the warehouse first and talked to Sue, Max’s mother. Being thorough, he would likely check this room, but if they kept their voices low, she’d be safe. It was imperative that Joel not find out she was planning to leave. Fight or not, she thought he really might actually do something like lock her in a room somewhere if he felt he had to. Maybe not, if he was fed up with her now… she had to at least take the possibility into account, though.

“About last night?”

“Yeah. Anyway, so I was wondering… I get it if you say no cuz he told you to stay away from me and this would be like totally the opposite of that but I wasn’t just asking you cuz I was drunk -- tipsy, whatever -- I really do wanna go with you tomorrow if that’s okay with you?” She paused only to take a breath, then continued babbling before he could answer. “If you wanna be alone I swear I won’t say a word, I know it probably doesn’t seem like it but I can be quiet for hours at a time and you won’t even know I’m there, it could be like a don’t-speak-unless-spoken-to deal if you want so I don’t mess up your alone time? And I really am good at shooting things, I’ll bring my bow and a few guns and bombs and if we run into trouble I’ll totally have your back, just ask Joel -- er, no, don’t ask him -- but I would! And if you don’t want me around when we get there I could go hide out somewhere… I could guard the horses! See, it’d be perfect! And the ammo, too, if they make you ditch it at the door or whatever.”

“Are you done?” He seemed amused -- hopefully that was a good sign.

“I am if you say yes,” she said with a grin.

“It’s fine by me.”

Yes! Thank you! Should I talk to G too? If he’s going?”

“Naw… I bet if you go, he won’t.”

“Really? Why?” she asked, a little miffed. “I don’t even know him, what’s he got against me?”

“No no, it ain’t like that. He don’t especially wanna go, he’d just do it to keep me from goin’ alone.”

“Oh! So he’d be happy if I went! Awesome.” And a little strange. Wasn’t there anyone else willing to accompany him? Why would someone who didn’t want to go feel obligated? What about the people who did the trading? But Ellie kept those questions to herself. “I thought you liked going alone, though… didn’t you say that?”

“I did. I do. It ain’t recommended, is all. Your friend gonna let you go with me, you think? I don’t see that happening.”

“Yeah, um, that’s the thing…” Ellie bit her lip. “He can’t know I’m leaving town. He might freak out.”

Max laughed heartily at that. “Damn, girl, you must really wanna piss him off good.”

Ellie felt a blush creep over her face. Why?! I'm not embarrassed. Shit. “I’m not doing it to piss him off. I just need to get out of here.” Not that pissing him off wasn’t a nice bonus.

“Oh really. Huh. Tired of life in the big city so soon?”

“No, just… maybe, yeah. I just want to get away for a little while.”

“Away from him?”

“From everything.”

“But mostly him. That’s why you’re staying with Tommy and Maria?”

Ellie rolled her eyes. “Last night when we left? He took me home -- his house. I was so out of it I didn’t even notice ‘til we were almost there.”

“Any particular reason you don’t wanna spend nights in your own house?”

“I just don’t,” Ellie replied with a shrug. She didn’t want him to know the extent of her feelings for Joel, and even if she did, she couldn’t explain about the bed… couldn’t spill that secret no matter how pissed off she was at Joel.

“’Cause of your friend.”

“Yeah, I don’t wanna see him. All we do is fight.”

Max looked skeptical. Isn’t that reason enough? Ellie thought it seemed plausible. He just kept looking at her.

She was starting to feel annoyed with his scrutiny. “What? Whatever you’re thinking, just say it.”

He leaned in a little closer to her. “I’m just wondering… if there’s something goin’ on that you’re not sayin’. Maybe the real reason is ‘cause he… comes into your room at night?”

It took her a moment to realize what he was implying. “Oh my God -- no, nothing like that! He would never— No.” Her face felt like it was on fire. She hoped he believed her. Dude, it’s because he WON’T come into my room. You have it all backwards.

The way he was looking at her… she must not have been very convincing. “When you were leaving last night, I heard you asking him about where he was gonna sleep. You don’t owe him anything, you know. If he makes you feel otherwise—“

“Max, no, I’m telling you, it’s not like that!” Please don’t ask me about the fucking bed!

“Okay, okay. But, if it was like that -- hypothetically --“ -- he added when she started to protest again -- “you don’t have to put up with that shit. He may be Tommy’s brother but that don’t mean… I’m just sayin’. Other living arrangements can be made.”

Ellie met his gaze steadily. “Look, I’m not trying to cover for him or something. He’s not like that. He’s never laid a hand on me and he never will.” She hoped Max couldn’t hear any resentment in her voice. Horrified as she was at the thought of Max knowing how she felt about Joel, it irked her a little that he didn’t even seem to consider it as a possibility. Which made no sense, because she should be fucking grateful that he didn’t suspect it, shouldn’t she?! “Joel’s a good guy. I do want to keep living with him, just… I need a breather.” So he’ll miss me. So he’ll be sorry he rejected me. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, right?

Max leaned back in his chair again. “So, these fights you’ve been having. They ever get physical?”

Oh my fucking God. “No. Never.” Ellie wished he’d quit it with the third degree (or first, or second?) but if she didn’t answer his questions or if she seemed too bothered by them, would he just assume the worst?

“’Cause I’ve seen the way he talks to you…”

“That’s just… the way he is! About me, I mean. Er… I mean, you saw him all mad. He’s not normally like that. That’s how—“ She stopped herself from attempting to explain how she equated his anger with love. He wouldn’t understand. Nobody fully understood their relationship… not even Ellie herself. “He treats me fine. I swear.”

“He doesn’t… I dunno, call you names, or… put you down, like—“

“NO! He’s not abusive in any way, shape, or form, I swear to God. What do I have to say to make you get it?!” Stay calm, Ellie…

“Okay, chill. I get it. But why would he let you think he’s takin’ you to Tommy’s house, like you wanted, and then take you home instead? He didn’t respect your wishes there.”

Ellie was still wondering about that herself. She assumed he just wanted her to be with him, and that he figured (correctly) that she was too drunk to notice or care until it was too late. “Maybe he wanted to make sure I didn’t go back to the truck. Maybe he didn’t want to explain to his brother… like he was ashamed that I got drunk? I dunno. Whatever -- it was no big deal.”

“Last night you said you have to do whatever he wants.”

“What?! No I didn’t.” That sounded terrible, when he put it like that. It was kind of funny how Joel and Max both assumed the other had less-than-honorable intentions towards her, and they were both dead wrong. But… did Max really have to look so grossed out at the thought of her and Joel together? Would it be the worst thing ever, if they were? Would it have to mean that Joel’s some sick fucking pervert? Jeez. Naturally, she kept those questions to herself, too. “It’s just that he feels kinda like he’s my dad, you know? And he thinks I’m a little kid and can’t make my own decisions. Sometimes,” she added, in case that sounded bad, too.

He still looked skeptical. “You said you’re an orphan. How old were you when your parents died?”

“A baby. I never knew them. What’s that got to do with anything?” He was like a dog with a bone. Whatever he thought he knew about her and Joel, she needed to un-do it.

“And you didn’t have like a… foster family, or anything like that?”

“Nope. I had caregivers, and teachers, I guess, if they count… I pretty much raised myself from the time I learned how to wipe my own ass.”

“Mmhmm. So… how do you know what a father’s supposed to be like? Just from books and movies, right? All make-believe.”

“And people I know who have dads. Lots of people.” That was a bit of a stretch. But she didn’t like where this was going, and she had to get him to drop it without making it seem like she was hiding anything. “Joel used to be a dad. Did you know that? His daughter was killed right when the world started going to hell. So it’s been a while, but he knows how to do it. He doesn’t do any of that stuff you were asking me about. I'm not like, 'running away' to escape any kind of abuse. Thanks for trying to look out for me and all but… you don’t have to. Really. Can we just drop it already?”

“Done.” Max seemed satisfied now. Hopefully he knew better than to question Joel about it -- Joel would probably answer with his fist. “So you mostly wanna get outta here for… wanderlust?”

“Wander… lust? Um, not sure I’d go that far…”

He chuckled. “It just means you got the itch to travel.”

“Oh. Okay, then, sure. I have wanderlust!”

Max’s expression sobered. “You know what it can be like out there. Or did you forget already? It ain’t like having a picnic at the lake.”

Ellie nodded. “I know. I wouldn’t be screwing around. Like I said, I can help you out.”

“Will they even let you out without your friend’s permission?”

“They’d better. It’s not his choice.” Ellie knew that if Joel had his way (up until this morning, at least), she’d never be allowed to set foot Outside unless he was with her. But he had no authority over her -- not even authority that would be recognized under Jackson’s unofficial laws. Good thing she’d vetoed his adoption idea. “I could probably make them let me leave on my own, really. I mean, otherwise it’s like I’m a prisoner, right? No way out until I turn eighteen? That’s ridiculous. I have no family here. What if I had people I wanted to get back to in Boston?”

“Do you?”

“No. But I could. Hypothetically.”

Max eyed her suspiciously. “Is that why you wanna go tomorrow? Get out the door, then take off?”

“No! I don’t wanna leave forever.” Ellie couldn’t imagine that, not without Joel at her side. But what if things only got worse and they couldn’t even stand to be in the same town as the other? Three years was a long fucking time. “If I did… hypothetically… would you do that for me? Get me out?”

Max snickered. “Hell no. I ain’t stupid.”

“Stupid?”

“Your friend would go apeshit when he found out. Can’t say I’d blame him, either. No, doin’ that for you would be a death sentence.”

“Oh. Right. I thought you weren’t afraid of him,” she teased.

“I get the feeling anyone would have reason to be afraid in that case.” Max tipped his chair back and rocked it a little. “I prob’ly shouldn’t be so cavalier about letting you come tomorrow, now that I think about it. I can’t guarantee that nothin’ will happen to you. All the gear in the world can’t guarantee that.”

“I know. I know the risk and it’s my choice, not Joel’s. He doesn’t run my life!”

“I don’t think he’ll care about that if somethin’ happens to his little girl out there.”

“Ugh! But I’m not his little girl!” She really did need time away from Joel… to prove she was her own person, to others as well as herself. “This is like… Jackson business. You’re risking your life to do it. I have as much right to contribute as anyone else, don’t I? All the shit that I’ve done… I’m not… it’s not fair of him to treat me like a little kid, it’s really not.”

Max let the chair drop back into place. “I sympathize. I do. But maybe… you oughta run it by him first. Just explain it to him like that. He might not like it, but—“

“No way. He’d never let me. And I don’t mean ‘let me’ in a giving-permission sort of way, it’s not his call. I mean, like, physically let me. I can hear him already: ‘Over my dead body, Ellie,’” she said in her best Joel impression (a pathetically far cry from Joel’s baritone). “He’d chain me to a tree or something.”

“Seriously?”

Shit, that sounds abusive, too! “Not that he’s ever done anything like that before! I just mean… you know. He cares too much sometimes.”

Max shook his head, laughing. “You two have a bizarre relationship.”

“We do,” she had to agree. And somehow she’d momentarily forgotten (again!) that Joel might not care enough anymore to do stuff like chain her to a tree. “Actually… it’s better if I don’t tell him, because he’s mad at me now so he probably doesn’t give a fuck what I do. It wouldn’t make sense to tell him after… well, some of the things I said. If I go tell him, he might think I want him to stop me, or he’ll make me promise not to go and I’d have to break the promise…” Or, if he actually let me go, I’d be constantly looking over my shoulder, expecting him to follow me, and then hate myself for wanting him to when he doesn’t. No, he CAN’T know. That’s all there is to it. How shitty would she feel if Joel didn’t do everything in his power to stop her? She wanted him to let her make her own choices, and yet… she also didn’t. Which was kind of fucked up. “I dunno. It’s easier if I just leave. The trip doesn’t affect him anyway. He might not give a rat’s ass what I do anymore, after what I said… but telling him is still too risky.”

Max regarded her with… sympathy? Or pity? Sympathy, she decided. The kinder sentiment. “Ellie. Come on, now. I really doubt that you said anything awful enough to make him all of a sudden stop caring about you. Even if he’s madder than a hornet.”

Surprisingly, Ellie felt her throat start to constrict. What the fuck? Damnit, no getting emotional about Joel. “Whatever. I’ll talk to him when we get back. He might not even know I’m gone, to be honest. But if he does notice, he’ll see I got back safe and sound and he won’t have anything to kill you for.”

Max didn’t look convinced. She really hadn’t addressed his point of what would happen if she didn’t make it back safely. Part of her didn’t really care if she did or not. She was so sad about Joel… couldn’t imagine having to plod through the rest of her life with the unbearable pain of a broken heart that would never heal. Suddenly she remembered her first day in Jackson, talking to Annie about the kid who had killed himself. At the time, she couldn’t comprehend why he would do such a thing, when he had a family -- a dad, at least –- and a safe place to live where he could eat every day. Now she understood that that was all… not superficial, exactly, because those things were important, signifying stability and security… it just wasn’t the whole picture. But Ellie didn’t want to kill herself. If she hadn’t killed herself after getting bitten by Infected, for fuck’s sake, ‘knowing’ that her life was about to end so horrifically… surely she could suffer through a life without love. It wasn’t like she’d ever had any to begin with, right? It was all smoke and mirrors.

If she did get killed, it wouldn’t be Max’s fault, but if Joel still cared, he wouldn’t see it that way. It wasn’t fair for her to lay that on Max.

She slumped in her chair, dejected. “Look… there’s nothing I can do about that. I can take care of myself, I don’t expect anything bad to happen, but… like you said, no guarantees. People go Outside every day, though, and stuff doesn’t happen more than it does, right? I mean, since I’ve been here, I haven’t heard of anyone getting killed, or disappearing. But, I get it. You just wanna go do your thing and not like… have all this extra drama, and… you know, stay alive out there but then have the possibility of getting murdered when you come back… it’s selfish of me to want to go with you. Just forget it.”

Max looked at her for a long moment. “People who go out… they do usually make it back in one piece. But they don’t go all that far. The ones that go hunting… they tend to go up north where the elk are, in that area that used to be a preserve, in the ‘10s. Hardly any Infected up there. Might find some bandits but… not so much, lately -- not like last year, from what I heard. The supply convoys… we go in large groups, all of us armed. Unless someone does something really asinine, it usually goes alright, more often than not. That’s just to the military outpost, though, and they patrol the surrounding areas and keep ‘em clear… not the whole way to Jackson, but still, it’s prob’ly safer than where we’re goin’. It’s the scouting and scavenging that’s more dangerous. Anyone you’ve heard about who didn’t come back from out there, I betcha that’s what they were doing. If you’re okay with that… I got no problem with you coming. It’s your decision.”

“But… what about the Joel thing?” Ellie held her breath.

Max shrugged. “He’s one man. Can’t be any worse than runnin’ into a pack of Infected, right? So... again, I’ll take my chances. And do my best to not get you killed," he added with a rueful smile.

Max just didn’t know. But she could protect him. All she had to do was… not die. Surely she could handle that! And she just had to ignore the nagging thought that since she did know what Max didn’t, she was acting irresponsibly. Like Scarlett O’Hara, I’ll think about that tomorrow. “Thank you,” she said, exhaling in relief. “I won’t let you down. I’ll be fine. It won’t be like… it’ll be fine.” Ellie had almost mentioned Zoe. Not that it mattered -- he was probably thinking about her anyhow. He’d only mentioned the incident briefly last night, and hadn’t gone into how he’d felt about things (she wondered if guys ever really talked about their feelings), but she’d surmised that he carried around a lot of guilt since then, feeling like he’d failed to protect her, and things were strained between him and her father because he also blamed Max for her death.

They made plans to leave the next morning, and Ellie set out to get her schedule covered at the farm and the library. She felt bad about having to stand Clicker up for their gaming ‘date,’ but he’d get over it. She couldn’t risk him tattling to Joel before she got out –- or, maybe not tattling, exactly, but going to Joel because he was concerned. Like he did any time she acted in a way he considered to be out of character for her. He might go to Joel after her no-show, but by then it would be too late to matter. If she did end up seeing the kid for dinner that night, she’d have to act all normal. Maybe she’d just scrounge up something at home, knowing Joel wouldn’t be there at dinnertime. And if he kept his word, it would be safe to hang out at the library for a while afterwards.

It felt a little strange, having the option to choose where she ate and slept without having to answer to Joel. They’d never really had rules about that… had never really needed them, because wherever Joel was, that’s generally where Ellie wanted to be. If there were any variances in her schedule or an invitation to eat somewhere else, she always told Joel, out of courtesy, and he did the same for her. The town seemed to recognize them as a package deal so it was understood where one was welcome, the other was as well. And now she was expending all this effort to avoid him.

As empowering as it was to be so autonomous, it was also a rather lonely feeling. For the first time ever, she wasn’t accountable to anyone. She’d had to follow rules in Boston, not because anyone at those schools gave a fuck if she lived or died, but because they were legally responsible for her. Then Marlene came along, and she actually did care. To a point. It wasn’t the same as Joel, though. Nowhere close. Don’t think about Joel. This is all his fucking fault.

Ellie really only had to cover her Friday morning at the farm, because Max was cool with them leaving after morning chores on Thursday, and she already had the weekend off, because Joel did. And although Ellie would rather have told only Annie about the switch, protocol called for her to clear it with Esther. Obviously she couldn’t do that until right before she left, because even if Esther was busy batting her eyelashes at Joel over the meatloaf, the subject was bound to come up that evening. Especially since Ellie would have to be vague about why she was swapping shifts, and Esther would no doubt be curious. She’d have to be last minute about it with Annie, too, to be on the safe side. She was really counting on Annie not feeling like she needed Ellie around for support while she nursed her broken heart. Annie seemed okay… kind of. She wasn’t hiding in a corner somewhere sobbing her heart out. But she was definitely not herself. There was no spring in her step, no cheer in her voice, and Ellie could tell she’d been crying. I’m such a shitty friend. Not as shitty as Christine, but selfish nonetheless. Still… Annie had Esther for support, and Esther knew more of the right things to say and do for Annie than Ellie did.

She also had the farm. Annie had mentioned that earlier in the day: “The animals will always need me, and I think I need them just as much. They’ll keep me going. It’s like I’m married to the farm, in a way…as long as I have that, I’ll be okay.” Ellie kind of knew how she felt, because keeping busy with farm chores had helped her as well. She just wasn’t anywhere near the ‘married’ stage about it all. Joel was her thing that she couldn’t live without. At least the farm wouldn’t stomp all over Annie’s heart and make a fool of her… -and then be so sweet when she was a fucking mess. Stop it. -And then be an ass about it the next morning. Right, that’s where we are now -- fucking remember that shit.

Ellie successfully avoided Joel the rest of the day. When the movie of the night was over (Ellie would have to watch it again some time because she couldn’t concentrate for shit), she figured it would be safe to return to the farm, where she was always welcome to spend the night. She took a slight detour to head past Joel’s house first. What if he wasn’t home yet? What if he was spending the night at the farm, too? No, he wouldn’t do that. …would he?

No, he wouldn’t. Ellie was relieved to see the warm glow of occupancy in the windows as she approached. The curtains were still drawn, as they likely had been since Monday night, the night of her epic failure with Joel… she was always the one who opened them, because she loved seeing the lush greenery right outside. She wondered if Joel would notice she’d eaten some of the leftover shepherd’s pie. Much as she disliked the idea of eating it alone, she disliked the idea of food -- especially good food -- going to waste even more, and it wasn’t like Joel was eating it. More importantly, she wondered if Joel would notice the missing weapons and ammo she’d procured (and safely stashed at Tommy’s for the night). She’d taken the 9-millimeter, of course, because that one had been her constant companion since they’d arrived here… but also the hunting rifle, and, most conspicuously, the bow. Plus a few supplies to craft bombs and Molotov cocktails.

I should just make sure he’s actually there, she thought practically. Maybe she could catch a glimpse of him through a gap in the curtains somewhere… yes, from the south window she could probably tell if he was sitting at the couch, at least… she couldn’t really see him, but that’s where he was. At least he wasn’t rummaging through the little arsenal they’d made in the corner. She felt that fucking lump rise up in her throat again. She wanted to be in there, sprawled out beside him… her reading, him whittling. It didn’t sound like that’s what he was doing. It didn’t sound like he was doing anything at all. Maybe he was asleep. Maybe he’s… oh my God… but no, there was movement, slight but enough to banish the terrible thought from her mind before it could take root. She was struck with a sense of yearning so powerful that she almost went in there… almost. She imagined the look on his face when he saw her: he would smile a little and maybe not know what to say, but clearly be happy to see her… right? What if he wasn’t? Maybe absence had already made her heart grow a little fonder, but what about ‘out of sight, out of mind’? Or what if he was still mad? What if he asked her what the hell she was doing there if she didn’t need him anymore? Then she could pretend she just came in to get something out of the desk. Yeah, because he’d totally believe that.

And then she realized it didn’t really matter how he reacted, because it wouldn’t be the way she truly wanted him to, and it would be too hard to pretend otherwise. The bed would still be there, neither of them able to sleep in it. It wasn’t even about the bed… it was about him withdrawing from her so completely, depriving her of the intimacy she’d come to depend on, because to Joel, that was the easiest way to handle things. What she was doing now -- it wasn’t the same thing, she reasoned. It was merely a reaction to his choice.

Ellie stood there a few more moments, wished him a silent good night, and headed for the farm.

________________________________________________________________________________

The pieces were falling perfectly into place, with very little effort on his part. Max couldn’t have scripted it any better if he’d tried. Truth was, he hadn’t actually planned to exact revenge against Joel via Ellie. He had better shit to do than sit around concocting schemes against the son of a bitch. Yes, Joel had embarrassed him that one day at the warehouse, and although Max had been plenty pissed at the time, it wasn’t an incident he felt he needed to go out of his way to avenge. But when things fell into his lap like this, how could he ignore the opportunity? For some inexplicable reason, the kid trusted him. And Joel didn’t know what his ‘game’ was -- that much was clear this afternoon. The dickhead had hunted him down, clearly expecting a fight, but Max had been deferential and apologetic, not incendiary in the slightest. Joel believed it was an act, no doubt, he wasn’t a moron… but it still bewildered him. If they hadn’t been in the library –- or if he’d offered to ‘take it outside’ -- maybe Joel would have started a fight anyhow, if only to back up his threats about what he’d do to Max if he hurt Ellie in any way. It was clear the old man was angry as hell… and he looked like hell, too. He doubted the guy could really inflict as much damage as Ellie claimed. Max could have taken a few blows, maybe to drive that wedge between Joel and Ellie a little deeper when Ellie found out… but he didn’t need to.

And Max believed Ellie when she said Joel would chain her up rather than let her leave, even though she’d tried to make light of it afterwards. That was the kind of asshole Joel was. Possessive, selfish, demanding. Max couldn’t help but wonder what Ellie wasn’t telling him about their relationship. He’d checked in with Tommy regarding the Idaho trip before Tommy had headed out for the dam, and asked him about it in private. Out of curiosity, yes… out of a desire to possibly make life uncomfortable for Joel, yes… but it also truly did not sit well with him that Joel might feel entitled to use a teenage girl in such a disgusting capacity. Tommy didn’t exactly set his mind at ease, either. Oh, he’d defended his brother, alright. Said nothing unsavory was going on, that Joel would never do anything like that. Max just wasn’t convinced that Tommy believed his own words. Did he know something he wouldn’t admit, or was Max perhaps giving voice to questions he’d already asked himself?

No wonder the girl wanted to get away. Things must be pretty bad if she was willing to skip town with a virtual stranger… to give up the security of Jackson for the danger of the unknown. Imagining Joel’s reaction when he found out Ellie had ‘run off’ with him gave him immense satisfaction. Opportunity hadn’t just knocked on his door, it had let itself in and made itself right at home.

It was too bad he hadn’t found a way to use her little secret to his advantage yet. He was possibly the only one outside of their little family who knew about it, because he was unscrupulous enough to eavesdrop on private conversations (scavenging information wasn’t so different from scavenging goods). The girl was fucking infected, but not sick –- that knowledge could be dynamite, in the right hands. Joel had killed a bunch of those Firefly people to protect Ellie, too… Max would bet his whole stash of alcohol that some of their surviving friends would be interested in knowing his whereabouts. Acting on that would likely put Ellie at risk as well, or he might have worked up a plan already out of sheer spite. And Ellie didn’t know what Joel had done -- that tidbit was less valuable, but possibly of some use down the line. Whoever said that knowledge was power was right… knowing how and when to wield the power for maximum advantage was trickier.

Max liked the kid. He really did. Jackson could use more people like her. Joel, on the other hand, was expendable. And whatever he was doing to Ellie that she wouldn’t talk about… Max would be doing her a favor if he took care of that little problem. However it played out, though, Max would make sure it was to his own benefit, first and foremost.

When it came down to it, it was every man for himself in this world.

~Continue to Chapter 28~

Tags: accretion, fic, tlou
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