Lumy (luminations) wrote,
Lumy
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"Comforting Sounds" Chapter 6: "Uninvited" (6/17)

Title: "Comforting Sounds" Chapter 6: "Uninvited" (6/17)
Fandom: The Last of Us
Characters: Ellie, Joel, Tommy, Maria, OCs
Pairings: Ellie/OC
Warnings: PLEASE SEE NOTES ABOUT WARNINGS IN FIRST CHAPTER
Word Count for this chapter: 6240
Rating (for fic as a whole): R
Author's Note: Chapter title from the Alanis Morissette song.


Ellie lost track of time often. She'd fallen out of the routine of getting up and doing things during the day and sleeping at night, and in her room it was always nighttime. If it weren't for Joel bringing her different types of meals for different times of the day, she'd have no clue what time of day it was most of the time. Some part of her brain remembered that she and Joel were supposed to have patrol this week, but Joel stayed home with her -- without her even asking him to. Maria or Tommy probably found other people to do it. Even if Ellie had been willing, she had to walk with that crutch, her other arm in a sling... she'd be useless. But the bigger issue (for her, at least) was the whole not-wanting-to-leave-her- room thing... the mental obstacles between her and a normal life.

She slept when her brain couldn't function enough to keep her awake, at odd intervals. More than once, Joel had knocked on her door with a meal for her and startled her awake. Which was preferable to being startled awake by the end of some horrific nightmare. She expected to have a nightmare every time she slept now, but she didn't. It seemed like since she was living a nightmare, she should dream them all the time, too. Either way, waking up was still difficult, because waking up 'like normal' gave her that moment where she forgot... where she believed everything was okay... followed by the agonizing moment when she remembered, and realized it never would be again.

Joel was angry. All the time. The sight of her used to make him smile... now, it made him clench his jaw. He was revolted by her. They'd each seen the other banged up before, plenty of times. It shouldn't have bothered him so much. Ellie wondered if the rape part made that much difference, those wounds that went beyond the physical... or if it was because this time, he had reason to be angry with her as well. Maybe suppressing that anger made him feel it even more.

She didn't dwell on it. He was there, safe, and that's all that mattered. She didn't have the energy to expend on even simple conversations anyway; when she wasn't spaced out, she was either sluggish and dumb from the marijuana, or heartsick over the events replaying in her mind over and over, like a movie stuck on the play button in an endless loop.

Her physical pain didn't trouble her nearly as much as people seemed to think it should. They all wanted her to use the marijuana. It would help, they said. She had agreed to consume it in a meal only once a day. It did help her, in some ways. She could breathe without the constant throb of her protesting ribs. It helped some with headaches, backaches, her ankle, and whatever it was on the inside that was fucked up... she didn't even need it for her wrist. She knew the dope was just inhibiting her body's ability to feel the pain -- it wasn't a cure.

But it also fucked with her head, and she felt like her head was fucked up enough as it was. Whatever 'high' she was supposed to get was more like... an enhancement of her spaced out times, only with a side of paranoia -- usually about things just out of her view that were chasing her, and other stupid shit like that. Even though she knew she was safe in her room, her dopey brain didn't know it. Joel's solution for that was for him to hang out with her, so he could keep telling her when shit wasn't real, but it didn't stop it from happening (one time she actually thought his head was on fire, and he had to reason it out with her that if it truly was, he wouldn't be sitting there calmly talking to her, now, would he?). And, although Joel still seemed to think she was fibbing about it, it really did make her feel nauseous even well into the next day, which was almost a worse feeling than the aches. He said it was a remedy for that, it didn't cause it. She said that since she was a freak of nature (due to her immunity), who could say how it should or shouldn’t make her feel? He had to concede that there was no one universal reaction to it, that ‘everyone’s different.’

But when she made the mistake of admitting to Joel that it did make her feel better, physically, it seemed to make him feel a little better, so she kind of wanted to keep using it for his sake. It was almost like he felt her pain, too. She tried to tell him she didn't need it, that she didn't have all that much pain, but he didn't buy it. The ribs alone refuted that, because he'd experienced that particular injury himself.

After a strawberry pot smoothie one day ("I'm not hungry enough to eat" didn't stop Joel from getting her to ingest something), she must have fallen asleep while high, and she proceeded to have her scariest nightmare yet. She woke up on the floor (had she fallen asleep on the floor?), and waking up didn't seem to fully extinguish the dream... neither did recognizing where she was, safe in her room, the night light glowing warmly like always. Some creature was clawing at her from the inside out -- it was so vivid she could feel the pain coursing through her. Then suddenly she was submerged in a body (a tank?) of water, only she couldn't swim. She tried, but it was like she'd forgotten how, or she was somehow transported in time to before she knew how. She gasped for air... and realized she couldn't actually be in water, because her lungs would have been completely filled with water by now. But if I realize this, I'm not dreaming, am I? Dreams always made sense when you were in the middle of them. Her lungs hurt... they were actually being devoured, she could feel it... and there was something in the water with her, trying to drag her down to God knows where.

This time when she screamed, something audible must have actually come out of her mouth, because she heard Joel's voice... but why was he so far away? "Ellie, you're having a nightmare. It's a dream, you're okay, sssshh, wake up, you're okay, you're all right..."

"Joel! Help me, help me, it's gonna kill me! I can't-- I can't breathe!"

"I'm right here, baby girl, you're dreaming, you're safe... Ellie, stop that, it's me..."

But he wasn't really there, or she wouldn't be fighting off the invisible demon or whatever the fuck it was in the water all by herself -- Joel would have killed it by now!

Eventually, she calmed down enough to realize that Joel was there... had been there for a bit already. She was huddled in the corner of her room, which was brighter than usual; Joel had turned on the regular lamp. He was crouching in front of her, close but not real close.

"It's okay, baby girl, you're okay..."

Of course she wasn't okay, not really, but she also wasn't dying at the hands of some sci-fi creature either. "Were you in there with me? Did you kill it?"

"I dunno, maybe I did." He said it like he knew what she was talking about.

He WAS fighting it! "You're dripping mud. I didn't see any mud in there. Were you down at the bottom? What... how did we..." It looked like... not-real mud, not even like real matter -- it was two-dimensional, cartoonish. What the fuck?

"Uh... there's no mud."

"No, you're dripping it... was I in a tank of water? Did that happen? How did we get outside? We were just in my room..."

"...no...? Ellie, we are in your room, both dry as a bone... 'cept for it looks like you broke out in a sweat... you kick pretty hard with that good foot of yours," he added with a touch of amusement.

"I kicked you? Are you sure it was me? Didn't you kill...? There was this... I don't know what it was... this thing..." Her eyes darted around the room, making sure it wasn't hiding somewhere.

"I'm sure it was you," he said gently. "Come here..."

She shook her head. She still vaguely felt like something was crawling beneath her skin. It was fucking creepy. It couldn't be real, it made no sense. But her chest didn't even hurt... had that been in her imagination, too?

"I didn' know you were gonna go to sleep, I thought you said you slept better last night? I wouldn'a had you drink that... an' I must've put too much in it. I'm sorry."

So, she was ingesting marijuana to help dull the pain, and instead, she was imagining the sensation of pain she wasn't even feeling? How fucked up is that?

She was constantly lying about how well she slept, how much pain she felt. She didn't want Joel to worry about her. There were times she thought he realized she was lying, but it was one of those things where one of them would just pretend they didn't realize, because it made things more... well, not normal, exactly... it was just something they did at times, by some kind of weird fucking mutual understanding that she couldn't explain.

"Let me help you off the floor, at least--"

"No. I'm staying here. Can you please turn that light off? I thought it was the sun, I guess. That's prob'ly why I thought we were outside." Yeah, because THAT makes sense. Pfff. She noticed the ‘mud’ was gone, but Joel still didn’t look normal… he was all ripple-y, like the surface of a lake. Everywhere she looked in the room she saw waves. It was starting to sink in that none of this shit was real, so she didn’t bother telling Joel what she was seeing. Tried not to think about the waves hiding invisible demons, circling her… if they’re inside me, how CAN they be?

She heard her name and realized Joel was trying to get her attention. She looked at his distorted face, watched it contort into an odd shape and back again as the ‘waves’ passed through him. He’s fine, you’re imagining it…

"Maybe we should go outside an' see the real sun--"

"No. I'm staying here! Just leave me alone. Please."

Joel sighed. "You're still not seein' straight an' you look freaked out. I ain't leavin'. Tell me about your dream."

"Why? It won't help."

"Maybe it will."

"It won't! Talking doesn't change anything. You know what will change something? If I stop getting high in the first place and just... feel what I'm supposed to feel."

"It's not... you're not 'supposed' to feel it."

She didn't want to argue with him again about what she deserved. He would never agree with her, not out loud, but surely some part of him had to know she did deserve it... for defying him in the first place, for putting him through all of this crap now.

He sat with her quietly, wearing his usual angry expression, until her brain returned to its normal level of fucked-up-ness. And when she tearfully asked him to please stop the marijuana altogether or tone it waaaay down because the hallucinations were too scary, he argued with her a little, but in the end, he did relent.

Later that day, he knocked on her door. "Ellie, I got somethin' to tell you. About Bailey. May I come in?"

Bailey? What could it be? For one crazy moment, she thought, Joel's going to tell me he's alive, that they fixed up his wound and he's recovered and I can see him now... riiiight.

"Come in." She was still on the floor.

"Will you come sit up here with me please? Let me help you..."

She waved him off. "I got it." She made her way over to the bed and sat next to him. Further away than she used to. "What about Bailey?"

"They're havin' the funeral tomorrow. Do you wanna go?"

The funeral. Ellie had forgotten about that, maybe on purpose. It was so... final. "Yes, of course I want to go. I have to."

"No, you don't."

"If I don't go, it's like... like saying I didn't love him," she said, her voice catching a little.

"No, no, it ain't like that at all. No one would think that. They might think it's too much for you, an'... 'specially after what you've been through, no one would think the less of you for it, trust me."

Ellie didn't give a shit what people thought about her, if they thought she was weak or whatever. Maybe she wanted to do it for herself. So she could show that she loved him. "Do you think I should go?"

"It's up to you."

"But do you think so?"

Joel hesitated. "If you're up for it, I think it might be good for you to say goodbye. Funerals are tough, but afterwards... it might help you let go."

"I don't want to let go."

"I know you don't, baby girl," he said gently. "You don' gotta forget him, you jus' have to... find a way to go on."

She didn't believe it would help her 'let go' in any real sense, but there was no point in arguing when she did actually want to go. "Okay."

"There's one problem." Joel sighed. "Rachel... she's... you know, upset. Grief-stricken. She don' want you there."

"She said that?" Not that Ellie was surprised.

Joel nodded. "I'm sorry."

"So then I can't go. She's his mother, she's more important."

"Not more important. More... I don' know. You have every right to be there, though. Maybe if we keep ourselves inconspicuous-like, hang out in the back... let her do her... mom thing, an' whatnot..."

"I dunno..."

"Whatever you wanna do is fine by me."

She didn't want to cause Rachel any more pain than she already had. But... this was the last Bailey thing there ever would be. She couldn't not go. Maybe Rachel could yell at her in front of the whole town... maybe that would make Rachel feel better, and it wasn't like Ellie could possibly feel any worse. "Okay. Let's go, then."

* * * * * * * *

Determined to get ready alone, all she asked of Joel was that he make sure she was awake a good hour before the funeral was to start. And she didn't need that push after all -- she was soaking in a scalding hot bath two hours before it. Zoning out a bit, and with no clock in the bathroom. Maybe I should have told Joel to keep updating me on the time.

She heard voices in the other room. Joel, obviously, and another man... it sounded like Tommy, although they were speaking softly enough that she couldn't make out any distinct words. The voices were silent by the time she got out of the tub. "Joel? How much time do I have?" she hollered.

"Lil' over an hour. You're good. Need some help?"

"I got it." It took ages, but she did 'get' it. A quick glance at the mirror told her that her face still looked awful, all blue and purple. Ellie tugged a brush through her tangled hair and lamented that she couldn't put it up in a ponytail. She couldn't figure out how to do it with one hand. Joel could do it for her, if she asked. He knew how. A while back, he'd told her with pride how he used to style Sarah's hair when she was little. Ellie couldn't help but wonder if his handiwork merited the pride, but she'd found it really endearing nonetheless.

I can't let him do it. He does too much for me as it is. Her stomach lurched at the thought of him lovingly brushing her hair and fixing it for her. She had to keep him at arm's length now. She didn't fully understand why, she just knew she had to.

When she emerged from the bathroom, she asked Joel if Tommy had come by. "That was him I heard, right? What did he want?"

"He came to check on you, see how you were doin'. But, bad timing, you were gettin' cleaned up, so I told him we'll jus' see him there."

Ellie wasn't sure she bought that, but didn't care enough to pursue it.

Joel's 'resting' facial expression typically wasn't all that sunny, even before, but it seemed to get slightly angrier or darker whenever he looked at her. She was sure she wasn't just imagining it. And she could understand it: she wasn't Ellie anymore, she was This Bad Thing That Happened. Her appearance wouldn't let him forget. She didn't like looking at him, either. It hurt. He looked like shit, and it pained her to see what she'd done to him.

Whatever anger Joel was feeling, though... he didn't take it out on her. She wished he would. He clearly wanted to help her and do things for her. He spoke to her gently, cautiously... and tensely, most of the time. "You need help with your...?" Joel asked.

Ellie wasn't even sure what he was referring to; she had already put on the sling. "No, I'm ready." She couldn't think of how Joel could help her get there without just carrying her, and she wouldn't let him do that.

She was awkward with the crutch since it was the first time she'd ever really needed to use it, beyond the short bedroom-to-bathroom trips (and she could manage those without it, too). They started walking, very slowly, to a corner of town that served as a cemetery. In the old days, people would go to a church first and then to the gravesite after; their settlement didn't have a real church, though, and it was just easier for everyone to do it all in one place.

The sun was shining. That was just... wrong. How could the sun shine when Bailey was dead? Doesn't it know? It should be raining. Always raining. Every step she took was uncomfortable. Her back hurt, her ribs hurt, her stomach was roiling. "Maybe we shouldn't do this," she said, stopping abruptly.

"You can do it. I'll be right there next to you the whole time. If you gotta cry you can cry right into my shirt. But... if you really don' wanna go, we can turn around right now. Ain't no shame in it."

Ellie wasn't worried so much about crying as she was about turning Bailey's funeral into a freak show. "No, I can do it." She started crutching forward again.

At least Joel didn't try to talk to her. Her 'Joel-sense' was a bit off now, but still, she got the feeling he wasn't simply honoring her perpetual desire for silence. She could usually tell when Joel didn't want to talk, and it was him far more often than her who got in that mood. Before. Now, it was more mutual. He always said he was there for her if she needed to talk about anything, and she believed him, but she suspected he was secretly glad that she never wanted to. She didn't want to cause him any more pain, and there was nothing they could talk about that wouldn't hurt.

The cluster of funeral attendees came into view; there was quite a crowd there. Probably like seventy or eighty people, standing in clusters, presumably forming rings around the casket -- or what passed for one. Ellie felt a twinge of something like pride, glad that so many wanted to attend... even though she knew some of them were probably only there because it was a Social Event, of which Jackson didn't have all that many. Meanly, she wondered if any of them had come out of sheer curiosity... to see if she would show up, or if there would be drama between her and Rachel. Maybe to gawk at her ugliness. She and Joel had deliberately arrived a little late; Joel thought it might be easier if they just quietly joined ranks in the back after the 'priest' guy (a guy named Matt who wasn't a real priest, but served in that capacity) started talking. That way, Rachel might not even notice them, or if she did, she would hesitate to interrupt the service and go make any kind of scene with Ellie. Joel had told her that since Rachel was raised Catholic, it would be Jackson's abridged version of a Catholic funeral, like one they'd attended last year. Ellie found that a bit strange since according to Bailey, Rachel had 'stopped being Catholic' after the world went to hell. Even though she'd gone on to make some sort of peace with God eventually, she and Bailey didn't go to church (Jackson's equivalent) on Sundays, and they weren't 'practicing Catholics.'

"You okay?" Joel asked her.

"Uh-huh." She was as ready as she'd ever be. You can spend the rest of your life in that room if you want, she told herself. You just have to make it through the next hour.

When they got closer, she immediately realized it would be way less time than that -- she couldn't stay. Not for long.

Even though the dude was saying something about the ways of God and mercy and other such religious bullshit, and everyone was respectfully quiet, a buzz rippled through the crowd as people started noticing her and Joel. The ones in the back started gesturing and whispering to each other. Ellie couldn't hear them, but she could imagine what they were thinking: "She has some nerve, showing up here!" / "Damn, she looks awful." / "Stupid slut -- it's her fault he's dead." / "Why wasn't SHE the one who died? It's so unfair." / "If only Bailey had given Tara a chance instead -- that sweet girl would have been so much better for him than Ellie."

Ellie's face burned from their presumed judgment. The most awful thing about it was that whatever they were thinking, it was all true. No one looked at her for long; a sidelong glance at Joel told her he was scowling at each of them in turn. She had stopped moving forward when the heads had started turning, electing to stay apart from the crowd but close enough to hear the service.

There were a few plastic deck chairs off to one side, meant for the old and feeble or maybe for hanging around afterwards. Joel whispered that he would go grab her a chair.

But she grabbed his arm before he could go, nearly losing her crutch in doing so. "No, stay here," she pleaded softly. He put his arm around her... and she let him. Leaned into him, even.

The murmurs of the crowd carried up to Rachel, and she didn't care that Matt was talking -- she talked right over him, loud enough for Ellie to hear. "I told you I don't want her here," she heard Rachel say accusingly to someone. "Make her leave. I don't want her here! Where is she?"

There was dead silence for a moment. Then the sea of bodies parted, like some scene out of a fucking movie, clearing a path between her and Rachel. Rachel moved towards her, just close enough for her eyes to lock onto Ellie's. Man, if she hated me BEFORE...

"How dare you come here!" Rachel spat furiously. She didn't look so pretty now; her hair was still done up nicely, but she looked like she'd aged a decade in the past however-many days it had been, and she had dark circles under her eyes... Ellie couldn't keep looking into those if-looks-could-kill eyes. She forced herself to look in Rachel's direction, just at more innocuous body parts... like her neck.

"Calm down," Joel said, surprisingly calm himself. "She has every right to be here."

"She has no right! She killed him!" Rachel started sobbing, and a friend of hers --Joy? Joyce? something like that -- tried to soothe her, to no avail. Tommy had come up behind her, maneuvering through the crowd to get in front of her... as if he was afraid she might charge at Ellie or something. Maria was there, too; she broke free from the crowd to join Ellie and Joel.

Ellie bit her lip. Usually she had no problem speaking her mind, telling people to fuck off, or maybe hurling more colorful insults at them. She couldn't do that now -- not when Rachel was right. What could she say? 'I'm sorry' was a lame offering... still, better than nothing. Only... Ellie couldn't seem to speak.

"Ellie didn't kill your boy," Joel said, somewhat less calmly than before. Ellie could feel him tensing up. "Some son of a bitch out there did that. She is sick with grief over what happened. It wasn' her fault!"

Yes it was! Joel knew it, too; he was just defending her anyway, because that was his way.

Ellie wished he hadn't said it.

"Of course it was her fault!" Rachel shrieked. "Before he met her he never would've gone out there -- like that -- he -- he'd be alive if only he'd never -- never--" She crumpled to the ground in a hysterically-sobbing heap before her friend could fully catch her. Several people knelt on the ground with her, trying to comfort her in whatever way they could -- which was not enough, of course. Not nearly enough. The sobs wrenching her body were the most anguished, heartbreakingly pitiful sounds Ellie had ever heard, and she couldn't hold back her own tears as they silently streamed down her cheeks. She turned and buried her face in Joel's shirt.

Even Joel didn't seem inclined to yell at the woman now. He wrapped his other arm around Ellie, cocooning her, and she wished she could stay right there forever and that everyone else would magically get sucked into the earth, leaving them alone. "It's her grief talkin'," he whispered. "She don' mean it."

But they both knew that she did, and that it was the truth.

"I can't stay," she mumbled into his shirt, sniffling. She hadn't even caught a glimpse of the casket-thing they'd put Bailey in, but... "I don't wanna be here anymore."

"All right." No 'are you sure?' this time. Joel carefully pivoted her in the right direction, and she broke away from him to start hobbling away.

Maria walked with them. "Ellie, are you okay?" she asked, then snorted derisively at herself. "Right. Of course you're not. I'm sorry, she doesn't know what she's saying."

She knows exactly what she's saying. But Ellie wasn't going to argue.

They'd only gone about five steps when Tommy trotted over to them, falling into step next to Joel. "I told you it wasn' a good idea to bring her--"

Everyone stopped walking. Joel sighed. "Damnit, Tommy, spare me the 'I told you so.' Ellie should've been able to go. We didn' come here to cause trouble."

I've done enough of that already, Ellie thought bitterly.

Tommy's voice was softer when he spoke to Ellie. "Honey, I'm sorry about that, she shouldn'ta said those things to you. She jus' needs time, she'll come around."

Come around to WHAT? She's already got the truth of it. Ellie couldn't look at any of them, couldn't make herself respond with any sort of bullshit courtesy to their bullshit comforting efforts... and she couldn't respond with the thoughts in her head, either, because she knew they would only generate more bullshit. Whoever she spoke to would think that she only said these things because she wanted them to spew the "No, Ellie, that's not true!" lies back at her.

Why -- so I can lie to myself? It was all such a stupid, pointless game that she couldn't force herself to play. She stared at the ground, watching her tears disappear into the grass. Tuned out the voices of the three people with her and the hum of the crowd behind her. One... two... three... four...

... twenty-five...

"Ellie!"


Joel's voice, and his hand on her shoulder, yanked her back from wherever it was that she'd just gone. Tommy and Maria weren't there anymore, but someone else was -- Marcus, Bailey's best friend. Ellie regarded him warily. He didn't look like he wanted to kill her, at least... Joel probably would have sent him away rather than snap her out of her own head if that were the case.

Aside from Bailey, Marcus was the only other teenager in the town that she'd really hung out with -- and that was only because of Bailey. The three of them had spent more time together when she and Bailey were just friends. When that changed, Ellie had been afraid that Marcus would resent her for 'taking' Bailey from him. She'd even made a point to talk to him about it, with some lame rehearsed speech in mind, but she needn't have bothered: he had no idea why she would even think he was upset. She told Joel about it, and he'd said something about guys' brains not tuning in to all the drama that girls' brains pick up from who knows where.

Marcus seemed to pity her now, and Ellie hated that, but she'd take it over the hatred she was sure the rest of the town harbored for her. He was a little older than Bailey, of similar build, and had what they called an ‘olive’ complexion. Shaggy dark hair, brown eyes so dark they were almost black. She saw kindness in his expression... kindness and sincerity. "Ellie, I just wanted to say... I know it wasn't your fault. And that... well... Bailey was so... I've never seen him as happy as he was after you and him..." He shuffled his feet awkwardly. "Just thought you should know that."

Ellie had apparently stopped crying when she zoned out, but the tears returned easily. Her heart swelled with fresh pain. It was a nice thing for him to say, but it didn't make this any less her fault. "Thanks," she said feebly.

"Thank you for sayin' that, son," Joel said quietly.

Marcus nodded. "If there's anything I can do..."

"We appreciate that," said Joel.

There was an awkward pause. Marcus mumbled something about getting back, then she and Joel set off again. "He's a decent kid," Joel remarked.

Ellie was quiet. She was still stewing over Rachel's theatrics, the poor woman's sobs ringing in her ears. The walk home stretched out awfully long before her. Her right arm -- the 'good' arm -- started twitching, and she stopped crutching, waiting for it to subside. She could feel the stares penetrating her back.

Joel apparently could, too, as he kept glancing backward. "Do you wanna go sit a minute?" he asked when she stopped moving.

"I just wanna get outta here," she mumbled.

"I could carry you..."

No, I deserve this, it's not supposed to be easy. But she really really wanted to be back in her room, away from the world and its obnoxious sunshine, away from the hatred and sorrow permeating the air. Besides, Joel would probably rather carry her than move at a snail's pace and watch her struggle. And she didn't care if anyone thought she was a weak little baby -- or that it would make her feel like one. I AM weak, so... "Okay," she agreed.

She did not agree to sit on the couch with Joel and talk, however. He obligingly deposited her on her bed and leaned the crutch against it. She undid the sling and lay down on her back to stare at the ceiling.

Joel sat on the bed down by her feet. "Ellie, you know I ain't much of a talker, but you... you're way too quiet these days."

"I have nothing to say."

"Bullshit."

"Nothing you wanna hear, then."

"Try me."

"What's the point? Nothing I say is gonna change anything."

"It might help you."

"How?"

"Make you feel less alone."

I'm SUPPOSED to be alone. "By pissing you off or making you sad?"

Joel sighed. "By helpin' me understand what you're goin' through."

"You can't understand. No one can." And I don't deserve your sympathy.

"You've said that before... an' I did understand, when you explained."

"Well, not this time."

"How do you know?"

"Maybe I just don't wanna talk about it!" she snapped at him.

"Then talk to me about somethin' else."

"There is nothing else." She could sense his growing frustration with her. She wondered why it didn't bother her, because surely it should. She should be afraid that Joel would get so fed up with her that he would finally leave her alone. Which was what she wanted, just... not that alone. She needed Joel to be around, without a doubt. He was as essential to her survival as the air she breathed. Undeserving of him though she was, Ellie was way too selfish to give him up willingly, even as penance for her crimes. So why wasn't she concerned that her failure to be a human being would drive him away? "I want to be alone, please," she said. "For now. I need to think."

Joel seemed more sad than angry. "All right. Holler if you need anythin'."

He always said that, and she never did it.

It wasn't until the next day that Ellie felt like she'd found her words, that she could go grovel at Rachel's feet. She didn't expect or even want to be forgiven (which she also wanted Rachel to know), she just wanted to tell her how very sorry she was -- it would be lame and inadequate, of course, but heartfelt. She wanted to tell Rachel she'd been right about Ellie all along, that she was a bad thing spoiling a good thing. If there was anything Ellie could do for her, she wanted to do it. She would even leave Jackson if Rachel wanted to be sure to never see her face again. Ellie planned to put the offer out there. Joel wouldn't like it, but it wasn't like Ellie was any good to him now anyway; she wasn't the Ellie that he'd loved. Maybe he'd even feel relieved.

Ellie didn't want to wait another minute, now that the idea of leaving was stirring some actual excitement within her. Finally, she would be doing something to pay for what she'd done, and doing something besides sucking up the emotional energy of people who cared about her, especially Joel. She was still dressed from the funeral the day before so all she had to do was don a shoe and her arm sling. She didn't even take the time to tie the shoe; she could let Joel do that one small thing for her in the interest of hurrying the fuck up.

When she hobbled out to the other room on her crutch, Joel looked surprised. He was sitting on the couch. Just sitting there, not in the middle of doing anything as far as Ellie could tell. It hadn't occurred to her before to wonder what Joel did all day, other than be there for her sake. If she listened, she could hear sounds of the house that might indicate what he was doing, even through her closed door, but she regularly tuned out such noise now. Maybe both of them were just sitting around, in pain, alone... but he was freshly-showered, which could mean he'd been working out. He liked to shower after that. Maybe that's what he did all day... work out, shower, feed the prisoner, work out, shower, eat, work out again... or he could whittle things out of extra scraps of wood he regularly brought home from carpentry projects. He liked to do that. Ellie didn't see any evidence of it near him now, though.

"Hey." He actually managed a small smile. It was painfully forced, but still better than the usual scowl.

"Hey. So... I was thinking, and... I wanna go see Rachel."

"Ellie--"

"Don't say it's not a good idea, cuz it's something I have to do. You don't have to come with me." She wasn't sure why she bothered saying that, as she knew full well Joel wouldn't let her go to Bailey's house by herself to visit a woman who wished her dead.

He patted the couch. "Come an' sit. I gotta tell you somethin'."

Fear prickled her spine at those ominous words; she could tell by his tone that it was bad. "What's wrong? Are you okay?" she asked as she eased herself down beside him. She felt sick at the mere thought of anything being wrong with Joel...

"I'm fine. It's about Rachel. I don' know how to tell you this... ain't no good way to say it..."

"Just tell me. What did she say? Whatever she thinks of me, it's all true, I can take it." And Ellie wanted to take it.

"No, it's not that." Joel sighed. "Ellie... Rachel killed herself last night."

~Continue to Chapter 7~

Tags: comforting sounds, fic, tlou
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