Fandom: The Last of Us
Characters: Joel, Ellie, Tommy, Maria
Word Count: 4016
Summary: ac·cre·tion: /əˈkrēSH(ə)n/ noun 1. the process of growth or increase, typically by the gradual accumulation of additional layers or matter 2. the coming together and cohesion of matter under the influence of gravitation to form larger bodies. 3. Comic #6 in the Savage Starlight series!
~ Joel and Ellie's relationship isn't easily defined in the "new world." [Elements of Joel/Ellie, no smut] This first part picks up where the game leaves off, with Joel and Ellie arriving at Tommy's.
Author's Notes: Yeah so I still want to post this here even if there are no fans to be seen! I can still archive it here and hey maybe someone will stumble across it. I am very happy to be writing again, even if no one reads it, LOL. I'm combining the first 2 chapters here that I posted on ff.net.
“Swear that everything you told me about the Fireflies is true.”
Look her in the eye, Joel. She’ll never buy it if you don’t. And oh God how he needed her to believe him. Joel was a damn good liar – to everyone except Ellie, it seemed. It was uncanny how the girl could see right through his bullshit. He would need to give an Oscar-caliber performance here.
Joel regarded her with as sober and sincere an expression as he could muster and looked her square in the eye. “I swear.”
He was glad she was a few paces behind him so she couldn’t hear his tell-tale heart beating wildly. But fuck she hesitated a little too long before that “okay.” Joel could have sold the story more convincingly by embellishing the lies, fleshing them out with enough detail that she would never dream he could make this shit up on the fly – or, rather, rehearse and memorize them all during the long hours of silence between Salt Lake City and Jackson. He was glad those fuckers had doped her up enough to buy him the time to come up with something plausible. But with each lie he fed her now, the chance that he might fuck this up – or get tripped up later on – increased. He just had to hope that she hadn’t heard anything contradictory somewhere in that span of time she was away from him. That bitch Marlene’s choice of words led him to believe Ellie had had no idea what was happening to her: “It’s what she’d want.” Would she? Hell, why bother to ask Ellie if she wanted to die after reviving her from nearly drowning? Nah, just fucking knock her right back out again and get on with it like her opinion is irrelevant.
Joel had decided to keep her focused on the future as much as possible. The past could stay in the past where it belonged. Ellie had slept for most of the car ride, and when she woke up he filled her groggy head with sunshine and rainbows of their new life in Jackson. He would teach her to play guitar, and to swim, she could ride horses, they would have a roof over their heads and food in their bellies every day, she could watch movies every night with friends her own age, it would be so nice and oh Ellie you’re just going to love it there just you wait and see I’ll make damn sure of it. Ellie had been quiet. From the drugs, most likely. Yeah, that was probably it. Sure.
Ellie maintained enough distance between them that there was no need to fill the air with idle chatter; they walked the last half mile in silence. Since they were approaching the settlement from the southwest this time, it was the township itself that greeted them, not the dam. Joel knew they were getting close when he saw the fence. “Ellie, check this out!” He trotted up to the fence and pointed out the black clamps on one of the poles. “It’s an electric fence. Tommy mentioned they had some. Me’n’him used to install ‘em for the farmers back in Texas. Bet this one was a prison fence, with all that barbed wire on top. Think it’s workin’?” Joel reached for a wire.
“No! Don’t!” Ellie rushed over to save him from electrocuting himself. “Are you crazy?!”
Joel chuckled. “Some think so. You’re right, I shouldn’t test it with my hand.” He grinned mischievously and grabbed her arm to tug her closer to the fence. “Lemme see yours…”
“Fuck you!” Ellie shrieked and jerked away from him, laughing for a moment but sobering quickly. Joel allowed himself a fleeting fantasy of Ellie giggling and running off into the forest, with himself in hot pursuit. When was the last time she’d run for the sheer fun of it, not because her life was at stake? He hoped she’d be able to be a kid here in Jackson. But, back to the business at hand…
“It prob’ly wouldn’ hurt that bad, actually. Unless of course Tommy’s got it on lethal voltage.” About five hundred feet or so beyond the fence was a wall. Joel approved of all these security measures Tommy had taken. “We need to find a way around.”
“Just like old times,” muttered Ellie as she started scouting the area. “And by old times I mean, like, this morning.”
It was hard to believe that only this morning they were blindly heading down that freeway exit to fight their way through a tunnel of Infected and, for him at least, a hospital full of Fireflies. The long, purgatorial drive here was a soft transition from before to after. Softer than the fucking outbreak, at any rate. Joel hadn’t given much thought to what they’d say when they got here – his energies had been more focused on crafting a decent lie for Ellie’s sake. A teenage girl who’d been through hell shouldn’t have to shoulder the weight of the world. The load didn’t bother him none for himself; he didn’t give two shits about a world in which the ‘good guys,’ the heroes that everyone puts their faith in, kill innocents to further their noble fucking cause.
“Joel! Look!” Ellie stopped walking. There was a note of alarm in her voice that set Joel on edge. He looked in the direction she pointed and saw a couple of men in what appeared to be elevated guardhouses, just inside the fence. “That must be the entrance. I think I see… they have guns!”
“They do. Can’t very well guard a place without ‘em. Come on, let’s go introduce ourselves.”
“They could blow our fucking heads off!” He noticed Ellie scouting the area for cover.
“They’ll be sorry if they try. We have to talk to them to get inside, silly. It’ll be fine.” Joel had no intention of blindly trusting these people just because they happened to be on the other side of the fence, however, and his right hand hovered near the shorty, just in case. Ellie didn’t seem convinced but she kept walking, slightly behind him now. He reckoned they would both have to rewire their brains so that the mere sight of another human being wouldn’t automatically trigger a fight-or-flight response. “Remember, these are Tommy’s people, and Tommy’s always been nicer than me. He wouldn’ give anyone a gun if he thought they were trigger-happy.”
Ellie snorted. “He’s not the ‘shoot first and ask questions later’ type like you are, huh?”
“Definitely not. Hey, I ask questions first. Sometimes.” Like back in Colorado when he needed to know where that motherfucker David was holding Ellie. ‘Course, he killed them right after anyhow. Kill or be killed. No middle ground. That’s why we’re still alive.
“Hey, Joel…” Ellie put her hand on his arm to stop him from walking any closer to the settlement. She looked down and kinda shuffled her feet like she does when she’s nervous or uncomfortable.
Please don’t call me out on the lie, not now, not yet – “What is it?” he asked gently.
“What if… well, Tommy said there was a place for you here. He wasn’t exactly expecting me to come back too. I was just your cargo. So… um…”
Shoot, was that all? I got this. “Ellie, stop. There’s room in this town for both of us, I’m sure of it. Hey. Look at me.” He waited a moment for her to oblige. “This ain’t gonna happen, but if for some reason, my brother decides to be a dick and says you can’t stay here, we’ll both go. We’re a package deal. Got it?”
“Got it.” She did seem relieved, but she turned away so abruptly, like… like she remembered she was mad at him, or something. As they got closer, she did fall back – but only to let Joel take the lead as the men took more notice of them.
One guard drew his rifle as they got closer. The other one… actually laughed. “I’ll be goddamned. You’re Tommy’s brother.” Was the family resemblance between them really that strong? Joel didn’t have to wonder long. “I’m Earl. I was on duty at the dam that day you and your girl passed through here. You were a big help to us, as I recall. Lower your gun, Tuck, these two are all right. Hold on and we’ll get this gate open.”
Joel hadn’t realized how tense he was until he felt himself relaxing, even though the man called Tuck was still eyeing them warily. “Thank you. I appreciate the welcome. Pleasure to see you again, Earl.” Ellie snickered quietly beside him, presumably amused at hearing him play nice. He elbowed her gently.
“Do you even remember him?” she whispered.
“No. Shut up,” he hissed back, trying to suppress his own amusement. He heard Tuck calling Tommy on his walkie talkie (“your brother and a little girl here to see you” – good, at least Tommy wouldn’t be taken aback by Ellie’s presence). There were some clunking noises and a moment later the gate swung inward, closing and locking again behind them as soon as they stepped inside, and the men didn’t need to climb down from the guardhouses to do it. Earl dropped down from his post anyway to shake Joel’s hand, and after introductions were made he answered some of Joel’s questions about the town while they waited for Tommy. Pretty much every adult who was proficient with a firearm was part of the militia, many of whom took turns guarding the entrances, usually in pairs. The population was estimated to be over two hundred – they’d grown a bit over the winter. Scouting parties ‘rescued’ people they found out there struggling to make it on their own, if they were deemed an unlikely threat to the town. Tommy insisted on interviewing each newcomer himself at length, and everyone had to spend their first three days in quarantine -- Earl said he figured Tommy would bypass all that for Joel and Ellie. They held monthly meetings for the militia and for the town as a whole, usually on the first Wednesday of the month (Joel had no idea what day of the week it was, and only knew the date from that cunt Marlene’s recorder).
“Hey big brother!” Tommy’s voice rang out across the grounds, and he sported a wide grin. He trotted over with Maria in tow. “You made it! Not that I’m surprised – ain’t nothin’ in this world could kill you!”
“Oh you’d be surprised,” Joel said with a chuckle, and then Tommy was hugging him, a good long fierce hug and damn was it good to lay eyes on him again. “How you been, baby brother?”
Maria nodded a hello to him and then turned to greet Ellie with a hug, Joel was pleased to see. Ellie was smiling and she seemed genuinely happy to see Maria. They had the rapport of old friends even though they’d spent all of, what, an hour together all those months ago? Joel felt a surge of gratitude for his brother and sister-in-law, and for whatever gods or powers-that-be or stroke of fucking luck that smiled down on him and Ellie this day -- a day that nearly ended so very differently.
~ 2 ~
There was the unspoken question hanging in the air that Joel knew would need to be addressed, but Tommy seemed to realize Joel wasn’t up for that just yet, and hell, his brother was so sensitive he could probably tell things were a little off between him and Ellie too. So the plan was to bring him and Ellie over to their house for dinner (“Good, cuz I’m staaaaaaarving!” Ellie announced with dramatic flair, and Joel couldn’t deny that he was mighty hungry himself) and then get them settled in a house of their own. Tommy and Maria had company that evening -- as was typically the case, it turned out; Tommy really was creating a strong community, a fellowship. Joel knew Tommy wouldn’t ask him uncomfortable questions about the Fireflies in front of others, and he and Ellie could deflect the townsfolk’s queries about their lives with a polite but firm “It’s a long story” or “We’ll get into that another time.”
Tommy and Maria’s house was rather large, for just the two of them. But inside, it was evident that the space was put to good use; there were kids playing in the front room, there were a couple people seated at the dining table, and Joel was pretty sure he heard snoring coming from upstairs. Some girl was babysitting the stove while Tommy and Maria had run out, and when they came in she called the kids over and began doling out bowls of stew – which smelled divine. Joel and Ellie unloaded their gear in a corner of the dining area. Joel was well aware of all the eyes on them, and realized they must seem quite an odd pair, this middle-aged dude and a teenage girl loaded up with more weapons than they’d likely ever laid eyes on in one place. Joel figured if he looked scary, Ellie countered it with her… Ellie-ness.
The young woman at the stove was Chelsea, and she was there with her brother, Buster, (Buster? Maybe he heard that one wrong) and mother, Trixie. The five kids were Stephen, Arya, Kyle, Kirsten, and Megan. Two other mothers were there – Billie and Kitty – and three of the five kids were theirs, the other two were hanging out with Tommy and Maria while their mom was on guard duty along the perimeter. Joel had forgotten which kids belonged to whom approximately ten seconds after they were introduced, and the names were on their way out of his head too. The thought of remembering everyone’s names – two hundred people?! – and who they were and what they did exhausted him in a different way than he was used to. Throughout dinner, he snuck sidelong glances at Ellie to see what she made of all this… she was mostly unreadable, quietly scarfing down her dinner and not trying to engage in any conversation. Maria did a good job of steering things out of dangerous territory when needed, and it was mostly a pleasant meal. Joel couldn’t remember the last time he’d sat around a dinner table like that. It unnerved him a bit, being around so many people, but the atmosphere was convivial and he could get why Tommy liked to have folks over. Tommy always was the more sociable brother.
Maria offered them seconds, which they gladly accepted. Ellie probably could have gone for thirds if there’d been any left over. It was a meager meal by old standards, before the outbreak, when gluttony was affordable… but now? It was a veritable feast. And they had milk. Straight off the farm. Incredible. They also had plumbing! Most of the time. Like with the electricity, issues would arise at times that would shut down the whole works. Since it was almost summer now they hopefully wouldn’t have to deal with freezing pipes for a while, at least.
After a little more polite chitchat, Tommy offered to show them to their new house. Ellie perked up a little at that. She’d probably never even lived in a real house. As they geared up to leave, Maria gave them each a sack of toiletries and a few articles of clothing, with the promise of more to come tomorrow. Joel looked inside his sack. Toothpaste? A new toothbrush? Deodorant? Even shampoo! It was overwhelming, being given these ‘essentials’ that they’d seen very little of in the past year. “Thank you,” he managed, echoed by Ellie, who also seemed a little emotional over this.
“You’re welcome,” Maria replied, smiling warmly at each of them. “It’s no problem. Every month we trade with the soldiers at a garrison a little ways from here. Not sure where they get all this stuff from, and it’s not like there’s an unlimited supply… we run short sometimes… but it’s a pretty good deal all the way around. They can’t get food like ours from raiding – at least not more than once -- so they pretty much let us do our own thing out here and don’t give us any trouble.”
Joel snorted. He couldn’t remember the last time he saw a soldier he didn’t need to kill.
Tommy seemed to read his mind. “Yeah, I know. They ain’t all bad. Come on, let’s get you home.” Tommy thrust some blankets into Joel’s arms and he carried a crate full of more supplies; Joel didn’t get a look at them, but he doubted it would be anything he’d seen since Boston.
They’d barely gone fifty feet from the house when Ellie stopped them and addressed Tommy, with that expression she gets on her face when she’s being earnest. “Thank you so much for all this. Joel’s your family but… I’m not, and you still… you guys are awesome. Whatever you want me to do to help around here I’ll do it. I’ll join your militia.”
Joel laughed. “Like hell you will. It’s adults only. You won’t need to use your guns no more.”
Ellie started to protest, citing her excellent skills, but Tommy cut her off. “Joel’s right – it’s adults only. We’ll find you some better stuff to do, like helping out down on the farm or somethin’. And pssshhhh, what’d you expect me to do, take Joel in and send you out there on your own? Don’t make no sense when we’re tryin’ to grow the town, see. You are just as welcome here as Joel. If not more so.”
“You’re lucky my hands are full,” Joel growled good-naturedly. Ellie laughed at the banter between them, and that sound was like music to his ears. She’s going to be happy here. If she can just accept the damn lie…
They continued walking through town and Tommy filled their heads with more trivia about the locals. It was dark now, but the streetlamps provided enough light that they didn’t need their flashlights. Joel could feel more eyeballs on them, from faces in the windows and strangers in their yards or on the street. Tommy knew them all, of course, and greeted them all by name, but to Joel’s relief, he did not stop to introduce them to anyone, remarking to Joel that they’d have time for all that later.
They reached what appeared to be the edge of town, and Tommy switched on a flashlight then. “Now, Joel…” he began tentatively. Fuck. I knew the peace couldn’t last forever.
“What, Tommy?” Joel braced himself. And why the hell were they walking out into the forest?
“When I told you there was a place for you here… well, after you left last time, I found just that. An actual place for you, that I knew you would like. It’s off the beaten path, it’s small but in good repair, there’s a porch, even… there it is up ahead.” Tommy shined his flashlight on the door. “Thing is, I thought you’d be leavin’ Ellie to live with the Fireflies. I didn’t take into account that you’d need more space. Just so you know, we have plenty of houses on the north side, and some in this area that are vacant, now… some of ‘em might need a little fixin’ up… I reckon you can pick one out tomorrow that’s more suitable.”
Joel chuckled. “Tommy, what the fuck are you on about? Me’n’Ellie don’ need much space. A roof over our head will do just fine. Right, Ellie?”
“Fuck yeah! This looks amazing!” Not that they could even see it. Ellie could barely wait for Tommy to get the door open and switch on a light. She bounced in right after him and took it all in with her mouth agape. “Whoa…”
Joel shuffled in behind them, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to take his eyes off Ellie long enough to look around. The wonder on her face… you would think Tommy had just led them into some big-ass ostentatious palace. Can’t deny that view. He dumped the blankets unceremoniously on the floor, next to her backpack which had been dropped with similar haste, and watched her explore. He had to laugh when she got down on the floor to check underneath the couch. “Let me know if you find any ammo or things we can craft shit with,” he teased.
She scrambled to her feet to punch his arm. “Shut up. I’m just checking out our new home, what’s wrong with that?” And off she went to open all the kitchen cabinets.
“Nothin’,” said Joel. He noticed that Tommy was amused by her enthusiasm too. “I think she likes it, baby brother.”
The place was very small, but it was clean and tidy and the wood wasn’t rotted out anywhere. The electricity worked, the water worked. Not much evidence of water damage (and Joel could fix the questionable spots). The ‘big’ room was sort of a living room/dining room/kitchen all in one. There was a beat-up couch, an end table with a lamp on it, a clock on the wall, a desk, a dining table with a hanging lamp over it, two dining chairs…one could double as the desk chair, a working refrigerator – into which Tommy was unpacking some of the crate’s contents – a stove, an oven, and even a toaster (which Joel hoped meant bread). A very short hallway led to two more rooms: a bathroom on the left and a bedroom on the right. One bedroom… now it dawned on Joel what Tommy was getting at before.
The only thing in the bedroom was a dirty old ripped-up queen-sized mattress on the floor. Ellie looked at it…didn’t seem bothered by it. Or, by it being the only bed to speak of, rather.
“I’ll sleep on the couch,” Joel announced. Ellie opened her mouth to protest but Joel shushed her with a Look. “This place is perfect, Tommy. We don’ need to go house-shoppin’ in town tomorrow. You were right, I like havin’ some space around me… away from nosy neighbors and such. Thank you.”
Tommy nodded. “Sure thing. If you want somethin’ bigger later on we’ll work it out. I’ll see about gettin’ a proper bed for you, Ellie.”
Ellie looked pained. “No, don’t go to any trouble, I totally do not care and like Joel said – this place is perfect!” She flung her arms around Tommy, who chuckled in surprise.
“All right then. I’ll leave you two to settle in. Joel, lock me out. The doors all have bolts, but hardly anyone has keys so most folks leave their doors unlocked when they’re out. We’ve got some keys in the ‘warehouse’ but no one knows what goes to what. Ain’t been a problem so far…” Tommy paused a moment to let Joel grumble about that. “But! I knew that wasn’ gonna fly with you, with all your guns’n’shit, and one thing I liked about this place is that we do have a key – it’s in that desk drawer. Just one key, so you’n’Ellie’ll have to figure somethin’ out, hide it under a rock or whatever. Anyway, come on over tomorrow and we’ll talk, all right? If I ain’t home I’ll make sure there’s someone at the house who knows where I’m at. Good night.”
“Good night, thanks again.” He clapped Tommy on the back, and then bolted the door.
The second Tommy left, Ellie piped up with the protests Joel had silenced in front of his brother. “Joel, you’re not sleeping on the couch. This is meant to be your house, your bedroom. You’re sleeping in there.”
Joel sighed. “I may not be much of a gentleman, but no way am I sleepin’ in there while you’re out here on the couch.”
Ellie snorted. “I didn’t say that. I said you’re not sleeping on the couch. There’s plenty of room on that mattress for both of us.”
~Continue to Chapter 3~