Fandom: The Last of Us
Characters (in this chapter): Joel & Tommy
Word Count: 3523
Chapter Summary: Joel and Tommy discuss the hospital incident.
The Firefly fiasco needed to be addressed sooner rather than later. Tommy was relatively patient – compared to Joel, at any rate -- but Joel knew he would still demand an explanation at some point in the not-so-distant future, and his baby brother would never swallow the bullshit he’d fed Ellie. Joel had to tell him the truth, and hope like hell that Tommy would see things the same way he did. If that wasn’t the case… well, it was better to pack up Ellie and leave now before she got used to having a home. He also couldn’t risk Tommy asking Ellie about it and unraveling the lie.
Since Joel and Ellie had both insisted they didn’t need time to rest, the guys had set out to get Joel acquainted with the construction work of the town while the girls headed down to one of the farms, where Ellie would spend the day. Joel knew he and Ellie couldn’t be together 24/7 anymore… and he also knew it was going to take some getting used to; pretty much any time they’d been apart in the past eleven months was time Joel had spent desperately trying to either find Ellie or get back to her (other than when he was injured, of course, but he didn’t count that).
If Ellie had had any qualms about leaving him today, she didn’t show it. Joel had watched her go with a pang in his heart. She’ll be just fine. We’re safe now. Besides, she had the 9-millimeter with her. As a general rule, people didn’t go walking around town armed, but Tommy had graciously allowed them to carry one small gun each, just until they ‘felt safe’ – and Joel hadn’t argued with him, but he knew it would be a cold day in hell if he ever felt that safe around strangers again. Tommy had informed him last night that this was a non-violent community (and he’d seen fit to remind Joel of that several times already). Any issues or concerns needed to be taken to either Tommy or Maria. Joel had no intention of being such a wimp that he had to go tattle to his baby brother to fix his problems. Fuck that! But he didn’t argue that point either. There were more pressing matters to discuss.
Now he was seated at a dining table in some random unoccupied house not far from Tommy and Maria’s, and his brother sat across from him, like they were about to engage in civilized conversation. The construction could wait; why bother learning the ropes if he’d be leaving? Tommy whipped out his walkie talkie and announced that he’d be going offline, and where he was at. Maria acknowledged him and he switched it off. Joel snorted. “You gotta check in with the missus every ten minutes?”
“Of course not. It’s a courtesy since I won’t be on the walkie… and it’s not just Maria, it’s the guards too. I’m important here, Joel,” he added teasingly. Joel wondered if Tommy wanted Maria to know where he was in case something went down between them here. He couldn’t blame him; the tension was palpable. Tommy looked at him appraisingly. “Now why don’t you tell me what the hell happened? ‘Cause you’re actin’ like somethin’ went wrong. And where’s my horse? I take it you found the Fireflies?”
“We did,” Joel replied, ignoring the question about Callus. “Ellie nearly drowned in this flooded tunnel, I was tryin’ to revive her and one of ‘em came over an’ knocked me out while I was doin’ CPR.” No -- this wasn’t where he wanted to start his tale. Tommy needed to know about Ellie’s heroics in Colorado. “But before that… at the university. No Fireflies there, but some survivors showed up while we were searchin’ the lab. One of ‘em fought with me on a balcony and we wen’ over…I impaled myself on a rebar.” Joel stood and lifted up his shirt enough for Tommy to see the scar.
Tommy let out a low whistle. “Holy shit. How did that not kill you?”
“Guess it missed all my organs. Ellie stitched me up, see,” Joel said proudly, lightly running his fingers over her handiwork, then sat down. “It hurt like a motherfucker, though. I couldn’ walk… I was so woozy I couldn’ even sit on the horse for long, I blacked out an’ fell off. Poor Ellie had to shoot the rest of the men herself so we could get outta there, find shelter.”
“Wait – you couldn’t even ride the horse? How did Ellie move your ass? She’s just a little thing.”
“She hitched up somethin’ to the back of the horse so it could pull me. She’s real resourceful, that kid.” Joel smiled a little before continuing. “The wound got infected – regular infected, not infected-infected, ‘course – and I was sick as a dog for a long time.” He combined his fuzzy memories of those days with what Ellie had told him afterwards to paint as complete a picture of their winter survival as he could for Tommy... minus the whole David part. Joel figured Tommy didn’t need to know about how he’d tortured those two assholes to find out where David was holding Ellie, and what state she’d been in when he finally did find her.
His brother looked impressed. “Damn. You are one lucky son’f’a’bitch. That girl sure is somethin’.”
Joel agreed. “I should have died back there. I owe her my life, Tommy.” He paused to let that sink in. You just remember that in a little bit, baby brother.
Tommy didn’t stay on pause for long. “Well, go on, then, how did y’all find the Fireflies?”
“There was a recorder in the lab that told us where they’d gone to so we set off to… to there, to a hospital…” If there was even a small chance that Tommy might try to take Ellie back to the Fireflies – and an even slighter chance that he could actually do so without Joel stopping him – Joel sure wasn’t going to give him any help finding them. Not that Ellie couldn’t tell him herself… but Joel couldn’t think about that now. He was starting to feel antsy; his leg began to jerk a little. “So like I said, Ellie nearly drowned – she can’t swim. That soldier hit me an’ I woke up in a hospital bed. I asked to see Ellie… they told me not to worry, she wasn’ my concern no more.”
Tommy chuckled. “But you worried. Ohhh how things have changed! Last time you were here you couldn’t wait to foist that girl off on me.”
Joel was annoyed that Tommy felt the need to bring that up. It hadn’t been one of Joel’s finer moments. “I changed my mind, though, didn’ I?”
“Yep. Somethin’ tells me even if you hadn’t changed it when you did, you’da been huntin’ us down within a day’s time.”
Joel frowned. He’d been thinking the same thing at the time, and he didn’t like the idea of possibly having to do it in the near future. He had to get Tommy on his side here.
And now for the hard part. Joel just couldn’t sit still anymore. He got up and started pacing. “So I asked them to let me see her, and they said I couldn’t.” Should he tell Tommy about Marlene? He was bound to ask if she’d been there. Fuck it. Cards on the table. “Marlene was there. She said Ellie was bein’ prepped for surgery… she said the Cordyceps had spread in Ellie’s body and they had to remove it to make the vaccine.”
“Remove it? You mean…”
“Right.” Joel stopped pacing right in front of Tommy and looked him in the eye. “They were gonna kill her, Tommy. For somethin’ that might not even work!”
Tommy stared back at him. “Jesus… well obviously, they didn’t kill her,” he said slowly. Joel could visualize the puzzle pieces coming together in his brother’s head.
“I couldn’t let them!” He glared at Tommy, silently challenging him to disagree. He didn’t mean to sound angry but… well, he was angry. At the Fireflies… at the whole fucked-up mess. “I did what I had to do.”
Now Tommy stood up and returned the glare. He was close enough that Joel backed up a couple steps. “Which was… what, exactly? You… convinced them not to do it?”
Joel said nothing and looked away. Tommy had surely suspected he hadn’t diplomatically negotiated with those fuckers, and the truth was now obvious.
“What the fuck, Joel! Marlene too?”
“I had no choice!”
“Bullshit! You coulda walked away!”
“And leave her to die?!”
“That’s right! Maybe they coulda jus’… extracted some of it and not have to kill her--”
“No – that wasn’t their plan. There were recordings, Tommy – they said they had to kill her! Marlene said they had to!”
“Alright then – so they kill her and make a vaccine and save the world! Instead, you kill fuck knows how many people, for what?!”
“That’s tradin’ all those Fireflies’ lives for one life – no, shitloads of lives, for Chrissake!”
“I don’ give a fuck about that—“
“Ellie’s worth more’n all of ‘em put together!”
“To you! Fuck, how could you be so goddamn selfish?!”
“I’m not! I did it for her!”
“You did it for yourself!”
“Damn it, Tommy – “ Joel was clenching and unclenching his fists; it took real effort to not punch the table, maybe the wall… knock a chair over… some kind of outlet for his frustration. It was a minor miracle this hadn’t come to blows yet, really – Tommy was mighty angry himself. Joel tried to calm himself down by taking a deep breath, leaning on the table. “Do you really think it’s right to kill an innocent girl? For some experiment?”
“Shoot. You woulda done the same thing even if it was guaranteed to be the cure. Goddamnit, Joel!” Now Tommy was pacing too, running his hands through his hair… probably weighing his options.
“Tommy, if it had been Maria instead of Ellie—“
“Oh don’t you turn this around on me – Ellie’s not even related to you!”
“That don’ matter. Don’t you see? It’s wrong to kill an innocent girl – she’s just a kid, for fuck’s sake—“
“What did Ellie say about all this?”
Joel went silent again.
“She doesn’t know?”
“They didn’ even ask her. And no I didn’t tell her. I can’t do that to her. I can’t.”
“Jesus Christ! Who the hell are you to be makin’ all these decisions? Where do you get off playing God with everyone’s lives?!”
“I’m not ‘playing God,’ I’m jus’ –“
“You decided that what you want is more important than what anyone else wants. Just like you always have!”
“That is not even—“ Joel gritted his teeth and stifled a scream of bloody murder, emitting a weird strangled sound instead. This was not going well at all. Why did Tommy have to dredge up old shit? Before he could articulate a proper response, a soft rustling noise from the next room caught his attention. “Did you hear that?”
Without waiting for an answer, he hurried over to the window in the living room – it was open. It had been fucking open this whole time?! He looked out and didn’t see anyone in the immediate vicinity. Maybe it had just been the wind. They’d certainly been yelling enough to attract attention, though. He shut the window. “Fuck.”
Tommy had followed him. “I shoulda checked the place before we started talkin’,” he muttered.
“I shoulda checked too,” said Joel with a sigh. “I’m gonna check the other windows real quick. Don’ go nowhere.”
Tommy chuckled mirthlessly. “Where would I go? To find Ellie an’ have us a little talk? Go find some Fireflies, maybe?”
Joel didn’t dignify that with a response. When he felt confident that the house’s privacy was secured, he returned to find Tommy sitting at the dining table again. Joel joined him, and they regarded each other silently for a moment. Joel leaned forward on his forearms and looked at his brother beseechingly. “Tommy, you gotta understand. I would do anything for my family.”
“Ellie is family,” Joel said matter-of-factly. “She is. That girl has done more for me than… I don’ mean jus’ the injury. She’s made me… I’m different now. You know how much of an asshole I was.”
“You’re still an asshole.”
Joel couldn’t really deny that. “Not the same as I was. And it’s because of her. Without her I’d be… I don’ even know.” Except he did know; he’d known since the second it dawned on him that Ellie was going to die there. Tommy was looking at him skeptically. Didn’t he fucking get it? “If that girl dies, I die. That’s all there is to it.”
Tommy’s expression softened a little. “You may feel that way now, but in time…”
Joel shook his head. “I fuckin’ know it, as much as I know anything. If I hadn’ been able to save her I woulda blown my brains out right there.”
“Goddamnit, Joel, don’t say shit like that!” Tommy implored, sounding angry again.
“It’s the truth,” Joel said simply. “So what? You prob’ly wanna kill me now anyway.”
“Jus’ because I wanna kill you don’ mean I want you dead!”
Joel quirked an eyebrow at that, then smirked. He leaned back a bit. “Uh…how does that work, exactly?” His grin infected Tommy and suddenly they were both laughing – which was fucking ridiculous, and inexplicable. The laughter died out in a few moments but it had dispelled some of the tension. “Tommy, listen. I know you’n’me, we see things different ways. I know you would rather do the noble thing, sacrifice one life in the name of saving this shitty world… but in the end when it came down to it, if it’d been you in my shoes I don’ think you woulda done it any different. We’ll never know ‘cause you weren’t there. So I don’ expect you to agree with my poin’ of view. I’m jus’ askin’ you to respect it. Respect the decision I made. She’s only a kid. She deserves a normal life. Not a life where… a life that she thinks she shouldn’ be livin’, like she’s shirkin’ her duty to the human race or some shit.”
Joel saw Tommy considering these words and felt hopeful that he’d found the right angle. Tommy didn’t say anything, though, so Joel continued. “If you can’t do this… if you can’t look the other way, an’ let Ellie believe what she believes, then I’m askin’ you to please let me know now, so we can clear outta here. I need your word that you won’t tell Ellie, an’ you won’t try to take her back there.”
Tommy chewed on that for a minute. “So… what does she believe happened?”
Joel recited the lie…watched his brother cringe at the absurdity of it. “It was the best I could come up with, okay?” he said defensively. “For all we know there could be dozens of immune out there.”
“But wouldn’ Ellie expect that you’d at least wait for her to wake up before leavin’? Let her decide if she wants to stick around an’ try to be useful to ‘em?”
“I don’ know… I s’pose…” Joel hoped she didn’t spend any time thinking about any part of the ordeal at all. He wasn’t about to admit to Tommy that he suspected Ellie didn’t believe the story anyway. “I pretty much told her to not dwell on the past, what’s done is done, we’re startin’ over now an’ all that matters is the future. So can you give me your word, or not?”
Tommy was pissed at him, sure, but he’d been pissed at him plenty of times in the past, and Joel had never known him to renege on a promise. His little brother had honor and morals and all that crap. And in whatever ways Tommy may have evolved in the years since they’d last known each other, Joel was willing to bet that that part of his character remained intact. He hadn’t witnessed anything here in Jackson so far that would lead him to believe that Tommy had become a less honorable man. Now Tommy seemed to be completely exasperated with him. “I don’ know, Joel. I really don’t.”
“Damnit, Tommy, that ain’t good enough!”
“I need to think. You come here an’ lay all this heavy shit on me and I’m s’posed to know what to do about it in five minutes?”
“Yeah, somethin’ like that.” Joel wanted to tell Tommy he owed him this much, given all that Joel had done for him after the outbreak, but that argument hadn’t worked so well last time. Then something else occurred to him: Maria! She was fond of Ellie. Maybe fond enough to convince Tommy to do the right thing here. “Alright, how ‘bout this: you talk it over with your wife, let me know tonight after dinner. But no one else can know about Ellie’s immunity. It’s nobody else’s business an’ I don’ want her treated like some freak, or… worse.”
Tommy nodded. “I can do that. I agree, no one else needs to know. And I can promise you that I won’t drag Ellie off on another little crusade. That ain’t the issue for me. The issue is whether or not to tell her the truth. If she knows, and wants to go back to the Fireflies…”
“They’re dead.” Well, most of them. I couldn’t get the ones chasing us to the exit.
“You did not singlehandedly kill every Firefly in this country, Joel,” Tommy said, snickering a little. “Though I wouldn’ put it past you. You may have cut off the head of the snake, but there’ll be another one in its place soon enough. Another Marlene. Damn, I can’t believe you fuckin’ killed her…”
“Had no choice.” She deserved it more than any of the others, the heartless traitor.
“Whatever. Say Ellie wants to leave. Would you help her find her way back to them?”
“Oh hell no. I wouldn’ let her leave here on her own neither.” What a dumbass question. Tommy may just as well have asked if Joel would help Ellie go kill herself.
“No? You have no say over her. If she wants to go—“
“She’s a kid. Sometimes kids need adults to make decisions for them, ‘cause they’re not experienced enough to do what’s in their own best interest. That’s what parents are for.”
“You’re not her parent!”
Joel sighed. “I’m the closest thing she’s got. Legally, no, I am not her parent, but ‘legal’ don’ mean shit no more, and it hasn’t for a long time.”
“Fine. Say you forbid her to leave on her own, and she obeys. What if she asks me to go with her?”
That one sent a ripple of pain to his heart. Would his brother actually defy his wishes so brazenly, and take away the person who meant the most to him in this world? “I would hope you’d tell her no,” he said quietly.
“She might hate you for all this, you know. That’s the real reason you don’t want her to know, isn’ it.” Tommy didn’t even pose that as a question.
“No, of course not,” Joel snapped reflexively. Truth be told, yes, it had crossed his mind that she’d hate him. Maybe for a little while, maybe a little longer… maybe forever. He could live with that, if need be. It would be awful, but he could do it. What he couldn’t live with was her sacrificing her life, and he was terrified that that’s exactly what she would want to do. “It’s what she’d want… and you know it.” The fact that she was still alive…still bringing light to the world, even if he didn’t get to experience it personally… that would have to be enough for him. He could still hold out hope that she could find it in her heart to forgive him someday. All of this would be moot if Tommy could keep his damn mouth shut anyway… and if Ellie didn’t question the story, ever… Right now he was feeling pretty fucking done with this conversation. “Look, jus’… you go talk to Maria, and let me know – discreetly – when you can. In the meantime… you got anythin’ I can pound a hammer on or somethin’?”
“Yeah.” Tommy looked at him with… Joel wasn’t sure what it was, in that look of his. Disappointment? Pity? At least he didn’t seem angry now. Tommy headed for the door. “Come on. Got some guys workin’ on a roof, I’m sure they could use an extra hand.”
Joel followed him out. If his first day in Jackson was also to be his last, he reckoned it was better to spend it busy working on something physical. Anything was better than sitting around either agonizing over shit he couldn’t control…or missing Ellie like hell.
~Continue to Chapter 5~