Fandom: The Last of Us
Characters (in this chapter): Ellie, Maria, OCs
Word Count: 4762
Chapter Summary: Ellie spends her first day in Jackson down at the farm and makes a new friend...she also makes an impression on a couple other residents *snicker*
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Someone asked me about the size of the farms. I purposely left that vague, because to be honest I don't know how large the fields should be, how many of each animal they should have, etc. to support a population of 200+ and also have plenty of surplus for trade, yet still be manageable for a community without all the modern conveniences of contemporary farms. Perhaps my google skills are lacking (and math is also not my strong suit) -- I just didn't feel it was important to try to calculate exact numbers or dimensions. So, they are "big," but completely enclosed by perimeter fencing/walls, which are regularly maintained by other townsfolk, and mountains on the south side.
Ellie had never been on a real farm before. All these animals were roaming around, unafraid, just going about their business of grazing or lounging in the sun. Jackson had three large farms that sort of rolled together into one gigantic farmland. Maria led her to the property closest to Joel’s house. From the entrance, they walked for ages, passing pens that housed various animals -- goats, pigs, cows, horses, sheep -- before they even saw a human being. Ellie soaked it all up in awe. Maria introduced her to the first girl they saw, near a barn…a girl who did not look like anyone Ellie had ever met in her life. She was a vision straight out of a textbook back in school of, what was it… the Amish? Quackers? Her name was Annie. She had long dark-blonde hair tied in a braid hanging down her back, big brown eyes, a smattering of freckles on her nose. That was all fine, it was her clothing that stood out. She wore a light blue dress with poofy sleeves and a long-ass skirt (how could the girl run in that thing?), with a matching hat… what was it called… it was the kind that ties with a ribbon under your chin. Ellie wouldn’t be caught dead in something so girly. Yet for all its girliness, the outfit wasn’t frilly or fancy; in fact, it was dirty in places. Mostly on the apron that covered a great deal of the front. She also wore black rubber boots, which didn’t exactly match the dress but at least looked sensible for farming.
Maria gave Annie a very brief explanation for Ellie’s presence, and Annie agreed to show Ellie how to do some farming chores -- also to go riding with her that afternoon. Maria thanked the girl and turned to Ellie. “Will you be alright here? You don’t have to stay the whole day, if you can’t… if you get tired, or…”
Or what? “Yeah, I’ll be fine. Sounds great.”
“Okay then. See you at dinner,” Maria said with a smile. “You know, you’re always welcome at our house. Come over whenever you’d like.”
Maria was so nice. “Okay,” said Ellie cheerfully. “Seeya later.”
Annie looked at her curiously as Maria headed back to town. “So. Ellie. You ever work on a farm before?”
“Nope, can’t say that I have. I’ve never even been on a farm before. It’s pretty fucking awesome. Do you live here?” She had to; none of the people Ellie had seen in town so far dressed like that. And did she really just flinch at the cuss word?
“Yep, it’s me and my mom and my little brother. Mom and Will are off helping Farm 1 -- that’s the one furthest west -- plant some crops… asparagus and potatoes… so it’s just me and the animals, for now. Later you can meet my boyfriend, he’ll come help with the evening chores, him and a few other people.”
Ellie wanted to ask her how she managed to get a boyfriend if she dressed like that, but she didn’t want to be rude.
Annie continued her farm lesson. “We’ll have time to go riding after lunch. We’re Farm 3, by the way. And the middle one, the second one, that’s Farm 2. …Um, not that you didn’t figure that out, that two would be the one in the middle…” She chuckled and blushed a little.
Ellie realized that the girl was nervous. What the hell for? She wasn’t the one alone in a strange new environment. But… well, meeting new people could be a little scary, that was true. She smiled kindly at Annie. “Wasn’t even thinking about it. So how long have you guys been here?”
“Um… like ten years maybe? We moved around a lot when I was little, I don’t remember much about the other places… other farms. For a while we were on a waiting list to get into a quarantine zone, but the zone got ditched and we never got to live there. It’s totally different here the last few years since people started living in town. We don’t have to worry about getting robbed anymore. We can actually raise livestock and crops and everything. Speaking of which…” Annie motioned for Ellie to follow her. “Come on, let’s go feed the pigs.”
Ellie followed her inside the barn, which was way bigger than Ellie had imagined a barn would be. “How old are you?”
Same as Riley. Only Riley would have been seventeen by now, if she wasn’t frozen in time. “Fifteen. Are there a lot of teenagers here?”
“Um… like fifteen or twenty? Is that a lot?”
“Yeah, kinda. To me it is.” Ellie paid attention as Annie showed her the ratio of corn and grain to mix up for feed, and explained how and when they dole it out. How pigs will eat anything, and sometimes she’d throw in garden scraps for them, and…
Annie pushed the wheelbarrow past her and suddenly noticed the gun sticking out the back of Ellie’s jeans. She stopped in her tracks and frowned. “You don’t need to carry that around, you know… you don’t need it Inside. And actually you’re not allowed to have it unless you’re going somewhere you’ll use it… which you can’t anyways ‘cause you’re too young.”
Ellie tried not to sound annoyed. “No, actually Tommy said it was okay.”
The girl looked skeptical. “Why?”
Ellie shrugged. “It… makes me feel better to have it?”
“But you’re safe here, you won’t need to use it. What if it goes off?”
“I’m not an idiot, it won’t just ‘go off.’ And I’m not gonna use it.”
“Then why carry it?”
Ellie wondered if she should try to make her understand. If it was even possible. If it was worth the effort. “I have it so I can kill people if they piss me off,” she said with an evil grin. “So you might wanna stay on my good side. Just sayin’.”
Annie’s eyes widened in alarm. Could she not take a joke or what? What would she make of Joel? Funny thing was, the joke was probably true in Joel’s case.
Ellie laughed. “Relax, I’m just kidding! I’m not gonna shoot you, I promise.”
Annie’s smile was shaky, like maybe she didn’t believe her. But they got on with the chores… feeding the pigs and fetching them clean water, petting them and playing with the piglets (they were so cute!), replacing their soiled straw bedding, and then loading bales of hay in a wagon to take over to the stables later. All the while, Ellie was being perfectly friendly -- at least, she felt like she was -- and they were getting along fine… except the girl just couldn’t stop glancing at her fucking gun. When Annie deemed it lunchtime, they trekked back to Annie’s house, which was much bigger than Joel’s -- even bigger than Tommy and Maria’s. Ellie took note of the shotgun hanging over the door as she closed it behind her. “You guys have a gun,” she stated. So why the big fuss about mine?
“Of course we do,” Annie said breezily. “We have several. But we keep them in the house, for protection. We don’t tote them around.”
Didn’t they need to be protected even more when they were away from home? And so much for being so ‘safe’ in Jackson that guns were unnecessary. But Ellie dropped it; she didn’t want to hear any more of Annie’s sanctimonious crap anyway. The girl still seemed to be making a concerted effort not to have her back towards Ellie. Like the thing might go off and the bullet would defy gravity and magically carom off something and hit her? Or because at any moment Ellie might go crazy and pull it on her?
Lunch was simply bread (with actual butter!), apples, and milk, but it was quite marvelous to Ellie, who had also eaten breakfast that morning. Three meals in a row! “Man. Is it normal for you guys to have so much food?”
Annie chuckled. “Yeah, we always have enough. We don’t eat as much as people did before…back in Mom’s time. But no one starves. It’s more likely we’d run out of razors or soap, stuff like that. From Outside. How long did it take you guys to get here? You didn’t bring a lot of food with you?”
“The only food we had is whatever we found along the way. And… let’s see… maybe a month or two?” Ellie had lost all sense of time out there. They had stayed in Colorado a long while because Joel had said there was no point trying to travel on foot through God knows how much snow and end up freezing themselves to death in a blizzard, and Ellie was glad about that, mostly because that wound in Joel’s gut worried her. They only had a few doses of penicillin. Ellie had thought about trying to find David’s camp, where apparently they had enough medicine that they could spare some, but it would take a while on foot just to get back to where she’d met David, and she wasn’t exactly sure where to go from there. Plus if she took too long on a ‘hunting trip’, Joel would have come out looking for her instead of resting like he should -- like she’d made him promise (that had been quite the ordeal… the man was fucking stubborn!). She really hadn’t been keen on seeing any more of David’s goons either, and Joel was getting better, so in the end, she’d decided against it. Even after Joel had healed enough to go hunting with her, she hadn’t broached the subject. She had imagined Joel marching in there, killing everyone in sight… and possibly getting killed himself.
Before the injury, Ellie had revered Joel as a comic book superhero: indestructible, infallible, one hundred percent guaranteed to take down the bad guys. Sure, she always felt fearful when they were in a dangerous situation… that was instinct. But deep down, she had known that they’d come out of it just fine. SuperJoel would save the day, with a little help from his sidekick WonderEllie. The wound had suddenly made him mortal in her eyes. She still believed in his badassness, and being with him made her feel completely safe in a way she’d never felt before. She just had to acknowledge that he was human… and she couldn’t help worrying about him.
“Ellie? Are you okay?”
Ellie blinked. She must have been staring off into space again. “Yeah. Sorry. Actually from where we started it’s been almost a year.” She took a big bite of her apple and savored the sweet crispiness, the pleasant sensation of the juices in her mouth.
“Oh wow, that’s a long time. Where are you from?”
“Boston. It’s waaaaay east of here.”
“And how do you know Tommy’s brother? Maria says you’re a friend of his?”
“Uh…” ‘Friend’ doesn’t quite cover it. I feel like I’ve known him forever. You wouldn’t understand. “It’s a long story. Basically he was supposed to take me somewhere across town, and that didn’t work out so we ended up having to leave and… and Joel wanted to see his brother, so here we are.”
“So you’ll stay here instead of going all the way back home?”
“We can’t go back.” I’m infected. I can’t get into a quarantine zone ever again. Ellie could just imagine how much Annie would freak out if she told her the whole truth. “I mean…there’s no reason to. Neither of us has family there, and this place is pretty awesome. Why would anyone want to leave?”
Annie nodded. “I feel the same way. Now that we have the militia it’s just as good as a quarantine zone.”
Ellie scoffed. “Are you kidding me? This is way better than a fucking quarantine zone. No stupid school, no curfew, there’s fresh air…”
“We have school!” Annie protested.
Maria had told Ellie about their school. It was basically for younger kids to get proficient at reading and writing and to learn the basics of other subjects like math, science, history, and geography. Mostly for kids ten and younger, though occasionally some older kids who arrived with deficient skills or knowledge would also attend. Some would go on to study a particular subject of interest privately. There were no military drills, minimal homework, and it was only a few hours a day -- plus the kids got to leave it behind every day, they didn’t live there. “Please. Your school is nothing like the ones in Boston.” Annie bristled a little, like maybe she was offended, so Ellie quickly added, “That’s a good thing! It was shitty back there, trust me. I mean, I can’t really complain… it was a roof over my head, and food every day, and it was safe from Infected. I didn’t really appreciate all that ‘til I left it. But it wasn’t like… friendly there. Not like here. Like last night, at Tommy’n’Maria’s, we ate dinner with all these other people, these families, and everyone was talking and laughing and like… they all seemed to care about each other. It was weird. I didn’t have to worry about some bully trying to steal my food.”
Annie looked sympathetic. “Yikes. Did that happen a lot?”
“Yeah, all the time. And then I would get punished for fighting. So unfair! I found ways to get even with them, though.” Ellie smirked, remembering all the trouble she and Riley used to get into. If she hadn’t been bitten and gone to Marlene when she did, she probably would have been expelled from that last school within a week or two anyway, with nowhere left to go. It was funny how things worked out sometimes.
“I can’t imagine. I’ve never been in a fight…a physical one, anyway.”
“Ever? Shut up.” Boy, would this girl get picked on back there. She’d never make it.
“Does that seem weird to you?” Annie didn’t even seem to feel embarrassed about being a wimp.
“Well, yeah. I guess. Maybe not out here in the country so much,” she conceded. Ellie’s teeth whittled her apple down as close to the core as possible.
Annie chuckled. “Maybe you can teach me how to fight some time.”
“Not in that dress I can’t.” She didn’t know if she could actually teach anyone how to fight anyway. She hadn’t learned it, she just did it. Although… she supposed she had learned some stuff from Joel, mostly by observation. “Can I ask you something? Why do you wear that…” -- Ellie gestured at the other girl’s head -- “Doesn’t that ribbon make you itch?”
“The sunbonnet? It shades my face. And it protects my head from the sun blasting it all day… the sun can be really draining, if your head gets too hot. And no, I don’t even notice the ribbon. You wanna try it? I can get you one…”
Oh hell no. “No thanks. Wouldn’t match my outfit,” she said with a grin.
“You’re right about that.” Annie smiled at her. She was pretty, Ellie decided. Annie finished her milk and leaned back in her chair. “I’m sure you’re wondering why I dress like this instead of wearing jeans like everyone else. When I was little, I was fascinated with the clothes of the Victorian era. I loved looking at the books in the library with all the pictures, and playing dress-up and stuff. I don’t know how much this town got looted before but there were plenty of clothes left behind for me to play with. When Millie came to live here -- have you met her? She’s like, the town seamstress -- she started making me dresses, out of whatever fabric we could get. She made this one too, actually. It’s more pioneer than Victorian, of course, but I can’t get a fancy dress all dirty! And I could never work in those long skirts.”
“Uh, you’re not exactly wearing a miniskirt,” Ellie observed with a smirk.
“Oh but you should see the ones that drag on the ground! Or that bustle -- they stick out way behind your butt. I’ll show you some time. Um -- if you want.” Annie had been so animated talking about clothing, but now she blushed and seemed shy again. “I just… like dresses in general. The way they look… and they’re more comfortable than pants. An old-fashioned dress like this, most people wouldn’t think it’s cool, but who cares? Clothes used to go in and out of ‘style,’ before the outbreak -- I say, why don’t people wear whatever they like? Why dress a certain way because it’s what you’re ‘supposed’ to do?”
Ellie didn’t really give a shit about clothes, whether it be her own or in the context of history. She did know the answer to that question, though. “Because if you don’t, the other kids make fun of you or bully you, for one?”
“Yeah, sometimes… but what I mean is it shouldn’t have to be that way. My brother teases me -- that’s part of his job as my sibling -- that’s allowed, I do the same to him. We’re not nasty to each other, either. It’s all in good fun. I have a couple of more modern dresses I can wear to go into town, but that doesn’t mean I won’t get teased. Anyway, if kids call me names or ridicule me, I just ignore them. I don’t care what they think.”
Maybe this girl had never been in a fist fight, but Ellie could see she wasn’t a total pushover. She was different and not afraid to show it. Ellie could respect that, even if she didn’t totally buy the ‘I don’t care’ remark.
They had both finished eating now. “So what do we do next?” asked Ellie.
“Well, we have time to go riding now if you want?” Annie picked up their plates and glasses and set them in the sink.
Fifteen minutes later they were gleefully galloping around the pasture, Annie on her favorite horse, a chestnut mare named Amelia, and Ellie on a palomino stallion named Spirit -- a beautiful horse she fell in love with the second she laid eyes on him. Ellie thought Annie might need to change clothes to ride a horse, but Annie simply bunched up her skirt and sat on it (she did remove her apron, which was actually called a pinafore). Spirit was a little feistier than Callus, and Ellie even got thrown off once, but she insisted this was the horse she wanted. Riding him was such a thrill! I could so do this every day, Ellie thought happily. The wind whipped at her face and through her hair, carrying her voice away when she shouted in delight -- she felt free, even though they were technically confined. She was in no hurry to get anywhere, she wasn’t being chased by anyone (except perhaps Amelia), she was just riding for pure pleasure. It felt fucking fantastic.
After a few minutes of such ‘freedom,’ Ellie saw Annie rein in her horse and beckon Ellie over. Annie’s face was flushed and some of her hair had come loose from its braid. Her sunbonnet dangled down her back. She undid the knot and pulled it off, then stuffed it underneath her balled-up dress. Ellie laughed when she caught her breath. “Man, this horse is hyper! And you know…for someone who’s a… clothing connoisseur, or whatever, you don’t really take much care with your clothes. What’s up with that?”
Annie laughed. “Eh, they need to be washed anyway. And see how it’s clouding up out here? I don’t need the sunbonnet so much. So is Spirit too much of a pain to ride? Want a different horse -- maybe an older one?”
“No way, Spirit’s my buddy now, aren’t you, Spirit!” Ellie patted the horse’s shiny white mane. She might have exaggerated her riding skills to Annie when they were picking out a horse for her to ride. Just a wee bit.
“He does seem to like you, actually,” Annie acknowledged. “Do you want to go ride through the town? I could give you a tour.”
Ellie nodded eagerly. “Sure! Can you show me where the Town Square is? I heard they show movies there every night?”
“Yep, most nights. I don’t go that much. If they’re gonna show a drama… or a period piece, like Far and Away or something, I will. The teens usually watch something dumb. Do you wanna go clean up a bit before we go?”
“No,” Ellie replied, her tone implying that it was a silly question. Jeez, she’d just taken a shower that morning. She didn’t have all that much dirt on her, really. “Unless…you do?”
Annie shook her head. “Nah, I don’t care what I look like. Everyone already knows! I just thought you… if you wanted to make a good first impression or something…”
“Pfffffft. I so don’t care. Let’s just go.” Ellie had never really given much thought to her appearance; was she supposed to start now?
The horses cantered side by side towards town, with Ellie asking Annie questions about Jackson and Annie answering them, supplementing with random trivia or gossip about some of the residents. Ellie was happy to see that Annie had finally forgotten about the gun. When they reached the street, they trotted single-file with Annie in the lead. Like Tommy, Annie seemed to know all the names of the townsfolk, greeting whomever they passed. People may have been surprised to see a stranger riding behind her, but they politely said hello to Ellie too. Whenever Annie stopped her horse to chat with someone for a minute, she introduced Ellie as her ‘new friend.’ Ellie kept surveying the scene all around them… partly to take in the new sights, and partly because she couldn’t shake the feeling that a group of men could burst out at them from behind any of these houses. Which was probably a ridiculous thing to think…
“And there’s the library, straight ahead.” Annie pointed to a large brick building. “That’s where they have the movies.”
Instead of dangerous men, Ellie spotted a couple of adolescent boys standing to their right just off the road, across from the library building. She heard their laughter as the horses approached… and she got the sense that the source of their amusement was the two of them -- or maybe just Annie. Annie didn’t change her course to avoid them. The boys were probably around Ellie’s age, maybe a little younger. Their dopey smug expressions certainly made them look younger in Ellie’s eyes.
“Hey Annie! Why don’t you roll up that stupid skirt all the way for me? I’ll give you a ride!” one of them snickered. His friend whispered something to him and he added, “Or did you already get off on the saddle?” Both of them burst into moronic laughter.
Really? The asswipes seemed to think these lame comments were the funniest thing ever. Annie didn’t look at them; she just kept moving forward. Ellie couldn’t see her face but she would bet it was flaming red. Could the girl really just ignore that?
“Hey! Thanks for bringin’ a friend so me and Cedric don’t have to share!” called Asswipe #1. This renewed their laughter. Ellie tugged on the reins and Spirit trotted around the boys in a wide circle. The mouthy little jerk watched her. “Oh yeah, she’s stopping! You want in on the action, skank?”
“You wish, you little shit,” Ellie snarled. They were still laughing. “You’re such a dumbass that a whore wouldn’t even fuck you if you paid her double.”
That earned a laugh from Asswipe #2 -- until he saw that the remark had angered his buddy.
“Ellie, come on!” Annie urged from the road up ahead, where she was waiting for Ellie to catch up. Ellie ignored her.
Asswipe #1 glared at Ellie. “You two are lezzies.”
“Ohhhhh man, that’s so insulting,” Ellie mocked. “I’d rather be a lesbian anyway than be with your ugly ass. So would every other girl in this country.”
“Hey, fuck you, bitch!” In Ellie’s book, resorting to a ‘fuck you’ equated to either ‘I’m done with this’ or ‘I need a minute to think of a witty comeback.’ Probably the latter in this boy’s case. He had to save face in front of his homie.
“Dude, she’s got a gun,” Asswipe #2 pointed out nervously. He appeared to be the younger of the two, maybe twelve or thirteen years old.
Ellie knew she’d won the verbal sparring match and should probably go join Annie now, but she couldn’t resist messing with them a little. “That’s right. And I killed so many people I’m not allowed back in my old quarantine zone, so, here I am! I can’t help it, people just piss me off so much, y’know?” She made a motion like she was reaching for the gun.
Both dweebs took off running like chickenshits, and both girls burst out laughing. Ellie turned her horse around and caught up to Annie. “You’re bad!” Annie said with admiration. “I’ve never seen A.J. so scared.”
“Man. Idiots! I wonder if they actually believed me, or just didn’t wanna take any chances. You really just ignore that shit? It doesn’t bother you?”
Annie sighed. “I don’t like it, it’s awkward… but they’re just dumb kids showing off. It’s really no big deal.”
“Pfffft. They’re arrogant dickwads who need to be put in their place. What about your boyfriend? I thought guys were all macho about shit like that. Isn’t it like… ‘guy code’ that he goes and kicks their asses now?”
“Maybe. That’s why I don’t tell him! I don’t want him to get upset or get in trouble. And it’s kind of embarrassing, I’d rather just forget it. Ellie, seriously, it’s nothing. You didn’t have to do that. But… thank you.” Annie smiled at her shyly.
“At your service, ma’am,” Ellie said grandly with a mock bow. “Alright, so instead of telling him, next time someone messes with you, you tell me, and I’ll take care of it for you. Trouble is my middle name. If I had an actual birth certificate, it would be on there.”
Annie laughed again and rolled her eyes. “You’re funny. I’m sure I’ll be fine, but I’ll remember that. You um… haven’t really killed anyone, have you?”
“Well, yeah,” Ellie answered soberly. “I have. Only when I had to, though.”
“And regular people too. Only when I had to,” she repeated.
Annie looked a little wary again. “What do you mean ‘had to’? Self-defense?”
“Uh... kind of. Yes,” Ellie amended. Sometimes we had to attack first. You wouldn’t understand.
“Wow. So… for you, confronting a couple of punk kids being stupid is like...”
“Exactly.” Ellie chuckled. It was weird, though, how quickly she had reverted back to the girl she’d been in the zone a year ago. She knew she wasn’t that girl anymore – and that girl hadn’t even known Joel existed, which didn’t seem possible, somehow. She used to act tough, and think she was tough, but now she knew better. And even though she was more capable and sure of herself now than she’d ever been, she was also way more scared. Which didn’t make sense. At the same time, she also felt safer than ever before. Which totally didn’t make sense. She felt cared for and looked after now. Sure, she’d had Marlene back in Boston, but that wasn’t the same. Marlene was more detached than Joel, definitely, and Ellie didn’t feel the same kind of connection with her. She’d never felt like she couldn’t survive if Marlene wasn’t in her life. Yet there was also the icky feeling Ellie got in the pit of her stomach when she thought about Joel lying to her…about what could have happened that would make him lie, and what she should do about it…
“Sorry. What did you say?”
“I said I’ll be sure to stay on your good side then, like you said earlier,” she said with a grin. “Shall we continue the tour?”
“Yes!” Ellie has happy for the escape from her rumination -- and glad that her new friend had apparently accepted her status as a killer. Now if only she’d quit cringing at her colorful vocabulary…
~Continue to Chapter 6~