Lumy (luminations) wrote,
Lumy
luminations

"Accretion" Chapter 24: "Mad World"

Title: "Accretion" - Chapter 24: "Mad World"
Fandom: The Last of Us
Word Count: 5350
Rating (for fic as a whole): R
Chapter Summary: Fight or flight? ...or a little of both...


Ellie caught up to her quarries easily enough. She kept herself out of sight as much as she could, creeping from house to house, looking, listening. The streets were deserted, which should have made it easier… she hoped… yep, gotcha. She saw them, two people strolling down the street…when they turned a corner, Ellie quickened her pace. It wasn’t a street corner, so it appeared they were cutting through someone’s yard. She couldn’t risk being heard by hauling ass, but it turned out there was no need to; when she reached the house where they’d turned, she heard a loud “Sssshhhhh!” accompanied by muffled giggling, and realized they hadn’t gone any further.

Ellie had to get close enough to be sure, because it would be pretty damn embarrassing if she was wrong… Oh yeah, that’s definitely him. Fucking douchebag motherfucker! Who’s the girl?

She was only twenty feet away from them and they still hadn’t noticed her. Ellie wasn’t going to stand there and watch as they kissed and groped each other. “What the fuuuuck,” she said loudly to make her presence known. The two bodies jumped apart guiltily -- as if it made any difference now. The girl was Christine -- a fucking friend! Annie was going to be devastated. “How could you?” she asked of either of them, her eyes darting from one to the other.

Jacob stuffed his hands in his pockets and stared at the ground. Christine looked at Ellie pleadingly. “It’s not what it looks like.”

Ellie wanted to strangle her. “Oh? It looked like you and Annie’s fucking boyfriend were shoving your tongues down each other’s throats, making out practically in the street. Is that not what you were doing? There’s another explanation? Go on, tell me, this should be good.”

“He was gonna break up with her,” Christine said feebly. Jacob cringed at that.

“So that makes it okay to fuck around behind her back?” Ellie glared at Jacob. “Were you gonna dump her?”

The cheating bastard was reluctant to speak. He shuffled his feet and looked very uncomfortable. “Well…” he finally said.

Ellie was too impatient to wait for him to spit it out. “Whatever. Now you don’t have to, I’m going to tell her.”

That got him to find his voice. “No! You can’t! Ellie, please don’t, okay? I’ll talk to her.”

“When?” Ellie demanded.

“Tomorrow.”

“Try tonight. How about right now. Because I can’t let her go on thinking you love her when you don’t.”

“I do—“ he started to say, with a glance at Christine. “She’s busy right now, though… with the sheep…”

“No wonder you asked me about Mimi,” Ellie scoffed. “You were trying to figure out if she’d be coming back tonight after chores, weren’t you? Admit it.”

“No!”

“Fucking liar. You were trying to see if you’d have time to run out for a quickie. You didn’t even bother going to one of the empty houses. Just couldn’t wait, could you? God, you two make me sick.”

Christine was crying the fakest tears Ellie had ever seen. “We didn’t mean to—“

“Oh, shut the fuck up, you fucking slut. Of course you meant to.”

“I would never hurt Annie,” she sniffled. The crocodile tears only enraged Ellie more.

“I said shut up. You wouldn’t, huh?” Ellie rounded on Jacob. “If I hadn’t found you just now, you were never gonna tell her, were you. That counts as not hurting her in the asshole playbook, right?!”

Jacob dug the toe of his shoe in the dirt and stared at it. “Well… uh… I just thought I’d… you know. Let her down easy. Knowing would only hurt her more.”

“Wow, that’s so fucking considerate of you,” Ellie said nastily. “I’m so glad you’re thinking about her feelings. ‘Let her down easy’ -- what does that even mean? There’s no such thing. Not when you’re in love with someone. What were you gonna say? ‘I’m sorry, Annie, but you deserve better than me, and that’s why I’m breaking up with you, because I’m just soooo unselfish like that. What a great guy I am, huh?’ No. Fuck no. She needs to know you’re a lying, cheating, motherfucking piece of shit asshole who can’t keep his dick in his pants. How many other girls are you fucking?”

“No one! It’s not like that. I… care about both of them.” He snuck another glance at Christine, then stepped towards Ellie. “Let me explain. In private,” he added quietly.

Ellie wondered if he’d been lying to Christine, too. “No. No way. God, I can’t believe I defended you. Annie knew something was up and I told her that you loved her, I could tell, I could see it when you looked at her.” She hoped it hurt the cunt to hear that. It wasn’t even a lie. Obviously Ellie had been wrong about him, though. I’ve been wrong about a lot of things lately. Jesus, I really don’t know anything. Maybe Joel’s right, I AM just a dumb kid.

“I love them both… in different ways,” Jacob said miserably. Probably so he could spin it to Christine later and convince her he only loved Annie as a friend or some shit.

“Well, now you don’t have to love Annie anymore.” Ellie shifted her glare to Christine. The girl wasn’t even that pretty. She was short… maybe an inch taller than Ellie, with curly brown hair prone to frizziness, and a pug nose a little too large to be cute. She had boobs, though, and she liked showing them off with low-cut shirts. “Congratulations, you get to have this creep all to yourself. Until some other skank comes along.”

Jacob didn’t bother trying to defend his character this time, at least. “I’ll talk to Annie. Please don’t tell her anything. Please.”

Ellie shivered, marveling that she could still be wet and cold while her anger burned so hot. She had to figure out what to do. What would be best for Annie? Could Ellie trust Jacob to tell the whole truth? She could find out easily enough by talking to Annie afterwards.

But she needn’t have wondered about that. “Just think how much more hurt she’d be if she knew about this,” Jacob beseeched her. “She’ll be hurt enough as it is -- this will only make it a million times worse, don’t you think? You can’t tell her what you saw. You don’t want to hurt her like that, do you?”

Unbelievable. “Oh, now it’s me that’s hurting her? You’re a fucking piece of work.”

“No, it’s not your fault, of course,” Jacob backpedaled. “Just… you don’t have to… we’ll keep it quiet for a while and by the time Christine and me, um… well… she’ll be over it by then.”

Oh my God, do ALL guys think we can just ~get over it~ so easily? “Are you serious?! Why the fuck would I help you keep your secret and… and fucking lie for you myself? And… God, how quickly do you think a person gets over her boyfriend cheating on her with some nasty cunt?”

Christine gasped at the word. She’d stopped blubbering and had come over to stand slightly behind Jacob. The bitch had the nerve to put her hand on his arm. He didn’t shrug it off, either. Isn’t that nice, she’s all stand-by-your-man now. Or your FRIEND's man.

Ellie was actually enjoying being mean to them. “Well, asshole, are you going to just stand there and let me call your whore names? Slut, cunt, skank, bitch, cocksucking, fugly, weasely little--“

“Ellie, don’t,” Jacob said -- quite perfunctorily, it seemed to Ellie. “It just sort of… happened. It’s not her fault.”

“Of course it’s her fault! You sure weren’t forcing her to spread her legs, were you! You weren’t forcing her to… to fucking smile at Annie, and pretend to be her friend!”

“We weren’t good friends,” whined Christine, as if that justified it. Now that she’d stopped sniveling, she was getting defensive.

That roused Ellie’s ire even more than the tears had. “Obviously. You’re about the worst kind of friend there is.”

“I mean… she wasn’t around all that much, she usually didn’t watch the movies or like… hang with us…”

The sound of the cunt’s voice was just irritating Ellie beyond belief. And ‘us’ – really?! “Oh, suck my dick! So now it’s her fault you’re a lying skank? Because she wasn’t around enough to stop you from whoring?! Fuck you!” And then Ellie was flying at her, all fists and fury, but of course, the chickenshit bitch immediately ducked behind Jacob. He managed to grab Ellie’s arms to restrain her momentarily, but Ellie kicked him in the shin and wriggled free. Still, she allowed Christine to hide behind her human shield, who was now wincing in pain, much to Ellie’s satisfaction. She just stood there yelling at both of them. She was so into her yelling that it was actually the change in Jacob’s facial expression, not her hyperawareness of her surroundings, that made her realize they were no longer alone. She whirled around.

“You fucking asshole.” It was Annie, a murderous expression on her face, but quite calm, considering. Clicker was right behind her. Ellie wondered how much they’d heard. She supposed it wasn’t too difficult to piece the puzzle together if they’d heard Ellie screaming epithets like ‘cheating prick’ and ‘fucking slut’ at the pair.

“I can explain—“ Jacob took a step towards Annie, and Ellie immediately jumped into his path.

“You mean you can lie!” Ellie snarled at him. “Don’t come near her.”

“But—“ He moved closer.

And suddenly, even though it had been over a year since she’d been there, Ellie was right back at school, staring down someone who posed a physical threat. Instinct took over: she brandished her switchblade. “Don’t you dare come one step closer or I swear to God I’ll cut you -- and don’t think I won’t!”

The air was eerily silent now. Jacob apparently believed her because he froze. Christine was also rooted to her spot a few feet behind him.

Annie approached her slowly. “Ellie, it’s okay.” She laid her hand on Ellie’s shoulder. “You don’t need to do that.”

Ellie blinked. What the fuck am I doing? That was the weirdest feeling… she could have been at any of those shitty schools (they were all the same), facing any number of enemies she’d made before getting kicked out of each one. It had hit her even stronger than on her first day in town when she’d scared those little brats with her gun. She would have thought that her more recent experiences with fighting would take precedence. Then they wouldn’t be scared, they’d be dead. …not that that would be a bad thing. She lowered the knife, but didn’t switch the blade shut. “It’s not okay. This fucking… dickweed boyfriend of yours…” Ellie glowered at him.

“I know. But I need to talk to him,” said Annie coolly.

Ellie looked at her friend. She seemed… quietly pissed off. Strong. Not weepy. Hopefully that meant she wouldn’t believe his lies. “Whatever he tells you is gonna be bullshit. You can’t trust him.” Well, duh. But she couldn’t not point that out.

“Still. I have things to say. But not to her.” She cast a withering look at Christine. “You can leave now.”

“By that, she means fuck off, skank,” Ellie spat out, scowling (at a more appropriate time, she would have to applaud Annie for cussing earlier in a situation that definitely warranted it). Jacob said something inaudible to the slut and she started to leave. It occurred to Ellie that she should probably do some damage control. “And if either of you tell anyone about this...” What can I threaten them with?! She didn’t have time to think. “You’ll be sorry.” I just made it worse for myself if they DO tell. But fuck it. Fuck them, fuck this whole fucking town.

“Thanks, Ellie.” Annie gave her a side-arm hug. “Talk later?”

“I’ll wait here for you. Don’t be nice to him.”

Ellie watched them walk up the street, opposite of the way Christine had gone, and noted with satisfaction that when Jacob reached for her hand, Annie widened the distance between them. Ellie turned to Clicker and acknowledged him for the first time. He was either looking at her in shock or in awe, Ellie couldn’t tell which. She folded the blade shut and shoved it back in her pocket. “Dude, I told you not to follow me.”

“I didn’t!” he protested. “Annie showed up looking for you. When I said you went off by yourself she got, like… worried. Said she’d kick my ass if I didn’t tell her where you went.”

Ellie rolled her eyes. “Uh-huh. That sounds just like her. You musta been scared.” She noticed Jacob and Annie were sitting on someone’s porch steps, a respectable distance apart. A thought just occurred to her… and with Clicker, she really didn’t need to bother with subtlety. “Do you know if she asked Joel first?”

“Yep, he told her you were with me. Why?”

“Just wondering.” Hmmm. So Joel found out from someone that I left with Clicker -- he must have asked someone cuz he wasn’t even around then. Or maybe he saw us playing with the balloons. Whatever. Sounds like he didn’t notice when Clicker came back without me, but the kid wasn’t there very long. What will he think if Clicker goes back now and Joel sees he’s there without me and I’m not anywhere in sight? Probably that I’m with Annie. Will he assume that or will he come looking for me? I sort of snubbed him at the party though so maybe he’s mad. Would that make him NOT want to find me? Like, ‘Fuck her, if she don’t wanna hang out I’ll just go back to the skanks, they always pay attention to me…'

“Yo! Did you hear anything I just said?” Clicker was frowning at her.

“Of course!” she lied. “I just have a lot on my mind. Go on back, I’m gonna wait here and make sure Annie’s okay. And don’t you dare tattle to Joel about any of this. If he asks you where I am, just tell him…” How should I play this? “…that I’m with Annie. That’s it. Got it? See, I’m not even asking you to lie.”

“Why do you always think I’m gonna tattle?” he whined peevishly.

“Uh, because you always do?”

“Two times! That’s not ‘always’! And both were like, for-the-greater-good things. Not to be a tattletale.”

“Well, don’t decide that this is a greater-good thing, then. Joel doesn’t need to know where I am. I’m not gonna do anything stupid.” Ellie felt a twinge of guilt. She tried to tell herself she wasn’t manipulating the kid. What she said was true, after all… but she could tell that now he was wondering just what exactly she was planning to do. And I don’t even know. I’ll probably be with Annie anyhow. I just want Joel to worry. A little. “Promise you won’t say anything about... what you saw. No matter what.” She truly didn’t want Joel to know about that. If Clicker cracked under duress (and she assumed Joel would pressure him if he got a whiff of the boy’s uncertainty), she hoped he’d only give Joel a vague idea of her whereabouts, not spill the part he’d promised to keep secret. She could already hear him pointing out the difference later when she pretended to be annoyed.

She extracted a promise easily enough, though she couldn’t get him to leave her alone until they saw Annie heading back, Jacob-less; Ellie was sure Clicker wouldn’t want to engage in girl talk any more than Annie would want him to hear it.

The two girls hugged wordlessly, Annie sniffling into her shoulder. Ellie didn’t know what to say to her. She didn’t think anything she said would make Annie feel better anyway, and she didn’t want to say lame things just to say them. Annie wasn’t bawling, though. Ellie wasn’t a crier herself, but if she’d caught Joel with another girl, she’d be sobbing her fucking eyes out. She hugged Annie tighter.

“It’s fine,” Annie said finally, pulling back and wiping her eyes.

“It’s so not-fine, Annie. I’ll kick his ass for you if you want,” Ellie offered, only half-jokingly.

“You would, wouldn’t you. No, it’s fine,” she said again, smiling weakly. “I had this feeling… I thought she liked him but I didn’t know he liked her back, you know? At least now I know I’m not crazy for suspecting… yeah. I’m just gonna go home.”

Ellie nodded. “D’you want me to go with you? We can talk… do some man-bashing… listen to that song you were digging the other day, the one with the cloudy coffee…”

Annie almost smiled. “’You’re So Vain.’ Carly Simon. Yeah, I bet that’d sound good now. Tomorrow? You should go back to the party. I wanna be alone for a little while… and then I’ll talk to my mom. You’re off tomorrow, right? But if you want, you can come and see the lambs… you can name them, if you still want to? And then we can talk. Or… bash. Whatever.”

Ellie felt a pang of envy when Annie mentioned her mom. Must be nice to be able to talk to your mother about this kind of shit. “Okay. Lambs? So she had two? Or three?”

“Two. A boy and a girl. Thanks, Ellie. Really. You’re a good friend.”

Ellie felt herself blushing and was glad that it was almost dark out now. She felt ashamed for begrudging Annie a mother a moment ago. “Nah. I’m just… yeah, I’ll seeya tomorrow.”

She watched Annie walk away. Now what do I do? She didn’t feel like going back to the party, but she didn’t want to leave, either; she hadn’t had a satisfactory interaction with Joel yet. What she wanted to happen there, she didn’t know, just… something. If he told her he’d fucked up, that he felt the same way she did and wanted to be together, all would be forgiven. But Ellie couldn’t stand to entertain such thoughts because every time she did, it hurt that much more when the truth bit her in the ass again. Should I just hang out around here assuming Clicker will blab to Joel that this is where he last saw me? …am I really that pathetic? No. No, I’m not. Fuck Joel. Fuck him so hard.

She heard Carly singing in her head. ~You gave away the things you loved, and one of them was me…~

Whyyyyy, Joel? It still made no sense.

Stop it, Ellie, you’re gonna make yourself cry. Choose anger. FUCK JOEL. She could go to Tommy’s, or Joel’s… but that also involved just hanging around waiting for Joel to show up. He might not even go to Tommy’s. And she didn’t really want to be in Joel’s house, the house they’d shared, where she used to be so happy.

Okay, so I’m not THAT pathetic, but I’m still basing my decision on what I think Joel might do, which is pathetic enough.

She didn’t really feel like being by herself, either. Didn’t want to sit around thinking about Joel, or Jacob and Christine, or whatever the fuck her brain might decide to think about if she were alone.

Suddenly, she knew exactly where she wanted to go. She ran there, hoping it wasn’t too late. It wasn’t; Max was still sitting there in the bed of the truck, alone. She slowed to a brisk walk when she caught sight of him.

Ellie approached the open tailgate of the truck. “I changed my mind, can I have some of that…whatever-it-is? If you still have any?”

“I got some. Come on up.”

Ellie hesitated. The sun had nearly set and the streetlights had come on, casting him and the truck bed in shadow, save for the silvery light playing across the top of his head. She couldn’t see his expression, or if he looked drunk (what exactly did drunk people look like?), or... or what?

“Do you want some or don’tcha?” he prompted, waggling the flask. “I got the bottle here... you can take a swig outta that if you want… I gotta refill this thing… stay there a sec, I don’t wanna spill it.” Spill it if she shook the truck a little climbing up, Ellie assumed. She watched as Max unscrewed the top of each and carefully tilted the bottle over the flask. He offered Ellie the bottle.

She didn’t know much about the guy… but she didn’t get a ‘perv’ vibe off him. You didn’t with David, either, she reminded herself. Still… there was something exciting about taking the risk. If she’d felt like he was just a douchebag playing nice, she wouldn’t take it, but he seemed okay –- and they weren’t Outside where things were always dangerous, like when she’d met David. Tommy and Maria wouldn’t let some skeez live in their town. Besides, she had her blade, and he was likely to underestimate her, giving her the advantage of surprise. But best of all -- in the realm of irritating Joel, could she do any better than getting drunk with some strange man? That cinched it. She clambered into the truck and took the bottle. Even when she held it up high to catch the light from the street lamp, she couldn’t make out the faded label.

“It’s Jack Daniels,” said Max. “Whiskey. Ever had it?”

“Nope.”

“It’s strong. Just take a tiny sip.”

Ellie wrinkled up her face. “Ugh, it smells like shit.”

“Well, no, shit has a very different aroma…”

“Pfffff. It smells nasty, then. Does it taste better than it smells?”

“If you never had any, no. It’s… an acquired taste.”

“Okay, I’m gonna acquire it then,” she said bravely. “Here goes…”

“Just a sip, now,” Max repeated. “If you get too much you’ll probably reflex and spit it out, and wasting this shit is just plain wrong.”

“How come you’re wasting it on me, then?”

“Ain’t a waste if you drink it.”

Max was one of only a few people she’d noticed besides Joel and Tommy who said ‘ain’t,’ although his accent didn’t sound like theirs. Ellie wasn’t sure how an inebriated person would act, but he really didn’t strike her as drunk. She tilted the bottle very slowly and took the tiniest of tiny sips. It didn’t taste good, but it was swallow-able. Nothing happened. She gestured at the flask in his hand. “Can I drink from that thing? I mean, if it’s okay to have more.”

“Sure.” He traded her for the bottle.

The flask was easier to drink from. Ellie took a bigger sip, and this time she felt a burning sensation in her throat when it went down. She coughed but didn’t spit anything out.

“Good, now just let that settle a bit. You’re small, it won’t take much to catch a buzz. You don’t wanna get sick.”

“Cuz puking it up would be wasteful?”

Max chuckled. “That, and you don’t wanna get sick.”

Ellie didn’t hear any buzzing in her head, but she did feel sort of… warmer. Her shirt was damp and her jeans were still pretty wet, but she’d pretty much forgotten she was cold. The warmth in her stomach felt good, though.

“Do you mind if I sit here a while? Or would you rather be alone?”

“Sit. If I wanted to be alone that bad I’d go somewhere more private. I’m just people-watchin’.”

“People watching? That sounds creepy. Er…no offense.” Ellie made herself comfortable across from him, leaning against the corner of the truck that was street-side. Now that she was also in the shadow of the truck cab, she could see better.

“Guess it is kind of creepy. No harm in it, though.” He looked in the direction of the party. Ellie followed his gaze. She couldn’t identify people from this distance, but she could differentiate between kids and adults, especially if the kids were running around. It struck her as quite a lonely thing to do, to just sit around looking at people but not talking to them… the people not even realizing you’re there… she wondered if Max was sad. Did he really like being alone? Did he have any friends? She hadn’t seen him around that much to notice. Occasionally at the warehouse, where his parents worked. She wondered if having parents counted as having friends.

“Can I have another sip? I mean, did I wait long enough?”

“Baby sip.”

Knowing what to expect now, she braced herself this time, and it went down easier. “It still tastes fucking nasty,” she observed.

Max smiled. “You might not notice that so much as time goes by, is all. You feeling anything yet?”

“Warm. Nice.” She took another small sip.

“How old are you, Sunshine?”

Ellie groaned. “You can just call me Ellie, you know.” She’d been feeling rather grown up until he asked her that. “I’m old. How old are you?”

“Ladies first.”

“Fine -- I’m fifteen. But I’m an old soul.” She had decided she liked that moniker Annie had bestowed on her.

“Only fifteen? I thought you were at least twenty.”

Ellie laughed. “Shut up! No way, everyone thinks I’m like, twelve.” She knew he was just teasing -– on her way to the party he’d referred to her as a kid -- but she was glad she could sort of pretend he wasn’t. …even if that made no fucking sense.

“If you were twelve, I’d only give you one sip. I’m twenty-seven. Fuckin’ oooooold.”

Ellie wondered how much Joel would have let her drink. Probably at least a few sips. Damnit, Ellie, don’t think about Joel! He’s not here! “Not old. Eighty is old.”

“Right, right, someone’s always older.” He took a large swig from the bottle and made an appreciative ‘ahhhh’ sound. Then he seemed to read her mind. “Your friend know you’re out here?”

“My friend? You mean Joel?” At least he hadn’t referred to him as her father. “Pfff. No. He doesn’t need to know, he’s not the boss of me.” Ellie laughed at herself. “Oh my God, now I sound like a five-year-old. I mean… I do what I want. It’s not like he’s my dad or something.”

“Still. Seems like he usually keeps a close eye on you.”

He does. He… used to. Now he doesn’t care. Deep down, Ellie knew that wasn’t quite true, but she wanted to stay pissed off at him. “Not today. He’s too busy partying, I haven’t even talked to him all day.”

Max nodded slowly. “Oh, I get it now. He wouldn’t get you a drink, even though he’s probably tossed back a few himself, so you thought you’d go get your own.”

“Well…” It was close enough to the truth, really. She couldn’t say, ‘No, I’m pissed off at him for hurting me, so I thought I’d use you to get drunk and forget about him for a while, and if I’m lucky, it’ll also make him jealous as hell when he finds me later. Hope you don’t mind.’ “Something like that. Yours, though, not my own,” she added with a grin.

“I’m sure he’ll just love it when he finds out. He’ll be my new best friend.”

Ellie hadn’t thought about what consequences her actions might have for Max. Shit! Since Joel thought she was just a stupid little kid, he’d blame Max for her drinking. “Um… yeah, maybe I should leave you alone. Are you sure I can’t just guzzle this down now that I’ve had a little? I won’t tell him where I drank it. Or I’ll tell him I stole a bottle from somewhere.”

“Huh? You don’t have to leave. I don’t care if he gets mad.”

“You should care. He’s… not exactly the gentlest person…”

“So what?”

“Soooo he might kick your ass?”

“Tch. I ain’t no pussy.”

“Okay, but…” …he’s Joel -- he might decide to bash your head on the ground and then stomp on it.

“Don’t worry about it. Seriously.”

Ellie bit her lip, frowning. She was worried about it now. And it made her even angrier with Joel. Why does the asshole have to ruin EVERY FUCKING THING?!

“It’s okay, I’ll take my chances,” Max continued. “I want you to stay. It’s cool to have a drinking buddy.”

“It is?” Ellie wanted that to be a good enough excuse… but would he really want her to stay if he understood that his life might be in danger?

“It is. Shit, he’d probably be more ticked if I let you go wander around by yourself now, after you’ve been drinking. At least here you can’t get into any trouble.”

Ellie snorted. Didn’t Max realize that Joel would consider him to be the trouble? Maybe he was just messing with her. But, if he really didn’t want her to leave… “Okay. I guess. I’ll try to protect you.”

Max laughed. “Oh yeah? You gonna leap in front of the bullet?”

“Sort of, yeah. There won’t be a bullet if I get in the way.” That made Ellie feel marginally better. As long as she didn’t pass out, she was certain she could hinder Joel enough that he couldn’t seriously hurt Max, and maybe she could even talk him down. Maybe he won’t even know I’m here in the first place. And maybe if he does, he won’t care, because I walked out on him…I’m not his problem anymore… no, that’s not true it’s not it’s not it’s noooootttt.

“I s’pose I can be a pussy just once and let you do that if it eases your conscience,” Max said teasingly.

He just doesn’t get it! “Dude, it’s not being a pussy, it’s like… surviving. I was with him every day, Outside, for almost a year. I know how he is. And you might think since you’re younger you’ll be faster, or stronger… nope. Trust me. And don’t tell him you offered me anything, I’ll say I kept bugging you and I was a real brat about it and you finally gave me some to shut me up. He knows I can be like that… he’ll believe it.”

“Whatever. I ain’t afraid of him. And he’s got no reason to pick a fight. There's no set rule here about drinking age, and you’re a... free spirit.”

“Free spirit? Ha! That’s probably the best name I’ve ever heard for ‘orphan.’ But Joel doesn’t care so much about rules. He makes up his own. And the rest of us just have to go along with whateeeeever the fuck he wants.” Ellie tipped her head back with dramatic flair like she was taking a huge swill from the flask this time, but really she just took another sip. Max was looking at her strangely. Had she said something weird? “But, fuck him. He’s not here. So! This shit burns going down but… I kinda like it. I think it’s working!”

Much to her surprise, Ellie was indeed feeling pretty good. She’d never understood why people would ever have tried to ~solve their problems~ with alcohol (mostly people in the old world who could go buy as much as they wanted), but now she was starting to get it. She wasn’t the Ellie who was lovesick over Joel… or pissed at her traitorous friends… or sad for Annie… or whatever the fuck else. She was just… Ellie-in-the-moment, warm and light-headed and somewhat amused at life. I am happy. Not the same kind of happy I was when I thought I could be with Joel, but that happiness was artificial… nothing but a lie.

This happiness was quite a physical feeling, which made it more real… more trustworthy. She wasn’t an idiot; she knew it would be fleeting. But right now? I’ll fucking take what I can get.

~Continue to Chapter 25~

Tags: accretion, fic, tlou
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