Fandom: The Last of Us
Characters: Ellie, Joel, Tommy, Maria, OCs
Warnings: PLEASE SEE NOTES ABOUT WARNINGS IN FIRST CHAPTER
Word Count for this chapter: 4159
Rating (for fic as a whole): R
Ellie failed to fall asleep... and so far, no one had come back to kill them.
She was just any random girl, nestled in the arms of her boyfriend. "I love you, Bailey," she whispered.
She remembered the first time he'd told her he loved her. It was on one of their many walks through town. He'd just kind of blurted it out.
"Ellie -- I love you."
"What? Er... okay..."
"You don't have to say anything. I just wanted you to know."
"You too... wanted to know?"
"No, I mean... ... ... ..."
"...you love me too?"
"Seriously, it's cool, I didn't say it just to get you to say it back--"
"But I do!"
"Oh, okay... um... that's awesome!"
And they'd laughed at the awkwardness of it all. Ellie had felt like he didn't quite believe her, though, so she'd attempted to explain:
"I know I feel it... it's there... but for some reason, saying it in words is like... it's too private for that? I dunno. I can't explain it."
"Even if someone says it to you first?"
"Yeah. Well, to be honest... no one's ever really... not in like, a real way, I mean?"
"Oh. Ohhh I get it. No wonder it feels weird to you. I've actually never, uh... said it to a girl, before... but me and my mom, we say it to each other all the time. It's like a habit. Since you didn't have parents... it makes sense, I guess. But you have a dad now... you and Joel don't...?"
"Joel? Ha! No, never. But... I know he loves me, and I love him. And I know he knows, and he knows I know. We don't HAVE to say it."
"That's cool. The knowing is the important part."
"Yeah, exactly. Okay, so... I'm not weird?"
"About this? I don't think so. About other things... like talking to plants? Well..."
She had said it to Bailey, on occasion. Usually in the form of a reply to him saying it. But he was right when he said that knowing it was more important than saying or hearing it, and neither of them said it all that much.
Why am I telling him now?
She was saying it to him, and he wasn't saying it back.
She wondered how she ever could have found moonlight romantic. It was... eerie. Unsettling. Deceptive. The ground felt cold and hard, and Ellie wasn't comfortable at all. Her entire body ached. There was no way to lessen the chest pain, which was familiar to her because she'd endured it after David, too. Her rib cage was fucked up, so every breath she took delivered a stab of pain. There was nothing she could do about it, nothing anyone would be able to do about it; she couldn't just stop breathing.
She started counting those stabs. Breathe in... (one)... breathe out. Breathe in... (two)... breathe out.
Occasionally, her mind wandered, threatening to latch on to more horrible things, like the nature of her other pain... the lifeless (no, sleeping) body shielding her from the world... the look on Joel's face if he were to see her like this... the thought that she should make herself do something other than what she was doing, like find a place to hide, or start crawling home. Get dressed, even, if they'd left her clothes nearby. She didn't want to do or think about any of it. She just wanted Bailey to magically wake up... wished she could go back a few hours to re-do them, to tell Bailey she'd changed her mind, that this was the dumbest idea she'd ever had and she'd just see him tomorrow instead. That's what she wanted. Lost count, start over! One... two... three...
She made it up to two hundred twenty-eight without losing track when a flashlight beam washed over her. They came back.
Before she could even process the possibility, she realized it wasn't them. The male voice that said "holy shit" was not one of theirs; she would recognize theirs immediately, she was sure. He was approaching way too fast. "Get the fuck away from us!" she warned him. As if she could do anything about it if he didn't.
He stopped. She hoped it was someone from Jackson. She couldn't see him, not with his blinding light on her.
"Ellie? Oh my God..."
His voice sounded familiar, but she couldn't place it. She thought he might have told her his name, but his voice sounded very far away and she couldn't make out all the words over the buzzing in her brain. From the scraps she did hear, she gathered that those on watch had heard the gunshots. She could hear the inflections of his voice, indicating questions. She didn't care what he was saying or asking; someone had found her -- someone who wasn't going to kill her -- and now she didn't have to figure out how the fuck to get home. Other people would decide what to do next. It occurred to her that they were going to ask her things -- awful questions that would make her say awful things -- and they would take her away from Bailey. No -- I'm going to lay here with him forever, and fucking COUNT until all the pain goes away and I fall asleep.
The light disappeared. The voice... it was still there, fading in and out.
She only made it up to fourteen before the light returned, and some clothes -- her clothes? -- were laid on top of her, making her flinch and lose count. That's better, we'll get warmed up now, this is nice...
The familiar voice asked another question she didn't hear.
"They shot him," she stated matter-of-factly, as if she'd just been asked what happened. "They shot him. He's asleep now. Ssshh."
There were more questions, but she kept telling herself (out loud) 'he's asleep,' so she wouldn't have to hear them. Part of her knew she sounded like a crazy person, but the crazy part didn't care. If I say he's sleeping, he's sleeping, damnit.
The light retreated again. Completely, this time.
He left us! She didn't want him to leave -- what if those men came back?
She couldn't think about that. She didn't even want to care about that. She had to count.
Four hundred forty-five. A voice broke her concentration. It was the same man from before... but there were multiple voices now. Lots of lights, their beams zigzagging all over the place. A woman's voice... Maria. She understood Maria's words... she was telling Ellie that she was going to wrap a blanket around her, asking her if she could sit up. Ellie responded by burying her face in Bailey's chest... it wasn't wet anymore. She knew Maria was there, but she couldn't see her that well in the darkness. Maria was kneeling next to her, with a broad stripe of light from another flashlight on the ground hitting her lower half. Then Ellie felt Bailey's arm being lifted off of her, and she had to turn her head. "No, don't! Leave it... leave it like that! Don't touch him!"
The arm fell back into place.
Ellie heard angry male voices... angry, but not threatening, because Ellie recognized them -- it was Joel and Tommy. Arguing.
Joel... she wanted to see him, and also did not want to see him. Or, rather, she didn't want him to see her. Like this. Had he already seen? The shame of it, of allowing this to happen... it welled up inside her with surprising force.
Ellie permitted Maria to exchange the clothes draped over her for the blanket, but she wouldn't sit up, and she resisted Maria's attempts to pull her away from Bailey. Fortunately, Maria gave up after a few protests, and didn't use force. She was asking Ellie those questions, though... did she get shot, is she bleeding anywhere, what hurts, what happened... Ellie relegated Maria's voice to the incomprehensible status of the guard's. Just let me go to sleep, she repeated in her head to help muffle the noise. Stay with me, but don't make me explain...
She couldn't tune out the loud "Tommy!" that Maria yelled, though.
Then it was Tommy yelling, calling Ellie's name, trying to get her attention. Bailey's arm was lifted off of her. "No! Leave it!" she insisted.
"Ellie, we've gotta get you home. Can you sit up?" He was trying to help her...
"No! Don't!" She tried to shrug off his hand on her shoulder, but it wasn't good enough to get him to back off completely. She had to roll away from Bailey to free her right hand enough to push Tommy away, since the left one was all gimpy. "I'm staying here with him -- leave us alone!"
"You need help," Tommy said firmly. "Where were you shot? Where'd the bullet go in?"
All the blood... she realized how it must look. "It's not mine! It's Bailey's... they shot him." Most of the blood had dried by then, or seeped into the ground. She pulled the blanket back up over her shoulder and snuggled up to Bailey again.
"You're hurt, though. We still have to get you back Inside. You can't stay here. I'm sorry, sweetheart."
Maybe they can help him! Some part of her knew they couldn't, and yet... "Tommy, help him, not me... help Bailey, he can't die! Do something!"
"I will if you'll let Maria help you up."
Ellie didn't resist this time when Maria put her arms around her. There was a light shining on Bailey now... Tommy's flashlight. Bailey's eyes were open, those gorgeous blue eyes she loved... he didn't look like he was sleeping. He looked... no.
"Help him," Ellie pleaded softly. Maria didn't try to get her to stand, she just gently tugged Ellie away from Bailey and into her arms, wrapping the blanket more snugly around her. "Help him... help him," Ellie chanted, more to herself than to Tommy.
Tommy was examining Bailey, but not doing anything. At least not anything helpful. He closed Bailey's eyes. Tommy knows it, too... that he's not sleeping. Then Tommy knelt in front of her. "I'm so sorry. We got here too late." He started asking her about what happened, and she made his voice go fuzzy, drowning it out with her mental stab-breath counting.
It got dark again when Tommy and the flashlight went away; Maria must have switched hers off. "Where's Joel?" Ellie asked her. She wasn't sure what to think about him not rushing right up to her to see if she was hurt. "I heard his voice, I know he was here..."
"He's... nearby. He'll be here soon. We have to wait a little bit. Just... relax." Maria held her gingerly, like she was afraid of breaking her. Maybe because Ellie hadn't told her it hurt everywhere, so it didn't much matter what she did.
Ellie pulled away; she didn't need assistance to sit. The blanket was warm, but Ellie still wanted to be on the ground next to Bailey... who wasn't asleep... Don't go there. "He was here, and he left? Without..." Why didn't he want to see me, talk to me?!
"He was right behind me... him'n'Tommy started fighting, you know how those two get into it," Maria said lightly. "He was kind of riled up. But he saw you. He made sure you were okay."
Ellie wondered how he could possibly assess that from so far away -- and she wasn't okay.
An owl or some such creature in the trees nearby made a sudden noise that spooked Ellie and distracted her from the Joel questions. "You have your gun?" she asked Maria.
"Of course. Don't worry."
Of course. Because what kind of fucking idiot would come out here without one? Or, worse -- bring one, and then just leave it on the ground to get stolen. I'll never forgive myself for this. I have to live with it for the rest of my life.
"We snuck out," she confessed. "Through a hole in the south fence behind that junkyard house. Someone should put the panels back... we were gonna fix them..."
"I'll make sure it gets fixed," said Maria.
"I wanted to go swimming. I thought... I thought that..." Ellie blinked back tears.
"So what happened?" Maria prompted gently.
"I'll warm you up, baby girl..."
Ellie shuddered. He's not here, she reminded herself. "I can't," she said shakily. "I can't. I can't."
Maria put her arm around Ellie's shoulders. "Okay, sshhh don't get upset, you can tell us later."
Ellie couldn't even let herself think. The guilt alone was overwhelming.
One hundred seventy-two.
A flashlight in her face jarred her; Tommy was back.
"Ellie, can you stand up? Let me help you." He held out his hand.
"We're goin' back to town. I'll help you walk if you need me to, or I can carry you -- we jus' gotta make it to the horses, over there..."
"Horses?" Ellie wondered just how many people had been roused from slumber because of her.
"Yep, Garrett an' Jen brought 'em. They're gonna walk back. Come on..." Now he was trying to lift her.
Ellie felt strangely panicky at the thought of leaving, though, and she wouldn't budge. "No! Bailey--"
"He's comin' with us. Ben's gonna bring him back."
Ben. That was the guard whose name she couldn't remember. "What about Joel -- where's Joel!"
"Where is he?! Joel!"
"Why don't you go find him," Maria suggested to Tommy. "She needs him. Did you see which way he went? He's okay," she assured Ellie.
Ellie wasn't reassured. "Is he..." ...looking for those monsters?!
"He's tryin' to track down the group that did this," Tommy answered.
"Not a group -- just two. They'll shoot him!"
"No, they won't. He'll be careful."
Bullshit! Skilled though he was at killing assholes, Ellie could imagine how pissed off Joel was, and she was afraid the anger would override any sense of caution or patience. She used to think Joel was invincible -- until Colorado. She still regarded him with a fair amount of hero worship... but heroes get killed, too. And she wasn't there to help him.
Tommy left. Ellie could hear him calling Joel's name. She felt the panic swelling inside her. She'd already gotten Bailey killed, and now... oh my God I can't stand it! She could not lose Joel. The tears came back. She hated crying in front of other people. It was ingrained in her that crying was a solitary activity, a weakness that must be concealed.
Maria squeezed her shoulder and Ellie leaned against her, trying to stop the fucking tears. Maria was saying "it's okay," because that's what you're supposed to tell someone who's crying, even when it's obviously not okay.
Ellie called her on it. "It's not okay. It's never going to be okay. This is all my fault. I... I made Bailey come out here with me and... and... oh God, Joel... I can't-- Joooeelllll!" she wailed, dissolving into outright sobbing that she just couldn't stop.
"Ellie, listen to me! Joel's going to be fine, he's not far away -- Tommy will find him, don't worry. Calm down. Okay?" Maria patted Ellie's hair, her arm... Ellie knew she was trying to comfort her, but it was no use. Only the knowledge that Joel was alive would be able to do that.
Her sobs eventually petered out. Some rustling noises in the darkness made her turn her head. Someone -- she assumed it was that Ben guy -- was doing something to Bailey. "What -- what are you doing? Don't touch him!" she sputtered.
"Ben's just putting his clothes on," Maria explained.
Putting his clothes on... dead people don't need clothes, so... "Is he gonna be okay?" she asked.
Maria didn't answer her. Ellie didn't need her to; it was a stupid question. Instead, Maria asked her if she wanted to get dressed, too.
The blanket was good enough for Ellie... except she didn't want Joel to see all the blood and bruises on her flesh when it was eventually taken away by whoever would be checking out her injuries. She wasn't sure how closely Joel would examine her, if she stayed naked... then she wondered how much blood and stuff he'd already seen when he was there before...
"Ellie?" Maria nudged her; she must have been taking too long to answer (and she wasn't even counting breaths this time). "We should probably dress you, on account of your..."
Ellie understood she was indicating her bitten arm. Her 'little secret.' "Okay."
"We'll have to hide that. Keep your shirt on at the clinic."
With Maria's help, Ellie managed to get all of her clothes on, except on her right foot. That was too painful to even try to pull a sock over. Maria said it looked swollen. She tried to ask Ellie about her injuries, but Ellie just said, "I can't," and Maria dropped it. Even though the blanket wasn't really necessary now, she wrapped it around Ellie and helped her sit down again.
"I just wanna go home," Ellie told her.
"You will. After you see the doctor. He'll be waiting for us."
"Tell him to go back to bed. I don't want to see him. There's nothing he can do anyway."
"There's plenty he can do. Something's wrong with your hand... your ankle... and it's not bleeding now, but still, you might need stitches on that cut..."
"I don't need stitches." Ellie didn't even know what cut she was referring to, so obviously it couldn't be that bad. Sometimes things looked just awful that didn't even hurt at all... it was the invisible shit that really fucked you up. "I don't care about any of that. I still wanna go home."
"But if he can help--"
"I don't care! I just wanna see Joel, and go home."
"I think Joel will want you to get fixed up first."
She was probably right. Ellie couldn't see herself very well in the moonlight, but she could imagine how the flashlights had spotlighted her brokenness for everyone else to gawk at. Would he listen to her pleas to just take her straight home? Maybe he would. He'd only observed her from a safe distance; he couldn't have been all that worried about her.
Of course, Tommy had to find him first. And he had to be... don't think about that, she commanded herself. Her skill level of not-thinking was improving.
Ellie stared at... not the stars, that's ruined now... she looked at Maria's knee. In the darkness, it was barely better than closing her eyes as far as seeing those two in her mind... no...
She lost count when she heard Joel's voice, calling her name as he trotted towards her. Joel!!! She wasn't feeling much of anything other than a shitload of pain -- dull pain for the most part, if she stayed still -- but relief flooded through her all the same. He'd switched his light off when he got close to them, so she only saw what the silvery light of the moon allowed her to see. She didn't need to be able to read his expression to know he was angry, though.
He was kneeling before her... he didn't touch her. Didn't try to pull her into his arms or anything. But he’s alive, and real, and here with me finally! He was asking her the awful questions... questions she couldn't seem to tune out this time, maybe because it was Joel doing the asking? And he was irritated with her for not answering them. Of course, he'd be downright angry with her when she told him how her stupidity had led to this. How it wasn't an accident that they were naked... that it wasn't the assholes who'd done that part. How can I tell him I fucked up so bad? Maybe she'd just let Maria fill him in.
Joel's questions ran more along the lines of "who did this?" rather than "what happened?." He wanted to know in detail what they looked like, where they came from and where they were going, anything she could tell him about them that might help track them down.
She tried not to, but once again she was crying. At least the tears were quiet this time. Even though she couldn't see Joel very well in the moonlight, she couldn't look at him.
"Ellie, I know it's hard, but you gotta tell us this shit," Joel growled.
"Give it a rest, Joel," said Tommy. He sounded angry, too. "We need to get her to the clinic."
"We also need to find these motherfuckers," Joel snarled back. "And every minute we waste, they jus' get further away!"
"Do you really think--" Tommy paused. "Let's talk over here. Come on." He tugged on Joel's arm.
"That's jus' wastin' even more time!" But Joel did follow his brother, far enough away that Ellie would have to strain to hear.
What don't they want me to know? She couldn't really hear Tommy, but she could pick out some of Joel's words. It seemed he wanted to go hunt down the two men, without waiting for daylight to assist them in detecting any kind of tracking marks, and Tommy didn't want him to. Ellie didn't want him to, either. "Joel!" she yelled. Her voice was loud enough now to carry to him. "Joel, come here!"
He crouched in front of her again. "What can you tell me?"
"Stay with me," she said, still staring at the ground rather than at him. "Please, Joel."
"I have to kill them, Ellie. You understand? I can't let them..."
Get away with it? she finished for him. They already have. "But I..." Her voice caught in her throat.
"You what?" Joel prompted impatiently.
"Don't go. I couldn't stand it." She swallowed hard and forced herself to look at him (and found that he was looking at her now). "I... need you here. With me. Please." The 'need' tasted strange on her tongue; it had been surprisingly difficult to say. Her needs didn't usually conflict so completely with Joel's. Of course he needed to run after them, however blindly... he was furious, and hanging out with her wouldn't give him an outlet for that rage. It would be like caging a wild animal. But she didn't care; she really couldn't stand the thought of him leaving her. And surely a wild animal would be safer in a cage than out in the wild...
He looked away, sighing. "Ellie..."
He was wavering; she could feel it. She took his hand in hers and squeezed it. "I'll tell you whatever you wanna know... later. Please?"
It was another long, tense moment before he spoke again. "All right," he said, his voice only a shade softer than it had been. He pulled her into his arms then and she clung to him as best she could, her arms around his neck. He was so stiff, so tense, so... not the way he usually was when she hugged him. But he was there, and just a little while ago she'd thought she would never see him again. She didn't want him to ever know what she'd done.
This fit her pattern perfectly -- find someone who cares, do something to fuck it up, then watch them walk away. No one had ever cared as much as Joel did, though... which would make it all the more painful when he left. And she'd never fucked up this badly -- not even with Riley, at the end. She had only been a child back then, relatively innocent. She wasn't innocent anymore, hadn't been for a long time... she was fully accountable now, and she didn't know how she would be able to stand it.
She sniffled into Joel's shirt. She didn't want to cry yet again... but if it kept Joel there with her, it was worth it, so this time, she didn't fight the tears so much. And they did seem to make him hold her tighter, if nothing else. One of his hands tangled itself in her matted hair. She hugged him as fiercely as she could, ignoring the extra pain in her chest as she did. If she couldn’t rewind time the way she rewound her cassettes, she wished she could hit the pause button and freeze it here instead. Not because it was a perfect moment, but because she had the awful feeling that things would only get worse. He still loves me. For now, at least, he still loves me.
"I'm sorry, baby girl," he whispered into her hair.
She wondered what he was apologizing for. I'm the one who's sorry... but the words stuck in her throat.
~Continue to Chapter 5~