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: 5849
Rating (for fic as a whole): R
It was too soon for a knock at the door; lunch -- what little she'd eaten of it -- couldn't have been more than an hour ago... unless she'd spaced out hardcore while scratching her arm or something. She ignored the knock. Wondered if she was hallucinating that now, because she certainly didn't need marijuana to perceive shit that wasn't there (hello, panic attacks). ...along with Joel's voice, though? That was new. She moved the stick to and fro between the cast and her arm. Mostly up from the hand side, since the stupid cast went up past her elbow, severely limiting her reach on that end. It wasn't that easy to get a solid, itch-relieving scratch. She ought to just let herself itch, because she deserved far worse, after all... and yet she scratched. The stick was actually called a chopstick, and Joel said people used to eat with them in olden times; it had nothing to do with chopping. He'd started to explain it further, until he noticed Ellie wasn't interested.
The door opened, and she jumped a little. It was only Joel, of course. So it WAS real.
"Sorry. Didn' you hear me?"
She pulled the stick out of her cast and set it next to her on the floor, leaning back against the bed. Ignored the question and scrutinized the big crate of... what? in his arms.
"Matt dropped this off, thought you might want it. He wanted to see you... but I told him you were sleepin'."
"Thanks," she said. Joel was really good about turning unwanted visitors away. He didn't even bother asking Ellie first now. "What is it?"
Joel set it down close to her and squatted in front of it. "It's some of Bailey's things. Stuff that ain't... that don' got..." He gestured vaguely.
...blood and brains on it, Ellie assumed. And this from a woman who 'hates violence.'
She'd done it in his room. Maybe she'd felt closer to him in there. Or maybe seeing his shit in there was too overwhelming and it finally pushed her over the edge. All Ellie could do was speculate... and she had been, about everything, in the days that had passed since the funeral. She'd forgotten that Rachel was staying with friends... what was she even doing in his room, in their house? Especially by herself. Had she told them she needed time alone... made them think she was okay, and then...
"You don' have to look at it, if you don' want to," Joel was saying. "I can keep it somewhere for you, for later, or... or get rid of it..."
"No, I wanna see it."
Joel smiled a little. "Thought you might. I know how much your mother's-- ugh, sorry. Didn' mean to bring that up."
In the grand scheme of things, losing her mother's switchblade that night was probably the least traumatic thing that had happened in the Incident (as Joel liked to call it now, interchangeable with 'that night'). "It's okay."
"Mind if I turn the light on?" With her go-ahead, he switched on the lamp and settled himself next to the crate, in front of her.
"What's in here?" She scooted closer and started to reach for something, but Joel stopped her.
"Let me do that... it ain't everythin', jus' what that one lady thought would be nice to use, or... that made good mementos, I suppose."
Joyce. Rachel's friend. "She wouldn't want me to have this stuff," Ellie said sadly.
"She does. It was her idea to give it to you. Well, to you an' Marcus."
Ellie didn't know that woman, but she knew Rachel sure as hell wouldn't want her to have anything, and that's actually who she'd been thinking of when she made the remark. "So Marcus should have it."
"He said you should look through it first an' take what you want. Said he didn' need any of it. I don' think he's as... sentimental as you."
"But he deserves it more. He didn't have anything to do with their deaths."
Joel sighed. "No one blames you for what happened, Ellie. Jus' look at it."
Ellie knew Joel only said things like that to try to make her feel better. Two innocent people were dead because of her. She knew it, everyone else knew it, and no one could convince her otherwise.
"I don' remember what he was wearin' that night, so I don' know if it's here or not... might be what he was buried in."
Ellie couldn't remember, either. Why can't I remember the last things he ever wore? I was THERE.
She bit her lip when she saw the sweatshirt Joel pulled out first. It was navy blue, with 'Notre Dame' emblazoned across the front in peeling gold letters. That was some popular college which Bailey of course knew nothing about, but he'd had the sweatshirt since he was ten years old (it had been way too big for him back then, but it wasn't like most people could be picky about such things). He used to imagine going to college, the way they'd seen it depicted in movies. She pulled it up against her face and breathed it in. It was clean, like he hadn't worn it since it had been washed, but she still thought it held his scent -- soap, mostly, but mingled with something that was uniquely Bailey. Tears pricked her eyes and she blinked them back furiously.
"You don' have to look at it all right now--"
She shook her head and let the shirt drop to her lap to take the next thing Joel offered her: a jacket. Just a plain gray thing, puffy, with a hood and pockets. Ellie hadn't really known him that well in the winter when he wore it all the time. She'd still take it, of course. She would even wear it, and the sweatshirt, too. She could leave the jeans for Marcus; he was a little bit shorter than Bailey, but lanky all the same, and they'd probably fit him well enough.
The next thing Joel pulled out was the Star Wars Monopoly game. "If you don' want the game... thought you might at least like what's in here." He lifted the lid and handed her a thin spiral notebook, in which Bailey had scribbled notes on the 'tournaments' he conducted between imaginary opponents, complete with dates, properties held, and monies of the last one standing. Just like Rachel had described.
Ellie almost smiled at this, imagining Bailey amusing himself with the game in such a dorky way, but it was too fucking painful seeing his handwriting. The last used page was dated prior to them getting together (though just barely), so maybe he hadn't been fibbing when he said he'd stopped doing it.
Joel set the game box aside. "The game can go back to the store--"
"No -- I want it... all of it," she managed to say without choking up.
Joel said the glasses Bailey used to wear sometimes -- when he needed to see better, like for reading or work -- were being given to someone else in need of them, as eyewear was too scarce a commodity for someone to keep and not use. In the old days, people went to doctors who specialized in eyesight and had the things custom-made, so they could see perfectly and wouldn't get headaches from using them. Ellie wished Bailey could have had a pair like that. Other items in the crate were a beat-up stuffed dog he'd managed to hang onto since he was a little kid... an action figure Ellie didn't recognize, some huge-muscled dude with green skin and purple pants (Bailey had told her his name once but she'd forgotten)... and another spiral notebook in which he'd started writing a bare-bones version of the next book in a series that had never been finished. Something about fire and ice. He'd written like twenty pages. Ellie had wanted to read the series, figuring that by the time she was done with all the books, he'd have his version of what comes next ready for her to read. He had said maybe they could keep writing more then... work on it together.
It seemed so stupid now. Everything did; not him doing it then, but her doing it now. She'd deprived the world of such a bright light, of someone who was happy, who loved life and brought joy to others.
She wanted it all. Everything from the crate. And she wanted to be left alone with it.
Of course. She was always alone. Except she had Joel, so she wasn't truly alone in the world (was that how Rachel felt? Her friends and her students weren't enough to keep her tethered to this world?). Ellie was grateful for Joel. He just couldn't help her. Sensing his anger and disappointment and disgust with her made her feel worse than when she was by herself -- and feeling that way whenever he saw her couldn't have been much fun for him, either.
As the days went by, Joel kept trying to talk to her about it, about anything and everything, but she just couldn't... except to have a big argument about whether or not she needed to have a gun in her room.
"I don' want you doin' somethin' stupid with it."
"I won't! I swear!"
"Maybe you think you won't, now... but it's an impulse thing..."
"Joel, I WON'T. Don't you trust me?"
"It ain't about trust."
"You DON'T trust me."
"You're... not thinkin' so clearly, right now."
"But I NEED it!"
"No you don't. You have me."
"What if someone breaks in, and you're asleep--"
"No one's gonna break in. An' I'd wake up if they did."
"Maybe you wouldn't."
"I would. If by some miracle I didn't? You yell for me -- I'll hear that."
She did yell for him sometimes... just not out loud. Not that terrible night, when he'd been too far away from her. Not in her nightmares or her visions or whatever-the-fuck they were, which seemed to have a way of eating her screams. Occasionally he did hear something and come to her room... whether it was because her voice did actually work those times, or he could hear her panicked breathing, she didn't know. But she would never let him hold her. She'd scoot into the corner and curl up into herself on the floor and sometimes start counting her breathing pains again, which helped her calm down. Some part of her did register that Joel was there, sitting on the floor just a few feet away, a soothing presence... and she was somewhat comforted. According to Joel, he tried to talk to her on these occasions, and she never heard him... she fuzzed his voice away, without even realizing it.
She never remembered him leaving, but at some point, she would notice that he'd left.
She did feel bad for him, being stuck with her, waiting for a day that would never come -- the day she was 'all better.' Back to being the Ellie who was fun and lovable.
Seeing Ellie playing with the game board seemed to give Joel some hope at first. She imagined him thinking, "Oh good, she's back to normal now, she wants to do fun things again." But then he'd notice how she was playing. She would take all the little plastic spaceship pieces out, the ones imprinted on little cubes and the larger triangular ships, and painstakingly line them up in perfect little rows along the edges of the board. She would take the colorful property cards or play money and arrange them in various patterns. Her room was too dark to see the colors well, but she could distinguish light and dark. All of it was laid out very meticulously.
It was slow, methodical, mindless busywork that lulled her into a stupor. Sometimes she dozed off, faceplanting on her works of art, and she'd wake up to find her drool soaking into the money or pooling on the board.
Eventually she'd reach a point where every scrap of money, every token, every ship piece was all used up in whatever perfect little abstract picture she was creating. This should have pleased her. For reaching her goal, pointless as it was. Instead, it rendered her inexplicably angry, and she'd flip the board over, or pound on it with the action figure to mess everything up. She was fairly brutal to that little guy. One time, she threw the toy against the opposite wall so hard she was surprised it didn't break. But she quickly learned that making noise like that summoned Joel -- it could even wake him from sleeping. She didn't want to try to explain anything to him, and she certainly didn't want him to worry about her any more than he already did, so she'd answer his questions about what happened or what she was doing with a sullen "Nothing" or two, and he'd eventually leave her in peace... to slowly put everything back inside the box in its proper place. Only after this was done could she start to build a new pattern -- which made no sense, but how much sense did it make for her to do all this stupid shit in the first place?
There were times she questioned the bizarre nature of her 'playing,' but if she was in the frame of mind to question it, it meant she was in danger of thinking too much, and that was to be avoided at all costs. There was nothing good to think about, and there never would be again. Knowing that she'd done it to herself was the worst. She'd poisoned everything. The best days of her life were over, and she had no idea how to move on to whatever she was supposed to do next, knowing that. How did people do it back in 2013? Most of them died... How did Joel do it, after losing Sarah... his home... his way of life? Oh, she knew he didn't handle it in the healthiest of ways, that it took him years and years to heal. But how did he even function, in those early days? She'd never asked him that. She wasn't sure it was something he'd want to talk about, even though he'd talked about Sarah plenty over the course of the past year. His daughter wasn't a taboo topic anymore.
Ellie didn't have to think about anything when she played with the game board. And when she grew tired of it, she could lay on her bed and stare at the ceiling. Either way, she was essentially 'leaving' herself, and that seemed to be the only way she could cope with being that self. Even so, she could never fully escape Tony and Pete (and even David, once in a while... as if the motherfuckers had joined forces to torment her). They reminded her all too often who and what she was. She heard their menacing voices... their grunts and groans as they hurt her for their own satisfaction. Rachel's anguished sobbing. That strange sound Bailey made before he collapsed. Her own screams -- useless, powerless noise. Silent noise, even, in her dreams. All of it was silent to everyone but her. No one understood how real it all was. "It's all in your head... you're okay now..." -But it fucking happened. Joel's ignorance made him deaf to it; it wasn't his fault. He hadn't been there, he didn't know -- and she wasn't about to try to take him there, either, by letting him inside her head where it was still happening.
At least the Monopoly game minimized the noise... made her less receptive to it. She didn't care if Joel thought she was a nutjob.
He offered to play the game with her the regular way. He asked if she would try out other types of games. Puzzle type games where you had to figure out what words went where, or find the words in a jumble of letters, or arrange numbers in order in boxes. He thought she might like some little building block toys meant for kids, due to how she 'played' with the little spaceships. She wearily refused them all. One time he even went so far as to cheerfully announce that he would be working on a jigsaw puzzle in the other room and would she please come help him put it together. She gave him a withering look, and he dropped the act.
She physically couldn't play the guitar, but she could listen to Joel play, and she could sing -- only in theory. She couldn't actually do those things, either. Wouldn't even try. Even when he tried to play her a sad song, one that she'd been drawn to before... it was called "Tears In Heaven," and Joel had said this guy wrote it after his little boy died. When Ellie was sad about the death of a ten-year-old girl named Mandy the previous summer, Joel had taught her the song, and practicing it had seemed to help her work through her grief. Even if she doubted the existence of heaven, it felt nice to believe in it sometimes. If monsters were real, couldn't the good stuff be real too?
But that was different. Why couldn't Joel see that? Mandy's death was an accident: she fell from a tree. Ellie hadn't done anything to cause it. She hadn't witnessed it. Mandy hadn't even been a friend, not really... they'd spent very little time together. It had hit Ellie hard because she'd taken a liking to the kid, that's all. Mandy was a tomboy. A loner. An orphan. Scrappy and tough, but with an air of innocence about her... she was still child-like. Joel had once said that she seemed like a mini-Ellie. A younger -- and therefore, less fucked up -- version of herself. But Mandy was fucked up. Even though the girl never told her about her life prior to Jackson, Ellie just knew it somehow. Most kids were in one way or another.
Joel had been fond of her, too, and her death had been a painful reminder of Sarah's, even though the circumstances were so different. He and Ellie had mourned the loss together. They were able to console each other. The senselessness of it had given Ellie an inkling of understanding of how shocking death must have been in the old world, when it wasn't so commonplace. When most people -- at least in Joel's region -- lived for decades, many of them dying as elders. In Ellie's world, she could understand people dying from infected, or hunters, or a fatal disease, or freezing to death in a blizzard. But... just falling? No outside elements at work at all? Something about the tragedy of such a death had shaken her.
It wasn't surprising, really, that Joel wanted to do 'guitar therapy' now... but Ellie challenged him to find a more appropriate song first, one about getting raped and beaten and causing the death of someone special, plus another innocent to boot. Or a song about being cursed, because hers was literally the kiss of death: first Riley, then Bailey. Then when he ignored the sarcasm and actually tried to get her to listen to some songs he deemed appropriate but couldn't possibly be (Ellie was sure they'd be about generic sadness), she screamed at him and told him she never wanted to hear that guitar again.
That was the end of that.
Joel also tried to interest her in her tomato plants... he would bring up the topic, and she could tell he was trying to get her to ask him how they were doing. To display -- to feel -- some curiosity. She felt nothing. She assumed Joel was taking care of them for her now. For some reason, it was irritating to imagine him doing that. Shouldn't she have thought it was sweet? After a couple of his attempts to engage her, she finally snapped at him that she didn't give a fuck whether they lived or died.
And that was the end of that.
He even brought her a special visitor all the way from the dam -- Buckley, the old dog that lived up there. He was so old he slept most of the time. Joel thought she might enjoy taking care of him, and figured Buckley would be perfectly content to sleep in Ellie's room most of the day. Ellie had kind of freaked out, though... she was sure the dog would die if left in her care. Buckley was too trusting, too innocent, too pure to be around the likes of her, and she wouldn't even allow herself the pleasure of petting him. She didn't explain all that to Joel, though; she just asked him to please take the dog away.
She began refusing all visitors, even Tommy and Maria. Because what was the fucking point? She didn't want to talk about herself, and didn't want to listen to whatever they might tell her about their own lives. Joel thought she might at least find some comfort in talking to Marcus, the only other person who'd known Bailey well and who obviously wanted to help her... Ellie refused him, too. She didn't care that he'd brought her some cassettes he thought she might like (Joel saved these for her, in case she changed her mind, but she just couldn't listen to music now, on the guitar or otherwise).
Joel grew frustrated with her. Or, more frustrated, as it were. Instead of automatically turning everyone away for her like he'd been doing, he started announcing the visitors to her -- as if she might actually change her mind. Even if it was someone he knew without a doubt she wouldn't see, like Nana or Matt or some religious do-gooder who didn't give a shit about her and was just doing their duty as a good citizen, visiting the pitiful sinner in her cell. She never agreed to see them, and he knew she didn't want to bullshit with these people. Was he just trying to irritate her?
She certainly irritated him.
"Ellie, you can't spend the rest of your life in this room," he declared one day from the doorway, arms crossed over his chest like he meant business.
"Watch me." She was sitting on the floor, her seat of choice these days.
"You ain't even tryin'."
"I go to the bathroom," she sassed him. Only because he wouldn't get her a pot for the room.
"Sure, when you have to go. That don' count."
"I take baths sometimes. Long ones. That's a couple hours out of the room right there."
"You do," he conceded, then countered, "You won' even wash your hair, though."
Her hair hung around her face in limp, greasy strands. "There's no point."
"I've told you a dozen times, I can do it for you if it's too difficult."
I said there's NO POINT, not that it's too hard! "No thanks."
"I could wash it in the sink. Yeah, let's do that."
"I don't want to," she growled.
"Come on. Get up," he barked at her. He was apparently trying to get tough now, since coddling didn't make her do what he wanted.
She stayed slouched on the floor, concentrating on grinding a pewter token into the carpet. Ellie had no idea which character the token represented. Bailey would have known, of course. He'd known lots of things. A head full of facts and memories, everything he'd ever learned or experienced or thought about, just... nothing, now. A heart full of love, wasted.
"Ellie. Come on."
"I don't feel good," she mumbled.
Joel was undeterred. "Tough shit, now get up."
"No! I feel really shitty, Joel, I swear." Not a lie. Her back ached. Her stomach was queasy. Her ribs still made every breath ache. Her arm didn't hurt, but it itched. Mostly she just didn't fucking want to do something as indulgent as washing her stupid hair. Like she had any reason to make herself less disgusting. Her head itched, too, probably from all the dirt, but she wouldn't scratch it in front of Joel.
He stopped short of physically making her get up. Ellie could practically see the thought cross his mind, then get discarded as a bad idea. And she could see that she was really pissing him off.
But after a few tense moments, he softened. He sank to the floor by the door, leaned back against the wall, and looked at her sadly, defeated. "I don' know what to do for you. What you need from me. What can I do?"
"Nothing! I told you, there's nothing you can do. No offense. If there was anyone who could do something for me, it would be you. But you can't fix it. You can't bring Bailey and Rachel back. You can't make me be... not a stupid idiot, or unbroken... un-raped."
"Don't--" The ugly word made him wince, and whatever he'd been about to say -- something honest, no doubt -- was replaced by words more carefully chosen. "You are not stupid. You did somethin' reckless -- that don' make you a stupid person. An' no, maybe I can't do all that. I can help you, though. You jus' won' let me."
"Because you can't!"
"I can. I can start by washin' your hair for you."
Seriously, Joel?! "Who gives a fuck about my hair?!"
"I do. You have pretty hair."
"Fuck you -- nothing about me is pretty! Not-- not since--"
"Not true," he insisted. "You're lookin' better. A month from now you'll look jus' about the same as before."
Ellie made a point of not looking at herself in the mirror these days if she could help it. The bruises on her face must have been fading, probably yellowish now instead of blue or purple. It wasn't even about her appearance, though. Not really.
"Doesn't matter. I'm--" ...nothing I can say out loud.
"You're what?" Joel prompted after a moment.
Disgusting. Vile. Irreparably damaged. She couldn't say any of this, though, because it would be a cue for Joel to lie and tell her she wasn't. It was like a game, each of them figuring out what should be withheld from the other, making assumptions about the things that went unsaid. It was exhausting, in a way.
"You can't help me," she repeated quietly. He could just play fill-in-the-blank in his head.
"Talk to me, Ellie," Joel pleaded. "Tell me what you're thinkin', what you're feelin'... I won' judge you or nothin'. You used to talk to me--"
"Yeah, well, I used to do a lot of things," she said nastily. She looked around for the chopstick, wincing as she scooted a little to reach it. Joel made no move to help her; it was on her other side, further away from him, but even if it hadn't been, she wondered if he'd finally tired of her constantly refusing even small gestures of help like that. She slid the stick up beneath her cast, from the hand side.
Joel sighed. "You're not pokin' at the skin, right? Jus' slidin' it back an' forth?"
"Right." Dr. Choi had told her not to use the stick, had told Joel not to let her do it, when he'd made a 'house call' (Ellie had accepted the visit because the alternative was to be dragged to the clinic) and she'd dutifully agreed to stop, knowing even as she said it that it was a lie. Unless Joel took the stick away from her... but he was the one who had procured it for her in the first place, and he let her keep it. She knew he would.
Joel watched her poke at her arm. "You used to let me hug you, if you had a nightmare, or jus'... were feelin' down... why won't you let me now?"
Because I'm disgusting, vile, and irreparably damaged! she thought again. She had no answer for him. She wasn't sure she understood it completely herself.
"Does it make you think of... do I remind you of it, somehow, when--"
"No!" She couldn't let him think that. Couldn't even let him try to finish that sentence. "No, it's just... hugs don't help." It was her go-to answer, for any question like that -- that whatever it was didn't help. It was the perfect response, because it was always fucking true.
"Sure they do. They did be--" Joel caught himself before she could give her usual argument. "Before, yes, but it don' have to be different now. Not everythin' is different. You an' me... that's the same, ain't it?"
He was genuinely asking her. Is he really that fucking clueless? "No, it's not," she said crossly. "You want me to be Ellie. Ellie was a stupid asshole who went and got her boyfriend and his mom killed and got herself... destroyed. I can't be that person--"
"No. It wasn' your fault. I know you don' believe me, but I'm gonna keep sayin' it until you do. You didn' know any of that was gonna happen, that those motherfuckers would be out there -- you didn' set out to hurt anyone. An' you're still Ellie. Whether you wanna be or not. I don' expect you to be anyone else."
She so did not feel like having this conversation. "You wanna help me? Jus' leave me alone!"
"I've been leavin' you alone -- ain't done you no good," he said wearily.
"What do you want from me? You do want me to be different!"
Joel remained calm. "I want you to try."
"I try plenty. I eat." Mostly to keep him off her back about eating.
"You barely eat," he corrected her.
"I'm not hungry! You want me to be hungry and I'm not. I have no appetite. That's not something you can force."
"I don' wanna force you."
"Right. You just want me to be different. Well, I'm not! I'm sure it's a pain in the ass, having to deal with me... you don't have to, you know. Just let me have one of the guns for protection and you can go. I don't--" She caught herself before she said something that would generate a pity response. "There's nothing you can do for me anyway, so why would you even want to be here?"
Joel stared at her. "I ain't leavin' you, Ellie. You're family."
Shit, if he starts talking about family I'm going to cry. "I'm not really, though. I'm not your real daughter. I'm not..." I'm not anything. She certainly wasn't the Ellie he'd signed up for when he took on the role of her father. "Look, I'm doing the best I can, okay? I'm breathing. It hurts, but I still do it. I can't... deal with other stuff on top of..." She let the thought trail off, the look on Joel's face arresting her.
He didn't look angry, for a change. He looked... bewildered. Forlorn, even. He was quiet. Sifting his thoughts, trying to come up with something helpful to say that wasn't a lie, and finding nothing -- or so Ellie assumed. "All right, kiddo," he said finally. "I'll leave you alone. But as far as I'm concerned, you may as well be my daughter. I thought you knew that. I won't turn my back on you. Jus' holler if you need anythin'."
Knowing full well she never hollered. There wasn't anything she needed from him, except what he was already giving her -- space, and security. He probably just said it automatically, as a form of 'goodbye.'
Maybe the 'real daughter' comment was going too far. Maybe she should apologize... Except that, too, was the fucking truth. They were just playing house. Joel didn't love her the way he loved Sarah. He couldn't possibly, especially now. She was lucky she got even a fraction of that love -- it was still more than she'd ever had with anyone else. If she tried to explain, he would just feel obligated to lie to make her feel better. ...or, worse, maybe he wouldn't lie. Maybe he'd tell her that all this recent shit had changed things after all.
Best to just let it go. And Joel didn't bring it up, either.
Ellie saw even less of him than usual over the next few days. He brought her meals... he asked the perfunctory questions about how she was feeling (which she never really answered satisfactorily)... he quietly sat near her during a panic attack... he reminded her to do her ankle exercises... he made sure she knew he was available if she needed anything. But he didn't push her to break out of her comfort zone, and he didn't attempt to engage her in any sort of meaningful conversation. He was still angry, like he'd always been... but there was something different about the tension in the air now. Like the weight of it was getting heavier, and harder to bear.
It made her uneasy enough that one day when he brought her breakfast, she blurted out, "Are we okay?"
"What? Sure we are," he replied easily. Sincerely. With no hesitation or doubt. "Why wouldn' we be?"
And then she wondered if she'd imagined it. "I dunno..."
"You wanted space, yeah?"
He sat beside her on the floor. "But?"
"Did you wanna talk to me about something?" he asked gently. He didn't sound annoyed or angry or anything.
"No... nevermind." She started nibbling on an apple slice from the plate he'd brought her.
"I really would like it if we talked, if you're willin'. About anythin' you want."
She shook her head.
"Uh-huh." She ate slowly, silently, eyes downcast, and after another minute or so, he left, reminding her he was there if she changed her mind. She didn't, but at least the tension wasn't suffocating anymore.
Two days later, she heard an unfamiliar, soft knock on her door -- she knew it wasn't Joel just by the knock -- followed by a familiar, but non-Joel voice: "Ellie? You awake yet? It's Tommy."
She'd been curled up on the floor with her face in a pile of play money. She sat up and leaned back against the bed, rubbing her eyes. Why did Joel let Tommy back here? He knows better. Tommy's question about whether she was awake 'yet' made her think it was early morning -- not a normal time for visitors. She felt a jolt of fear. What if something's happened to Joel? "Come in... where's Joel?"
Tommy eased the door open slowly. He looked a bit sheepish. "That's why I'm here."
"Where is he?!"
Tommy crouched near her. "I'm sorry to have to tell you this, Ellie, but... Joel left. He went out with a group to go hunt down the guys who attacked you."
~Continue to Chapter 8~