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: 6224
Rating (for fic as a whole): R
Notes: Chapter title from the Radiohead song.
WARNINGS for this chapter: Heh, well, remember way back in the beginning when I said there was a spoilery warning I didn't want to mention until I got there, but I didn't think anyone would really care by that point? That would be this one -- warning for torture in this chapter, somewhat graphic though not as bad as it could have been. But I have to do my duty and warn for it, even if I imagine most readers will feel kind of like I did when I wrote it -- mainly "FUCK YEAH!" It might be a bit over the top... I just couldn't resist indulging Joel a bit :)
Joel didn't even ask her if she was sure. He just looked at her for a moment, a strange excitement starting to bloom on his face.
"Oh God... what do we do..." Ellie whispered.
"Don' shoot him. Stay right there," he commanded before he started slowly walking towards the man -- it was Tony. The 'mean' one... the one who had killed her sweet Bailey. He didn't have the long fuzzy beard anymore, unless it was concealed under his winter garments. She was sure it was him, though, and when Joel got close enough to see a missing tooth on one side, he would be sure, too. Tony just had to open his mouth wide enough. Smile, or laugh a little.
"You got any weapons on you?" Joel asked him. He sounded almost conversational, really.
Ellie wondered how Joel could be so fucking calm after what she had just told him. Why didn't he just jump on the guy and beat the shit out of him? But she knew there would be a 'method to his madness,' as they say. Or his LACK of madness?
"Couple guns, sure," Tony answered. He had moved a little closer to close the gap between him and Joel. Too close for Ellie's comfort. She could feel her heartbeat starting to accelerate.
"Take your coat off. Let me see 'em," Joel said tersely. A little less conversational... but still not threatening.
Tony unbuttoned his trench coat and shrugged out of it along with the rucksack. He was wearing a holster on each side, kind of like Joel's. He wouldn't have been able to pull one of the guns on them too quickly, with that long coat buttoned over them. It seemed like he truly was approaching them in peace.
So why does my heart want to leap out of my chest?! Ellie wondered. It wasn't that bizarre, of course, from an emotional standpoint... but this time, she had the upper hand. She was armed. She had Joel. She wasn't fucking naked. And Tony wasn't expecting her to be alive. She didn't want him to recognize her and possibly fuck up whatever Joel was trying to do, but she couldn't turn away. She was ready to shoot if anything went wrong. Although right now, she'd be shooting Joel if she didn't move...
"Lay 'em on the ground there, nice an' slow," Joel ordered him. He stopped walking.
Tony hesitated, but did comply, chuckling nervously. "You search all your friendly visitors like this?"
Joel was all business, deaf to such ice-breaking attempts. "Turn around. Slowly, arms out. All the way." Ellie wondered why Joel was making him do this little dance. After he'd turned in a circle, Joel gestured for Tony to move. "Now stand over there... right there... jus'... yeah, that's good. Don' move. Ellie, go grab his shit," he called over to her.
Joel had positioned them so that Tony was standing farther away from her, and Joel was right next to the items he wanted her to retrieve, his shotgun still trained on the other man. But Ellie was frozen to the ground... as frozen as she'd been that day when she was about to die.
"Ellie. It's okay," Joel tried to reassure her.
Yet still she wouldn't budge. She had a clear shot now. I could just blow his head off... The guy was looking at her like... like maybe she was familiar to him, as if trying to place where he might know her from. Does he remember my name? Except I think Bailey only called me 'Ell'... plus, the fucker thinks Pete killed me.
The asshole did look rather scared. Like he might start shitting bricks any second. Joel could have that effect on people, but still, Ellie had to wonder if it was just part of the shithead's 'nice guy' act. He was looking at Joel now, not her. Smiling a little -- showing the gap of a missing tooth. "Hey, uh... I was told this was a nice town? I don't mean no harm, you don't have to..."
Joel holstered his own shotgun, and then he even removed the holsters and added them to the pile beside him. The other man visibly relaxed. "Thanks. Tony." He offered Joel his hand to shake.
Joel didn't shake it. Instead, he decked the guy in the face.
Tony reeled backwards, but didn't quite fall to the ground. Before he could catch his breath or even process what had happened, Joel grabbed him and punched him in the gut, doubling him over.
Ellie wanted to scream, but felt like she was back in one of her nightmares where no sound comes out of her. She couldn't breathe. Joel! Just shoot him! She could shoot him herself, but Joel was too close, it was too risky...
Almost as if he could hear her brain, Joel glanced her way. "Ellie, don' shoot!" he reminded her.
"What the fuck, man?" Tony gasped. "This some kind of... initiation thing?"
"Somethin' like that." Joel lunged again, but this time Tony blocked the blow. They started tussling, and Tony did manage to hit Joel a couple times. Ellie had seen Joel fight before, plenty of times, and she knew he was strong and capable... but she felt the panic creeping into her throat anyway. Her hands trembled around her pistol. If it looks like Joel's gonna lose, I don't care what he says, I'm pulling this trigger when I get a clean shot.
Within a couple minutes, Joel wound up on top of Tony on the ground, and kept pounding him in the face, spraying blood everywhere. Brutal as it was, Ellie was sure she'd seen him hit harder. He was holding back. How?! And why? She found herself admiring his uncharacteristic restraint, because she knew the angry-beyond-words part of him would have killed the motherfucker five minutes ago. He must have something special in mind for this dickwad.
"Stop... dude, please! Stop! I'll go," Tony pleaded.
Joel looked as enraged as Ellie had ever seen him, but he actually did stop... if only to catch his own breath. "Oh, you ain't goin' nowhere. Ellie? Hand me that hammer, wouldja?"
Ellie couldn't see the guy's face, but Joel didn't take his eyes off of it, and she figured it sported a look of terror that he was absolutely relishing.
She still couldn't move. "I... I can't," she said miserably. She was just trying to breathe.
"S'all right." Joel stood up and ground his boot into the guy's chest. He pushed hard enough that Tony yelped in pain, the cry likely drowning out the sound of a few ribs cracking. "Don' move," he barked at Tony.
Then Joel left him and... did something with the bag, coat, and guns that she failed to retrieve earlier. Ellie didn't see what he was doing because she couldn't take her eyes off the man on the ground... he'd lost his hat, so she could see the mop of dark hair pretty much how she remembered it, and his scarf -- his beard's as short as Joel's now. Wouldn't it make more sense to grow it long for winter? Like for warmth or something? -Why am I even thinking about this?
She could see Joel approaching in her peripheral vision, so she wasn't startled when she felt his hand on her shoulder. "Ellie. Look at me. Ellie!"
Her eyes darted back and forth between him and Tony a few times, then focused on Joel. "You're bleeding..." His beard was absorbing the blood coming from the corner of his mouth.
"It's nothin'." Joel had managed to shed all of his winter garments, but Ellie could feel the heat radiating from him like a furnace. He spoke to her calmly. "I want you to put the gun down now, all right? It's okay. Sit down... here..." He eased her to the ground. "I'll be right back."
"Joel, he's moving!"
Tony was making a staggering attempt to get up. Joel didn't seem concerned. He picked up the hammer from his toolbox and walked back over to Tony, who was clearly fucked up already, unable to even stand up straight. Joel shoved him down effortlessly before the guy could even try to make a break for it.
"Now, where were we..." Joel nudged Tony with his foot to roll him over onto his back. He waggled the hammer over him threateningly. "Let's see here... left wrist, right foot, wasn' it, Ellie?"
Tony was screaming before the hammer even came down.
Ellie thought she was in a dream for a moment, and that Joel was shaking her awake from it. But then she realized she must have started to go all spacey and Joel had snapped her out of it -- and that this was very much happening.
Joel was kneeling in front of her. The gun wasn't in her hands anymore, although she didn't remember putting it down. "Ellie, do you wanna go home?"
She was breathing easier now. She stared at the writhing figure on the ground. "What about him?"
"Don' worry about him. I got this."
"I don't wanna go home by myself..."
"I can take you home."
"I'll fix him so he can't move for shit first an' then come back here."
"You're not gonna shoot him?"
"I might. But not anywhere lethal. A quick death is too good for this son of a bitch." He raised his voice enough to ensure that Tony heard that bit.
Tony called out to them in little spurts between gasps for air. "Hey... I don't know... who you think... I am... but... I didn't... do anything..."
Joel smirked to himself. "He's gonna know full well what he did before he dies, if he don' know it already."
"I... I swear!" Tony cried.
Ellie looked at the pathetic man on the ground, and she started to feel stronger. He was no threat to her. "I don't want to leave. I want to watch him die."
Joel was looking at her, and she was sure he felt the shift, too... the fear being overpowered by the awakening hatred. "You can help, if you want," he offered.
She pondered this. Would it be like some kind of fucked-up therapy if she participated? She looked at Joel. The feverish look in his eyes was almost scary. It sure seemed like he was enjoying himself. Rachel's 'taste for violence' remark came to mind... but so what? She said it like it was a bad thing. It's not. Not always. Not for Joel -- at least not right now. He needed to fuck this guy up, whereas Ellie wanted him to suffer and die but didn't feel like she'd be... incomplete? devastated? if it wasn't at her hands. "Um... I think I'd rather let you do it. For a little while, at least?"
He nodded. "My pleasure. I've been waitin' for this day for a looong time." He kissed her forehead as he stood up; it was kind of an odd thing for a person to do before trotting off to torture someone, but somehow the affectionate gesture seemed fitting. Before he returned to his victim, he picked up his jacket and the trench coat and handed them to her. "Sit on these so you don' freeze your ass off, yeah?"
She'd forgotten that the ground was cold, but his remark made her suddenly aware that her ass was indeed quite chilled already, snow or no snow. She bunched up the coat, laid it beside her, and scooted over to sit on it, pulling Joel's jacket into her lap instead of stuffing it beneath her. Her butt landed on something hard. She moved back off of it and felt around in the pockets until she found the source. A knife... just like -- "Joel!" she exclaimed. "He has my switchblade!"
"Oh he does, does he?" Joel towered over the man on the ground. He was facing Ellie's direction, so she could see Joel's face but not Tony's. Joel squatted. "Your memory startin' to get any better, you piece of shit? Can you think of anythin' you mighta done that you deserve to die for? Think back to last summer."
"Dude... I can't think... too much pain... please..."
It was pretty fucking satisfying to hear him plead for mercy that Ellie knew wouldn't be granted. If she didn't know better, she would swear this was a completely different man than the brutish shithead she'd met five months ago.
"Good. It's only jus' beginnin'. Though if you help me out, I might go a little easier on you."
Go a little easier?! That had to be a lie. Ellie settled herself on the coat, clutching the precious blade, her eyes moist with happy tears at having been reunited with it... with the missing piece of her mother. Little by little, the broken things were starting to unbreak. Again, she felt like she was in a dream. But she was awake this time, her eyes on Joel... fascinated by his twisted glee. Fucked up as it was, she was glad to see him looking so happy.
"I'll help!" Tony whimpered. "What -- ever it is -- I'll help!"
"Since your memory ain't so good, I'll remind you," Joel said, sounding downright conversational again. "Maybe you do this so often that one time jus' blends right into the next. A few months back, you an' a friend of yours were passin' through here in the middle of the night, an' you came across a couple of kids in these woods. You remember that?"
"I don't -- know what you're -- talking about --"
"You shot one of 'em," Joel continued. "A boy. He died. The girl... you let her live. That's about the only thing you did right that night."
"He didn't want to!" Ellie called out to him. "He told the other guy to shoot me."
"Ah -- there, now I see it on your ugly face. You do remember. You thought your buddy killed her? Guess he's not quite as much of an asshole as you. Still an asshole, though -- now tell me where he is."
"He's dead! That's -- my brother -- he died -- little while back --"
Brother? Aside from their beards, Ellie didn't think they much resembled one another -- and beard shape was hardly a family trait. Maybe they were another pseudo-family, or only half-brothers, or just happened to take after opposite sides of the family. It really didn't matter what their relationship was anyway. Soon this brother will be dead, too...
"He's dead? You sure that's what you wanna be tellin' me?" Joel waggled the hammer over one of Tony's kneecaps. The movement reminded Ellie of her wrist exercises, and she actually felt like laughing, for some reason. Laughing, of all things!
"It's true -- I swear!"
The hammer came down with so much force that Ellie cringed, laughter forgotten. She covered her ears to block out the scream of agony -- a scream she should want to hear, for fuck's sake, given who the screamer was. It wasn't the first time he'd cried out, but she'd been sort of fuzzing it out earlier. Don't go away, Ellie, stay present... in the moment... savor it, just like Joel is...
Joel was somehow present in two realities at once. He must have noticed her reaction, because he came over and knelt in front of her. "Ellie, you don' gotta watch this--"
"No! I want to! Really! I'm sorry."
It was strange how Joel's smile could be so evil one moment and then so adoring the next. "Don' be sorry. I jus' wanna make sure you're all right."
"Don't worry about me. Don't let me... distract you, or whatever." His eyes... they're all dark and crazy-like... they didn't correlate with the gentleness in his bloodied fingers as they touched her shoulder, her cheek, her hand...
Joel snorted. "It's all right if I'm distracted. He'll jus' suffer a little while longer. That was his other leg -- the one without a broken ankle on the end of it -- so now he really ain't goin' nowhere."
Tony did manage to roll onto his stomach somehow, and raise himself onto his forearms. "I'm... sorry! Please... tell your dad... to stop..." he beseeched Ellie.
Joel started to respond, but she gestured for him not to. Ellie met her attacker's gaze; she wasn't afraid of him now. "Hmm. Let me think about that. Did you stop when I begged you to? No, you didn't. So no, I don't think I'll tell him that. Even if I did, I don't think he'd listen to me. He's having too much fun."
Tony tried to crawl towards her on his forearms, dragging his useless lower half. It was a pathetic attempt at best. "Please... I got a family... a daughter..."
Joel strode over to Tony and kicked him back over onto his back. "Bullshit. If that was true you wouldn'ta hurt mine the way you did. Hell, even if you do have a daughter, she'd be better off without you. I'm doin' the world a favor here. Now tell me where the fuck your brother is, if you value that other kneecap of yours."
Joel's interrogation went on for a while. Ellie suspected that Tony might actually have been telling the truth about Pete being dead; no douchebag was that loyal. Or maybe he realized Joel was going to torture him no matter what he said. Joel was careful not to make him bleed any more than he already had, for fear of him passing out before the party was over. Ellie knew this because Joel told Tony as much. She wondered how much thought he'd put into what he would do in this moment. Maybe while Ellie had been fantasizing about killing herself, he'd been fantasizing about this. The pros and cons of this way versus that way... all the methods he wanted to use. He must have had some sort of mental script to follow, one that provided him with the restraint he needed to keep the man alive.
Tony tried to feign unconsciousness at one point, but he couldn't control his ragged breathing, nor could he keep from crying out in pain when Joel hurt him. Joel was also careful not to do anything to the guy's crotch, yet -- same fear, that he might pass out -- but he took great pleasure in making Tony think he might be about to hurt his manhood, and Ellie couldn't imagine that Joel would actually plan to leave that particular region of his body intact.
In fact, Joel took great pleasure in laying out all kinds of scenarios for his victim, even some implausible ones. He lamented that it wasn't summertime, because he wanted to borrow Ellie's honey to slather on Tony's naked body, turning him into ant food. He talked about building a fire to burn various body parts... or maybe to chop them off, roast them in front of him, then ram them down his throat. He wanted to tie him to a tree somewhere no one would find him and let nature deal the final blow -- hopefully via a wild animal, but starvation or frostbite would suffice. Ellie couldn't hear some of the shit he said because he lowered his voice to practically a whisper. That was fine; if it was even worse than the horrific things she'd already heard, she was pretty sure she didn't need to know.
After talking for a while, Joel would pause to follow up with some kind of physical blow. She wondered which was worse, the physical pain or the mental. The anticipation of more pain... that would be agonizing. She tried not to remember when she'd experienced that herself; she just wanted to focus on Joel's revenge. She got the feeling he wasn't coming up with all of it on the fly. Maybe this wasn't the first time he'd tortured someone this way? But again, she could imagine him nursing his anger by inventing these fantasies, probably all the way back to the beginning, right after it happened... the thoughts comforting him in the same fucked up way Ellie's dark thoughts comforted her.
She actually grew tired of listening and watching, and she looked away, confusing thoughts and emotions warring in her head. Joel returned to check on her a few times, and again, the incongruity of him going from mercilessly torturing a man, cruel and angry and brutal as could be, to speaking gently to her, lovingly, holding her hand... it was fucking bizarre. She kept assuring Joel she was fine, that he could carry on and do whatever he wanted to the asshole. If I wasn't here to keep him somewhat grounded, what would he do?
She had to admit, it was pretty funny when Joel announced he had to take a leak (pondering 'hmm, where should I do that') -- right on Tony's face. She definitely looked away for that part (and Joel turned his back to her anyway). She wondered with amusement if he might do more than piss on his face, had she not been there. And she tried not to think about how much she had to pee now. The thought of asking Joel for a turn to relieve herself on Tony almost made her giggle; she would be too embarrassed to actually do it anyway. This is getting really absurd!
She figured the end was near when Joel borrowed her knife; if he was going to start making the man bleed, he'd be losing consciousness soon. Tony had pretty much checked out by this point, making an odd, hissing sort of noise (which Ellie assumed was some kind of attempt to withstand pain), but no longer speaking. He'd stopped trying to get away from Joel, accepting his fate. Just like I did... when I should have kept fighting anyway, because YOU NEVER KNOW... she'd learned that lesson multiple times. Shock could be a powerful immobilizer. It wasn't just that, though... I could feel it in my gut, that I was about to die and there was no use fighting it. My gut was just... WRONG.
In Tony’s case… yeah, he was gonna die, no doubt about it. She couldn’t think of any reason why he shouldn’t give up.
Ellie went to stand next to Joel and survey the damage: it was not a pretty sight. Tony's limbs were splayed at awkward angles, his face was bruised and bloody and swollen, tongue lolling out of his mouth. His eyes were glazed over, his expression dazed and... dead-looking. Is that what I look like when I 'check out'? she wondered.
Joel put his arm around her shoulders. "You don' have to look."
But she did. She had to see it. And if this image of him, disturbing though it was, replaced the last one of him in her head, that would be a bonus.
"It's a shame he has to die so fast," Joel said with a sigh. "You suffered for months... you'll have scars the rest of your life. Invisible ones, at least. This motherfucker only has to suffer a short while. If I could take him prisoner, let him heal up a little for another go... he could endure the pain over an' over..."
"Joel, no. Don't even think it." She could see the wheels turning in his brain. "This is the end of it. You're not... someone who does shit like that."
Joel snorted. "Guess what. I am. I jus' did. An' I ain't done yet. He's still got fingernails... eyeballs... eyelids, even... a dick... balls..."
Ellie turned and put her hands on his shoulders, just like he did with her sometimes to get her full attention. "Joel -- hey. Look at me. I want this to be over. I don't want you to like... keep fucking with him just for fun. You broke him, now you'll kill him, and that's good enough. It's more justice than we ever thought we'd get, right?"
She watched his expression soften as she spoke to him... but it hardened right back into fury the second he looked back down at Tony. "He deserves so much worse, Ellie."
"Well, he can rot in hell then. You know that thing called karma?" The one part of Buddhism Ellie did like to believe in. "If you're doing it for me, then... you can stop doing it for me, too."
"Doin' for you is the same as doin' for me. This ain't on you, if that's what you're thinkin'... you don' actually feel bad for this piece of shit, do you?"
Ellie looked down at the shattered man before them. Talk about subhuman... he's uglier than a Runner now. And probably has less brain power than one, too. She wondered how close he was to passing out. "I feel sorry for him right now, yes."
"WHY?!" Joel exclaimed, aghast.
"Because you just beat the crap out of him and... and now he's gonna die, but I still go on living. I'm... alive." It was such a basic concept, an irrefutable truth, but how many times had she told herself, and truly believed, that her life was over? I'm alive. She felt a strange surge of excitement, bordering on giddiness, at the thought. This abomination of a man was about to die, to become nothing, to cease to exist -- and Ellie wouldn't be surprised if there was no one in his life to feel the loss, maybe even no one who had any memories of him at all. It would be kind of like he'd never existed. But me? I have lots of people I care about, who care about me in return. People who would miss her if she were gone. "Don't you think I got the better end of the deal there? Getting to live?" she said to Joel, trying to convey the depth behind the simple words in that unspoken language they shared.
Or used to share. Joel scowled and finally shrugged off her hands, oblivious to her little epiphany type thing there; it seemed he'd had enough of being gentled. "Go back over there an' don' watch. I'll jus' be five more minutes with the knife."
She didn't feel like they were 'in tune' with each other now. He'd gone overboard, and wanted to continue going overboard -- he was only humoring her in agreeing to stop. But it should come to a natural stop when Tony loses consciousness... right? If it didn't, then surely it would when he died, and that couldn't take too much longer. "Five minutes. You swear?"
"Unless... do you wanna do the honors? The final... ?"
Ellie shook her head. "No. I thought about that when you... I thought maybe I would, but... I don't wanna have to tell my child someday that I killed the person who might be her father. Or even helped kill. I mean... I'm here and everything, but... it's just... different if I actually..." She glanced at the asshole's face, curious to see if he perked up at all upon hearing the revelation that she might be carrying his child -- not even a flicker of surprise, let alone anything else. Maybe he was too far gone to comprehend.
Joel nodded. "All right then. I sure as hell got no problem ownin' it. But don' watch. I know you've seen me kill plenty of infected an' soldiers... you've killed plenty yourself. You've known more violence than... than anyone should have to in a whole lifetime. But... this won' be like all those other times. This is personal."
She flashed back to David for a moment. "I know... I know what that's like. There's only one thing I want to do to him." With that, she leaned over a little to spit on Tony's face, noting with satisfaction that it made him squeeze his eyes shut and twitch his nose. Not ALL the way gone, then...
Joel laughed. "That's it? That's all you want?"
"Yep. You'll enjoy it more, so go ahead. Do what you have to do. Five minutes," she reminded him. "I'll... go over there and keep a look out." Although no one in their right mind would dare come near Joel right now.
She would be sick if she watched the worst of it, she knew. Instead, she turned her back, and started singing a Tori song to herself, trying to drown out the karmic sounds of a monster's gruesome death.
* * * * * * * * * *
Even though Joel was the one covered in blood, he sent Ellie into the bathroom first -- which was a good thing, because she might have peed her pants otherwise (she hadn't wanted to go when they were Outside). She washed up a little as well, but was in too much of a hurry to return to Joel to bother with taking a real bath or shower. Not in a hurry for her own sake so much as Joel's. She was oddly... un-freaked-out, and somewhat numb about it all.
Joel still seemed pissed off, like somehow after everything he'd done to the scumbag, he still hadn't gotten it out of his system.
He hadn't decided what to do with the body. He said he couldn't just leave it there indefinitely for someone to stumble upon, and he felt it would be beyond rude to tell a guard and just let them deal with it. If he'd just shot the man to death, it'd be one thing, but... the body was not at all in good shape, to say the least -- he had cautioned Ellie not to take a last look. Which made her really curious, naturally, but she trusted that he knew best. Joel didn't want Tommy to have to deal with it either, but he wanted Tommy to know about it, so he asked the gate guard to radio Tommy and send him to Joel's house as soon as he could get there. They'd made it home without having to bustle by too many townspeople, answering their questions with 'not now;' everyone would hear about what had happened soon enough.
"He should still be sufferin'." Joel was pacing the floor like a caged beast when she came back to the main room.
Ellie didn't know why he was so restless. He should be worn out after all that exertion. "He's dead. He's... nothing. I'm glad. Aren't you?"
"It ain't enough," Joel growled.
"Yes it is! It's over. You can let it go now. You can... take a shower and get into some clothes that aren't all bloody?" she suggested.
"Why not? You're not going back out there, are you? You can't."
"When Tommy gets here."
"No!" She tried to get him to stop pacing by planting herself in front of him; that only served to make him change course. "Let Tommy handle it. Doesn't he have people who do... whatever, with dead bodies?"
"Yeah. I'm one of 'em, remember?"
"Not this time! Or I'm coming with you, and I'd rather not ever see that guy again." Maybe a guilt trip will work?
"Tommy will stay here with you."
"I don't need a babysitter!"
"Then he an' I will go, an' you don' have to come."
"You're too upset. I'm staying with you," Ellie insisted stubbornly.
There was a knock on the door, then Tommy burst in, panting. "What's wrong?"
"You got here fast!" Ellie rushed over to hug him.
"I wasn' all that far away, an' they told me it was ASAP." He hugged her back and caught sight of Joel, still pacing, over her shoulder. "Joel, what the fuck -- you're hurt!" He let go of Ellie and looked Joel over appraisingly. "What happened? Why didn' you go to the clinic 'stead of comin' here?"
"The blood ain't mine." He ceased pacing to give Tommy the abridged version of what happened, sparing him the gory details of the torture.
When he was finished, Tommy turned to Ellie. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine -- or I will be if you make Joel stay here while you or... whoever, gets rid of the body. He's still all... agitated."
"I don' generally make others clean up my messes," Joel protested. "'Least not when I'm livin' somewhere civilized. Bastard should be left out there to rot. Jus' not sure where. Somewhere inconspicuous enough that no one'll find him. Never imagined the dumb fuck would show up here."
"He thought I was dead, that no one here would know what he did," Ellie reminded him. ...wait, now I'm DEFENDING the asshole? No, she was just explaining, she decided.
Tommy looked at Joel for a long moment. "You stay here with Ellie. I'll take care of it."
"I'm goin' with you," said Joel.
"If you're going, I'm going," Ellie declared again.
"Neither of you is comin'," said Tommy with finality. "I'LL TAKE CARE OF IT."
"What're you gonna do?" Joel asked -- in a tone that said he already knew he wouldn't like it.
"Don' know yet, but I'll take someone out there with me -- Houser, maybe -- an' we'll figure it out."
Joel scowled. "He don' deserve to be buried, Tommy."
"Did I say we'd bury him?" Tommy said mildly.
"No, but I know you. He don' deserve to be burned, either. He should be left out somewhere to rot," he said again, scowling.
Ellie thought about what Tommy would have done if he'd been the one out there with her. He would have killed him too, she was pretty sure -- he wasn't that much of a saint. After confirming the guy's identity a little more solidly, so he probably would have 'interviewed' him first to give her a better look at him. But then he would have just shot him and been done with it, taking no pleasure in the act. And if she'd been alone? I would've shot him the second I recognized him. I'm glad it was Joel who got to kill him... glad the bastard had to suffer. If Tommy's way was right and Joel's was wrong, she definitely skewed toward the wrong. But it was over now, and she wanted Joel to forget about it.
"Don' worry about what we do," Tommy was saying. "You did your part."
Joel looked affronted. "Don't you judge me, baby brother! He had it comin', he deserved far--"
"He wasn't judging you! He's trying to help!" Ellie jumped in, wishing Tommy had sounded a little less patronizing. She loved seeing Joel and Tommy tease each other, but hated seeing them fight for real. Joel always told her to stay out of it and let them work things out their own way; she just had a hard time keeping her mouth shut at times.
"'Course he is. He's the good brother. You takin' his side? The two of you can jus' stay here an' have a nice little heart-to-heart while I go dispose of the trash." He strode for the door.
Tommy sighed. "Joel, come on, now--"
"Joel -- wait!" Ellie rushed after him and grabbed his arm, tugging on it to make him face her. "There's no 'sides.' Or... if there is, we're all on the same one. Don't go. I want to talk to you."
Joel looked surprised. "Me," he said, as if she hadn't spoken plainly enough.
"Uh-huh." He shouldn't be THAT surprised... they'd gotten a lot closer lately. More like how they used to be. Joel had gotten control of his anger -- but now she was afraid he was regressing on that front. She wasn't even sure she felt like talking. All she knew was that she wanted to be with him until he stopped acting like an animal, and she had to hook him somehow. "You were the one who was there. And, um... I just... need you to stay here, where you're safe."
"Where I'M safe?" He jerked out of her grasp, but at least he made no further move to leave.
She nodded. The 'need' had worked for her before... "You're so, like... wound up... I'm kinda scared for you."
Now he looked bewildered. "Scared of me? That's--"
"Scared for you," she corrected him. Pfff, like I'd ever be afraid of him! "Don't leave. Please?" she begged him with her eyes as much as her words. She wanted to hug him, to all but force him to put his arms around her and remember the emotions his anger was displacing right now. But somehow, she didn't dare. She was probably making a bigger deal out of it than she should have. It was just really fucking important to her that he stay.
Some of his anger deflated anyway, just from looking at her, listening to her... He sighed. "I don' know what you think would happen out there, but... if it'll make you feel better, I'll stay."
She smiled gratefully. "Thank you."
He still hadn't done it without some persuasion on her part, but when presented with a choice between indulging Ellie or indulging his anger, Joel had chosen her. That made her feel pretty fucking good -- even better than she would have felt watching that bastard die a thousand times.
~Continue to Chapter 16~