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If there’s one thing Ellie knows, it’s that peace doesn’t last. Something always breaks, leaving rusted switchblades and bloody dogtags and a sorrow so deep it burns. This she knows—knows better than language, better than herself—the quiet is fleeting, momentary, unsettling. Ellie knows the terror of peace intimately, it stretches over her each and every day she spends at Tommy’s. She drinks, patrols—even fucks, sometimes, when the right people come through town—and the peace is always there, sitting heavy on her chest.

Something is coming.

Ellie can feel it in every nerve ending, every shortened breath.

 

Something is coming.

 

 

Dina kisses her and Ellie is breathless, forgetful, the something fading far, far away from her. She smiles, fully, feels free in a way she hasn’t in a long time. Dina’s eyes are warm, and beautiful, and Ellie falls into them, her, the moment, the peace—

The peace.

Suddenly, she is haunted. Ghosts long past, loves long gone, things buried and crushed and aching. Her smile cracks, falls, and Dina blinks, surprised, when Ellie drops her hands.

“I— I don’t know—“ Ellie stammers, looks anywhere but Dina’s eyes.

“Ellie. Hey. It’s okay,” Dina brings her hands up to Ellie’s face, cups her cheeks, but Ellie’s gaze is downcast. She flinches at the contact, and Dina’s hands still. “Ellie.” Dina’s voice is soft, imploring, and Ellie thinks that maybe she’s dying.

They should be terrified of you. But none are more scared than Ellie, can’t be, can’t look deep enough to see what makes Ellie shake sometimes in the morning when she catches sight of herself in the mirror.  

Ellie haunts herself, Riley’s dogtags hanging around her neck like a noose. She is light on the surface: joking, laughing, eyes soft and smile light. But the foundation trembles, the peace suffocates her, and it happens more often than not recently, with the something looming, with Dina’s hands resting on her cheeks.

“I’m sorry. I don’t know if this is a good idea,” Ellie’s voice catches, uneven, caught between her wanting and her haunting, the vowels trembling like her hands. Something in her stomach is twisted and heavy. Dina’s gaze is calculating, peeling Ellie away, shredding her to bits, and Ellie takes two steps back.

Dina is brazen, burning, relentlessly beautiful and unflinchingly bold.

And she is kind, so kind, so good to Ellie when Ellie deserves it the least. She must know, she must, has to understand that this is all Ellie really wants. And so Dina’s hands and voice and eyes are soft when she says, “okay.” She lets out a resigned sigh, bordering on exhaustion. Like maybe she knew this was coming. Like maybe she expected this from Ellie all along.

Ellie is sorry, still so sorry, but the words catch in her throat.

She turns, walks away, leaves Dina in the middle of the dance floor, burning. Ellie doesn’t turn back, just moves forward, like always, like forever, one foot in front of the other, never stopping.

She takes the long way home, her path twisting around the riverbed and past the daintier houses set up on the edge of town. She’s alert, as always, eyes shifting across her environment. She can feel the tension wrap itself around her spine, pulling her shoulders in and her head down. Guilt sits like an anchor in her stomach, forcing her feet down heavy into each step.

Ellie knows, truly knows, that she could be happy. If she tried. If she let herself. She could be happy.

She knows.

But she doesn't know if it's worth it anymore. The price of her happiness, it's— it hasn't been hers to pay in a very long time, not really. Riley, Sam, Henry— they're the ones that pay. She's so scared of everyone leaving her, all the time, but she knows it's her fault that they do. But maybe, if she keeps them just out of reach, they won't abandon— they won't have to leave.

If this is her only way of taking on the cost, then so be it. This is what she'll pay. She's too scared not to. 

Ellie frowns, pulling herself out of her thoughts as she nears home. She sends up a silent prayer to the low-hanging moon, hoping that Joel won't lay into her too badly. He always gets pissed if she's out late the night before she has a patrol. 

Fuck. A thought strikes her, stills her for a moment. 

She has patrol tomorrow.

Patrol with Dina.

She cringes, silently berating herself. She thinks of Dina’s voice, her body language, the disappointment and resignation weighing her words. Okay. The guilt rears up in Ellie, kicking and screaming, but she shoves it back down.

She can’t do this. Not again. She’s not ready. Won’t ever be ready.

But it doesn’t make it easier or make the weight on her shoulders any lighter. It does nothing to tamper the wanting in Ellie’s veins, the way it sings when she sees Dina. But the fear is stronger, burns hotter, and Ellie clutches to it, to all the reasons this is a bad idea.

She’s always had a crush, sure, but that was different. She’s had relationships with other women who come through town, but those are simpler, just physical giving and taking, no emotions involved. She knows her feelings for Dina are deeper, more complicated, a hell of a lot more terrifying. She allowed herself the crush on Dina because she thought nothing would ever come of it, that Dina and Jesse would stay conveniently together and never provide Ellie an opening.

And now.

Ugh, fuck, and now: an opening.

Ellie pushes her front door open, sighing. She's frustrated with her stupid fucking feelings and this stupid fucking world, and god why did everything have to be so goddamn complicated—

“Something on your mind, kiddo?” Joel spoke up from where he sat at the kitchen table, eyeing Ellie as she steps inside. 

“It’s just— ugh. Fuck. I don’t know.” Ellie is irate, pushing her hair back behind her ear, avoiding eye contact with Joel. He’s silent for a moment, pondering Ellie’s words, her mood, her movements. He can read her so finely now, so in tune with how she feels. And this… this he recognizes.

“Girl troubles?” Joel chuckles, amusing himself, and Ellie rolls her eyes.

“Ha ha. You think you’re so fucking funny, old man.” She heaves another sigh, sitting down heavily in the chair across from Joel.

“I reckon it’s ‘cuz I am.” Joel scooches forward a bit more, setting his beer down on the chipped table. “Now what’s really got you goin’, Ellie? Did something happen?” He leans forward as he speaks, a little closer, a little more serious, and it’s all Ellie needs to bury her face in her arms.

“I think I— I think I fucked something up. Bad. With Dina.” Ellie’s voice is muffled, and Joel’s chair creaks when he leans forward to hear her.

“How do you mean?” Joel’s not prodding, just curious, giving Ellie some space, and Ellie feels a tug of warmth at the thought, her eyes drawn up to his.

“She kissed me, Joel. In front of fucking everyone, and I— I was happy. Surprised, you know, but happy. But then… I don’t know. I got scared. I walked away.” Ellie picks at a spot on the table, lowers her eyes. She’s been opening up to Joel more and more since they came to Tommy’s, trying to rebuild the trust and love that they had between them. Before… well, before.

But she doesn’t tell him everything. Knows that sometimes, she doesn’t have to. Joel just knows. Other times, she just doesn’t want to. Some things are just hers.

“I told you once, Ellie. You—“ Joel strokes a finger across the face of his watch, squints, “you’re allowed to be happy. You’ve earned it.”

“I know, I know that. I do. Thanks, Joel.” Ellie pushes herself up from the table, giving Joel a small smile.

“Yeah, Ellie. Of course. Just… you let me know if you need something, alright? I could always—“ Joel gets a little flustered sometimes, when he’s this emotionally honest, and Ellie hides her smile, “I could always teach you another song, or something. On the guitar. Maybe after your patrol tomorrow?” His tone peaks up at the end, a little hopeful, and Ellie nods.

“Sure, Joel. That sounds good.”

“Alright then. Night, kiddo.” Joel gives Ellie a little wave, which she returns, grinning just the smallest amount.

It’s cute, how much he cares. Or maybe— maybe that’s not the right word for it. It’s anchoring. Gives her something to lean on.

She reaches her bedroom, lays down, loosens her hair from the tie. Maybe Dina will let it just go back to how it was. Maybe— yeah, maybe they can just go back: to Ellie wanting, from a safe distance, what she thinks she’ll never have. Simple. Uncomplicated. Certainly not scary in any way. But Dina—god, Dina’s lips on hers, her hands on Ellie’s neck, her soft voice in her ear—it makes it all so much fucking harder.

Ellie inhales, exhales. Plays with Riley's dogtags around her neck.

A noose.

Loving, like that— a noose. She won’t hang again. Refuses to.

Ellie turns, shuts her eyes, lets out a heavy breath. She has patrol in the morning, with—

 

She has patrol in the morning.

Chapter Text

Ellie wakes roughly in the morning, jerking out of sleep when she remembers her patrol.

Ugh. The patrol.

She rolls out of bed, putting on her flannel and pulling on her jeans. She checks that her switchblade is in her pocket, patting the spot and feeling somewhat comforted when she feels it there. It’s been her constant companion ever since Marlene gave it to her. Really, it’s been the only thing that’s stayed.

Ellie walks downstairs to find Joel eating breakfast at the table, and she serves herself a small amount of eggs so she can eat quickly.

“So where are you guys headed today?” Ellie can hear the slight tension in his voice, the tone that always accompanies discussion of her patrolling.

“About three miles from the perimeter, supposed to check those old abandoned houses closer to the highway. Tommy told us to just make sure they’re empty, they tend to attract squatters.” Ellie replies, scarfing down her food.

“Hmm. Alright. Well, be careful, alright?”

“Yeah, Joel. Of course.” Ellie pushes up from the table and makes to leave, heading towards the door.

“I mean it.” Joel’s voice is stern, hard, and Ellie tries not to let herself get annoyed as she steps outside.

“Yeah, Joel, I know.” Ellie’s voice is tired, earning a sigh from Joel. He nods, a slight jerk, and Ellie closes the door tightly behind her.

//

By the time she gets to the Eastern gate, Dina is already there, looking far more prepared than Ellie.

“Ellie.” Dina gives her a nod, her voice unreadable, and Ellie feels her stomach flip with nerves.

“Hey, Dina.” Ellie is looking anywhere but her, keeping her eyes fixated on the gear resting against the gate. She thinks she sees Dina give a slight eyeroll, but she keeps her head down. Ellie feels her guilt gnaw at her, but she shakes it off and slings the pack over her shoulder.

“So we’re headed towards the houses in the eastern sector, yeah?” Ellie asks, still not looking up.

“Yup.” Dina’s voice is slightly clipped, short and to the point, and Ellie internally winces at the change. This is a much different Dina then the one Ellie is used to interacting with. This is the Dina that Jesse gets, not her.

“Cool. Okay,” Ellie nods, mouth tight, “cool.” She shuts her eyes, giving herself the mental beating of a lifetime. Fucking idiot.

“Yeah,” Dina’s voice is sarcastic, somewhat cutting, “cool.” This time Ellie really does wince, just a little, and Dina looks somewhat regretful. “Sorry.” Her voice is quiet, not really directed at Ellie, but Ellie gives her a slight shrug anyway.

“Let’s just head out, yeah?” Dina can hear the unspoken question in Ellie’s tone, the can we just pretend it’s normal, please, and against her better judgement, she grants Ellie’s request.

“Sure, Ellie. Just waiting on Mendoza.” Dina squints, checks her watch. “It’s been a while, though. I’m gonna call it in.” Ellie just nods, letting Dina take control. “Hey, T? This is Dina and Ellie at the eastern gate. We’re waiting on Mendoza, he still hasn’t shown up. Anything we should know?”

“Oh, hey Dina. Riggs just called in, Mendoza is feelin’ a bit under the weather. Looks like it’s just you and Ellie today.” Dina rolls her eyes, making Ellie smile a bit, both of them very used to T’s late relay of information.

“What about backup?” Dina asks, throwing Ellie another eyeroll. Ellie feels a slight weight lift off her shoulders, relieved at Dina’s change in mood.

“Uh, that’s a negative. Big patrol headed ten miles out towards Tillford, we’re working with a bit of a skeleton crew here today. So stay out of trouble, you hear?” T’s voice was gruff with age, and Ellie ducks her head to hide her grin. T reminds her a lot of Joel, that old man scruffiness and worry. It’s a wonder they aren’t better friends.

“Alright, T. Will do. Over and out.” Dina tucks the walkie back into her bag, looking over towards Ellie. “Looks like it’s just us today, El.”

“Alright.” Ellie gives Dina a small smile at the nickname, her regret still burning in her stomach. Dina returns it, albeit hesitantly, and they set off through the gate.

//

“Wait. Hold up, this is it.” Ellie calls out to Dina, about ten paces ahead of her.

“Alright. Lead the way.” Dina tilts her head, motioning towards the houses.

“Right.” Ellie says under her breath, “lead the way.” She steps past Dina, careful not to bump into her, and approaches the first house. She has her pistol in her right hand, holding it tightly, ready for anything. Dina has her gun out as well, remaining just a few steps behind Ellie.

Ellie shuts her eyes, listening intently for any signs of life. They approached quietly, so if anyone was inside, they shouldn’t have been able to hear them. She holds her breath for a few seconds, and upon hearing nothing, slowly releases it.

“Okay. Doesn’t sound like anyone’s in there. We should sweep the house though, just in case.” Ellie turns to Dina as she nods her confirmation.

“Alright. I’ll take the upstairs.” She brushes past Ellie, holstering her pistol as she steps through the doorway. Ellie suddenly feels the absence of their easy nature, the you just said that so you could stare at my ass jokes that used to accompany moments like these.

Ellie sighs, slides her pistol back in her holster. Dina walks into the main room, standing next to a glass table at the right of the staircase.

“Have you ever seen one of these before? I can’t believe this is still here.” There’s a tinge of wonder in Dina’s voice, and Ellie clings to it like an anchor.

“No, never. Always all smashed up. Pretty fucking weird.” Ellie tries for casual, for relaxed, and she feels a slight thrill go through her when the corner of Dina’s mouth twitches up as she hums slightly in agreement.

“Right. Well. Let’s try not to break it, shall we?” Dina teases, brushing against Ellie as she moves towards the stairs. Ellie blushes slightly, scoffing.

“Right.” Dina chuckles at Ellie’s response, walking up to the second floor as Ellie makes for the kitchen.

Ellie tries to pull herself from her thoughts, opening cabinets and drawers to make sure no one missed anything. She finds a pack of nails at the back of the drawer, stuffs it into her pack for one of Joel’s woodworking projects. Why he chose that as his new hobby, she doesn’t know.

After thoroughly checking everything, she tunes back in to her surroundings, listening for Dina. Her spine stiffens when she realizes there’s no noise coming from upstairs. She quickly pulls her pistol from it’s holster, letting out a puff of breath as she feels her heart start to beat faster.

“Dina?” Ellie calls out, listening intently for any noise or movements.

“Yeah?” Ellie can her Dina’s muffled reply carry down the staircase, and all the tension leaves her shoulders. She lets out a heavy breath, slipping her pistol back into its holster. She walks into the main room, briskly moving up the stairs to find Dina standing just a few feet from the top of the stairs, examining something. Dina turns at the sound of Ellie coming upstairs, shoving something into the front pocket of her bag before swinging it back over her shoulders.

“Hey. What’s up?” Dina asks, the casual tone sounding somewhat forced to Ellie’s ears.

“Nothing. Didn’t hear anything for a while, just checking to make sure you were okay.” Ellie’s grip is tight on her backpack strap, her hands twisting it nervously. Dina lets out a breath, somewhat annoyed.

“I’m fine, Ellie.”

“Right, I know, I just—” Ellie stammers, looks for the right words, “I didn’t mean anything by it.” Dina sighs, gives Ellie a reassuring smile.

“I know, freckles.” Ellie blushes slightly at the nickname, Dina stepping closer to her.

“What’s going on in there, Ellie?” Dina points at Ellie’s head, brows furrowed, and Ellie feels herself take a small step backward.

“How do you mean?” Ellie’s voice is a little nervous, her feet rooting her to the spot. Dina stops where she is, the floor creaking slightly. Wait, the floor—

“You know what I mean.” Dina’s voice is soft, imploring, and Ellie shakes her head, face scrunched.

“No wait, Dina, I think—” Ellie’s eyes are glued to the floor and Dina sighs, resigned.

“Think what, Ellie?” She takes another step forward, and Ellie sees the floor splinter, just a tiny bit, giving another loud creak, and she feels panic grip her. She jerks her head up, spots the open door behind Dina leading into another room.

“Dina, stop! Step back. I think the floor is about to break.” Dina’s eyes widen in surprise, her movements stilling.

“Ellie, are you fucking with me?” Dina’s tone is tight, serious, but she still doesn’t move, trusts Ellie to recognize danger.

“I’m absolutely fucking serious, Dina. Don’t move.” Ellie holds out a hand in a stop motion, takes a cautious step forward, trying to move back towards the stairs. The floor lets out a dangerous creak, and Ellie feels her heartrate quicken. “Shit. Fuck.” She holds her arms out at her sides to steady her as she feels the floor dip slightly.

Dina takes a hesitant step forwards, attempting to get closer to the stairs when the floor groans dangerously. Ellie’s eyes widen as she watches the floorboards splinter slightly with the movement. She checks Dina’s position, looks at the open door behind her, the boards splintering more and more, Dina’s body rigid, her face scrunched in worry—

The floorboards give another loud groan, something cracks loudly, and Ellie is moving, rushing forward, giving Dina a forceful shove back into the room behind her. Dina stumbles back and down, falling to the ground with a rush of air, as Ellie comes to an abrupt halt in the middle of the floor.

“Ellie—” Dina’s eyes are fearful, her hand outstretched, and Ellie just looks at her.

“Fuck.” Ellie whispers, eyes locked on Dina.

“Ellie!” The floor lets out a loud groan, there’s a sharp bang, and suddenly Ellie is falling backwards through the floor beneath her. She’s twisted slightly, falling onto her back, her side, heading for the next floor, colliding with—

Fuck.

 

She collides with the glass table, feels it shatter beneath her weight before everything abruptly cuts to black.

Chapter Text

“Ellie! Ellie, wake up. C’mon Ellie, c’mon.” Ellie groans softly, feels hands at her shoulders shaking her back and forth slightly, rolling her off of her side and onto her back.

“Wh—what—” Ellie blinks blearily, tries to get a sentence out.

“Oh my god. Ellie. Oh, Ellie.” Dina’s hands still, squeeze Ellie’s shoulders tightly. “Fuck, Ellie, you scared the shit out of me.” She lets out a shaky breath as Ellie tries again to open her eyes. Ellie blinks hard as light begins to filter in, squinting against the onslaught. She attempts to lift her arm to block the sun and groans heavily when she feels a sharp pain in her abdomen. Dina gently pushes Ellie’s arm back down, positioning herself between Ellie and the light coming through the window.

“Hey, take it easy. That was a hell of a fall. I think—” Dina takes a deep breath, steadies herself, “I think you hit your head pretty hard.”

Ellie’s brows furrow in confusion, and she shakily lifts her hand up to her forehead. She drags it back, blinks slowly at the sight of blood.

“Oh. Shit,” Ellie says, simply, and Dina chokes back a laugh.

“Yeah. Shit is right. Let’s get you up, okay?” Ellie nods lazily in response, wincing when it makes a pain flare in her head.

Dina leans closer, pulling Ellie up slightly so that she can slip an arm behind her shoulders. Ellie lets out a pained breath as she’s pulled into a sitting position, and Dina stills, her arm still wrapped around Ellie.

“Ellie? What’s wrong?” Dina’s voice is gentle, her hand firm on Ellie’s shoulder, and Ellie sits for a few moments, just breathing.

“My ribs. Ah, fuck.” She hisses, pressing a hand on to her torso, eyes squeezed tightly shut. She looks down at the table, spots the hard steel rungs interlocking the legs. She points shakily at them, looking towards Dina. “I think I knocked ‘em on there.” Another pained inhale, another slow blink.

“Okay. It’s okay, Ellie. Hey. Hey,” Dina brings a hand up to Ellie’s cheek, moves her gently to the side so that she’s facing her. “You’re okay. Let’s just focus on getting up, yeah?”

“Yeah. Yeah, okay.” Ellie’s eyes slip shut, her head dipping into the side of Dina’s neck.

“No, come on Ellie, stay awake. Come on, freckles.” Dina gives Ellie another little shake, tightening her grip on her shoulder. Ellie groans in response, sitting up straighter so that Dina can hold her more firmly.

“Fuck, okay, let’s go.” She lets out a shaky breath, pushing off the ground as Dina helps lift her. They slowly stand, Dina gripping tightly to Ellie as she leans more heavily into her side.

“Let’s just get to the kitchen, it’s just a few feet away, okay?” Dina gives Ellie an encouraging smile, and Ellie just grunts in response, still trying to get her feet beneath her. They half-stumble, half-walk through the doorway and Ellie grips it for support as they pass through, leaving a smudge of blood on the wooden frame.

Dina slowly lowers Ellie into a chair near the kitchen table, gripping tightly onto Ellie’s hand as she slips her arm off her shoulder. Once Ellie is settled, Dina crouches in front of her, grasping Ellie’s hands.

“I’m going to radio for backup.” Dina states firmly. Ellie opens her mouth to speak, but Dina cuts her off. “No, I know, the other patrol. No backup, blah blah blah. But at the very least maybe we can figure something out. Ellie.” Ellie sighs, slumping more into the chair. “Ellie,” Dina says again, “it’s worth a shot.”

“Okay. Yeah. Call ‘em.” Ellie waves a hand in mock permission, and Dina rolls her eyes.

“Hey T, you read me?” Dina’s free hand rests gently on Ellie’s knee, and Ellie shuts her eyes, relaxes, focuses solely on the sound of Dina’s voice. She starts drifting off, the sound of T’s reply getting lost into the background.

“Tomorrow morning? That’s pretty late, are you sure— shit, wait one sec, T.” Dina sets the radio down next to her and brings her hand up to Ellie’s face, tucking some hair gently behind her ear. “Ellie. Come on. Stay with me.” Ellie stirs, confused, blinking back awake to see Dina’s face close to hers. “Good, there you go. Okay. T said we’ll have to wait until morning. The big patrol got into some trouble, so the last available backup was sent out to them. I’ve got some supplies with me and this place is pretty well defended because of all the squatters coming through here, so we should be fine for the night. What do you think?” Dina grasps Ellie’s hands in hers, gives them a small squeeze to try and get her to focus.

“Uh, yeah. Okay, that sounds fine.” Ellie shuts her eye again, tilts her head back and then opens them again. She meets Dina’s eyes, which are equally amused and concerned, her hands still holding Ellie’s. Ellie thinks that maybe she’s never been this fucked in her whole life. She blinks again. Dina’s gaze is still on her. The feeling doesn’t pass.  

“Everything okay, Dina?” T’s voice asks through the walkie resting on the floor.

“Uh,” Dina fumbles for the walkie, brings it up to her mouth, her eyes still fixed on Ellie’s, “yeah, T, we’re all good. We can wait until morning.” Ellie’s eyes suddenly widen, and she makes a move to grab the walkie from Dina, who easily moves out of the way of the sluggish movement. She raises an eyebrow in questioning, but Ellie just makes an ushering motion at the walkie. “I think Ellie’s got something to say, T. Looks a right fool doing it, though.” Ellie sends her a glare, takes the walkie from her outstretched hand.

“T— don’t tell Joel. Just tell ‘em… tell ‘em we found supplies and need help bringing ‘em back. Don’t tell ‘em that I was injured, or whatever, yeah?” Ellie’s voice starts to slur, and Dina takes the radio back, keeping one hand on Ellie’s while she does it.

“We gotta go now, T. Thanks.” Dina shoots Ellie a concerned look, but the other woman misses it, her eyes already closed again.

“Of course, ladies. Stay safe out there.”

“Let’s get you patched up, freckles.” Ellie cracks one eye open to shoot Dina a dirty look, but Dina just laughs. “Oh, so scary. I’m so scared of the concussed woman who can’t even sit in a chair properly.” Dina snarks, pushing Ellie up against the back of the chair again. Ellie groans, effectively wiping Dina’s smile off her face. “Oops. Sorry Ellie.” Ellie just grunts again, waving her hand.

“’s fine. Don’t— don’t worry about it.” Her voice is much more slurred now, her movements also getting sloppier. Dina pats Ellie’s knee in reassurance and reaches into her bag to find her first aid kit.

“Alright then. Let’s start with your head, okay?” Ellie nods as Dina unzips her med bag, taking out a small piece of cloth and dipping it into her canteen. “Okay, I’m about to clean it. Don’t squirm.” She brings the cloth up to Ellie’s forehead, wiping away blood and grime from the wound. “Yeesh. You know, I figured your head could use a few knocks, but this is pretty bad, El. You’ve really done a number on yourself.” Ellie snorts in response, her eyes shut against the pain.

Dina sets the cloth back down, rummaging through her bag for a small bandage to cover the cut right below Ellie’s hairline.

“Ya know, with my luck, it’ll probably scar.” Ellie slurs, leaning into Dina’s hand as Dina gently presses the bandage onto Ellie’s forehead.

“Well, you’d probably deserve it. I mean, honestly, a glass table keeps itself safe for thirty years until you come right along and break it.” Dina’s voice is light, her hands still resting on Ellie’s face.  

“Yeah,” Ellie’s voice cracks, and she clears her throat, tilts her head back as her vision spins. “I tend to do that.” Her voice drips with guilt, remorse, and Dina feels her heart ache.

“Ellie.” Dina’s voice is gentle, her hands stroking along Ellie’s jaw, the other woman leaning into the touch. Ellie’s face is scrunched up, twisted in pain, and Dina’s stomach drops at the sight. “Oh, Ellie. I’m sorry.” Dina’s not sure why she’s apologizing, or even who she’s apologizing for, but she feels like she has to, like she has to speak on behalf of whatever rotten thing has taken root in Ellie’s chest cavity.

Ellie says nothing, just stays there, resting in Dina’s palm. Dina stands, sliding her hands back and around, arms wrapping around Ellie carefully, trying not to aggravate any injuries. Ellie sucks in a harsh breath, the air hissing through her teeth as she leans forward heavily, her eyes closed as she tucks her head into Dina’s chest. Her arms come up, lazily wrapping around Dina’s torso. Her breath is soft and slow against Dina’s chest as the other woman carefully traces circles into Ellie’s spine.

“I’m sorry I yelled at you, Ellie. I was just… I was just frustrated. I shouldn’t have pushed you.” Dina’s voice is soft, apologetic, and Ellie can’t speak, can’t look at her. She just tightens her arms the smallest fraction, feels Dina take a deep breath, her own arms tightening back. They stay that way for a few moments longer, before Ellie’s hands fall away, her gaze still downcast.

“Well, ‘m sure you’re glad I pushed you, huh?” Ellie jokes as she rests back against the chair, her limbs already growing heavier. She wants to break the seriousness of the moments, wants so desperately to return to whatever it was that came before this. It works, at least for now. Dina snorts, lets Ellie have this, her hands lightly grazing Ellie’s bandage to make sure it’s still in place.

“Okay, dummy, don’t strain yourself.” Ellie lets out a tsk in response, earning another laugh from Dina. “Really though, Ellie. You got lucky on this one. You’ve got some cuts from the glass but none of them look deep enough to require stitches, at least not from what I saw. I didn’t get a good look at your ribs before you woke up, though, so I’m gonna do it now, okay?” Ellie nods in response, clumsily attempting to unbutton her shirt while also clumsily attempting to keep her thoughts from straying to the direction this is taking. Dina catches her arms before Ellie can get too far. Well, at least with the shirt.

“I said I’m gonna do it, dummy. You don’t need any more injuries,” Dina chastises, and Ellie somehow musters the strength to roll her eyes dramatically. Dina crouches back down in front of her, her eyes level with Ellie’s chest. She slowly unbuttons Ellie’s shirt, her movements careful to avoid aggravating Ellie’s ribs. Ellie, meanwhile, tries to keep her scattered and foggy brain from falling into the gutter. She’s mildly successful, she groggily thinks, as Dina carefully lowers her arms back down. Even in her reduced capacity, Ellie can feel the shift in the room. It’s emotional again, but it’s different, Dina’s eyes fixed on Ellie, Ellie’s eyes fixed on the floor, as Dine slowly pushes the edges of the shirt away from Ellie’s chest. Ellie can’t quite muster the courage to crack a joke.

 “Okay. It’s not too bad. I mean, it’s not great, but it could be worse.” For a brief moment, Ellie finds herself wishing that Dina sounded even the least bit nervous about kneeling in front of her while she was basically shirtless. But Dina is Dina, so of course, she doesn’t. Instead, her gaze is strong, fixed on Ellie’s bare skin, her hands still holding the fabric of her shirt. “There’s definitely some bruising, but nothing looks broken. But I have to be sure. Sorry, El, this might hurt a bit. Ready?”

Ellie lets out a soft hum in consent, her head tilting back to stare at the ceiling as Dina takes a steady breath, leaning back towards Ellie and bringing her hands to gently rest on the other woman’s sides. Ellie tries not to flinch as Dina’s moves her hands softly against her skin, poking and prodding as she goes. She glides down towards the hips, and Ellie lets out a pained sound when Dina touches a particular spot, her whole body tightening as the rib sends out a sharp ache. She reflexively catches Dina’s arm, pulling it suddenly away from her body.

“Shit, sorry. I think you cracked this one,” Dina says apologetically. Ellie lets out a huff in response, trying to catch her breath from the pain. Her head is still tilted back, allowing Dina to see the whole length of her neck. Dina traces the sharp angle of Ellie’s profile with her eyes, the slight rise and fall of her exposed chest as she takes pained breaths. Ellie’s grip is tight on Dina’s wrist, her strength evident against Dina’s skin. A wild pounding starts in Dina’s ribcage. A small trickle of blood creeps across Ellie’s collarbone, and Dina’s eyes are everywhere, watching it all, her heart hammering.

Ellie takes a deep breath, regaining her focus. She realizes she’s still clutching Dina’s wrist, and she drops it instantly, lifting her eyes to Dina to apologize. Her words catch in her throat at the sight of Dina’s expression. Her face is still, focused. It’s the same look as before, when— oh, shit.

“It’s— it’s okay, Dina. I’m fine.” Ellie sounds slightly winded, but it’s not from the pain, and Dina knows, she knows. But she also knows Ellie is wounded, knows this was all just one glass table of many. Knows how deep it goes. So she swallows the urge, gives Ellie a soft smile. She tries not to feel hurt at the trace of relief on Ellie’s face.

And then she leans forward, slowly, gently, giving Ellie time to push her away. But Ellie doesn’t, just feels her breath hitch slightly as Dina nears closer to her chest. Her hands brush against Ellie’s sides and Ellie thinks maybe she died, yeah, maybe the fall really did kill her, or maybe it’s going to, maybe it always was. Dina presses her lips softly against Ellie’s chest, right against the aching rib, and it burns. It’s painful all over again, somehow hurts even worse. Dina rests there for a moment, hands searing Ellie’s skin, mouth pressed against the heat. She goes to move away, and for a moment, Ellie wants so desperately for her to stay. Please— she wants to beg, to make it known— linger.

But she doesn’t, and Dina moves away, rests on her heels as Ellie burns. Ellie’s throat works uncomfortably, words sticky, unwilling. Impossibly, Dina’s face softens even more, her smile small and significant on her face. Ellie wants to speak, wants to say anything at all. She doesn’t, of course she doesn’t, and fuck, why can’t she just do this?

Dina must see the conflict on her face, because she starts slowly buttoning Ellie’s shirt back up, let’s the other woman just sit there, her mind sluggishly trying to process the situation. And Dina is patient, has no choice, really, because Ellie is wounded. She keeps forgetting that, the thought slipping away with Ellie’s jokes, her smiles, her gentle hands. Dina forgets, and she kisses her, brings the damage to the surface, shatters the carefully constructed stability. Ellie is wounded. Her eyes meet Dina’s as she reaches the last button, a slow trickle of blood trailing its way down the side of her face. Not just wounded. Dangerous. Dina can’t afford to forget that.

“Better?” Dina implores. Ellie sluggishly nods, and Dina knows she probably won’t be conscious much longer. “Okay. Good. I’m just going to check and make sure there’s no glass stuck anywhere, okay?” Dina asks as she roots through her medical bag for the tweezers. She waits a few moments for Ellie’s answer, but the other woman is silent. Dina worriedly looks back to her, sighing softly when she sees her. Ellie’s head is slumped onto her chest, her eyes tightly shut. “Oh, Ellie.”

It’s funny, she thinks. People usually look less threatening when they’re asleep. They seem docile. Gentle. Vulnerable. Dina looks at Ellie’s sleeping form, at the sharpness of her body, at the blood crawling down her scarred skin. Ellie doesn’t look peaceful. Ellie looks deadly. There’s nothing soft about her, no kind words or warm eyes to distract from the lethality of her frame. Asleep, Ellie looks every bit as dangerous as Dina knows her to be.

She stands and gently shakes Ellie, knows it’s not safe to leave her like this, as much as she wants to just let the other woman sleep.

“Hey. Wake up. Not yet. We’re almost done, Ellie, I promise.” Dina is speaking directly into Ellie’s ear, her hands returning to their usual place on Ellie’s spine to trace small circles. Ellie shifts slightly but doesn’t open her eyes. Dina takes a deep breath. “Okay. This isn’t going to work.” She leans away from Ellie, her hands coming up to hold Ellie’s face. “Hey. Ellie. Come on. You can sleep, but not here, okay?” Ellie hums under her breath, slumping into Dina’s hands. “Christ. Okay. Hard way it is.”

Dina crouches slightly, slipping both her arms under Ellie’s. She begins to move upright, pulling Ellie along with her and into a standing position. She grunts with the effort, Ellie’s deadweight beginning to fully rest against her.

“Holy shit you are heavy.” She takes several deep breaths, trying to settle Ellie’s form against her. “Shit. I’m starting to have second thoughts about this. Ellie. Hey, Ellie. Wake up, dummy.” Dina raises her voice, speaking directly into Ellie’s ear, jostling her gently. Ellie groans, finally becoming somewhat conscious.

“Oh, thank god. Okay. I’ll do the rest tomorrow. We just have to get to the other room, okay?” Dina waits for Ellie’s confirmation. She gets some sort of hum/grunt hybrid, and decides it’s good enough. “Okay. Here we go.” She shifts Ellie more to the side, letting the other woman hang more off her shoulder. Dina pulls Ellie’s other arm across her shoulders, gripping it tightly. It’s still immensely heavy, and Dina tries her hardest not to accidentally drop the other woman.

They painstakingly move out of the kitchen and towards the living room, Ellie making little to no effort to walk alongside Dina. Somehow, they make it all the way to the couch, and Dina tries to lower Ellie down as gently as she can. Ellie slumps forward, almost falling over, but Dina catches her at the last second.

“Ah, shit. I gotcha.” Ellie is completely resting against Dina, and Dina pushes her back slightly against the couch, helping her move into a laying-down position. Ellie hums, moving back into unconsciousness, her injuries finally catching up with her. Dina leans against the couch, trying to catch her breath from the exertion. She moves to stand, but Ellie’s hand catches her. Surprised, she looks down, finds Ellie’s eyes on her, uncharacteristically soft. Her face is vulnerable, and Dina knows she must really be hurting to lower her guard this much. Her worry and guilt gnaw at her chest a bit more.

“It’s okay. I just have to grab the bag. I’m not going to leave.” Dina can see it on her face: Ellie is wounded, and Dina is heartbroken. “Ellie.” Her voice cracks, her hands tucking a strand of Ellie’s hair behind her ear. Ellie sighs, the tension of her body dissipating as Dina presses a gentle kiss to her forehead. “I’m right here, dummy.”

Her lips linger, and Ellie is far, far away.