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  Things had changed way more than Ellie ever thought possible. For the longest time all Ellie knew was the dark apocalyptic world where everyone was fighting to survive. She never thought she would ever to live a “normal” life.

  Everything was different.
  The virus finally had a cure and humanity had the ability to somewhat come back from the fucked world they had once lived in. Ellie never thought it would be possible – but here they were.
Joel found them a house and they were actually … happy.

  Electricity and water back.
  Stores were beginning to start up again and it would be a slow progression – but it was like Ellie had never seen before.

  Ellie had a home for once in her life.

  All these thoughts had hit her as she sat on the couch by Joel, legs pulled up to her chest. Every little sound made her jump these days but given the years of hell they were in – she had every reason to be fucked up from it.

  They needed time to heal.

  Joel had been in all of this for 20 years. He had lost too much family.
   She had been in it for 15 years and had known nothing but this life. The only family she had left was him.

  And she was going to keep it that way. They had gone through too much. They deserved to have a nice life like this after all of that. She would be dead if it wasn’t for him. Multiple moments where he saved her …

  Ellie watched Joel work at the stove, working on their dinner. It felt so weird to see him in this sort of setting – it made her wonder even more what the life before the outbreak was like. It all sounded nice and she wished that she could have all of that … and maybe she had a chance now.

  “Ellie? You awake there?”

  “Yeah. I’m just thinking.”

  “Oh, really?”

  Ellie nodded, meeting eyes with him. They smiled at each other and she leaned back in her chair at the table. Every night since they got electricity back, they had made something on the burners or in the stove to take advantage of the luxury. She always watched him – not wanting to be in a room alone for too long. She had the biggest fear that everything would go to shit again.

  All of this would be short-lived and they’d be forced to go back on the run from the monsters.

  To be safe, they built walls around their new home. It was a simple two story in a small town. Other survivors like them had taken residency in some of the other homes – but they hadn’t done anything to make them seem bad. Ellie kept her eye on them, knowing that even the nicest people could snap or be putting on sickly sweet words to cover who they really were.

  “Once I’m done with dinner we can go watch that movie you found.”

  “Oh hell yeah!”

  As they were cleaning out the house ( it needed a major clean and a lot of tlc ) , she had found a bunch of Disney movies up in what seemed to be an old children’s room. It felt odd for Ellie to go in abandoned rooms like that. They seemed … populated still. Like she wasn’t supposed to be in there because the original owner would get pissed.

  But the blood along the wall and the dust covering the furniture showed her that there wouldn’t be anything to worry about. They both had gone around the house and searched for things they could actually get use out of. Blankets and old clothes got washed if they were still intact and the rest stored in a room to be used later.

  They had cleaned up enough to where the two of them had actual rooms. The living room seemed nice and habitable now that they had the walls, floor, and furniture cleaned up as much as they could. They had found cleaning supplies in the bathroom closet and they were lucky enough to be able to clean anything.

  It wasn’t the perfect place …but they were making it their home.

  And home was wherever Joel was.

  As he finished up dinner they sat down at the table and ate, discussing the plans for tomorrow. As they finished up and washed dishes, she made her way into the living room. As soon as Ellie plopped down on the couch, relief washed through her body. They had been cleaning all day today and it felt amazing to be able to sit down and relax. Joel tossed a blanket at her and she laughed, putting it over their laps, him turning on the tv and getting things set up.

  “Wait, which one did you pick?”

  “The one with … Robin Hood?”

  “The one with a fox?”

  “Yeah! It looked interesting.”

  Joel laughed, and Ellie scooted closer so she could lean against him, watching as he worked the menu. She meant it when she said that it looked interesting. She had only learned of things of Joel’s time from books, old magazines, and from the talk of the people who were from his time. She had never heard of this movie and the thought of an animated fox as Robin Hood, a classic tale hero, made her laugh again.

  As the movie played, she kept her head against his shoulder and he played with her hair gently. It was nice to see Joel relaxed for once – the Joel that came from a time before. She couldn’t help herself from watching him. She wondered if he’s seen the movie before with his daughter.

  Sarah must have loved Disney movies…

  Joel had the smallest of smiles on his lips and Ellie wished she could get into his brain and see what he was thinking. Moving her attention back to the tv screen, she watched it for a while before closing her eyes. She could feel him breathing through his shoulder and the occasional chuckle would move his shoulder more. She could get used to this.

  She never wanted to let it go. She had something normal and she would fight for it.

  “Ellie? Don’t tell me you’re already dozing off.”

  “I’m not, Joel. Just … thinking.”

  There was silence before he gently held her closer. She didn’t say a word – only relaxed against him even more. What she would do without him she had no idea.

  He was her comfort and her protector.

  Ellie’s mind went back to when he told her that she would find something to fight for. The longer she thought about it she had already found that.

  It was Joel.

  “Hey, kiddo?”

  “Hmm?”

  “I found a guitar in the attic. Do you want me to play for you tonight? It might help you sleep.”

  Without looking up at him she shrugged.
  "Maybe another night?"
  Nightmares were always a problem for her and she was still hoping that one night they would fuck off. But she had Joel to help her through them.

  Even with separate rooms she didn’t want to be away from him. Her fear of being alone didn’t help even when she knew that there was no way any infected could get through even if one did get past the town’s walls.

  He made her feel safe.

  So, she had been sleeping on the other side of the queen size bed, falling asleep to his gentle voice. It made going to sleep much easier – at the moment it didn’t keep the nightmares at bay. But at least he knew he was there when they were really bad.

  He promised he would be there every time.

  But some nights it felt…. Sad. Pitiful.
   And didn’t wake him up when she had particularly bad ones.

  Their night went great. He had told her about the movies he watched with Sarah and how some nights he’d come home to her asleep in the middle of one.

  She loved when he talked about his daughter. She knew that, as sad as it made him to think about her passing, they had a lot of good memories together. When Joel told her that he knew that Ellie and Sarah would be good friends, it always made her wonder if they really would.

  She could imagine going to their house after school and hanging out with Sarah.
   Teasing Joel…

  But it didn’t feel right. She wasn’t supposed to be in that world.
   She stopped thinking about it.

  Ellie wished that the outbreak never happened so Joel wouldn’t be separated from his daughter. But the selfish part of her knew that there would be a chance she wouldn’t be born.
   And she never would have met Joel.

  Her Joel.

  The rest of the night she felt numb, stuck in the thoughts of “what ifs”. She hated thinking about them. It was a sickly-sweet world that she had problems escaping.
   What if her mother never died?
   Would she even have been bit?

  She wouldn’t have met Riley.
   She wouldn’t have met Joel.

  She … wouldn’t have met Joel…

  “Ellie?”

  They were crawling into bed. Joel was obviously worried, eyebrows furrowed as he watched Ellie. She didn’t want to admit the thoughts in her head so she just shook her head, turning on her side so he couldn’t see her face.

  “Ellie.”

  His voice was more firm. Demanding.
   Worried.

  “It’s nothing, Joel. I’m just … stuck in the past.”

  It wasn’t a lie. She technically was, and she knew she couldn’t escape it so easily once she got there. There was a silence between them once again and this was one she couldn’t stand. Usually they could sit in silence, contemplating different things and she would be fine with it. But this one felt different.

  She could feel her eyes watering a little before she felt his arms gently pull her into a hug. She closed her eyes, melting into the comfort of Joel.

  “I’m right here. I’m not goin' anywhere, baby girl.”

  She knew he didn’t mean literally and she was thankful for the fact he knew how to comfort her aching heart. She didn’t want to be alone.

  She couldn’t be alone.

  After everything had happened, everyone left her.

  Her mom.
   Riley.
   And she had almost lost Joel.

  She couldn’t lose the only father-figure she has ever known.

  “You promise?”

  “Absolutely. Things would be silent without you, kid. Can’t have that happin’ , now can we?”

  She smiled and buried her face against his chest, hearing his steady heartbeat.
Deep breaths, Ellie.

  Everything … was going to be okay.

  For the first time in a long time, she felt like that would be true.

   “Love you, Joel..”

  “Love you, too, baby girl. Now get some rest. We have a long day tomorrow.”

  Closing her eyes, Joel started gently rubbing her back. The empty void of no father and mother left her aching all through her life.
   Finally having someone that could feel both of those, Joel had been more than just her savior in fights.
   He saved her from a long line of hate and suffering in this world.

  He saved her from herself, her lonely future, and her aching heart.

  Joel was truly her savior and she, finally, wished that nothing would change.