Of all the nightmares Ellie had had over the years about the shit dystopia she lived in, she never once dreamt that she was Infected. She’d had a dream about almost everyone she knew at some point being Infected, but never once did her mind dare to venture into the territory of she herself being sick. Maybe she couldn’t imagine it. Maybe her body couldn’t bring itself to imagine something she knew was impossible. Strange, considering how many impossible things she imagined every single fucking minute.
Being immune would be something she felt guilt about the rest of her life. Stupid, really. Not like it was her fucking fault she couldn’t get Infected.
But it wasn’t like she’d done anything to deserve it, either.
She didn’t sleep a wink that night.
Wandering around the theater, she took in old concert and play posters, found a set list for Sick Habit (siiiiiick), and generally tried to imagine what the theater must have been like packed with people.
Bet the energy was electric.
Alice had started following her around at some point. Ellie wondered if the dog could sense her intentions. Dogs always could, right? But she seemed friendly. They even played a couple rounds of fetch with an old stuffed animal Ellie found backstage. It was ratty and dusty, couldn’t have tasted too good, but Alice didn’t seem to mind. The floor creaked below her as they walked. It reminded her of how it used to sound when Joel walked around in the kitchen when she was in the basement…
Footsteps upstairs stirred her awake. Her back ached just a little bit - eventually she should probably think about taking the mattress from the floor and put something underneath it.
Joel must have been above her making food. What time was it? Late morning? Early afternoon?
Her journal laid open next to her. She must have fallen asleep writing in it. Again. She didn’t have wall duty or patrol today, so maybe she should go upstairs and try to eat with Joel? Would it be awkward?
It seemed like so much was weird between them now. That nagging conversation that Ellie had to have with him felt like it hung over them any time they spoke. And what was worse, is that he didn’t even know. Did he feel the tension she felt? He never said anything.
She sighed, slapping her palm down on her forehead.
And suddenly the night before came crashing down on top of her.
Cat broke up with her. Fucking broke up with her. In Seth’s fucking bar. On her eighteenth fucking birthday.
Ellie had never been huge on birthdays but that didn’t mean it didn’t suck to be broken up with on her birthday.
It had been so fucking stupid, too. Cat had given her a key to her house in Jackson. She wanted Ellie to move in. Ellie liked her house… okay it was a basement at Joel’s but it was hers. She liked having something that was hers. She didn’t want to leave. Weird, considering she hadn’t overly decorated it or anything, and that Joel had stopped asking her why she didn’t want to sleep in her actual room. They’d even been talking about fixing up the old garage out back so that Ellie could move in there. They hadn’t gotten around to it, and probably wouldn’t for awhile, if ever, but… she didn’t want to move in with Cat.
Maybe she shouldn’t have blatantly said that. It had been kind of fucking blunt. But she didn’t want to bullshit around with some “I’m not ready” crap when she knew it was because she liked her basement.
Maybe it didn’t have to do with basements versus houses at all.
Maybe that maybe was a ‘definitely’.
Ellie sighed again, but then a small twinge of a smile found its way to her lips.
Dina had really saved her ass last night.
She could still hear Dina’s angry “fuck off, Cat,” in her head, feel the warmth of Dina’s hand wrapping around hers and pulling her out of the bar…
It had all been so overwhelming that when they finally made their way to the little carousel in that little park in the more desolate part of town, Ellie had flopped herself down and kind of, well, cried.
Super sexy, Ellie.
Dina… hadn’t really seemed to mind, though. She’d been really sweet about it. Dina was good with that stuff. With people. Ellie always kind of had a chip on her shoulder, usually sassing people before anything else. Tongue as sharp as her switchblade and an attitude to match, but she’d be lying if she said she didn’t have nagging demons, if she said she didn’t have a softness she rarely let others see.
She’d had her guitar with her at the bar and thus had it with her in the little, desolate park. Ellie had slowly become more comfortable playing it in front of people, despite the fact that she generally considered her music to be just hers.
But last night she had played for Dina.
They’d sat together once Ellie had regained control of her breathing and talked. About Cat, about Jesse, about patrol, about Jackson, and of course about space and dinosaurs and the meaning of the universe. And when Dina asked Ellie to play her something… how the fuck could Ellie say no? More than that, she didn’t want to say no.
They stayed up so late that they watched the sun crest over the horizon together. Ellie would have given anything to kiss Dina then. Anything. But she was too scared.
Ellie would have expected to be a grumpy piece of shit that day, but there was an elation in her chest, a lightness, something she so rarely got the opportunity to feel…
Alice scurried ahead of her as something moved in the shadows of the theater. Ellie stiffened, coming back to herself, but when a rat scampered across the backstage area with Alice chasing after it, she snickered.
“There you are,” a soothing, concerned tone echoed from behind her. She turned around to see Dina, hobbling slightly, walking toward her.
“You should be sleeping," Ellie said, every protective bone in her body suddenly growing sharp as a razor.
“So should you,” Dina countered.
“Mind’s too busy,” Ellie said, turning back around toward Alice and the rat.
“That woman… Mel…” Dina said, as if it was a question that she didn’t finish.
“She helped us. She wanted to help you,” Ellie said, seeing that Dina had stepped up to her out of the corner of her eye. She turned.
“Maybe they’re not all bad.”
Ellie had thought it, but she didn’t want to. All her defenses flew up.
“So that makes up for what they did?” The bite in her tone was obvious.
“No. But they didn’t all do that,” Dina said, reaching a slow hand toward Ellie’s shoulder.
“I keep seeing him. Over and over. I just wanna carve it out,” Ellie said softly as Dina’s hand squeezed her.
“How is it?” Ellie asked, quickly pivoting, looking down at Dina’s ankle.
“Feels better,” Dina said, letting Ellie get away with changing the subject.
“Good,” Ellie said, then whistled toward Alice. “Come on, girl, enough rat chasing for tonight,” she said, and Alice turned and promptly began trotting toward them.
“She likes you,” Dina said.
“Well that makes one ‘a you,” Ellie said, a small smirk on her lips.
“Ouch,” Dina said, but she took Ellie’s hand lazily as they walked back toward the lobby instead of their little room. Ellie still couldn’t sleep, she didn’t know if she ever would again, but having Dina next to her on the couch, with Alice laying down by them, felt… good, and yet somehow hollow - a haunting ache in her chest that would never cease.
Morning came and with it, an air of concern surrounding Mel. Her pacing footsteps pulled Ellie from her and Dina’s reverie around dawn. Mel took the time to re-wrap Dina’s wound, claiming it looked a hell of a lot better than it had the night before. Dina even seemed to be able to put a little more weight on it.
Maybe that shit is magic… Ellie thought.
“I have to go back,” Mel said, standing as soon as she was done.
“Now? I thought you said there was time,” Ellie said, standing up along with Mel.
“They got back,” Mel said, and Ellie could see her fiddling with a small radio that stuck out from her pocket. “They have our leader, Isaac, he got hurt, Owen’s afraid he won’t make it back to base…”
Ellie’s stomach dropped into her feet, and she could tell Dina sensed it. Even Jesse seemed to sense it.
Fucking Isaac. At the aquarium. Right the fuck now. And they. THEY. She must be talking about Owen and Abby.
“Babe, you think you can make it? You want to stay?” Ellie asked, turning toward Dina.
“Fuck no, I’m coming,” Dina said, standing - a bit gingerly, but far stronger than she even had in the theater just a few hours before. “Let us get our stuff?” Dina said to Mel, and Mel nodded. “Come on,” Dina said to Ellie, a certain tone to her voice. Ellie followed her from the lobby.
“A bunch of them could be there, Ellie, an ambush” Dina said as they walked toward the little back room they had been calling home for days.
“You didn’t see the place. It’s not a base or anything… it’s… it’s like this,” Ellie said, gesturing around. Dina looked around, saying nothing. “Dina, they’re leaving. Owen, Abby, Mel, they’re leaving. I don’t get another shot at this.”
“Okay,” she said simply, and they began packing their things.
Mel knew the layout of the city well - and what was more, she knew the routes to take to avoid the “Scars“. Ellie could feel the adrenaline rushing through her veins, her skin was tingling with it. Anticipation built in her throat, but she tried to stay calm as they moved. She focused on Dina, making sure she was all right. But she was keeping up with them, and had barely even winced so much as once in the whole time they had been moving. She knew where pockets of Infected roamed, the patrol routes of the Scars, and those of the WLF - though there weren’t many Scars and WLF out. The casualties from whatever attack had happened the night before must have been massive.
Fucking Seattle, Ellie thought.
“…Riley?” Mel’s voice pulled Ellie from her thoughts. She looked up to see Mel and Jesse had crossed to the other side of the street. She’d momentarily forgotten she’d given herself that code-name.
“Oh. Sorry,” Ellie said as Dina eyed her a little suspiciously and crossed the street along with her. Ellie’s skin felt like it was going to explode. Every step was closer. Every moment nearer to getting the last looks on Joel’s face out of her mind - how small he’d seemed then. And they fucking did that to him. Her teeth ground together in her mouth.
A mile from the aquarium.
Half a mile.
So fucking close.
The bodies of two WLF soldiers were strewn on the side of the road, two arrows in each of their chest’s. Ellie heard Mel swear under her breath as she looked down at them.
“I hope your death was swift,” Mel murmured quietly over their bodies.
“Let’s keep moving,” Mel said, standing back up and continuing toward the aquarium. Dina looked at Ellie out the corner of her eye.
The aquarium seemed to loom taller than it had the night before as they approached. Maybe it was what was coming, maybe Ellie hadn’t been paying attention last night, or maybe it was Jesse and Dina’s eyes on her as they got closer.
They moved around the back toward an open door. It was as dark and dank as it had been the night before, and they began to hear voices as they moved through the back rooms. Finally, Ellie could make out what they were saying:
“You called her?!”
“I thought she could save him. The walkies work all over the city-“
“That’s not what I mean- we brought him here to hide him, not to save him-“
“We have to go, they’re gonna come for us- so stupid, Abby-“
“Don’t gimme that shit-“
“You shot him!”
“HE KILLED HER!”
The voices echoed, words mixing together and jumping on top of each other as Ellie, Dina, Jesse, Mel, and Alice moved toward two large doors with a big, red crab painted on them. Alice whined and looked up at Mel.
“It’s okay, girl,” Mel cooed quietly.
One of the doors was cracked open just slightly, and Mel opened it slowly. It didn’t seem as though the people on the other side took any notice.
“I’m so tired, Owen,” the woman said, her braid long down her back, and her muscles seemed somehow smaller in her vulnerability. Abby.
Owen wrapped his arms around her and pulled her into a hug.
“It’ll be okay,” he said. “We’re leaving. Getting the fuck out of this city.” He pulled away and took her face in his hands. Ellie watched the horrified look on Mel’s face.
“Abby, it’s okay,” Owen repeated.
There was a boy a ways behind them, Lev, the boy that had been with Abby when Dina and Ellie had run into them in the woods and again at the hospital. He was dirty, blood covering his hooded jacket. Abby and Owen were bloody, too. And Isaac’s body laid on the ground, motionless, eyes open, dead.
“Abby,” Owen said quietly, and brought her lips to his. They met in a quiet kiss.
Ellie didn’t know what to do, what to feel: part of her was pissed on Mel’s behalf, this was fucked up. Part of her wanted to cheer that Abby had killed the fuck that had had a hand in Joel’s death. Part of her wanted to run toward Abby and dig her switchblade straight into her neck for being even a little responsible for Joel getting bitten…
“What the fuck is this?” Mel said, as if her voice had finally found its way out of her throat. Owen and Abby jumped apart.
“Mel,” Owen said, surprise and shame in his voice.
“Shit,” Abby said quietly.
“Yeah. Shit,” Mel said. “Fuck you. What is this?” she asked.
“It’s not-“ Owen began, stepping away from Abby.
“Not that. This,” Mel said, pointing to Isaac’s body. “What did you do?”