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I'd surely lose myself

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Ellie leaves the farm. She leaves the guitar and she leaves all the memories Dina has left her.

Just for a second she contemplates going back to Jackson, but decides against it. She has failed too many people. She failed Dina by leaving and not even finishing her task and she failed Tommy by letting Abby live.

She can’t go back after everything she has done and everything she hasn’t done. The weight crushing her shoulders is too heavy to let herself attempt to have a normal life and hinder the normal lives of her loved ones with her pain.

So instead she wanders through the forest for hours until she reaches a part where the trees become less clustered. Perhaps that’s the end of the forest. There she finds an old, rusted and smashed car, the front of it rammed through a tree that has started to grow into the car. It’s beyond her how it has gotten here, but she sets up camp in it. She pries open the back door to the car and tosses her backpack inside.

It isn’t too bad. The front part is horribly bent and she couldn’t use the front seat even if she wanted to. There is no skeleton in the driver’s seat so she hopes the owner of the car survived whatever it is that happened. Greenery and roots have started to grow inside the car, almost but not quite reaching the backseat.

The seats are quite comfortable, definitely beating sleeping on the ground.

By the time she cleans up the backseat, night overtakes the calm forest. Ellie lies down in the car and hopes for a dreamless night.

That doesn’t happen. Instead her dreams are riddled with the screams of a man she couldn’t save. A man she couldn’t even avenge.

She wonders how is it all fair. Joel did everything to save her life, no matter how hard it must have been for him. He kept protecting Ellie after Ellie got Tess killed, he went looking for her when David took her. And he killed the fireflies to keep her alive which is what got him killed in the end.

Ellie got him killed in the end.

The next days she tries not to sleep.

It doesn’t really work as she doesn’t have anything else to do, other than hunt. She hunts once every few days, nothing larger than a rabbit because she doesn’t eat all of it anyways. She doesn’t want to waste any more lives.

There is a stream close enough to the car that she doesn’t really have to worry about water either.

Ellie finds herself wishing she brought the guitar with herself even if she can’t play it anymore. She looks down at her left hand, her thumb going over the pads of the remaining two fingers. The guitar callouses are already going away, the smoothness of her fingertips returning. She remembers the pain she went through while they were still developing. How numb her fingers had felt.

She prefers that pain over the pain in her missing ring finger and her pinky.

She contemplates her hand for a long time during these days. Another thing she lost and with it her ability to play the guitar.

She spends a lot of time wondering if Dina could ever forgive her too. Ellie left her even after Dina begged her to stay. Ellie wouldn’t forgive herself. She wouldn’t blame Dina if she couldn’t forgive her either.

Ellie selfishly hopes that Potato doesn’t forget her, but he’s so young that she knows it isn’t possible.

She wonders about Tommy too. Remember that day that he had come to the farm and Ellie had refused to go after Abby. She remembers his justified anger at her. After all Abby took the most from him, destroying his life until nothing was left for him other than the desire for revenge he couldn’t accomplish by himself thanks to her.

Ellie couldn’t stomach the thought of letting Tommy know that not only did she let Abby live, but she also saved her from a slow and torturous death at the stakes.

She couldn’t blame Tommy either if he never forgave her.

But that was all fantasies. Ellie wouldn’t ever be going back to find out what they all think of her.

The next few weeks she almost finds comfort in her dreams. Comfort in the fact that the memory of Joel wouldn’t be lost as long as she has them. They are not all nightmares, some of them are memories of Joel she cherishes. She finds comfort in them because they’re the only time she’s not entirely alone.

She hasn’t touched her journal in so long, longer than ever. It sits at the bottom of her backpack, forgotten.

As more and more days pass Ellie loses count of them. She also loses the energy to go out hunting so she stops. She doesn’t feel hunger anymore so what’s the point really?

She would go out hunting in a few days, just to make sure she doesn’t die of starvation. Or at least that’s what she tells herself.

During those couple of months – couple of months? That doesn’t quite sound right, but she hasn’t been counting so she doesn’t know – she had already made two new holes in her belt so it can keep her jeans around her hips.

During the few days of her break from hunting she adds a new one.

You would've thought that her body would’ve gotten used to her eating as little as she did. After all, in the almost two years since Joel had died she had lost her appetite and eating became a chore that she only did out of necessity.

By the time Ellie decides that it’s time to hunt again she finds out that she’s become very weak and very tired. She picks up her bow and attempts to pull back the string, it works. Mostly. Her hands shake and she’s not sure she’s capable of hitting anything like this.

Maybe she begins to regret throwing out all of her ammunition and leaving her guns except the bow back at the farm. She’s not even sure if she remembers the way back to their- the farm so she can return to get the guns. She didn’t pay attention coming here.

But it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter.

She sets out to find something to hunt.

She sneaks through the forest looking for any animal. After a while a rabbit jumps out of a nearby bush and Ellie stills. She nocks an arrow, aims and takes a deep breath.

To add to the shakiness of her hands she also feels dizzy and her vision blurs just a little bit. Maybe this was a mistake. Or maybe it was a sign-

The rabbit listens for a second and then begins to chew on something on the ground, completely unaware that it’s life will soon come to an end.

Ellie squeezes her eyes shut for a moment – maybe to clear the blurriness or maybe because she doesn’t want to do this – and lets the arrow loose with shaking hands. The arrow misses it’s mark by quite a lot and the rabbit jumps back in the bush and disappears.

It’s kind of embarrassing really. Ellie likes to pride herself as a very good archer and one of the best shots in Jackson.

She’s not sure if she missed on purpose or not.

Ellie spends the rest of the day looking for more game. She gets a couple of more opportunities, but each time the animals get spooked by her heavy footsteps.

Ellie goes back to camp hungry. More surprisingly feeling that hunger.

The next day she decides to set up traps instead of going out hunting. After spending a couple hours doing that she heads for the nearby water stream to replenish her water supplies. She ends up dumping most of the water on her way back because she doesn’t have the energy to carry it all back.

On the way back from the stream she checks the traps. Nothing has caught. She returns to camp empty handed and drinks some water to fool her stomach into thinking it’s full.

Ellie opens the door of the car and sits on the backseat with her legs hanging out the door. She caresses the straps of the bracelet Dina gave her so long ago. Ellie never took it off and Dina never wanted it back. Ellie is glad she still has it.

She takes her backpack and digs deep inside it, finds the firefly tag that had once belonged to Riley. She clenches her fist around it as tightly as her weak hands allow her and then she puts it around her neck. She hasn’t thought about Riley in a long while, but she always has her tag in her backpack.

She takes out the switchblade in her back pocket and she wonders how she can feel loss for someone she never knew. Everything she has from her mother is this knife and the letter.

The ink already faded out and the edges frayed. The letter has been unreadable for some time now, but Ellie knows every word by heart. But it doesn’t matter anyways, that letter is back at Jackson in a desk drawer in her place.

And finally Ellie digs in her backpack and fishes out Joel’s broken watch.

One time Joel had told her about the story of the watch. How it had been the last gift he had ever gotten from his daughter right before the outbreak had started.

Ellie’s fingers run through the broken glass, feeling the ridges. For a long time she struggles with clasping it around her wrist, on the opposite hand on which Dina’s bracelet sits.

When she finally clasps it she lets herself cry for the first time in a long, long time. She lays back on the seats and closes the door. Then closes her eyes too and lets the sobs wrack her body.

‘If I ever were to lose you, I’d surely lose myself.’

She sings herself to sleep with a hoarse, unused voice, wearing the memories of all the people she lost.

She is all alone.

---

The next morning the traps are still empty.

Ellie decides to go out scavenging. If she’s right then somewhere around here there must be some building that hadn’t been scavenged yet by Jackson’s patrols.

She picks up her bow and slings the backpack over her shoulders. Ellie begins the trek towards the location she believes the buildings are. She walks slowly and in silence, gets winded from just that.

She’s in a bad shape, she knows as much. But she keeps on pushing.

After some time – hours – judging by how high up the sun is she reaches what has to be the town she was looking for. She sighs in relief and heads for the closest building.

She tries to be as light on her feet as she can because she knows if there are any infected around she wouldn’t be able to handle them in her current state.

At least she has plenty of arrows, busying herself with carving them during most of her free time. She’s not sure that they’ll help out, but at least she has them.

Ellie slowly and quietly cracks open the door and slides inside. The place seems empty, from both infected and resources, but that’s how all of those places look like to begin with.

Ellie stills and listens for a long moment. Nothing. Good.

She still tries to be quiet while she steps on the old creaking floorboards. She walks over to the counter of what seems to be some kind of store and opens the drawers one by one. The only thing she finds is an old piece of cloth, she takes it and puts it in her backpack.

She scavenges the rest of the store, but the only other thing she finds is an old plastic bottle that has years of dust layered on top of it. When Ellie picks it up the dust makes her sneeze.

She takes it and places it on the counter, walking as far back as she can to the opposite wall of the store. She takes out her bow and nocks an arrow.

She gets in position and grips the bow harder. Those two missing fingers paired with lack of any strength left in her muscles make it impossibly hard, but she takes a breath and aims.

Her hands shake too much and she doesn’t have enough strength to keep the string pulled back enough so she can line the shot. The bow string slips from her fingers and the arrow is let loose.

The arrow shoots out in an embarrassingly off direction and the fact that it doesn’t even get lodged in the wall makes Ellie cringe at herself. “Fucking A, Ellie.” Her voice comes out extremely rough and she attempts to clear her throat to no avail.

She leaves the arrow on the floor and continues to the next building. She finds some other random crap lying around and she picks some of it up that she deems useful and the rest she leaves there. But no food, no fucking food.

It’s taking her way too long going through the buildings as carefully as she is and if she wants to be able to go back to her camp before nightfall she really has to hurry up. So she throws caution to the wind and begins to rush through them.

All is good and well until she walks through a creaking door and a few moments later hears the horrifying sound of clicks. Just a moment later she notices where it comes from too. Two clickers turn towards the sound and scream their blood curdling screams in unison.

Ellie backs out of the door as the clickers lurch themselves at her. Before she turns around to run she sees more infected coming out of the rooms behind the clickers and she curses loudly.

Ellie runs out and dives behind a rusted car. She can feel the adrenaline rushing through her veins and she hopes that it’s enough to help her fight against these infected. She shrugs off her backpack so she has easier access to the arrows, takes one and ducks out of cover. She shoots it at one of the building's windows to cause a distraction. Thankfully the window is big enough that she doesn’t miss.

The clickers turn towards the sound, but the runners don’t seem as affected by it. Ellie takes another arrow and lets it loose into of the runners’ legs. It makes him drop to the ground, stunned. She knows she has bought herself a couple of priceless seconds so she can take care of the other runner.

Ellie shoots an arrow towards the other runner's chest and then another one which misses and then a third one that lands and that is enough for him to drop to the ground. Ellie runs towards the runner that is still struggling to get up from the ground and stabs him in the skull with her switchblade.

The clickers have by now heard her again and begin to step erratically towards her. Ellie let’s another arrow loose and miraculous the arrow pierces the clicker’s skull. Ellie doesn’t have too much time to celebrate as she reaches behind her back to grab another arrow only to realize she left her backpack by the car.

The last clicker is way too close to her now and she tries to dodge out of its way, but it’s boney, disgusting hands latch onto her shirt and tackle her to the ground. The clicker attempts to hit her, but Ellie shields herself with her arm, she tries to push back, but the clicker is way too heavy. She tries to kick it off of her, but nothing is working.

“Motherfucker!” Ellie attempts to yell, but it comes out a horse whisper.

In that moment, time almost seems to slow down. Ellie doesn’t believe in heaven, but if it were a real place she wonders if Joel is there. She wonders if maybe she will meet him there and tell him that she forgives him. She wants to meet Sarah too and so many other people.

Ellie closes her eyes and waits. A smile that feels wrong graces her cracked lips.

And then a loud piercing sound and a heavy weight dropping on top of her. She feels blood trickle down her face and she somehow knows that it's not hers.

She hears the rhythmic steps of what she suspects is a horse, she turns her head to the side and she’s met with the sight of a pair of horse hooves. So yeah, sure enough it is a horse.

A pair of black boots land with a heavy thud and Ellie realizes she’s not dead.

“Obviously, dumbass,” Ellie laughs at herself.

She’s pretty sure that she’s disappointed about that, but doesn’t have too much time to contemplate as the clickers body is kicked off of her.

The sun is high in the sky and it blinds her eyes, blocking all vision of the person on top of her other than the rifle aimed directly at her face.

“Ellie?” the voice questions and it sounds so familiar and yet so strange and wrong. “Is that you?”

“Shit.” They know her.

The gun is quickly lowered and the person – woman, it’s a woman’s voice – crouches in front of her. A hand is placed on her face and wiped across it, Ellie assumes that’s to get rid of the blood covering it. She flinches away from the touch.

“What are you doing?” another urgent voice questions. “You can’t let your guard down, Cat!”

She hears the sound of another pair of boots coming closer before the name registers in her head.

“Oh, fuck,” Ellie says, but she’s not sure any sound makes it past her lips.

“Ellie, you look like shit,” the woman says.

Ellie refuses to acknowledge that they know each other. This is not how she planned for things to go down.

“I could barely recognize you.”

“Is that Ellie?” the other voice chimes in and Ellie kind of wants to scream. “Holy shit! We thought you were dead.”

“Yeah, thanks guys for saving me,” Ellie says, her voice sounds like how she imagines clickers would sound like if they could talk. “I can go on from here.” Ellie sits up because she’s tired of having to squint up at the sun.

She’s met with the once familiar sight of Cat’s face. It almost feels like another life when they knew each other. When she looks to the side she realizes that she knows the other man too, but can’t quite place his name yet.

Ellie begins to stand up and she would be embarrassed about how much she struggles with it if it weren’t for the fact that she’s in a hurry to get away from them before she has to interact anymore with these people she once knew.

“What are you doing?” the man asks.

Before Ellie has the time to answer – she doesn’t think she would have answered anyway – her vision begins to darken around the edges and she feels her consciousness begin to slip away. She falls to the ground to the sound of frantic chatter that she can’t quite distinguish.

“Don’t take me back.” Those are her last words before the darkness overtakes her entire vision.

---

Ellie wakes up surrounded by softness and warmth. When she cracks a single eye open, because her other one is pressed into her pillow and she doesn’t think that she has enough energy to flip on her back, she sees that she’s in bed in her old place in Jackson.

It takes her a minute to recognize the place because most of her stuff had been moved to the farm she and Dina lived in.

She already begins to plan her escape. She knows they won’t let her go willingly and she’s way too weak to run away for now.

She will have to stay for a while, Ellie realizes with a painful squeeze of her heart. She will have to meet more of the people she has disappointed.

Her throat feels as if she’s swallowed sand. She scans the room quickly to see if there is any water nearby. There is not. She’s way too exhausted to get up and get herself some.

She closes her eye and in what feels like an instant the front door bursts open and Maria barges inside.

“Cat and Robert were right. You really don’t look like yourself,” are Maria’s first words to her. “Hey, Ellie,” she says with a tight lipped smile.

Ellie sits up and props herself against the headboard. She gives a single awkward wave because she doesn’t trust her voice.

Just now Ellie notices that Maria holds a bowl of something in one hand and a bottle of water tucked between her elbow and her body. She takes the single chair in Ellie’s room and drags it over to the side of the bed.

“I’m glad you're back home,” Maria says, she places the bowl on the nightstand and hands Ellie the bottle of water.

Ellie takes it with her left hand and instantly realizes her mistake when Maria’s hand locks on it. Ellie takes a hurried drink from it and prays Maria doesn’t mention the missing fingers.

Sadly she’s not that fortunate. She’s never been.

“What happened?”

“I, umm,” Ellie begins, tears well behind her eyes and she has to take a break from talking if she wants to hold them back.

She doesn’t know how to explain everything she’s been through. Doesn’t even know what exactly it was herself.

After a long pause that’s punctuated by Ellie taking very loud sips she says, still choked up, “I, I failed.” And that’s all she offers.

Maria nods in what Ellie thinks is understanding and she is thankful when Maria doesn’t prod her with anymore questions. “Robert and Cat weren’t lying when they said you almost look like one of the infected.” She looks at the bowl sitting on Ellie’s nightstand and nods towards it. “Eat up, Ellie, it looks like you’ve lost a lot of weight.”

Ellie reaches for the bowl. It’s some kind of soup, she sloshes it around and takes a spoonful. Smells kind of nice. If she wants to get out of Jackson anytime soon she should try and force some of it down.

“Please don’t tell anyone that I’m here,” Ellie begs, staring at her soup. “Especially not Tommy or Dina.”

She doesn’t get an answer and Ellie hopes that it doesn’t mean disagreement.

Maria stands up from the chair, returns it against the desk and heads for the door. “I have some work that needs to be done, but I’ll come check on you later today.” Maria reaches for the handle of the door, she opens it and without turning around she says. “And Ellie, you should take a bath.”

Ellie scoffs, but before she can say anything Maria’s out the door.

She does probably smell pretty vile she recons. Probably doesn’t look much better either. In her defense she had washed herself in the stream almost every time she went there. But not since her hunting break.

Ellie brings her knees up to her chest and hugs them with her arms, holding the bowl in her hands. She brings the spoon to her lips and blows on it then takes a cautionary sip. She scoffs again, it’s not that hot, it’s not even warm.

Ellie chews on the soup for a while, longer than it’s necessary for soup. When she swallows, her throat closes painfully around the food. It’s like her own body doesn’t want the food, like it rejects it, like it knows she doesn’t deserve it.

Ellie pushes herself to keep eating until half the bowl is empty and she feels like if she eats anymore she’ll throw it back up.

She’s going to lie if she pretends that it doesn’t feel good to have her stomach feel full, but she also feels sick and nauseous. Ellie closes her eyes and takes what she assumes is a short nap.

When she wakes up from it she wills herself to stand up on weak legs and head to the bathroom for the shower Maria so mannerly suggested Ellie should take.

Someone’s already taken off her shoes and the socks she just knows were caked in mud and filth. Ellie takes off the watch from her left wrist and gently lays it on the bathroom sink. She doesn’t want to break it anymore than it already is.

She wonders how Joel reacted when he broke the watch. If it wasn’t him that that did it, Ellie’s sure the poor motherfucker that did, paid dearly for it.

It's not like she’ll ever find out. She’ll never get to ask Joel about that story or any other story at all.

Ellie looks up at the ceiling so no tears can fall down her face. When she’s certain that they won’t she returns to undressing herself.

She undoes her belt and tosses it to the floor. Next come the buttons and zipper of her jeans, she doesn’t even have to slide the jeans down her legs because they fall by themselves to pool around her ankles.

Ellie gapes at that, she’s really lost some weight, hasn’t she?

She steps out of the jeans and stares at herself in the mirror. Pulls the shirt over her head and drops it on the floor too. She looks at her own reflection in the mirror that should look familiar, but just doesn’t.

She can see and count each one of her ribs without any trouble at all. Her legs and arms almost look like sticks and she can’t stop the laugh that overtakes her body.

If Joel could only see her like this. He always used to tell her than she should eat more and that she was too skinny. He would probably be so mad.

Ellie laughs until her sides hurt and she has to brace herself against the sink so she doesn’t lose balance. When she gathers herself enough she switches the faucets of the shower on, she tries to get the water the right temperature, but eventually she gives up. She doesn’t care if she gets burned.

She steps out of her underwear, she hasn’t worn a bra in a long time so she's ready for the shower. When she steps under the water it's way too hot and it burns into her skin. It feels good.

The water that flows down the drain is dark, almost black. All of that dirt falling off her skin makes her fell lighter somehow and she sighs in relief.

---

Maria comes over again when the sun has already set, to bring her food and offer silent company. Ellie is sure that she’s waiting for some kind of explanation of what has happened or where she has been, but Ellie can’t offer anything right now and Maria doesn’t push her.

Before she leaves she tells Ellie that someone else will bring her food tomorrow because she’s busy.

Ellie feels like a bother because people have to take care of her.