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I'd surely lose myself

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Working keeps Ellie’s hands and her mind busy. She doesn’t feel as useless as before.

Working takes her mind off most of her worries.

Except for one.

Her meeting with Dina.

She gets herself a calendar and crosses out the days with a pencil.

All her other stuff is in the farm.

She’s so excited about it and so anxious too. Time seems to crawl and it only stresses Ellie out more.

She tries not to think about Dina, but of course it doesn’t work. Every night she’s left tossing and turning instead of sleeping.

One night as Ellie stares at the ceiling she realizes that for the first time in a long while her sleeplessness is not caused by her deeds in Seattle and Santa Barbara, or Joel’s death.

---

Finally, Friday comes and work stretches on to infinity. When she finally gets back to her place it’s late. Definitely later than when Dina’s shift ends.

Ellie smells like sheep so she takes a quick, but thorough shower, making sure to scrub herself clean. When she’s done she wraps a towel around herself and stares in the mirror.

She doesn’t like to look at herself anymore, but she wants to make sure that she looks presentable.

Her hair is a wet mess, way too long for her liking. Her face is gaunt and she’s very thin even though she’s gained some weight back. She doesn’t look like herself.

When she compares herself to the smiling girl in the old pictures, she almost doesn’t see any resemblance. She doesn’t look like herself and she doesn’t feel like herself anymore.

Ellie looks away from the mirror and scratches at her neck. She heads for her dresser and carefully chooses clothes from her very limited options.

Most of her clothes are still back at the farm. Ellie doesn’t think that she's capable of going back to get them.

She doesn’t know if it’s right of her, but she want to impress Dina. So Ellie chooses a black pair of jeans, a simple t-shirt and a flannel.

It's not all that impressive, but she knows that Dina used to like those clothes on her.

She puts them on and they hang loose on her frame. Ellie takes the time to carefully brush her hair and she looks herself over in the bathroom mirror again.

She looks okay… ish.

“She won’t be able to resist me.” Ellie’s laughing before the words can even come out of her mouth. “Yeah, right. I don’t even look like myself.” Ellie stares at the unfamiliar reflection staring back. “I’m not myself. I'm not the girl she fell in love with anymore. Why would she ever want me back?”

Ellie kicks her socked foot on the tiled floor of the bathroom.

“And I’m going insane now,” Ellie scoffs at her reflection. “I’m talking to myself.”

Ellie shuts her mouth and tries not to talk again. She takes the hair tie off her wrist and ties her hair in a low bun. After that she runs out of the bathroom and out the front door.

She’s already late, but she tries not to sprint and instead she just walks briskly. The cold November air makes her shiver and Ellie realizes that she forgot to take a jacket. If Dina were next to her she would tell Ellie that she’s way too reckless for her own good.

The thought makes Ellie smile.

She gets in front of Dina’s door and knocks, realizing too late that she’s out of breath. She could’ve waited a little bit before knocking so her breath could even out. It’s too late for that as Dina opens the door.

She looks like a goddess with her hair up in a ponytail and her simple button up shirt and faded jeans, while Ellie’s probably a little bit red in the face, sweaty and out of breath.

“Hey,” Ellie says, giving a small smile.

“Hi.” Dina’s hand is on the door and she opens it wider so Ellie can step in. “I kind of thought that you wouldn’t come,” she admits, relief in her eyes.

“Work went a little late,” Ellie explains, staring at her shoes. “I hope that’s okay?”

Dina closes the door after Ellie walks in. She stares at Ellie, eyes searching her face as they stay by the door. Too close to each other, intimate yet somehow distant.

“Um,” Ellie begins, but she trails off, doesn’t know what to say.

“I made dinner. I know that you probably don’t eat much, but if you want?” She gestures toward where Ellie supposes the kitchen is.

“Yes, of course,” Ellie hurries to say, thankful that there is something to do so she doesn’t have to deal with the awkwardness between them.

Ellie follows Dina, she tries to take in as much of the interior of the house as she can. It looks homey, somehow even more so than the farm had. There are framed drawings on the walls in the hallway, drawings no doubt made with unsteady baby hands. Most of them don’t look like anything at all, just splotches of colors.

Ellie feels pride nonetheless.

The plates are already served on the table and Dina sits in a chair in front of one. Ellie follows her lead and settles in the chair next to her.

“It’s cold,” Dina lets Ellie know, she picks up her fork and pokes at the meal. She frowns at the food as if she can warm it up with just her stare.

“That’s my fault.” Ellie stares at her plate as she speaks.

She stabs some of the steamed vegetables with her fork and takes her first bite. She chews slowly, carefully.

It smells and tastes amazing. It reminds Ellie of their time back in the farm. Ellie still has trouble eating, but it doesn’t quite feel as if she’s swallowing sand anymore.

“So… you’re back to working?” Dina’s voice is hesitant as she speaks, yet there is an edge to it.

“Yeah.”

Dina hums thoughtfully, trying to hide the edge in her voice unsuccessfully. Her grip on her fork is firm, her knuckles have turned white. “Patrol?”

Ellie shakes her head. “No, I’m helping out at the sheep farm.”

Dina’s grip on her fork relaxes and she lets out a breath. “That’s good.” She takes her first bite of the food. “Do you like it?” she asks around a mouthful.

“It’s familiar. I like that,” Ellie says. “But the guy that runs the farm is really rude. He doesn’t talk to me, he acts as if I’m not even there.”

“What’s his deal?” Dina asks.

“I wish I knew.”

Ellie doesn’t care all that much about it, but it’s a bit annoying. The good thing is that he doesn’t bother her or judge her. She’s pretty sure that Noah doesn’t even know any of the rumors going around the town about her.

That she likes.

Ellie places her left hand on the table. She needs to get used to other people seeing it. To Dina seeing it.

Her fingers twitch with the urge to hide them under the table. Ellie doesn’t notice exactly when, but Dina’s free hand is placed on the table next to her own. Ellie feels like Dina’s waiting for something.

She tries not to look at their almost touching hands, pretends like she doesn’t see them. From her peripheral vision she sees Dina’s hand move until they’re almost touching. Ellie's pretty sure that she’s imagining it, but she can almost feel the warmth radiating from Dina’s hand.

Ellie releases a shaky breath, just now realizing that she’s been holding it. She moves her hand just a little bit closer until their fingers touch.

Ellie dares to look up and Dina’s smiling at her softly, encouragingly. And that’s all it takes for Ellie to place her hand on top of Dina’s and to squeeze it gently.

It feels nice. Familiar. As if nothing’s changed.

Except for Ellie's fingers.

Ellie wonders if it’s weird for Dina to feel the tender and irregular skin of her missing fingers. If it’s weird how they aren’t there anymore.

Because it is weird for Ellie. How she can't feel Dina’s hand where she’s supposed to.

But Dina’s just smiling at her for a long moment and then her gaze breaks away so she can keep eating. Ellie looks away too, letting herself enjoy the feeling of Dina’s skin on her own.

They keep the slightly awkward small talk going as they finish their meals. Ellie forces herself to eat everything, she wants Dina to know that she’s trying to get better.

When they finish, Ellie drops her utensils in the plate and takes it so she can bring it at the sink. Dina takes it out of her hands and gives Ellie a warning look when she’s about to protest. Dina drops both of their plates in the sink and turns back to Ellie.

She doesn’t say anything as she wordlessly walks up to Ellie, takes her hand and tugs on it until Ellie stands up. She leads Ellie in the living room. She drops Ellie’s hand and goes back to the kitchen.

Ellie’s left standing in the middle of the room, not knowing what to do with herself. She scans the room. On the bookshelf she can see the colorful covers of what must be children's books next to thicker more colorless books. There are countless strewn papers and crayons all over the coffee table.

There are fresh flowers on the table next to the TV. There are pictures on the walls and on every empty surface, the old ones they had back at the farm joined by countless new ones.

Shit.

The living room is filled with life and Ellie wishes she could be a part of it.

Ellie wonders whether she should sit down on the couch as she waits for Dina, but before she can decide Dina comes back. She’s dragging a chair and has a towel thrown over her shoulder.

She puts the chair next to Ellie and says, “Remove the flannel.”

Ellie frowns, but she doesn’t ask and takes it off. She folds it in two and tries to drape it over the back of the chair. Dina takes it from her hands before she can and tosses it back on the couch.

“Sit.”

Ellie sits down quietly and fidgets with her fingers in her lap. She hates this nervous habit, hates how it always reminds her of her missing fingers.

Dina takes the towel off her shoulder and moves behind Ellie. She drapes it around her neck and ties it off at the front. Not too tightly.

Oh, the haircut. Right.

“You didn’t like the haircut I gave myself, did you?” Ellie asks, smiling just a little bit. She knows Dina hadn’t liked it, but she could never get her to admit to it.

“It was okay,” Dina says, continuing to stick to her words. She takes Ellie’s hair out of the bun, snapping the hair tie around her wrist.

Ellie scoffs.

“Okay, fine. I didn’t like it. Is that what you want to hear?” Dina says, her voice playfully exasperated.

“Yes,” Ellie says. “Thank you.”

She finally won this. It feels good to always be right. It also feels good to know that they can still joke around, it gives Ellie hope that things can go back to normal.

Dina’s fingers thread though Ellie’s still damp hair, brushing it out. Ellie sighs into the touch and leans back just a little bit, hopes Dina doesn’t notice.

“The usual length, right?” Dina asks.

Ellie nods.

“Don’t move so I don’t mess up,” Dina tells her.

Ellie nods again and Dina taps her shoulder reproachfully, grips it. “Ellie, stay still.”

“Yep,” Ellie says, almost nods again. “Got it.”

“Good.” Dina brushes through her hair again, this time with a brush and begins to cut.

Ellie becomes restless in the quiet of the room, she wants to say something, but she doesn’t know what. She fidgets with her fingers, pulls at them anxiously and listens to the sound the scissor makes as it cuts her hair.

“How-“ Ellie stops, clears her throat when her voice comes out as just a whisper. “How have you been?”

The question feels mundane, casual. It feels weird to ask Dina that. She doesn’t think that she has the right to that information. She hopes that Dina’s doing good, prays for it.

Dina doesn’t say anything for a long while and just as Ellie thinks that she will ignore the question, Dina says, “I'm managing.”

Ellie nods and Dina pauses her motions, but doesn’t berate her for moving again.

Ellie doesn’t expect Dina to offer anything else. She doesn’t know how else to start a conversation so she’s ready to accept the stifling silence that seems to be the new normal for them.

“I don’t think that there is a word to describe how being left with a baby all alone on a farm in the wilderness feels like,” Dina begins, resuming the movement of her hands. The scissor continues to snip. “Thinking that the woman you love is dead and having to leave your home because you can’t take care of it anymore.”

“I-“

“No, let me finish.” Ellie shuts her mouth and waits, listens. “Then just as you begin to make peace with it she shows up again and doesn’t even let you know that she’s alive. You have to find out by yourself when the entire town goes on alert because, apparently, she’s gone missing.”

“Fuck,” Ellie mumbles in a shuddering breath, quiet enough that Dina probably doesn’t hear. She sniffles, glad she can’t see Dina’s face.

That’s not how she had intended for Dina to find out. In hindsight her plan of leaving before Dina could find out hadn’t been that great either.

“And when you find her she’s bloodied and gaunt, just like you had imagined her in all of your nightmares, but this time it’s real and she’s alive. And then she leaves again, and then she’s back, hurt even worse, but she’s not yours for you to take care of anymore.” Dina’s voice is even as she speaks. Ellie wonders how she does that, how she sounds so calm and collected when Ellie has hurt her so much and so deep.

“But you have a toddler to take care of so you can’t have a breakdown like a normal person would. So, yeah, I’m managing.”

“Well, fuck. I didn’t mean to hurt you again when I left, you know that right? ” Ellie admits when it becomes apparent that Dina won’t say anything else.

Ellie wants to apologize, but doesn’t know how to do it. It doesn’t feel like a simple 'I'm sorry' is enough. She doesn’t think that Dina will accept just that.

“Maybe you should’ve asked me what I wanted, dummy” Dina removes the towel from Ellie’s shoulders and walks up in front of her. She says, “It’s done.”

“Fuck,” Ellie breathes out, she drops her head in her hands, elbows propped on her thighs. She should’ve asked Dina. “I’m a fucking idiot.”

“You are,” Dina agrees. “Ever since we were kids. I thought you would grow out of it, but instead it only got worse.” There’s that teasing lilt in her voice, but Ellie can’t bring herself to laugh. “I guess it’s my fault that I’ve always been into the idiots.”

Ellie whishes she could go back in time like in one of her comic books so she can fix everything, but things could never be that easy.

Dina leaves again then, Ellie doesn’t see it, but she hears the footsteps slowly getting quieter as she exits the room. Ellie’s grateful that she’s left alone to compose herself. She sniffles again and wipes under her cheeks.

She’s tired of crying.

Dina comes back too soon for Ellie’s liking. This time she carries a broom and shoos Ellie off the chair, moves it away.

“Let me do that,” Ellie insist, extending her hand so she can take the broom.

“You go look at yourself in the mirror.” Dina moves the broom out of her grasp and begins to sweep the floor. “There’s a mirror in the hallway.”

Ellie obliges begrudgingly and walks out of the living room. The mirror is easy enough to find and she steps in front of it. For a long moment she stands there, staring at her shoes because she can’t bare to look at herself.

Ellie plays with the bracelet tied around her left wrist and looks up as she takes a calming breath. Her hair is cut just like she used to have it before. The bruises on her face are a lighter color now, they’re almost gone, but there is no blood on her face or on her hands. No weight of a gun in her grip, no cold steel pressing into her skin.

She looks a little bit more like she remembers herself and a little bit less like the monster she fears she has become.

Hair strands fall in front of her eyes and Ellie tucks them behind her ear, the hair falls back after a moment. She can’t look at herself anymore so she drops her gaze.

The hair tie is still with Dina, Ellie hasn’t thought about bringing another one.

She goes back in the living room.

“I look-” She shakes her head, begins again. “It looks good. Thanks.”

Dina smiles as she finishes sweeping the floor. “You’re welcome.”

Dina leaves again then. She returns fast, this time she’s empty handed.

Ellie’s still standing at the doorway of the living room, Dina stops close to the couch. The space between them feels like an endless chasm.

Dina snaps the hair tie around her wrist and she stays still, quiet.

“Can I have the hair tie?” Ellie asks, slowly stepping closer, almost afraid that Dina will say no.

“Yeah, of course.” Dina removes it from her wrist and extends it toward Ellie.

“Thanks,” Ellie says as she takes it, their hands brushing.

Dina’s eyes linger on Ellie’s hand after she takes the hair tie. Ellie still has bandages around both of her wrists and she just now realizes what that might look like.

Dina’s seen them before and she hasn’t asked so Ellie really hopes it’s not that. She hopes that Dina doesn’t think that Ellie would ever do something like that.

“You still have my bracelet,” Dina says, surprise in her voice.

“Oh.” Ellie’s fingers touch the strap of the bracelet, sliding to the clasp. “Do you want it back?” Ellie really doesn’t want to give it back, it’s the only thing she has that reminds her of Dina, but if Dina wants it she'll have to part with it.

Ellie struggles with undoing the clasp. She blames it on her missing fingers.

“No, I’m just happy you kept it,” Dina says, but Ellie has already undone the clasp. “I’m glad it kept you safe.”

Ellie nods. The bracelet is sitting limp in her palm and Ellie frowns at it. She tries to tie it back, but she ends up dropping it on the floor.

She bends down to pick it up, suddenly very angry at herself. She fights off angry tears as the clasp fights back in her sweaty grip.

Dina’s suddenly there, much closer than she was. “Can I?” she asks, extending her hand close to Ellie’s, but not touching.

Ellie doesn’t say anything as she hands Dina the bracelet, afraid that Dina is just going to take it back. Ellie offers her arm to Dina and the girl gently and swiftly clasps the bracelet around Ellie’s tattooed wrist.

“Thank you,” Ellie says, staring at the bracelet.

Dina’s hand lingers, her fingers tracing up the inky lines and up the uneven skin of her burn mark. Her hand wraps around Ellie’s elbow and she tugs gently, waits for Ellie to follow her to the couch. Dina sits down on one side, Ellie sits down on the other.

The couch is wide.

Ellie puts her hair up, the motions so ingrained in her brain she doesn’t even have to think about it.

Ellie plays with the bracelet around her wrist. She can feel Dina’s gaze on the side of her head, but she can’t look up.

“I- I hate this,” Ellie finally says when the silence has gotten too much. Her voice is shaky.

“What do you hate?” Dina asks softly and Ellie feels like Dina could understand anything.

Why did she never try to do this? Talk to Dina.

“Whatever is going on between us.” Ellie brings her knee up on the couch so her body is angled toward Dina. She doesn’t look up. “It’s like we’re strangers.”

“We are not strangers, Ellie, we could never be.”

“Then what’s this?” Ellie gestures erratically between the two of them. “This silence?”

“You left. Things can’t be the same and that’s okay.”

Ellie doesn’t think that things being different is okay. Different means that she can’t hold Dina, that she can’t kiss her or wake up next to her.

That’s not okay.

“I’m not the same either. You know that, right?” Ellie looks up finally because she can’t bear to look at her hand anymore, the physical proof of how different she is now.

Ellie’s met with understanding eyes. “I know. You haven’t been the same for a long while.”

“I want to be who I used to be before,” Ellie says. “Do you- do you think I can be?”

“That’s up to you, Ellie,” Dina tells her.

She’s so far away and Ellie wants her to shuffle closer and take Ellie’s hand in hers. Do something, anything.

“What if I can’t go back to that? Do you think-“ Ellie's voice cracks, she clears her throat, tries again. “Do you think you can still…” love me.

Ellie doesn’t say that. She doesn’t have the strength, she doesn’t want to know the answer because it can break her. The only thing that she has left is her hope that someday she could have Dina and JJ again. And she doesn’t even deserve that.

“I think,” Dina begins when it becomes obvious that Ellie won’t finish her sentence. “That if you try hard enough you can get better.”

“Okay.” Ellie nods to herself. That’s not what she asked, but she will take it. If Dina believes it then so does Ellie.

Ellie wants to forget the bad and to only keep the good memories. She doesn’t want to have nightmares anymore, she wants to have dreams of a hopeful future with Dina by her side.

If only it were that easy, but she will try. For Dina and for herself.

“How is JJ,” Ellie attempts. She isn’t asking to meet him or anything like that so she hopes Dina is willing to offer at least some information. “Is he healthy?”

“He is,” Dina says, she must be thinking about her son because her face lights up. “He’s so smart and he’s growing up so quickly,” Dina gushes. “Oh, and he just made his first step last week!”

“That’s good.” Ellie attempts to sound enthusiastic, but her voice sounds dull even to her own ears. She’s disappointed that she didn’t get to see that. “Has he started talking too?” she asks a bit bitterly.

“Not yet,” Dina says and Ellie's relieved. “But I’m not worried. He keeps babbling and I can just feel that he’s going to start talking very soon.”

Maybe she’ll get to be there for his first word.

Ellie just nods, she’s afraid that if she speaks Dina will hear the sadness in her voice. Dina keeps talking about JJ then. She tells Ellie about all the friends that he’s made in the daycare. She says how she thinks coming back to Jackson was good for him and how she’ll maybe go back to the farm for her 'retirement'.

“He’s taking after you,” Dina says, smiling slightly. “He really likes to draw.”

“I can see that,” Ellie says, she glances toward the coffee table and carefully touches the corner of one of the drawings as if afraid that her touch will destroy it. “I hope I can teach him someday.”

Dina looks to the side then, her smile dropping. She doesn’t say anything for a long while.

“Did he miss me?” Ellie asks. “When I left.”

Dina's hand grips the armrest, knuckles turning white. “He did. He cried a lot in the following weeks after you left. You weren’t there to sing him to sleep. I tried to sing to him instead, but he just kept crying and looking for you.”

“Oh,” is all Ellie manages to say. She regrets asking, would rather not know the pain she caused both of them.

Uncomfortable silence stretches again, spreading through the air like thick fog that makes it hard to breathe.

It’s getting late and Ellie fears that Dina will want her to leave soon. Ellie still hasn’t done what she came here to do. She needs to tell Dina the truth so she can finally be free of the weight that was enforced on her.

“Joel and I didn’t meet while we were trying to run away from the quarantine zone,” Ellie begins, her heart beats fast in her chest. Joel had told her to never tell anyone the truth and that had been so engraved in her brain that she feels like if she shares it, the entire world will explode. “He was paid by the Fireflies to transport me to them, so they can make a vaccine.”

Dina looks at her then, her eyes drop to Ellie’s forearm, covered by her moth tattoo. She concentrates then, her brow furrowing with it.

Ellie can almost see the gears turn in her head. She’s probably trying to connect the dots.

“A vaccine?” Dina asks.

“As you can see that didn’t work out.”

Ellie talks for a long time then. She tells Dina everything. About Marlene and how Ellie’s mom used to be friends with her, how Ellie never got to find out more about her mom other than the letter. About Tess and how she died because of Ellie, how the first drop off turned out to be a dead end and Joel had reluctantly agreed to keep looking for the Fireflies.

She tells Dina about Bill's town, about how she got to drive a car there. About Pittsburgh, about Henry and Sam and how they died. She tells Dina about how they met Tommy and Maria at the dam, about how Joel had wanted to get rid of her and how Ellie had ran away.

About the university Tommy had sent them to and how Joel had started to warm up to her and share more about his life. Ellie quickly tells her about how Joel had gotten hurt and about the cannibals. Dina knows that part already.

Dina listens attentively, asking questions and trying to convince Ellie that those deaths are not on her.

Ellie tells Dina about how they had reached Salt Lake City, about how she had almost drowned and when she had woken up she had been in the back of a car, wearing a hospital gown. She tells Dina about Joel’s lie and how they reached Jackson.

“I could never get over it. The lie. Years later I ran away from town.” Dina must remember that, how Ellie had just disappeared for one week with no explanation. “I went back to the hospital. It was empty, there was no one there. All I found was some files and a recorder, saying that the Fireflies were dismantling and the only person that could make the vaccine was dead.”

“Joel found me then and he finally told me the truth. That to make the vaccine they would have to kill me. I used to stay awake at night imagining every possible scenario about what might have happened back then, but I had never imagined that, that he could kill so many people to keep me alive without even asking what I wanted. He took my choice, my purpose.”

Dina hasn’t said a word since Ellie started talking about the hospital.

“That’s why things were weird between Joel and me.”

“And why you acted weird too?” Dina asks.

“I guess so, yeah.”

For a couple of months after Ellie had came back from Salt Lake City she had ignored all of her friends, always finding some reason to not hang out with them. She had spent all of her free time sitting on the roof of an abandoned house near the fence around the town, playing her guitar. She had hated how playing it was the only thing that could comfort her and yet remind her of Joel so much.

She would give anything to be able to play again.

Ellie had pretended like those two months never happened. Ignored all of Dina’s questions until they had eventually stopped.

“Was he right?” Ellie asks. “That I shouldn’t tell anyone.” Ellie is scared that Dina doesn’t believe her or that she’s mad that there is no vaccine because of her and Joel.

“If Joel hadn’t done that then I would’ve never met you,” Dina says slowly, thoughtfully. “I’m glad he did it.”

Ellie frowns, her eyes scanning Dina’s face. “But if you never met me you could’ve been happier in a world without the fear of getting infected… and with Jesse.”

Ellie can’t help but wonder sometimes if Dina would’ve went back to Jesse if he hadn’t been killed. With the way she had been worrying about him when he had arrived at the theater in Seattle and Dina’s pregnancy, Ellie hadn’t been sure that Dina would still want to be with her.

Ellie had asked Dina that question many times. Each time Dina had said that she would always choose Ellie, no matter what.

Ellie believed her, but every time that little voice in the back of her head kept telling her that it wasn’t true.

“How do you know that they would’ve succeeded in making a vaccine,” Dina asks. “You know that many groups have tried to make one, but they all failed?”

“That’s because they didn’t have me,” Ellie’s quick to say.

“Ellie, those things are not certain. You can’t just know for sure that you’ll make a vaccine.”

Ellie shakes her head, stares at her lap. “No, that’s not…” Ellie trails off, she’s never thought about things like this.

Surely if they were going to kill her they were certain that they could make a vaccine?

“So,” Dina begins cautiously when Ellie doesn’t speak for a long moment, too lost in her thoughts. “It was the remaining Fireflies that killed Joel, weren’t they?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, I gathered as much.”

“On the recorder I found in Salt Lake City.” Ellie touches the moth on her forearm. When lost in darkness look for the light. Just like moths do. Who would’ve though that the Fireflies turned out to be the darkness? “They said that they wanted to look for me and Joel. I guess- I guess they finally found us. They must've tortured Joel to find out where I am. They didn’t take me with them so that means Joel didn’t tell them anything.”

Dina shuffles closer, her hand lingers near Ellie’s knee, but she doesn’t touch her.

“They killed him because of me.” Ellie nods to herself, sure in her words.

“Oh, Ellie.” Dina’s fingers tap beneath Ellie’s chin. “Look at me, babe.” Ellie lifts her eyes, looks at Dina’s gentle and understanding eyes. “You can’t blame yourself for that. It’s not your fault, do you hear me?”

Ellie shakes her head. “It is though. So many people have died because of me.”

“No, Ellie. You can’t do this. You can’t blame yourself for every bad thing that has ever happened.”

She can blame herself, she’s done it for a long time now. But Ellie doesn’t want to argue with Dina so she just nods.

“You know, I actually promised Joel that I would try to forgive him the night before he…” Ellie trails off, she doesn’t want to say the words. “I’ll never get to do that now.”

Dina’s eyes search Ellie’s face. Dina looks so sad, that’s one of the reasons Ellie loves her so much – how much she feels for other people.

“I’m sorry,” she says.

“I don’t want to remember the bad things about him anymore. When I think about Joel I want to remember the good, not the pain.”

“I want that for you too, El. It’s good that you want it.”

“You think so?”

Dina nods and Ellie glances out the window, swallows harshly. It’s late, the sky is pitch black and Ellie can’t make out anything outside.

She should probably go, Dina probably wants her to go. The only problem is that Ellie doesn’t want to, this could very well be the last time Ellie sees her and she can’t think about that.

“It’s late,”, Ellie remarks, she watches Dina closely.

She glances out the window too then. “It is.” She yawns and that’s all Ellie needs to know.

“I have to go.” Today is very likely one of the only days Dina can go to bed early and not have to worry about the cries of a baby during the night.

“Oh, okay.” To Ellie it seems that Dina’s expression drops, but she thinks that she’s imagining it, she must be. There is no other explanation.

Ellie gets up, her legs are a little bit sore from sitting in the same position for so long. Dina stands up too and she leads Ellie to the hallway and then to the front door.

She opens the door wide, leans on it as she waits. “Goodnight, Ellie.”

“Goodnight,” Ellie says, she lingers in the doorway facing Dina.

She doesn’t know what she wants to, but it’s not this. It’s not leaving.

Dina’s eyes linger on her. She thinks that she can see longing in them, in the way her eyes dart around Ellie’s face. She knows that that’s reflected in her own eyes.

“Can I hug you?” Dina asks so suddenly.

Ellie frowns, weirded out by the fact that she had even asked that. Personal space was never something in Dina’s vocabulary and Ellie doubted that it would be added there now.

She shakes herself out of her confusions as the words spur Ellie into action. That’s all she’s wanted to do for so long, she’s not going to wait any longer. She steps closer to Dina. “Of course,” Ellie says, as she wraps her arms around Dina’s waist hesitantly, slowly. “You don’t have to ask that.”

Ellie sighs into the hug, her shoulders dropping in relief that she still gets to do this.

Dina’s hands hang at her side and for a moment Ellie thinks she’s done something wrong. Dina breathes out a shuddering breath and buries her face in the crook of Ellie’s neck.

Ellie brings her body as close as she can to her own. She lets herself enjoy it, she hasn’t had much physical contact with the girl she loves for almost half a year and it feels good.

If it’s the last time Ellie gets to hug her then she’ll savor it, remember it.

Ellie makes a note of everything. How good and familiar Dina’s hair smells, how soft the fabric of her shirt feels in Ellie’s grasp. How her hands grasp at Ellie’s shoulders almost desperately, like she doesn’t want to let Ellie go.

Ellie lets herself imagine that Dina still wants her.

“I just- last time when I held your hand… when I touched your fingers, you flinched away from me. You’ve never done that,” Dina explains softly against her neck, hesitantly, her breath warm against Ellie’s skin. “And I didn’t realize it until much later. I’m sorry, I should’ve asked.”

Oh.

So that’s why Dina kept hesitating whenever she wanted to reach out for Ellie the entire evening.

“It’s okay. You don’t have to ask,” Ellie reassures, presses her face into Dina’s hair, breathes her in. She tries to hug her even closer, but that’s not possible.

Time passes and Dina doesn’t let go and if anything, her hold on Ellie only gets firmer. “I’ve missed you so much,” Dina whispers and her hold tightens impossibly. Ellie can feel warm tears on the skin of her neck.

“I’ve missed you too.” Ellie wills herself not to cry.

Eventually Dina's hands drop, Ellie's do too, reluctantly.

“Ellie,” Dina whispers, she’s so close to Ellie. “I don’t give a fuck about a vaccine, all I care about is you.” The words are intimate, meant just for Ellie.

Ellie’s left speechless. She’s always thought that if someone found out about the vaccine they would hate her.

Dina takes a step back and Ellie’s left alone in the doorway before she can process what she’s been told.

Dina begins to close the door so Ellie walks out, she turns around to wave, watching as the door closes shut.

The lights go off in a moment.

---

When Ellie leaves she doesn’t head to her place. Instead she heads for Joel’s house. She makes herself a cup of coffee and leans on the railing of the porch, thinking about the last conversation she ever had with him.

She hopes that it was enough for Joel. She knows it wasn’t for her.

“I think it’s funny how I’m in a similar position with Dina now,” Ellie says, frowning at the wood of the railing.

She deserves to be in it.

“I’m sorry, Joel.”

She doesn’t drink all of the coffee because, first, it still tastes like shit. Second, she won’t be able to go to sleep, not that she would be able to at all, but she doesn’t want to make it worse. And third, because it’s really fucking cold.

Ellie only leaves when she’s gotten so cold that she can’t stop shivering.

She should’ve brought warmer clothes. Or at least not forgot her flannel at Dina’s house.