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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Chapter Text

“You’re gonna tell me what you got Joel for Christmas, right?”, Tommy asked and turned halfway back to Ellie from his horse.

Ellie’s snort was more visible than audible, a white puff of fog in the freezing cold. “So you can slip up and accidentally tell him and ruin it all? Of course Tommy, of course I’ll tell you….not”, she answered flippantly.

He turned back around with a grumble while their horses trodded on through the powdery blanket of snow. It was a good day for patrolling and a good route too, Ellie thought. The snow storm from last night had ladden all the trees with cushions of snow, had wiped any disturbances made by animals or infected or other patrols away and afterwards had dispersed just as quickly as it had arrived. So today her and Tommy were riding under a clear sky and air that bit the insides of your lungs if you breathed in too deeply too fast. This weather still had its own challenges though, the glaring light could make it difficult to spot infected, Ellie wasn’t too worried about that, though. They were riding upwind, so the horses would smell those fuckers long before they could attack. And besides, while they couldn’t freeze to death anymore, infected were still hindered by the cold, it made their movements stiff.

Tommy went on: “Look, I found him a real Gibson guitar, in mint condition even! Do you know how much tobacco I had to trade for it? And then you gotta come around and brag how you found just the perfect thing for him. See, I wasn’t worried about it at first but it’s not like you were subtle about your bragging sunshine. So now I gotta know.”

Well… he had a point. She did brag about it. Not in front of Joel of course but still in front of basically everyone else. Multiple times. Ellie thought she had the right to. She’d been out and about one day on her own (Joel didn’t need to know about that) and had discovered a small wood cabin in the middle of the forest. It had been flanked by a rock wall from one side and tall pine trees from the others and it wasn’t near any other point of interest, which was probably why it’d never been discovered so far. Inside the cabin was the real jackpot, though. It must’ve belonged to some woodworking artisan as it was filled to the brim with carving gouges and chisels and saws and even some exotic colorful and patterned lumber Ellie didn’t know what kind of tree it could come from.

Sure, Joel had woodworking tools but he had to share them with the other carpenters for practical reasons and they weren’t this shiny and new-looking. Her christmas present to him would be a map, marked with the location of the cabin. She gleefully imagined his face as he had to treck there to find out what her surprise for him actually was.

A loud grumble from her stomach pulled her out of her daydream. Right. They’d been out the whole day and didn’t pack food as their route was only up to the ski lift and back. There’d be a hot meal waiting for Tommy and her back home. Maria had promised she’d make her famous corn chowder. People fight over the right to lick the pot clean whenever she cooks it. “People” also included Ellie herself.

“Tommy, I have a deal for you. I tell you Joel’s present and you tell me what the secret ingredient in Maria’s corn chowder is.”

“She’d kill me if I told you that!”,he said, somewhat affronted. Also he sounded like he actually believed that.

“Well then tough luck, buddy. No ingredient, no deal.”

“I bet it’s not even that good. I bet you found something like a ‘world’s #1 dad’ mug or some trash like that.”

Ellie was just about to rebuke him when Tommy gestured with his hand to silence her. The banter would have to wait. Ellie spurred her horse to sidle up to Tommy’s, it complied reluctantly. Sensing danger. Ellie’s eyes followed to where he was pointing. Ahead lay a narrow pass that snaked between boulders on top of boulders, all the size of houses. A single horse could comfortably pass through this chute but not two side by side. It appeared a couple of clickers had seeked shelter from the storm before and in the pass.

Of course they needed to ride through that pass to get home.

Wonderful.

Tommy frowned, “we need to get closer.”

Ellie didn’t understand, “why though, a few shots from the sniper rifle should do it.”

“No shooting. See that snow field?”, he paused and directed Ellie’s attention to an expanse of snow higher up on the mountain to their left.

It looked innocent enough but she remembered what Tommy had taught her about avalanches. The weather the last week and the way the snow seemed to barely cling to the rock underneath were definite warning signs for a snow slide. A gunshot could be more than enough to cause one.

“Any other ideas?”

“Our horses are way faster than these assholes, I go left and distract them, lead them away while you slip through the pass, then I’ll turn around and get through too. If they’re really bent on getting killed we can lead them further down into the valley and shoot them there.”

Ellie thought for a moment. “Sounds good to me, except I’ll be doing the distracting.” She rode off before Tommy could intervene. She loved all the horses in Jackson. Smart enough to know and avoid danger yet trusting you to know what the hell you were doing when you rode head first toward a pack of clickers. The mare she rode today was called Rosie, and they’d been through some shit together. Don’t worry girl, I’ll make sure you get extra oats tonight.

The clickers heard Rosie and her barreling toward them soon enough and when she was sure she had their full attention she made her horse brake and turn around sharply, away from the pass and where Tommy and her had just stood. The clickers were fast but the deep snow slowed them, it slowed Rosie down too but her long legs helped her. After a few minutes of dodging trees, shrubs and boulders, when Ellie was sure Tommy must have passed through by now she made Rosie do a wide turn.

Then it happened.

A gunshot rang across the walls of the surrounding mountains. And another. Several more.

Ellie only had a moment to spare to look at the snow field. Which was starting to slowly slide from the rock it had sat on. For a moment she had the ridiculous urge to just. Reach up there and keep the snow in place, like when you stack some stuff too high and you can sense it toppling in a second and want to steady it but of course it’s always too late for that and you’re left with broken dishes or a jumble of books. A panicked whinny from Rosie snapped Ellie back into action, she spurred her on and didn’t even try to control the horse’s direction just as long as she would run faster. Even the clickers had paused their chasing and snarling for a moment, the low rumble of hundreds of tonnes of snow in the distance must have confused their echolocation but frantic movement from their prey drew their senses back to Ellie.

A glance over her shoulder told Ellie that they’d never stand a chance to outrun the avalanche as it plowed downwards but luckily they didn’t need to. The path it took ran more or less parallel to them and with Rosie putting even more distance between them and the snowslide they would make it out unscathed. Unless the clickers snagged them for dinner, that was.

Riding and shooting at the same time would work with one infected target, maybe two. But not a dozen. Ellie had a better plan though. As they passed between two boulders she dropped a bomb and another one several feet further along, figuring that every damn snowflake that wanted to get down from that mountain and cause problems had done so by now. With satisfaction she heard the two loud booms and stopped Rosie.

Only one clicker was still jerkily running towards them and a shot through the brains stopped that one in its tracks. The other ones not killed were too heavily injured to pose a threat and since Ellie didn’t want to waste ammo she gave those a wide berth and made her way back towards the pass. Rosie seemed grateful for the more sensible riding speed, her nostrils were still blowing out foggy breath like tea kettles. Ellie patted the horse’s neck in thanks as her own adrenaline levels abated as well.

Now she actually had the time to be concerned about Tommy. No, he’s fine. The ‘lanche had ran parallel to him as well, it hadn’t pathed down into the valley, and even if, the trees stand close down there to stall it. He’s fine.

The way she gritted her teeth betrayed just how sure she was about that.

Aside from worrying, she also wondered who had loosed those gunshots that had caused this whole mess. They’d been too close to had come from another patrol...

The sky was turning pink by the time they’d reached the pass again. It’d taken longer than Ellie would have imagined. You really gave it your all back then, huh girl? She gave Rosie some more pats just because.

Her mood sank when she saw the sheer wall of snow and upturned trees that now lay before her and Rosie. Instead of a pass and a way back home to a bowl of hot food and a warm bed. There was just so much of this shit that there might as well never have been a pass at all. It looked as massive as the mountains to the left and the right. Rosie would never make it across but maybe Ellie could climb it.

She dismounted and tried to get a grip, she managed barely ten feet before sliding back down. The snow lay too loose, it crumbled away beneath her feet. With the random rocks and tree branches strewn in it would be a miracle if she climbed it all and didn’t break her ankles while doing so.

“Fuck, fuck fuck, fuck IT! What the hell is this Rosie! Look at this shit!” Ellie pointed at the mess before them as if the mare would offer a solution.

She didn’t. Of course.

The horse only shifted her weight and swiveled her ears.

“Watcha hearing now girl. More infected?”

Rosie snorted. Ellie sighed in resignation. She buried her face against the horse’s side for a moment, visualizing her surroundings from above. She made a mental cross on her estimated location. Jackson to the south and now a mountain range between them. If she went north and then around them it would take roughly…

She pondered the math, her experiences from past patrols…

12 days to get back home.

Oh fuck me

Ellie sighed again. No use in whining about it now. Staying here and waiting for rescue wasn’t an option, she’d freeze or starve or get eaten long before anyone from town would dig their way up here. So she mounted her horse and they were on their way.

 


 

If her mood weren’t so sour, Ellie would have appreciated the beautiful snowy landscape in the red tint of sunset. As it were, she focused on steering Rosie toward a village of wooden lodges not far away, the mare’s ears were still swiveling, picking up sounds too quiet for Ellie’s human hearing range. She didn’t seem nervous though, which made the behavior rather unusual out here.

A second avalanche must have hit the village, Ellie realized as they approached, it had lost its momentum on its way through and while the lodges to Ellie’s right, the ones closer to the mountains were either completely buried or heavily damaged, there were others to her left that the snowy masses had barely touched. They snaked between cars the snow had pushed along with it.

And while Ellie tried to lead Rosie to the undamaged houses, the horse had other plans. Her ears were now pointing right almost all the time and she nickered in a “I’m trying to tell you something here, idiot” kind of way. Ellie stopped and listened intently too now. And yes, she could hear agitated talking. It sounded muffled but she could locate it coming from a lodge nearby. The avalanche had surrounded it with snow and kept it in an iron grip, only part of the roof was still showing. The voices came from a window in the roof, or rather, the hole where a window used to be. Ellie got off the horse and made her way onto a car, then to a slope and from there to the snow covered roof with some difficulty.

She peered down into the house, it was a two floor drop down into darkness. Not complete darkness, though. She saw two flashlights between random debris and furniture, Held by two people, gesticulating and talking.

Ellie realized they couldn’t get out of the house. The snow had blocked all windows and doors, save for this one on the roof. But they had no way of reaching it.

“Hey!” The people jerked in surprise and their body language immediately translated to danger in Ellie’s mind She moved out of their line of sight just in case.

“So when you guys down there are done pointing your guns at me do you need any help?”, she called out.

Chapter Text

The first to reach for Ellie’s hand through the window had been a young woman, Ellie had to hastily reposition her legs in order to brace herself so they wouldn’t both topple back into the house. 

Is she carrying bricks under that parka, what the hell.

The boy that came up afterwards was a lightweight in comparison.

While the two strangers got their bearings and Ellie re-coiled the rope she had thrown them she got a good look at the strangers. 

They both carried backpacks and were dressed in sturdy army-surplus style clothing. Nothing unusual about their outfits, what drew Ellie’s attention instead, was the rather impressive length of the woman’s braid under her beanie and the strange scars on the boy’s cheeks. They didn’t look related but then again, people often formed unusual alliances out in the wilderness.

Ellie must have been staring a bit too long at the boy’s scars for the women’s liking. She fixed her with a hard glare as if Ellie had just spit in her food and not thrown her a lifeline.The boy hadn’t noticed their little exchange, he had just finished tightening the straps of his backpack and was now holding out his hand to Ellie in greeting.

“I’m Lev, and that’s Abby. Thank you for saving us.” He looked at the masses of snow surrounding the lodge and then to Abby “see, at least now we don’t have to worry about those infected anymore.”

“What infected”, Ellie asked. 

“We got surprised by dozens of them earlier. We couldn’t shoot all of them and they almost had us cornered but then the avalanche happened and they must’ve all gotten buried before they could break into this house here that we ran into.”

Ellie had a brief urge to drag her fingers down her face. So they had been the ones to cause the avalanche with their shots. Ironically what had saved them had also almost been their death if Ellie hadn’t come along. There was no use berating them now, Ellie would have likely acted the same way in their situation and she figured starting arguments with strangers in the wilderness was just asking for more trouble.

Abby cleared her throat, “ Yeah, so. Thanks for saving us. Come on now Lev, it’s getting dark soon.”

“Where are you two even headed?”

“That’s none o-”

“We’ve heard of a settlement in this area called Jackson, we’re trying to reach it. Also Abby is wary of strangers, I apologize for her rudeness towards you.”, Lev intercepted.

Abby gave him a “did you really just say that?” look but the boy seemed unphased. 

“You two really are something huh,” Ellie thought for a moment, then she’d reached a decision. One she hoped she wouldn’t regret. “Listen, I know Jackson, I’m from there. If you want, we could travel together.”

Lev’s face lit up and even Abby raised her eyebrows in surprise.

“The prophet guides us today.”, Lev said with some reverence

“The what?”, Ellie asked.

“Don’t ask, For your own sake. Trust me. How long will it take to reach Jackson?”

“Normally, a few hours. But the avalanche has cut off the shortest way. We’ll have to walk around this mountain range, it’s impossible to cross in winter. That should take us about ten to twelve days.”

Abby and Lev looked at each other for a moment, coming to a silent agreement.

“Alright, we’re in.”, Abby said.


 

With dusk approaching fast, they’d decided to set up camp for tonight in one of the least damaged looking lodges. It had a garage to accommodate Rosie (who was cranky because she wouldn’t get any hay today. Ellie made a note to let her nibble pine branches on the way tomorrow)  and more than enough furniture to burn in the fireplace.

Ellie was suddenly glad that everyone going on patrol had to take a mandatory emergency package containing basic survival supplies such as a lighter, rope, a sleeping bag and a handful of ancient protein bars with everyone’s favorite “at least you won’t starve”-flavor. She definitely wouldn’t complain about the “unnecessary baggage” ever again.

Abby and Lev appeared to be much better equipped than herself. They went about their evening chores with practised routine. While Abby set up their sleeping bags (with a camping mat underneath. Luxurious!) Lev melted snow in a pot for water. When it was sizzling he retrieved it from the fire with the poker and added cornmeal to make grits. He wordlessly handed Ellie a bowl as well when it was finished and she thanked him quietly. 

The temperature in the room had risen significantly by now and Ellie gratefully shed her boots and wet jacket before sitting down with her food. 

Abby was getting rid of her parka as well and Ellie quickly averted her gaze back to her grits before Abby noticed her watching. 

So those were definitely not bricks under that parka

Between bites, Ellie explained her plan, well, it wasn’t much of a plan, just the most sensible course of actions. Past patrols had deposited several hidden supply caches in a wide perimeter around Jackson. Joel had made sure Ellie knew all of them by heart. They were meant just for these kind of emergency situations and they’d pass by one every or every other day. The caches didn’t contain any sort of miracle rescue but at least they wouldn’t need to worry about food for themselves or Rosie.

After that, they collectively decided to get some shut-eye, as all three of them were exhausted from the day’s events. And so they bid their goodnights.

As Ellie’s mind settled down, she thought of Joel. And Dina. And Cat and Jesse and Tommy and Maria and everyone else she called family or friend. Worry gnawed at her. Not for herself but for them. She hoped they didn’t start anything reckless to save her. 

Please guys, I’m on my way.


 

The next morning came like an icy sledgehammer to the face. The fire had died hours ago and had taken every smidgen of warmth with it. Combined with the too-hard floor and the too-cheery sunshine reflecting on the snow outside and through a window directly into Ellie’s eyes it gave her enough reason to wake with a groan. 

“Wondered when you’d wake up.”, she heard Abby from somewhere behind her.

As it turned out Abby and Lev were some kind of post-apocalyptic poster children. By the time Ellie had dressed and packed her meager belongings, they’d already watered Rosie, fed her with some pine branches, tied their stuff to her saddle.

Ellie didn’t mind to have someone share her duties since they obviously knew about how to take care of a horse. As long as they didn’t give her any shit for sleeping half an hour longer than they did. 

They’d been on the road (as much as the expanse buried under snow before them could be called a road. Its most distinct feature was that there weren’t any trees growing on it) in an agreeable silence for some twenty minutes when Lev asked: “What’s it like in Jackson?”

“Well, it’s pretty nice actually. There’s about 300 or so of us now. We have electricity, safe drinking water and food. Several doctors and nurses.” Before she thought of other things to add Lev interrupted her:

“Sorry. I should have asked in another way. What are the people in Jackson like? What are things you enjoy about living there?”

Ellie scratched the back of her neck for a moment while thinking.

“Hmm. Obviously I’m not friends with all of them but all in all we’re a good bunch. As long as you’re willing to pull your own weight there’ll always be someone to help you out if you need anything. We don’t like hoarders though, if you don’t wanna share what you got when times get rough then you better don’t come. I enjoy everything about it? The fact that you can just go to sleep in a bed and expect not to get mauled when you wake up is pretty great for starters. I like knowing my friends and family are safe there. I like our horses, open-air movie night on Wednesdays in summer, the library. Actually getting to have hobbies.. I just think….I think there’s a place for every kind of person there, you know? Uh, sorry for rambling. Does that answer your question?”

Lev smiled at her. Despite his odd scars it didn’t look weird. But genuine. “It does. I’m looking forward to getting there.”

Silence settled upon the three of them again for a while until Abby cleared her throat and asked: “So about that library. How big is it? Are we talking three bookshelves in someone’s garage or actually library sized?”

The next hours were spent talking about their respective reading habits. Ellie realized this was the first time Abby shared anything about herself that wasn’t strictly necessary. 

Currently she was reading a book called “The Girl with all the Gifts” and wasn’t it weird how before the outbreak people almost predicted it? Sure they were called zombies and not infected and most of the time it actually wasn’t caused by a fungus but still. Why write so much about the topic and not take precautions?

Ellie threw in that people before the outbreak were mostly stupid as hell. For example, what was their fucking obsession  with making pants that had no pockets when they were meant for women. That elicited a laugh from Abby and made Ellie feel weirdly triumphant. 

While Abby liked to read across all genres (Any book not caked in mildew was a precious find to her) she hadn’t tried any comics so far. There was still hope for the woman though, she didn’t decline Ellie’s offer to lend her some of her own selection. 

The first supply stash on their journey was hidden in an old lumber mill. They quieted their chatter as they came closer. Half rotten piles of logs provided too many hiding spots for infected to walk through while distracted. 

They arrived at a loading bay and an appendant garage door that Ellie opened up for the others with a chain. It rattled uncomfortably loud.

The hall inside looked undisturbed, soft late afternoon light filtered in through several windows lining the far side and the ground was crammed with large sawing machinery, more lumber, forklifts and random debris. 

So far so good

“Where to now?”, Abby asked. Her voice echoing somewhat in the large space. 

“Follow me.” 

Ellie walked on towards an enclosed office and break room space. Rosie’s horseshoes alternately clattering on concrete floor or thudding on inches-thick sawdust.

Before they could reach their safe haven, several things happened at once:

Ellie spotted several scuffled tracks in the sawdust ahead and to their right leading behind some kind of crane that must have been used to move stacks of timbers. 

A telltale krkrkrkrkr sound behind that crane.

Rosie whinnying in fear as a fungus encrusted figure dashed towards them.

Abby was its closest target.

Ellie didn’t think at all in that moment. She just acted.

In the blink of an eye she shoved Abby aside and grappled the stalker (or rather, got grappled by it) in one fluid motion and they both fell to the ground with a pained oomph from Ellie and a hiss from the stalker. 

She tried to keep it away from herself with her arms and legs, there were only inches between its spittle-dripping maw and Ellie’s face. Mustering all her strength she rolled them both around, and as soon as she was on top she pushed herself up and away. Five seconds later the stalker received a round of bullets from Abby and an arrow from Lev to its brain. It wasn’t even twitching anymore after.

The whole encounter had lasted not even a minute but had used up a three week supply of adrenaline, or that’s how it felt to Ellie. She could deal with half an horde on her own but getting ambushed by just one of these fuckers could really throw her off. 

“You guys alright?”, she asked after catching her breath and brushing off most of the sawdust from her pants.

You’re asking us ?”, Abby gasped in disbelief. 

“Yeah, well, I’m alright?”, she answered as if that weren’t the most obvious fact in the world.

“Ellie, your hand.”, Lev said, and pointed at Ellie’s right hand. 

She looked down at her palm and spotted some blood. The Stalker must have somehow pulled off her glove during their fight and bitten her. It wasn’t a particularly deep wound, just enough to draw blood. For a moment she really didn’t understand what had the other two so horrified. 

Only for a moment. 

Shit

“Shit.”

Abby was the first to talk after that.

“Fuck, I’m so sorry. You shouldn’t have…..why the fuck did you even do that!?”

Lev hadn’t moved an inch since he pointed at Ellie’s hand. He just stood there. Shocked. 

Abby went on meanwhile: “I’m...do you want us to take a message to anyone in Jackson?... Do you. Want me to do it after? I’ll make it quick, I promise.”

What Ellie really wanted right now was a good sturdy crowbar to bash her own stupid head in. She knew these people for a day. A Day. And there was just no way she could talk her way out of this now.

“It’s okay, I’m immune.”

She kind of wished Abby and Lev could see their own faces right now. 

“Are you crazy?”, Abby asked.

“I’m serious.”

“And I’m just supposed to believe that!? Oh yeah, sure you’re immune. And Santa’s gonna bring me a pony this year.”, she moved to cock her gun.

Ellie put up her hands, trying to de-escalate the situation, “woah okay! Okay. Hold on. See here?” -she held up her arm- “I got bitten as a kid. Didn’t die. So it’s fine, really!”

From Abby’s unchanged “this bitch crazy” expression Ellie knew all she saw was her tattoo.

Lev spoke up now: “Let’s lock her up.”

The two women looked at him.

He went on: “If she tells the truth, we can let her out tomorrow. If she lies we’ll know and shoot her then.”

There was silence for a moment.

“I like that plan.”, Ellie offered. She liked any plan that involved her being shot never rather than right now. 

Abby sighed. But put her gun down. 

“Fine. Lev I swear to god if she goes ballistic in your face then you’ll owe me. I don’t know what but you’ll owe me.”

Lev ignored Abby’s complaining, instead he asked: “Abby. What’s a Santa?”


 

After Ellie pulled up the floor board in the office that revealed a hollow storage space underneath they collectively descended on the loot like starving vultures.

First they took care of Rosie. There was a sack of oats and a one-horse ration of hay that was now all hers. Next they fired up the small cast iron furnace sitting in a corner of the office and prepared a feast out of canned chili, saltines and a good handful of jerky. 

Ellie pretended not to notice but Abby kept stealing suspicious glances toward her. As if expecting her to get bite-y any moment now. Ellie couldn’t even blame her. The more she was surprised when Abby pulled out a med-kit and gestured for her to sit down. Ellie hadn’t bothered to bandage herself, she didn’t deem her injury big enough to warrant wasting any supplies on. But Abby wouldn’t be deterred, saying Ellie wasn’t immune to tetanus as well now was she? And so she cleaned the wound up with a splash of alcohol (Ellie made sure she didn’t flinch from the burn) and put a band-aid on top. There was something about the way Abby took great care not to touch the sterile padding of it that was meant to go onto the broken skin, Ellie thought. 

Ellie usually just slapped it on and was done with it but Abby handled it more like someone working in the med bay back in Jackson. 

After they were done with that, it was time to separate. Next to the office was a second room, some kind of storage pantry for a printer and some other office supplies. There was just enough free space on the floor for Ellie’s sleeping bag, which she unfurled and settled into. Abby or Lev must have found the key to the door, as she heard a distinct -click- 

She wasn’t really comfortable being locked in such a small space with no way of escape should something happen to her captors, but what was the alternative? 

Sleep didn’t come as time passed, Ellie couldn’t say how much in the pitch darkness of her prison cell, when she heard another sound. A soft slide and thud and then Abby’s voice, muffled, because of the door between them and because she was trying to talk quietly, likely to not wake up Lev. Ellie realized she was sitting leaned against the other side of the door. 

“Are you asleep?”

“No.”

“I wanted to thank you. For yesterday. And today.”

Ellie chuckled. “We should start a tally of how often I save your life, huh. Ellie two. Abby zero.”

“Look, I didn’t-”

“It’s fine, really. That stalker could have killed me if you and Lev hadn’t shot it. So Ellie two, Abby a half, I guess.”

There was a silence after that. Ellie felt like Abby wanted to ask something, if she had to make an educated guess it was probably something about her immunity. No question came though, and Ellie was kind of glad about it. She didn’t want to get deep about….it right now. 

Just talking was kind of nice, though so she said:

“You know I think you believe me. That I’m immune.”

“What makes you think that? Because I gave you a band-aid? It’s not like I gifted you my last ammo or something.”

“No it’s not that.” 

“What then?”

“You never even asked for directions to Jackson.”

Chapter Text

The good: They hadn’t shot her. They’d opened the door to her night’s lodging slash prison cell with their weapons drawn as if expecting a live bear on a rampage inside.  (Abby’s choice of a hefty machete made her shudder for some reason, Ellie’d rather taken the arrow from Lev, if it came down to it) You know you could have just knocked and waited for an answer, right? She’d said then. At least they’d prepared breakfast for her.

The bad: The sky was overcast today, fat grey clouds hanging low enough you could just tell they were waiting to open their proverbial floodgates...snowgates? Maybe not today but definitely by tomorrow evening. That in on itself wasn’t the bad news. The bad news was that they’d not be able reach another cache today. Ellie explained as much to Abby and Lev and they decided there wasn’t much they could do other than hope that the weather would hold until tomorrow afternoon or evening.

And so their small party set out for another couple of miles on the trail.

She’d watched these long winded movies with Joel once that contained a lot of these fantasy people getting from point A to B through these -granted- incredible landscapes. She felt sort of like those people whenever she was this close to the mountains and there were no traces of humanity strewn about, like right now, when they’d left the saw mill behind and were walking through a dense pine forest, catching glimpses of the nearest summit shrouded in mist between branches and treetops hung heavy with snow.

She couldn’t remember the names of those movies just that there were a lot of orcs in it and she fell asleep after the second one. Which Joel only had himself to blame for because he’d wanted to marathon them in one evening.

They were chit-chatting about all kinds of topics again and while Ellie wasn’t what you’d call a smalltalk person overall she enjoyed learning about the details of bow making from Lev. She intended to take him up on his offer to help her make her own bow once they were back in Jackson. Abby quipped that bows were for wimps who couldn’t accept that crossbows were far superior.

Eventually they had exhausted all possible arguments for that discussion (no clear winner could be determined) but the break in conversation didn’t last long because Abby changed the topic:

“So you’re really immune. But can you infect other people? Like if you bit someone?”

Ellie snorted.

“First of all when I bite people it’s usually consensual, don’t worry.” Years of bantering with Dina had conditioned Ellie to go for the kill when presented with an opening like that. Abby hadn’t expected that, she coughed and turned surprisingly red. Which Ellie found surprisingly charming.

“I, hrm, was just asking. For science.”

“No, I’m really not contagious. For science.” Ellie didn’t elaborate further on how she acquired that particular piece of information. Ah memories.

“What about spores? You can breathe those?”, Lev asked

“Yeah, they itch like hell in my throat after a while but other than that it’s no problem.” 

Getting kinda nosy here, guys.  Ellie thought, she didn’t mind as long as they steered clear of any....psychological aspects of her immunity.

You don’t happen to know your blood titer, do you?” This one came from Abby again.

“My….what.”

“That’s the concentration of antibodies to the fungus in your blood”, Abby explained as if it was some kind of standard knowledge. Advanced immunology, that’s for first graders, really now Ellie .

“Uuuh, nope. How the hell do you even know that kinda stuff?”

Abby sighed. 

“My dad. He was a doctor and he researched the way the infected can tell when someone’s one of them already or not infected at all. You ever realize they never attack each other? We...he tried with a vaccine first but it’s a fungus, not a virus. With those you’d give the body some dead or weakened ones so that it’d make antibodies but somehow with the fungus it’s either too dead and your body won’t care about it or...still too alive. So no vaccine. Then he tried to make the next best thing, a spray that’d make you smell like an infected so they wouldn’t notice you.” 

She paused for a moment. “I swear that sounds grosser than it was.”

“Heh, still sounds pretty gross to me. But fascinating. How’d he find all that out? And is it gonna work?”

Abby’s expression was one Ellie’d learned to recognize a long time ago. When you remember someone important to you and a second later the hole they left in your heart after they got ripped from it.

“We did experiments. With volunteers. Mostly very old people or ones diagnosed with some terminal illness.” Abby bit at her bottom lip in contemplation. "Obviously we also needed infected when we abandoned the vaccine for a scent suppressor. We never used volunteers from the first experiments for that, they got to die painlessly as soon as they showed signs of turning, Dad was...always very adamant about that. No, we caught ours in the wild. Free-range he used to call them."

A beat.

"Then one time one got out of its chain.”

She didn’t need to go on. Ellie understood. 

“I’m sorry. It...it sounds like he was a good man.”, was all she said. 

Because what else could she say? Ellie felt like that wasn’t all there was to Abby’s story, why’d she abandon her old home? She seemed so passionate about her Dad’s project, why not continue his legacy? How did Lev fit into all this? And besides that, she’d never really realized until now but thinking back to every incident when she was out with someone else and they routed out any infected she’d never been the first one to get spotted by them. She knew runners could see and after that stage it was mostly echolocation but their clicks couldn’t tell another infected apart from a regular person. Scent made a lot of sense. Maybe Ellie’s immunity made her smell just slightly less appetizing as well?

Lev suddenly halted Rosie in front of Abby and Ellie, the horse seemed to like the boy and so she had figured why not let him lead her.

“Sorry to interrupt your conversation but look. Over there.”

The road had taken a turn and behind a group of trees a small town came into view. It wasn’t nearly as large as Jackson, just a couple dozen houses and a few shops. 

As they walked on they decided to explore for a little bit, just the houses and shops that lined their path anyways and only if something was of interest.

“Something of interest” turned out to be an old department store and a supermarket sharing one building, it was likely looted like any other place with valuable resources but sometimes, just sometimes a can had rolled behind a shelf in the chaos after the outbreak and was just waiting to be discovered like a little treasure.

Lev would wait outside with Rosie while Abby and Ellie went into the building. Or rather, what was left of it.  

They looked through the department store first but it looked ransacked from the get-go. Still they had to try.

“You know I like looting stores way more than people’s homes. At least this stuff doesn’t make me wonder whose it used to be.”, Ellie said flatly while looking at a shelf of kitchen utensils (one could alway hope for a knife or some scissors) 

“I usually just pretend really hard they got away. Well, at least when there’s no corpses.”, Abby shrugged. “You ever found any weird stuff in someone's house?”

“God yeah, one time I found this shriveled up dead dude. I guess it was a dude? He was clutching this cardboard box, I looked inside and it was full of dildos.”

Abby snorted. 

“Obviously you took the box.”, Abby said, matter-of-factly.

“That’s fucking nasty!”

“I didn’t hear a no?”

“No! God no.” Is she sticking it to me because of before?

Abby let it go then but the way she rummaged through a bargain bin of crossword puzzle books with a smirk on her face was kind of infuriating.

Eventually they went onwards to the supermarket, in hopes of some sweet loot there. 

The roof had partially collapsed here and let in plenty of daylight. Some small shrubs had even grown on the parts of the ground where they received enough rain and sun.

Ellie was scanning the barren shelves when Abby tugged at her arm and with a gesture signaled her to be quiet and crouch down behind a row of freezers. Then she pointed up and forward.

Ellie understood and peeked over the freezer and ahead. The shrubs were some kind of evergreen variety and four rabbits were hopping around and nibbling their leaves.

She crouched down again and whispered, “Dinner.”

Abby was pulling her gun from its holster on her hips but Ellie stilled her. “Hold on. You’re gonna shoot one, tops.” Shooting rabbits was kind of a bitch, they were small and faster than you could say thumper-stew “See that corner with the toppled shelves? Let’s scare them and corral them over there, then we can shoot them.”

Abby didn’t look convinced, “Yeah right, because they’ll just walk over there and line up for your bullets? Let’s both try to shoot one at the same time.”

“My plan’s gonna work, c’mon.”

Their whispering had devolved into loud-ish quiet talking by now. Neither Abby nor Ellie noticed but one rabbit was perking its ears. Listening for predators.

“At this rate those rabbits are going to have grandkids before we kill any.”, Abby groaned.

Ellie was about to retort something when they heard the crack of someone stepping on a piece of broken window pane. They looked up and saw Lev, walking low, towards the rabbits with an arrow notched on his bow. 

The animals looked up, startled, but before even one of them could move, Lev loosed his arrow and it pierced not one but two of them in a straight line, killing them instantly. The others dashed into all directions.

Ellie swallowed her retort, instead she let out an impressed whistle, “Or we let Lev demonstrate the proper technique.”


 

The good thing about Wyoming was that a lot of people had a fireplace in their home. They picked this particular house for its boarded up windows which added security but the massive grey designer corner sofa that could be expanded for even more sleeping space which they discovered in the living room was just the cherry on top. 

Abby and Ellie skinned and gutted the rabbits outside while Lev was starting a fire, he’d also found a dutch oven to which he added the meat along with some dried herbs from his backpack. The smell alone made Ellie’s mouth water.

While the food was cooking, Lev excused himself for a moment, when he came back he was wearing a baggy and incredibly comfy looking hoodie and he carried his old clothing in a pile which he proceeded to hang over some chairs they dragged from the kitchen in front of the fire to dry. 

Abby didn’t bother walking to a different, freezing room to change her clothing, she stripped to her underwear in only a few fluid motions. Coincidentally, that was also the exact moment Ellie decided the spare revolver in her backpack really needed to be dug out and cleaned. Or actually that one hadn’t been used since she last cleaned it, why not sharpen her hunting knife instead? Good plan. She got her piece of leather and the morsel of honing compound and got started while sitting on a lounge chair.

Joel taught her that when you sharpen a knife that’s the only thing you will be doing at that time. If someone wants to talk to you, they either wait ‘til you’re finished or you stop sharpening, otherwise you’re just begging to lose a finger. And that sure had been some good wisdom her old man had dispensed that day, because otherwise she might have seen Abby’s thighs

or the flat expanse of her stomach.

...the way she seemed to really own the space she took up, where Ellie was reed grass in the wind, Abby was a fucking redwood.

Ellie let out the tiniest hiss. She’d nicked herself on her blade. Only a drop of blood on her fingertip, nothing that would even warrant a band aid.

Looked like her knife was sharp enough. 

Abby had finished getting dressed into a new tank top, a zipper hoodie and some sweatpants by then, after which she walked over to Ellie.

“You wanna hang your stuff up to dry too?”

“I got no spares. I didn’t exactly pack for a twelve day hike when I went on patrol.” To Ellie it felt like it’d been ages since she’d not felt grossly damp in her clothes. If she’d been on her own she’d burrito-fied herself in her sleeping bag naked and hung up her clothes in front of the fire but as it were...

Abby smiled sympathetically. “I figured. Here you can have these. If, uh, you want.”, she said as she presented a bundle of clothes to Ellie.

Dear, sweet Lev at least appeared completely oblivious to the awkward atmosphere as Ellie thanked Abby and got dressed in her pullover and some pants. While she focused hard on not thinking the situation even being awkward -they were just some spare clothes after all!- Abby turned around and looked out through the gaps between the boards nailed to the nearest window, watching for any lurking infected that obviously weren’t there.

Then, Lev announced that the food was finished, he handed out bowls and spoons and then Ellie ascended into culinary heaven. 

“What did you even put in that pot? All I saw were some dry leaves?”, she asked blissfully.

“Nothing much. Just some sage and rosemary.”

“You know, I got so pissed the first time he insisted on clearing a backyard of infected just so he could pick up some godforsaken plants. Reckless boy.”, Abby pointed at said reckless boy with her spoon, who grinned knowingly, ”Wasn’t pissed anymore after he cooked me his quail curry, though.”

After eating, they spent the evening oddly domestic. Abby carefully cut Lev’s hair with a pair of scissors. She must’ve done it many times before, the result looked pretty presentable, actually. Then they switched positions and got comfortable on the queen size couch. (it really was that massive after the extra space had been pulled out) 

Lev undid Abby’s braid, gathering up all the hairs that had gotten loose before redoing it. (Ellie tried to memorize the scene into her mind’s eye. She really wanted to draw it into her journal at some point. Abby looked so different with her hair down. Not better or worse. But very different.) 

Ellie meanwhile had decided her spare revolver, and the one she used regularly were in need of some cleaning after all and was poring over all their parts. 

While they worked or waited they swapped wild stories of things that had happened to them, like that one time Abby and Lev’d been in a bowling alley and Abby had stone-cold knocked out a stalker with a bowling ball. Or that time when Ellie’d been younger and she’d found this Halloween supply store with Joel and how the ass couldn’t resist scaring the crap out of her with a larger than life skeleton. 

They passed two hours that way and Ellie was glad she was out here with Abby and Lev and not on her own. She was still worried about Tommy and her friends back in Jackson but she knew she would be much more worried with only herself as company to pass the days and nights.

Ellie had resigned herself to sleep on the carpet, leaving the couch to Abby and Lev. It was a plush, rich-people carpet so she didn’t mind at all but Abby didn’t want to hear about it. 

“There’s more than enough space for all of us, I’m not letting you sleep down there like a dog.”

And that was how Ellie ended up sleeping next to Abby. Well, sleeping was the wrong choice of word though. She wasn’t sleeping. The carpet would have given her more shut-eye than this... situation. 

Here she was laying, hyper-aware of the woman next to her. The calm rise and fall of her chest. And how different she looked with the muscles in her face all slack. Like when she’d had her hair down. Just. different.

There was also the scent of her. Ellie had noticed it when she’d put on Abby’s clothing. It wasn’t like in some trashy novel where people randomly smell like freshly baked bread or fog on a November morning or some shit. Real people either smelled according to their last activity, like Joel, who smells of sawdust right after he gets out of the workshop, or Dina, who smells like horse when she’d had stable duty for example. Otherwise people just smelled like themselves, sometimes more, sometimes less sweaty on top. And either one liked someone else’s smell or one didn’t.

Ellie liked the way Abby smelled.

Chapter Text

If falling asleep next to Abby had been like digging her own grave, then waking up next to her was like picking the headstone.

It was...nice. Really fucking nice. 

And Ellie thanked god -who she reconsidered not believing in right now- that she woke up first.

Which gave her plenty of time to extract herself and scoot away into a more...respectable distance with the speed of a glacier. During sleep, she’d bundled her arms in front of her own chest and smushed her face against Abby’s back, in fact, she’d woken up from Abby’s braid tickling her cheek. Their legs were also tangled and Ellie gritted her teeth while pulling hers out.

After she was done, she glanced over to Lev, who slept like log on his back, he wasn’t lying far away from Abby but also clearly not as close as Ellie had. 

She grabbed her now dry clothes from the chair and sneaked out of the living room without making a sound. 

After changing and redoing the bun in her hair she went to the garage to check up on Rosie.

The horse snorted and tried nibbling on Ellie’s jacket when she petted the animal’s forehead. 

“Good morning girl.”

Ellie wished Dina were here right now, it was easy to get to the bottom of things when they talked while doing chores or during patrol together.

Then again, she knew exactly what Dina would say to her, something along the lines of take your time, get to know her some more, find out if you’re really into her and if you take your head out of your own ass for a moment you might just see if she’s also into you, Williams. It’s not rocket science. Also if she breaks your heart I’m going to end her.

Something like that. But probably slathered in way more joshing.

Rosie’s mood was sour. She kept shifting around on her hooves, kept nibbling Ellie’s clothing and was overall just not cooperative while getting saddled. Ellie tried not to get angry at her, she was just hungry after all and had a full day on an empty stomach ahead of her until they’d reach the next cache with hay.

“Tell me about it.”, Ellie sighed after a particularly cranky whinny. 

“Can I help you?”

Lev had come in and was holding his palm up as a request.

Ellie handed him the bridle she’d tried with twice now. He took it and got to work, apparently with much less hassle than Ellie had.

“She likes you a lot. Did you grow up with a lot of horses?”, Ellie inquired after standing back and seeing how quickly Rosie had calmed down.

Ellie thought she had crossed a line somehow but he relaxed again and said: “Where I’m from horses never hurt me. But people did.”

Ellie didn’t try to pry anything further from Lev, figuring if he wanted to share his story, he would do so at his own pace. 

“Let’s get moving”, Ellie announced after they’d packed everything up and tied it to Rosie’s saddle once more. (And after Ellie had cleared her throat twice and mumbled another thanks to Abby for the clothes)

She hadn’t thought it possible but the clouds loomed even darker over them than yesterday, so low Ellie thought she could reach up and touch them. The wind had picked up too, its teeth sharpening by the hour.

They didn’t chat much today, all of them were focused on giving the cold as little contact surface as possible and after a while, after the horizon and then the middle distance had become a hazy grey blur, on not losing the rest of the party. 

Sometime after noon -it was hard to tell the time with no sun, Ellie approximated it by the hungry pangs in her stomach- it started snowing. 

Gentle, slowly drifting flakes at first that accumulated on their hoods and Rosie’s pelt like a white blanket. 

After a while, those flakes turned into a big fuck you from the sky itself when they started coming down like a curtain. They muffled the world, all colors had turned to white and grey and the only sound were their crunching steps in the snow. 

Ellie’s mind meanwhile was keener than ever, registering every change in their surroundings. If she lost the way now, that would be their death sentence. The sparse buildings around this area were too heavily damaged to be used as shelter. And so she made note of every toppled water tower, rotten barn, oddly shaped boulder that she recognized from past scouting trip.

She was surprised with the amount of trust Abby and Lev placed in her, they didn’t demand to turn around or ask if she was sure where she was going once.

After what felt like a million steps in hopelessly soaked boots a huge building appeared behind the pine trees, it looked as if someone had stacked a dozen four floor mountain lodges right next to each other to create one massive snaking house. 

“I’d tell you sorry it’s no Four Seasons except it actually is a Four Seasons.”, Ellie said as she led them toward the grand entrance of the lobby. 

“Of course it’s not all four seasons, we have winter right now?”, Lev sounded somewhat confused.

“It’s the name of this hotel. I’ve explained hotels to you right?”, Abby answered.

“Yes. Hotels are when people used to pay money for sleeping in a stranger’s bed.”

“Something like that.”

The automatic sliding doors had stopped working forever ago, they had been replaced with boards, of which several were loose and when pushed aside allowed them to slip through, including Rosie.

The lobby itself was covered in dust and debris just as any other abandoned room in the world but some of its old glory still shone through.

The floor and parts of the wall were smooth stone, all the furniture, including the service desk in front of them and the bar further back were massive oak, as was the high, open ceiling.

The lobby opened up into a large common room, with the far wall of it not being a wall at all but wide windows, all of them luckily unbroken. 

“No clickers here.”, Abby said appreciatively while dusting the snow off her jacket and hood.

“Yeah, we clear this hotel out regularly.”

“All of it? Are you sure? This thing looks massive.”

Ellie gave her a look, then walked over to the desk in front of them and rang the service bell with the annoyed urgency of an entitled, middle-aged woman that had to wait for her room for five minutes too long.

Silence followed.

“See?”

“Why did they place a tiny music instrument on their welcoming counter?”, Lev asked, more and more mystified by the concept of hotels. Ellie wondered not for the first time where exactly the boy was from. Sure he was young and knew even less about the world before the outbreak than Abby and Ellie herself did but. Still.

“So the visitors could annoy the staff with it.”, Abby answered dutifully.

They left Rosie in the lobby and ventured into the common room with its designer wood-brass-stone furnishings. 

Of course there was yet another fireplace, this time large enough that one could likely grill an entire deer on it. 

Deer wasn’t on the menu tonight however. Instead Ellie produced several cans of various soups from a cardboard box hidden under a couch.

Abby and Ellie were about to just throw them all into one pot and be done with it but Lev’s scandalized stare made them reconsider. And so they soon feasted on a whole buffet of soups out of different pots on a table that was probably meant for twenty people, which was an experience Ellie couldn’t say she’d had before.

After they were done with taking care of Rosie and setting up camp, Lev announced that he wanted to explore the building. Ellie wasn’t in the mood for another adventure after such a strenuous day but she figured they could indulge the boy for a while. She moved to get up from the lounging area and follow after Lev but Abby held her back.

“Let him. Sometimes he needs time for himself. He’ll let us know if anything happens that he can’t handle by himself.”, Abby said knowingly.

Ellie remembered the way Lev had shot two rabbits with one arrow and figured the kid would be fine on his own for a few hours.

“Works for me.”, she stretched her wary limbs and patted her full belly with a content sigh. Then she had an idea.

“Wanna loot the bar with me?”

Abby seemed hesitant.

Ellie chuckled, “We’re not gonna get wasted, just a drink or two, and you don’t have to, by the way.”

Not to be outdone, Abby followed Ellie to the bar, “No, I’d like to.”

“Okay then, lessee.”, Ellie said while she perused the bottles of liquor. Many were empty, testimony of the countless of patrol scouts who had made the trek. But even they hadn’t been able to deplete the hotel’s ungodly supply of alcohol completely.

She whistled as she found an expensive looking bottle of bourbon for herself.

“And what can I pour for you?”

“What would the bartender recommend?”

“For that, the bartender needs to know about your tastes.”, Ellie answered while grabbing two tumblers from a shelf.

Abby scanned the bottles behind Ellie, straining to read the labels, which kind of gave her away.

“You haven’t drunk a whole lot of booze in your life, huh.”

Abby scratched the back of her head and gave the tiniest hint of a sheepish smile. “Erm, no. I mean I have had some but not often. And then it was all moonshine that tasted the way lighter fluid smells. I’ve had beer more often, though. I like that.”

“No beer here I’m afraid, you’ll have to wait ‘til we get back to the Tipsy Bison for that, they serve an awesome homebrew.”

“The Tipsy...what?”

Ellie gladly explained about Jackson’s diner. The concept of which baffled Abby.

“You mean you don’t ration your food?”

“Not usually, no. We’ve had some rough winters where it was necessary but otherwise there’s enough food to go around for everyone.” Abby’s incredulous gaze was kind of funny, yet Ellie could relate. “I know right, people looked at me strange for a few weeks when I ate because I just wolfed it down in like two minutes tops.” She’d caught people taking bets on how quickly she would be finished, but didn’t tell Abby about that.

“That sounds nice. I mean. Never having to be hungry, not you inhaling your meals. I’m glad you found us.”

“Sure thing.”

Abby looked at Ellie then, in that earnest, grateful way only someone who has been promised a better future for themselves and someone they care deeply about can. Of course people before the outbreak had felt gratitude but Ellie wondered if they’d ever felt it like someone you freely share your last food with, or ammo, or medicine or whatever other bare necessity could make the difference between life and death. Ellie knew that kind of gratitude.

Ellie broke the gaze first. “Anyways, let’s find you something to drink.”

She then proceeded to hand one bottle after the other to Abby who unscrewed them and took a whiff of each one.

Whiskey was a nope.

Jägermeister was branded cough syrup.

As was gin “but in a different way.”

Ellie didn’t even bother with giving her vodka or tequila. But then she spotted a more promising looking bottle in the back.

As it turned out, apricot brandy was Abby’s drink of choice. 

Ellie poured them each a generous amount -as Joel always said, set your limit at the start and then stick to it- before putting the bottles away. They settled across each other on the dinner table, close to the warmth of the crackling fire. Night had fallen some time ago and so its orange glow was the only thing illuminating the room.

Ellie feared they’d fall into an awkward silence without Lev but she soon realized that fear was unfounded. 

Abby had an insatiable curiosity about the daily life in Jackson, about Ellie’s patrols, halfway into her drink she even found herself talking about her history with Joel, at least the general gist of it. She hadn’t talked this much at a time in months.

Lev checked up on them after that, he hadn’t found anything groundbreaking yet but he brought a couple of good blankets for the night before heading off again.

Ellie used the lull in the conversation to ask about Abby’s past then.

“So what about you? What kind of unholy boozeless place do you come from? How did you find Lev?”

Abby thoughtfully sloshed the contents of her tumbler in circles for a moment.

“I’m, I mean, we’re from Seattle.” 

Ellie raised her eyebrows, that was quite the way off if she remembered her geography right. She took a sip and let Abby go on.

“There’s this...group. I guess you could call them a militia? Called the WLF or Washington Liberation Front. My dad and I belonged to them which was good because they gave him the resources to work on a vaccine first and then the scent repellent. Research takes years and after a while they became impatient. Or at least some of them did. They wanted results and didn’t like the way my dad handled certain things. 

All the while they had this whole turf war with another group going on, who were more...religiously motivated. You see, all my life they fed me with lies about how these others, the Seraphites they were called, were just. Intruders on our land, worthless enemies. And I mean, I still don’t agree with the way the Seraphites handled things but still that was pretty insidious.”

Abby took a break to drink from her glass.

“One day they brought a war prisoner in, a Seraphite. It was Lev. I mean for fuck’s sake he was just a kid. Still is. And they told my father he could test his stuff on him from now on and that there’d be more like him coming in soon. Needless to say my dad refused. Things went south then, I couldn’t prove it but I know one of those fuckers unlocked the chain of that clicker that got him. After he….after he’d died I grabbed Lev and we got away. Lev couldn’t go back to his people for his own reasons -you’ll have to ask him if you want to know about that- and well, here we are.”

“Wow. That’s quite the story.”, Ellie offered lamely.

“Tell me about it.”

Ellie didn’t want Abby’s mood to go down bad memory lane, so she said: “There’s one thing I’ve been wondering though.”

“Which is?”

“Who did you kill for those guns?”, she said pointing at Abby’s arms. It was probably at least somewhat the alcohol talking.

That got her a surprised laugh from Abby. “I guess like, five hundred clickers?”

“Showoff.”, Ellie mumbled into the last dregs of her whiskey.

“Excuse me? You know these aren’t just for show, right?”

Ellie knew she was going out on a limb here but what the hell, no glory without effort.

“I bet you can’t even beat me at arm wrestling.”

One could call Ellie crazy right then, but fact was, she’d once watched Maria beat Joel, Tommy and three more guys at arm wrestling during a legendary night at the Tipsy Bison. She’d begged her to teach Ellie her secrets after and Maria had complied. Most people didn’t know the proper technique and Ellie hoped Abby didn’t either.

Abby snorted but her expression changed when she realized Ellie was serious.

“You’re on. On the count of three.”, she said and held up her arm for Ellie.

The first thing Ellie realized was that Abby’s hand wasn’t as calloused as she’d imagined.

The second thing was that Abby’s challenging smirk made it kind of hard to concentrate and she almost missed the “three!”. 

It was almost over before it even really started because Abby was strong. Like really strong. And Ellie didn’t have enough strength of her own to counter it for long. But luckily, Abby had no technique, just as she’d suspected. The secret was instead of pushing the opponent’s arm to the left, one had to pull their own arm towards one’s chest. Additionally, Ellie tried to subtly turn Abby’s wrist into an odd angle. 

Both leveled the uneven playing battle field significantly and she caught Abby widening the stance of her feet under the table to gain more leverage. Ellie bit the bottom of her lip.

They both strained and grunted for every inch and for a while it was unclear who would win.

However, soon Abby’s higher endurance came through and then their match was over in an instant. 

Their empty tumblers shook when Ellie’s hand hit the table.

“Damn.” she shook out her arm so it wouldn’t cramp.

“Put up quite the fight, I have to say.”

“Gee thanks, She-Hulk.”

“So what’d I win?”

“Depends, what do you want?”

Abby leaned back into her chair as she pondered the question. Ellie almost would have described her gaze in the firelight as “smoldering” in her mind. But she didn’t. Instead she bit the inside of her cheek.

Abby had mercy on her and so her request was this: “Tell me five things about you that I don’t know yet. No obvious stuff, though.”

An odd question considering Abby already knew about Ellie’s immunity, her most carefully guarded secret.

“Umm. Okay. Sure. One, I’m half decent at playing guitar. Two, I’m kind of obsessed with collecting these trading cards meant for kids. Three, if the outbreak hadn’t happened I would have done literally everything to become an astronaut. Four, I like to draw and sometime I’d like to draw you, too. Five…..”

Her inner Dina wasn’t so much poking her with a stick but whacking it over Ellie’s head again and again, yelling at her not to wimp out now.

“...I’m gay.”

It was at this moment that Lev had finished his explorations and walked into the room with a cheerful, “Look what I found!”

Chapter Text

“You need to talk.”

Abby had barely slept last night, needless to say she was on edge.

So when Lev was up in her face with his wide eyed gaze at fuck-off AM in the morning she bit her tongue in surprise.

Before she could berate him he was halfway to the lobby with his bow and his new….monstrosity.

Cursing quietly, Abby got up and dressed and followed Lev. As she passed the dining table she saw the note Lev must have left for Ellie, it read “Good morning, we are out hunting.” with a crudely drawn rabbit underneath. 

Abby shook her head with a smile and grabbed her jacket. Sometimes she just couldn’t with this boy.

You need to talk.

She hadn’t noticed when exactly on their journey he had changed. He’d always been observant and maybe it was because he’d been told all his life what to do or what to think and had decided now was his turn or maybe it had always been a character trait that he hid before but sometimes he would just. Say things like You need to talk or You need to apologize (Abby had been moody all day once and had snapped at him for no real reason) or even We need to mourn.

(that one had been about two weeks after they’d made it out of Seattle. They’d walked mile after mile, day after day, just to put more distance between themselves and the people they’d both lost. And one sunny morning they’d stumbled across a graveyard. It lay between a church and a forest, dew was still clinging to the long blades of grass that had cropped up everywhere in the world where no one was bothering to cut it back anymore. 

Abby had always found it weird, how before the outbreak people had been so obsessed with keeping plants in check. She’d seen pictures of lawns and hedges where no leaf was out of place. Did people back then just not have other problems? 

Lev had made his exclamation then, and they’d rested in the church for a week or so. And they’d talked a lot, shared memories. Abby about her Dad and Lev about his mother and sister. Mostly his sister.

They’d dug two new graves under an apple tree. They’d had no bodies to put in them but they’d had...other things. 

Lev gave the bow he’d had back then, before he made his new one that he still carried. It had been a present from his sister. 

Abby gave the bag of quarters she and her dad had collected together. One for each state of the US. One for each place her dad had wanted to take her one day.

She’d almost called Lev’s idea stupid. To an outsider they were going through the hassle of digging graves just to bury a bow and some coins but as a matter of fact, Abby did feel better afterwards. As if she’d let go of a burden and kept only the important parts in her heart. 

In a metal workshop she’d found a manual drill with which she’d punched a hole through the quarter for Washington state that she’d kept. From that day on she wore it on a string of leather around her neck. 

Abby was pulled from her reverie as the ice cold early morning air needled the inside of her lungs. The sky was clear and still steel grey, only the faintest hint of pink in the east alluding to a colorful dawn. The blizzard last night had piled mounds of snow against the walls of the hotel, the trees and boulders around them, making them look like islands in a frozen white sea. 

She caught up to Lev who stood waiting for her in his new fur coat. He’d found the thing while exploring yesterday, it must have belonged to a wealthy -and corpulent- patron of the hotel and had been miraculously spared from mold or moths. It was ginormous on Lev and he wore it inside out after he’d voiced his confusion last night as to why the sewer had put the insulating fur on the outer side of it. 

Abby had tried to explain fashion to him then but the problem was, she didn’t understand the concept of it either. 

They walked silently for a few minutes.

“You’ve been...odd since I came back last night.”, he said. A statement. Not a question.

“Have I now.”

“Did you have an argument with Ellie?”

Abby snorted. She felt like her situation would be easier now if they’d had an argument. After Lev had bursted in, they had only talked tersely before going to bed. Abby had felt like she needed to say something to Ellie after her confession but with each passing minute that she didn’t it was as if a door had been falling shut on their new found easygoing connection.

Her problem was that she didn’t know what to say but just ignoring it felt just as wrong as potentially saying something stupid or rude. 

“I..no. We didn’t argue. Not at all.”

“But?”

“Ellie told me she is gay.”

Sometimes Abby wished she had a camera just for those moments when Lev’s face goes blank in that “I’ve had it with you and how you sometimes say this kind of utter nonsense to me but I’m too well mannered to say that” kind of way.

“Uhm, that’s nice, I mean, being out here in the wilderness and not in her home, it’s good to know she is still happy.”

“Lev. Being gay means the same as lesbian. She’s into other women, not men.”, Abby dead panned.

“Oh! Okay. I still don’t understand, though. Are you mad at her because of that?”

This conversation felt more and more like she’d imagine it’d feel like if she went to that tree over there and hit her head against it with as much force as she could muster. 

“No, I’m not mad at her, at all. I guess I’m just. Confused? Why did she tell me that of all things. What do I say to her now without sounding, I don’t know, like an asshole or a freak.” And why does it make me feel this certain kind of way that I can’t put my finger on. It wasn’t repulsion, yet it was more than just acceptance. It felt like when she’d first learned to read and suddenly the complex rows of letters revealed the worlds hidden between them and had invited her in. Not without frustrating her in the learning process first, though. 

Lev was inspecting animal traces in the snow while pondering Abby’s words. 

“So how I understand it, Ellie told you something about herself, you did not properly honor the act of her telling you this and now you’re scared you’ve offended her?”

“I guess?”

“And why don’t you just go to her and explain this to her?”

“Lev, it’s not that simple.”, Abby answered with a sigh. 

“Maybe it isn’t but not talking won’t make it simpler either? Remember that trading caravan we joined for a while? You’ve talked more to Ellie in these few days than I’ve seen you talk with any of those people in a month. So it’s not like you don’t know how it works.”

Abby rubbed her eyeballs while they walked on. He was right. Of course he was, but that didn’t mean Abby had to like it. She didn’t like being robbed of agency like that by Ellie. Why did she even care so much? Normally she had no fucking problem telling people what was on her mind if she had something to say. So why had this derailed into some kind of needless trainwreck. 

She’d just suck it up and confront her and tell her you’re gay? That’s fine!

God .

They’d followed the traces into some kind of courtyard of a decrepit farm, with a house, a barn and some pens surrounding them. Abby was about to retort something when she saw other traces in the snow ahead. Human ones. And not just one. 

They’d gotten distracted. Rookie fucking mistake. 

“Lev. Let’s get out of here.”

Before they could even turn around someone called out behind them. There was the sound of a gun being loaded.

“Put yer hands up where I can see them!”

Abby and Lev both froze. They complied and turned around slowly. Out in the open as they both stood there was no way they could dash for cover before getting shot to pieces.

“Listen we don’t want to cause trouble, we were just passing through.”, Lev offered humbly.

The man pointing a rifle at them didn’t look like he could be mollified by Lev’s pleas. His face was hard and wrinkly. Not so much from age but probably rather from hardship. He kind of looked like a washed-up cowboy with his hat and greying mustache -Abby saw with disgust that it was grubby even from a distance. 

“We don’t have a lot of stuff. Take it and let us go.”, Abby said coldly. Nothing he could take they couldn’t get back later. When they were the ones pointing weapons at him.

She felt rather than saw the sudden movement behind her. There was a sudden, sharp pain at the back of her head, the last thing she saw was Lev slumping to the ground beside her and then

black .


 

When she came to again, her arms were sore from being bound behind her back. She was sitting against a wall with Lev next to her. Lev! Oh thank god. He appeared unconscious but otherwise unharmed. 

Still groggy, the details of her surroundings came to her one by one. 

Makeshift shelters made from tarpaulins held up by tent poles and ropes. A fire in a barrel with people clustered around them. Horses. More people going about their business. People with guns. A lot of guns. 

They’d walked right into a nest of raiders. 

Well done Anderson. Just splendid.

She groaned. At the situation and at her growing headache. 

“Heh Jerry, look who’s awake.” 

A man that could only be summed up as “looks like a weasel” came over to Abby, with another guy -Jerry. The cowboy- tagging along. 

“Slept well sunshine?”, Jerry asked cheerfully. He leaned down as he said this.

Abby spit in his face. She saw it connect with his cheek with satisfaction. So those spitting contests with Owen when they’d been young had been good for something after all. 

Jerry cursed and moved his arm back in order to punch Abby. She saw it coming, the man was moving with the speed and grace of an aging sloth. So she moved her upper body to the left.

His fist hit the concrete of the wall behind her at full speed. 

He yowled out in pain.

The trick only worked once, though. His next punch met its target and Abby knew her headache would become a real bitch then as she grit her teeth. He added a kick to her stomach for good measure that blew the air right out of her. 

She heard weasel-man snicker. “She’s kinda funny.”

“Shut your damn mouth, Phil.”

“The fuck do you want with us.”, Abby spat out hoarsely, interrupting their little spiel. 

Weasel-man...Phil snickered again, he examined his filthy fingernails as he explained, “ We don’t want anything with you. But you know. It’s winter. There’s hordes on the move around here in the mountains. You’re young so you’ve probably never seen what it looks like when you throw food flakes into a pond full of fish. It’ll kind of look like that but with, you know. You as the flakes.”

“We are very grateful to have you as volunteers for this distraction while we can move on.”, he added with a sarcastic sneer. 

Jerry kicked her again and then they were walking back to the barrel to warm their ugly mugs. Lev meanwhile, was shifting next to her. She was glad they hadn’t punched him just now. Abby didn’t know when that had happened but at some point during their friendship a primal part of her mind had decided that anyone who harmed this kid would end up with their entrails in places said entrails really had no business to be. 

That didn’t mean Jerry and Phil would be spared as soon as she got out of these ties but still. The point stood. 

“You okay?”, she whispered.

“Ugh. I think so. Where are we?”

“A raider camp. They want to use us as demon bait.”

“Well that’s not good. What do we do now?”

Luckily these raiders were some seriously sloppy folk. No one was guarding them or even paying attention to them, hell, they hadn’t even bound their legs, only their arms. Some of these men also looked dangerously on the way to getting wasted on beer. It probably wasn’t even afternoon yet. 

Abby had done a quick count and if there wasn’t some additional army sitting outside the shelter, then there were about fifteen people around. Mostly men, but also a few women. 

“Do you see that tent pole to your left? I think it’s the only thing that’s holding up this tarpaulin over us. If you can kick it and get it to fall over on the barrel fire we could slip out to the side while they’re busy not choking or burning.”

“You really think that’s going to work?”, Lev cast his doubt. 

“You got a better idea?” Easy being a critic

“Right. Get ready, then.”

Abby had a second to think that’s odd , when she heard someone screaming before Lev had even moved. 

He did move a moment later and sure enough the world around them descended into pure chaos. 

“Gogogogo!”, she urged Lev, they followed the wall to the end of the tarpaulin with ease, having mapped their route beforehand while the raiders were still processing what had even happened. 

They were still left with the problem of their hands being bound, though.

Abby scanned her surroundings for a solution. Smoke, people shaped lumps moving frantically under the tarpaulin, a handful more people coughing and reaching for their weapons. Horses rearing in panic. A bloater ripping the head off of someone.

A bloater!?

“Did anyone here call the fucking cavalry?”

Ellie!

Between kicking a runner in the nads -obviously it didn’t have the same effect as it would have had on a living man but it still sent him tumbling to the ground- Abby saw her galloping around the camp on Rosie. The fire had caught onto the plastic of the tarpaulin now, which was billowing with black and noxious smoke. The raiders that had freed themselves were far too busy not getting killed by infected to shoot at Ellie or Abby or Lev. 

Ellie had spotted them then and made Rosie jump over another runner and a supply crate to where Abby and Lev stood. She got off the horse in one swift motion.

“Holy shit Ellie, what’s even your fucking plan here?”, Abby asked while Ellie cut their ties with her hunting knife. 

“I’m sorta....making this up on the go, actually.”

Abby’s eyes went wide and in an instant she grabbed the knife with a rush of adrenaline from Ellie and stabbed the runner that came, well, running toward the other woman without her noticing in the neck. It went down and she handed the knife back. 

“You, what!?”

“I followed your trail in the snow when you didn’t return and this big boy -she pointed at the bloater unleashing hell on the other side of the camp- and his friends found me and now here we are. You’re welcome by the way.”

“Guys….”, Lev threw in meekly.

With an enraged “YOU!” Jerry came sprinting toward them. Lev must have found his bow again because he received an arrow to his face before making so much as three steps. 

“Oh no, don’t you you’re welcome me, I had this under control until you showed up.”

“What, are you mad I get to make another tally mark? What’s the score even? Oh right! Ellie three, Abby zero.”, Ellie said while slipping her revolver from its holster and unloading it into a clicker who seemed somewhat confused by the noise from the all you can eat buffet around it.


“I just saved you from that runner!”, she yelled while breaking the neck of some stinking raider guy who was looking for trouble with a sickening pop.

“Fine then, make it Abby one.”

“GUYS!”

What? ” Abby and Ellie snapped at Lev at the same time. 

“Can we get out of here? Now?”

As if coming to her senses, Ellie mounted Rosie again, who by some miracle hadn’t gotten the hell out of dodge by now. She helped Lev get on too in front of her and by the time he was, Abby had already done so as well behind Ellie. 

Rosie wouldn’t be able to carry the three of them for long but she didn’t need to. No one paid them any mind as they made their escape from the chaos of the camp. 

"You’re fucking insane. You know that right.”, Abby told Ellie somewhat breathlessly after they’d put some distance between themselves and the camp, which was now visible only as a cloud of smoke rising from behind the trees. The quiet was utterly blissful.

They were walking now, not breaking Rosie’s back anymore. 

She gave Ellie a light shove to her shoulder.

The image of Ellie on a rearing Rosie, with her face screaming “Anyone getting in my way fucking gets it.” had burned itself on Abby’s retinas. But not in a bad way. 

“Like I said, you’re welcome.” 

Abby sighed. 

“At this rate I’ll still be saving your ass when we’re fifty to get even.”

She cleared her throat. There was more she had to say.

“Anyways. Sorry for. Getting weird last night.”

Ellie was looking at her expectantly. 

“I think I’m bi, actually.”, she said as lightly as possible. Keeping her cool as if there weren’t a fucking forest fire roaring inside her. 

Chapter Text

Abby felt like a block of solid ice someone had attached legs to.

After their run-in with the raiders, they’d only gone back to the hotel to grab their stuff before hitting the road again. Putting as much space as possible between the raiders and themselves had become the main objective. They’d killed a bunch of those assholes, and so had the fire along with the infected but there was still the risk of those same infected picking up Abby’s, Lev’s and Ellies scent. Or an actual, full-fledged horde noticing the noise of the fighting. Abby shuddered at that thought.

By the time they’d been on their way however, it’d been afternoon and the next supply cache was too far away to reach it by sunset. And so they’d been forced to camp out in the open, sheltered only by cedar trees and thorny shrubs. The fire they’d managed to start had been a pitiful little thing, barely enough to warm their hands on. They’d split watch times but that proved pointless when no one could get comfortable enough to sleep for even a minute. 

As soon as they could see where they’d be putting their feet in the morning, they’d been back on track just to move their stiff muscles and work some warmth into them again.

That’d been 8 hours ago. 

Abby was still cold. And now she was tired and sore and hungry and miserable to boot. A quick glance to her companions told her they were feeling the same way. 

Ellie was staring stoically down at their path, taking it one step at a time. She was still covered in the blood and grime from yesterday -as they all were- and it made her look like some kind of predator fresh from the hunt. 

Lev was trying to suppress his chattering teeth. Abby had offered him her jacket to put on under his fur coat but he’d refused. Abby’d let it go then, respecting his pride. She couldn’t help but feel worry gnaw at her, though. If he got sick out here she wouldn’t know what to do. 

Even Rosie looked the worse for wear, she held her head low as if keeping it any higher would cost more energy than she could afford.

And so they trudged on. Because what else could they do? Freeze to death or become demon snacks didn’t sound like better options. 

Abby briefly considered the fact that she’d lost the feeling in her feet some time ago but decided that since she couldn’t feel anything, they also didn’t hurt anymore and frankly, that was just fine with her at this moment. She’d use her arms and crawl to Jackson if it came down to it. 

“Hey, is that smoke?”, Lev piped up from behind her. 

They all looked up at his words, beyond the line of trees ahead. 

Ellie spoke first, sounding beyond relieved.

“That’s not smoke. Oh thank god finally.”

As if she’d found another battery to run on somewhere in her pockets, Ellie picked up speed and was walking briskly toward the not-smoke.

Abby shrugged at Lev’s quizzical expression and they followed suit.

Soon a building came into view, Abby couldn’t quite place it yet, it was too large for a restaurant and it wasn’t a home or a school or a store either. On one side was a massive wooden fence, concealing whatever was behind it. 

They entered yet again through a disguised gap in the boarded up window front.

The first thing Abby noticed was the blissful warmth inside, she didn’t see the light of a fire, though, which was strange.

“What is this place?”, she asked finally. All the while turning around to take in the open room before them. Wooden paneling and antler racks on the wall made it look homely but the furniture was modern. It did look like a restaurant of sorts with the tables. But it also had a service desk like a hotel. Behind it also was the telltale shelf of keys but also larger shelves with...towels? White towels, all neatly stacked. Some were missing but there were still more than enough to equip an army. 

Prepared for the end of the world, she chuckled to herself, remembering a joke from a book she’d once read. 

Ellie made a grandiose sweeping gesture, “welcome to Caribou Creek Hot Springs, where the lodgings are infected-free and the water is, well, hot.”, she said as she tied Rosie’s halter to a decorative wood pillar. 

“Now hold on, I want you to get the whole show.”, and then she dashed away through a door behind the service desk.

There was a low rumble and then the lights turned on. So they had a generator around here. Probably geothermally powered, Abby thought. 

Next, Abby received a towel to the face as Ellie had returned and threw her one from the stacks. She also took one for herself and handed another one to Lev. It was….unbelievably soft. Abby marveled at the piece of fabric, until now, she’d only ever used old pieces of clothing that had had too many holes to still be worn to dry herself with. Despite its age it was also free of dust as it had sat at the bottom of the stack. 

Ellie beckoned them to another door, at the end of the hallway next to the service desk, that led away from the dining area. She was basically vibrating now and Abby caught herself smiling, Ellie’s gleeful aura was contagious, she acted like a child about to let you in on an amazing secret. 

The door opened to an outside area and Abby realized it really hadn’t been smoke they’d seen. But steam.

Dusk had fallen by now and before them lay a large square pool illuminated by strings of lights suspended from poles that lined its edges and spanned across it. The combination of the lights and the steam rising from the water made the whole area look otherworldly. 

She also realized what the wooden fence had been hiding. It had been built to give the bathers some privacy. Now it also acted as an infected defense mechanism. Beyond the pool lay some sort of patio and behind that Abby spotted rows of little wooden cabins that she couldn’t help but describe as “whimsical”, each was painted in a different color (which was flaking but still recognizable) and had its own tiny front porch.

“Is this a fake...lake?”, Lev said as he crouched by the edge of the pool.

“More like a giant bathtub.”, Ellie answered as Abby was still preoccupied with taking in the surroundings.

“Those white basins people washed themselves in, we’ve seen those in almost every house, Lev.”, Abby offered now. She knew from Lev that the Seraphites washed themselves by using different rags -one for scrubbing off dirt and the second to clean themselves- dipped in water. (cold. Of course. Can’t have your fellow cultists enjoy themselves too much with warm water.)

So of course he had no concept of bathtubs. Hell, Abby could count the number of times she’d had an actual, proper bath in her life on one hand, too. And one time had been after she’d had an encounter with a skunk. 

“I thought those were used for cooking?”

“Cooking happens in kitchens, Lev. Bathtubs are in bathrooms and people used to sit in them and fill them up with hot water and then you were clean. This is a pool and it kind of follows the same principle.” She figured that explaining to him the “also for fun” aspect of pools would fly over his head for now. 

From the corner of her eye, Abby saw Ellie watching her bemusedly during her little schooling session. She was glad she didn’t make fun of Lev, though. It wasn’t his fault that he didn’t know these things. 

“So you sit in there. In hot water.”, Abby and Ellie both nodded patiently, waiting for him to make the connection.

“....sounds to me like you’re making you-flavored soup?”, he said, sounding not very taken by the idea. 

Ellie couldn’t keep a snort to herself and Abby covered her face with her hands too before saying: “Not everything is about making soup, Lev.”

“There’s showers inside, to the right of the entrance, if those are more to your liking?”, Ellie said sympathetically and Lev nodded with enthusiasm in return. He grabbed his towel and was gone in an instant, muttering something about getting started on dinner afterwards.

After he’d left, Ellie and Abby shared a laugh, not to be derisive towards Lev but rather the thought of a pool as a soup pot was kind of ridiculous and one hundred percent something only he would think of. 

Then it dawned on both of them that they needed to figure out how to proceed further. 

Now Abby could think about stepping naked into a hot spring pool with Ellie and how people before the outbreak probably had done this sort of thing on romantic getaways.

Or she could not do that and instead think about how it was just fucking bath time. Like the communal showers at the WLF base. Or a river with Lev. She could also just go in there with her underwear on but that would be like admitting defeat. And if there was one thing Abby was bad at, it was backing down. 

So she took a breath and while decidedly not looking towards Ellie’s general direction she undressed swiftly and did a head dive into the water.

She came back up with a gasp, but before she could say anything she got hit by a massive splash. Ellie had cannonballed into the pool a few feet away from Abby, making her cough from the water she swallowed subsequently. 

“Sorry, should’ve warned you about my tsunami skills.”

“You aren’t sorry at all." Abby said flatly  "And you call that a tsunami? I’ve seen tadpoles cause bigger waves. I’d show you how it’s done but the water is too nice.”, Abby remarked, for a hot second she considered dunking Ellie but instead decided on leaning against the edge of the pool, keeping everything below her shoulders beneath the water. Ellie followed suit, while she shook her hand as if she’d touched a hot surface, “Laying down some sick burns, Anderson. The crowd goes wild.”

The urge to dunk the woman returned. Abby sighed. With content though, rather than annoyance. Talking with Ellie always felt like a match with a skilled sparring partner, the kind that has you down on the mat and back on your feet in seconds for a rebound. She’d kind of missed someone to banter with properly ever since….

...she wasn’t going to go down that road right now. She'd burned those bridges, no use in crying over their ruins.

“I didn’t think the water would be this hot. Are you sure we won’t get boiled?”

“Nah, at least not for a while. I’ve soaked in here for like two hours once.”

“What, all on your own?”, heckling Ellie some more.

Ellie chuckled. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”

“Actually no. I mean, it’s none of my business what you and your favorite rubber duckie get up to in here.”

“Tell me again why I didn’t leave you in that buried lodge?”

“Because I’m great company.”, Abby answered and dipped her head underwater before Ellie could answer in order to wet her hair. Afterwards, she got started on undoing her braid, she’d done it enough times on her own to manage but it would take some time. 

She felt Ellie watching her for a while and when Abby looked up, Ellie didn’t avert her gaze. Not right away at least.

“Want me to help you?”

A beat.

“Uh, yes. Sure. Thank you.”

She turned her back towards Ellie so she could get to work.

It only took a few moments of Ellie’s gentle fingers carefully untangling her hair and her general naked fucking presence to make Abby’s touch starved body want to abort mission.

Bad idea, bad bad bad idea. She wondered if she could go back to the raiders, whatever torture they’d come up for her couldn’t be worse than the soft tugs on her scalp that would have given her goosebumps were it not for the hot water.

“It’s so fucking long.”, Ellie said quietly, almost admiringly. “Is there a reason you want it like that or just your style? Because no offense, but it seems kind of a hassle.”

Abby chuckled, “Actually, yeah. I wanted to grow it out a few years back and everyone kept telling me I’d get grabbed by a bloater or get caught somewhere while running. So of course I had to prove a point. Now it’s just part of me I guess? I’d feel naked without it.” Even though it’d be hard to feel more naked than I do already.

She didn’t say that the reason she’d wanted to grow it out in the first place had been because some group of dickweeds had picked on her in the WLF gym. It’d started soon after she’d managed to put on some muscle. Suffice to say that despite all of them living after the end of the world, some men could still be pretty narrow minded on what they deemed acceptable for a woman to look like. Also suffice to say that all of them had mysteriously “fallen down some stairs.” not long afterwards. She’d only evaded latrine duty for a month because they’d been too proud to admit a woman had punched the living shit out of them. 

“There. All done. Or undone I guess. Don’t ask me to braid you again, I don’t know how that works also what’s next, do we do each other’s nails?”

“Only if we do it while gossiping about all potential prom queens.”

“Shit, my bad, of course. Did you see Kyleighs complexion today? The moon has less craters on it than her face.”, Ellie indulged their little spiel. They’d turned to face each other again by then and her exaggerated expression made Abby laugh. 

“You know I actually would have liked to go to prom. Just for the drama of it all.”

“Shit really? We have these big...events at Jackson twice a year. Apparently people will always have this basic need to spruce up like there’s no tomorrow or at least that’s why I think they started it. There’s music and booze and dancing and somehow there’s always some poor fucker who gets so hammered they get a fake bite mark drawn onto them with lipstick.”

“That sounds fun. I mean not he part with the hammered guy. But. The rest.”

“I always go there just because Dina won’t quit whining if I don’t but. You know. It could be bearable with you there. I’d like to make sure you won’t be the one getting the fake bite mark.”

Did she just ask me out for prom in the weirdest possible way or am I having a stroke.

“I can handle my liquor on my own you know, I mean, at least I’d trust myself not to challenge people to a match of arm wrestling when I know I can’t win.”, Abby said somewhat playfully while inspecting her own fingernails.

“Oh really?”

“Yes really.”

“Well that’s strange because you know what Lev told me yesterday?”

Ellie beckoned her to lean closer, as if she were about to whisper a secret into Abby’s ear. Abby complied subconsciously, what in the world could Lev have told her? 

He hadn’t told Ellie anything. It was a classic ruse so Abby would let her guard down and Ellie could splash her right in the face.

The ensuing water fight was merciless. Between their shared goal to bombard the other woman with splashes, the water spritzing in all directions and the rising steam hiding most of their nakedness anyways, they’d soon forgotten to be embarrassed in front of each other. Abby even managed to dunk Ellie after all. Twice.

Ellie’s retaliation was that she somehow managed to get water up Abby’s nose which made her eyes burn from the feeling. 

However, no clear victor could be determined, they just stopped when they’d run out of breath. Abby was clutching her stomach, it hurt from laughing too much. She couldn’t even remember the last time that had happened. 

Round two would have to be postponed, though, as they heard Lev call out, announcing dinner. 

“Shit should we feel bad for goofing around while he worked his ass off?”, Ellie asked.

“Don’t worry, I’ll cover laundry duty for him. Besides you don’t want to stand in his way when he gets into his cooking zone anyways. Trust me. I touched his stirring spoon once, he looked at me like he was thinking ‘I’m not mad, just disappointed’.”

They didn’t need a second invitation for some of Lev’s delicious food, and so they got out of the pool with slightly less awkwardness than they’d gotten into it with, wrapped themselves in the fluffy towels -Ellie was weirdly impressed with Abby’s towel turban skills- and hurried inside.

The rest of the evening was passed with teaching Lev how to play poker, at which he failed horribly because he didn’t want to lie to other players. Mau-mau was much more up his alley and he got in more wins than losses in that game. Abby's head wasn't really in the game, she liked watching Ellie's face as they played. Sometimes she stuck outthe very tip of her tongue when she was concentrating really hard or got dealt a bad hand. 

They chose one of the small cabins -the furniture and decorations inside as whimsical as the outside- with three separate beds as their sleeping quarters, with the electric heater powered by the generator the air inside was deliciously toasty. 

Abby knew she would sleep like a log that night.

 


 

She didn’t sleep like a log that night.

The dream her wracked mind offered her made damn sure of that.

As it often -but not always- is with dreams there was no build up or context provided for her, she was just thrown into it.

And so she suddenly found herself on top of Ellie.

A very naked Ellie.

As it also often is with dreams, the inhibitions of a waking mind need not apply. 

Dream-Ellie was hers to explore.

She was pliable, bendable. But with that underlying promise of something wild and feral sitting right under the surface of her freckled and scarred skin. 

Get too close and I might bite….and you might like it . For the fraction of a second Abby had the image of a mountain lion with its muzzle all bloody in her head. 

Half of her wanted to placate dream-Ellie with the lightest ghosting touch of fingers or lips. The other half wanted to hold her down, contain her, feel the friction as dream-Ellie struggled to do the same to Abby, she wanted to receive scratches and bite marks alike to show for it later. 

She saw dream-Ellies’s face contort with bliss, her head thrown back, her jugular exposed, at Abby’s mercy.

The only thing off was the lack of sound coming from dream-Ellie as Abby had no point of reference for it. What would Ellie sound like? Would she be quiet, trying to muffle her own pleasure in choked whimpers or would she let Abby hear it loud and clear.

She was running out of time to ponder that particular quality of Ellie’s when she felt the other woman’s toes curl tightly against her back, each of their muscles tensing in unison….

 

And then she woke up with her heart pounding against her ribcage like an angry bloater against a door meant to keep it out. 

Her thoughts came to her in a distinct lack of order. 

What the fuck was that. It’s okay it was just a dream. No but really, what the fuck was that. Who the hell left the heater on at full blast, it’s a million degrees in here. How did I ever think I was straight also what. The fuck. 

She noticed the wet patch in her underwear with dismay next and yeah, that was that. No getting back to sleep, pretending this never happened. 

She got up and changed as stealthily as possible, the moon provided enough light to let her see Lev slumber peacefully. Ellie’s bed however, was empty. Whatever, probably just taking a leak

Abby decided she really needed some fresh air right now, putting on fresh clothes had helped but she'd still been sweating, and so she stepped outside into the crisp night, closing the cabin door as quietly as humanly possible behind herself. 

She found Ellie sitting on the bench on their tiny little cabin porch. Because of course she had to be sitting there. Of course. 

Her breath was creating clouds in the icy air and she looked at Abby with the same amount of surprise to see her up at this late...or early hour as Abby did at Ellie. 

“Can’t sleep either, huh?”, she offered and scooted slightly to the left to make room for Abby on the bench as a silent invitation.

“No, I guess not.”

“What’s keeping you up, bad dreams?”

No, not bad ones . “Just needed some fresh air.”

“Hmm.”, Ellie hummed non-committedly.

“What about you?”

She pointed to the sky. “The moon. It’s way brighter than it has any business to be.”

And Abby could agree to that, it was full tonight. It looked huge hanging low over the treetops and bathed everything in its pale blue light. It made Ellie’s irises look the darkest black instead of their usual green. Not in a bad way, though. Magnetic, was the best way Abby could describe them.

“Get a grip space cadet, complaining about the moon isn’t something an astronaut would say.”

The bewildered look Ellie gave her made Abby elaborate: “You know I actually remembered more than the one thing you confessed to me, right?”

“Oh. Right. Sometimes when I look at the stars alone I don’t think I would’ve been cut out for the job, though.”

“And why’s that?”

Ellie fiddled with her own fingers for a moment before going on: “Do you know about the ISS?”

“The what?”

“The ISS. Or International Space Station. It was this project run by several countries. They wanted humans in orbit around the earth so they could run experiments and like. Do science. It’s still up there. On some nights you can even see it fly by if you know where to look. And you know, sometimes I wonder if the people stationed there when the breakout happened are still up there. I mean, it was all so chaotic, I don’t think the feds would have bothered with the effort to bring a handful of people back to the ground with everything else going to shit. So that means they died up there. All on their own...that terrifies me.”

Abby took a moment to think before replying: “Why does it terrify you. Dying is dying, up there or down here, what’s the difference? I mean, aside from the fact that you could run away from a clicker or kill it. You can’t do that with space. Obviously.”

“I guess when I die I don’t want it to happen in a flying tin can far away, I want it to be for a reason?”

Abby chuckled, “Like throwing yourself between an infected and some people you’ve known for a day at that point?”

"You got me there.”, Ellie answered, her mood lightening somewhat.

“So what did you want to be when you’d grown up?”, she asked next, changing the subject.

“A doctor.”, Abby surprised herself with how fast the answer to Ellie’s question came to her.

“Makes sense, you had your dad as a role model.”

“Hm, no that’s not quite it. My dad was a surgeon. When he was doing his experiments he didn’t have the whole picture. It frustrated him. He could’ve sewn another arm to your body and you wouldn’t even have noticed but he was no immunologist, there was so much he just didn’t understand and was lacking the resources to learn. So I guess I wanted to become an immunologist, so I could help him.”, she finished with a shrug.

“Do you think I could have helped? You know if he, studied my immunity or something?”

“Maybe...who knows. Listen, I can only imagine how that thing weighs on you but in any case I’m glad you’re immune. I mean, if not I wouldn’t be having this conversation with you and I actually kind of like talking to you. Even if you’re kind of a dork.”

That made Ellie smile sweetly, which made Abby die a little inside. 

“I like talking to you too. To be honest, this dork likes you in general.”

Abby didn’t know how to reply to that, she was too focused on Ellie’s slightly parted lips. Her slightly hooded eyes. The bench wasn’t that small to warrant them sitting as close to each other as they did, they had just gravitated towards each other without noticing. 

Abby could count on one hand the number of times her flight reaction had managed to prevail over her fight one. And this situation turned out to be such a time.

She got up abruptly, stretching her back.

“It’s cold as hell out here, I’m going to try and get some more sleep in.”

Ellie’s voice sounded kind of absent when she answered: “Yeah hold on, I’m coming too.”

Chapter Text

Ellie knew she should feel splendid when they left the hot springs behind the next morning. Well fed, warm and squeaky clean (both her body and clothing), even the sun was out today, making the snow glitter like it was strewn with jewels. 

So why didn’t she? Why did her stupid useless brain return again and again to the roughly half hour sometime between two and four AM when Abby had joined her on that bench, laid herself bare some and then fled as if Ellie’d told her she kept a clicker as a pet in her basement. Sure she’d said she just wanted to get back to bed but why in that exact moment when they’d almost….

Almost what? 

Ellie was frustrated. With Abby and even more so with herself for being frustrated in the first place. It wasn’t as if she could force Abby to...acknowledge this squirmy, half-baked thing between them. How would she do that even? Tackle her to the ground, slap her or shake her and tell her to quit it with the mixed signals, to have some mercy on Ellie’s tortured soul? 

Yeah right. 

She wondered what life would have been like if, years ago, long before Cat, when that smarmy excuse for a fifteen year old boy called Logan had hit on her she hadn’t decided to follow her first gut instinct and punch him in the face as an answer. Musing about that was kind of pointless, though. In hindsight she couldn’t even blame it on her hormone addled body because she’d do it again in a heartbeat. Dina called it her capital letters Fist of Sappho, whatever the hell that meant. 

Ellie was getting off the tracks here mentally and she realized that she actually was sort of required to focus as they arrived in the wide expanse of a strip mall parking lot. 

“Investigate or ignore?”, Abby asked the rest of their party. 

They were making good time, Ellie even thought they could have shaved a whole day off their estimated travel time by now. Despite the various hold-ups they’d encountered so far. 

They could afford a little shopping. And she told the others as much. 

First they found new shoes for Lev, then a package of painkillers the looters of ages past had missed in a drug store and finally a new, completely not-rotten paperback that wasn’t a millionth John Green or Dan Brown (Ellie didn’t know shit about books and so she brought Abby one of those in good condition earlier when she’d found one laying on top of a pulpy pile that used to be more books. Abby looked at it and put it away again with a depressed sigh.)

There was one last store at the end of the strip mall however, and it turned out to be one for musical instruments. 

Touching stuff with their hands was a basic kid need and Lev was no exception as he tried the keys on a piano or lightly patted the membranes of some bongos. Ellie made a mental note to show him the music room in Jackson’s school. Maybe he’d like to pick an instrument to learn.

When she heard the familiar whisper of cords being struck Ellie couldn’t help but smile and think of a warm home and Joel and trying to get her clumsy fingers to comply until there’d been this magic moment when she’d realized she didn’t need to wrench every chord from an unwilling instrument anymore, they just came freely to her after having practiced what had felt like for a thousand hours.

  She walked over to Lev who was awkwardly holding an acoustic guitar by its neck. It looked wholly undamaged by the apocalypse and beautiful with its black lacquered body and silver details lining the edges. 

Ellie gently took it from him and sat down on the piano bench right behind her. 

“You hold it like this.”, she said as she demonstrated.

“Can you play it?”, Lev asked her.

Before Ellie could mumble something about “not well”, Abby intercepted her with “She can.”

Lev’s eyes lit up then, “Will you play something for us?...Please?”

Who could say no to his puppy eyes.

“I guess. But not here. We’ve made enough noise already.”

And so they left the strip mall, with the guitar strapped to Rosie’s saddle bag.

Ellie wasn’t sure why she was dreading having to play for them. She knew a few musicians who sometimes played in the Tipsy Bison and she figured she wasn’t worse than them (She definitely knew she wasn’t worse than old Bob who liked to abuse his poor Yamaha) but somehow it was a private hobby for her. Only a select handful of people had ever heard her play. Let alone sing. Why had she told Abby she could play the guitar and not some other random fact. She could tell all their horses apart just from hearing their gait. How about that?

Abby was leading Rosie and so she couldn’t even cut the guitar loose and pretend it had fallen off. 

They selected a humble boarded up house off the main street as their shelter for the night.

They still had a few leftover cans of food (peaches even! She hadn’t had those in ages, and judging by Abby’s and Lev’s blissful faces as the dug in, neither had they) and so they didn’t have to go hungry for dinner. There was a couch, a master bedroom and another bedroom that must have belonged to some teenage girl judging by the mild eyed boys on the posters plastering the walls, which meant there were enough soft surfaces for everyone to sleep on. 

Rosie was parked in the garage, munching on some leftover oats, hay and pine branches. 

After they were finished eating and unpacking their stuff for the night, they settled on the couch, or rather, Ellie and Lev did, Abby handed her the guitar, took the lounging chair across the coffee table and was looking at her expectantly.

Ellie tried to ignore her audience for now, she was concentrating on tuning the cords. Then she had an idea.

“I’ll play for you guys but under one condition.”

Abby leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees, “Which would be?”

Ellie met her gaze.

“You have to sing with me.”

To her credit, Abby only lost control of her features for a second.

“Hell no.”, she said dryly.

“C’mon Abby, I really want her to play.”, Lev whined.


“Why don’t you sing along then.”


Ellie snorted, “Sorry Lev, I don’t know any of your church songs.”

Abby wasn’t done bargaining yet. “I can’t sing, though.”

Ellie rolled her eyes, “I’m not asking for a professional performance, you must have sung before. Like, in the shower?”

“Communal showers. Definitely no singing.”, Abby answered, leaning back again, crossing her arms.

“I’ve heard her sing. One time we were in this canyon that made your voice repeat everywhere. She was collecting berries and thought I wasn’t back from hunting yet.”

“Wow Lev! Thanks for stabbing me in the back like that. You do remember your chocolate hoard is in my backpack?”

She paused for a moment. “What if I don’t know the words?”


Ellie wasn’t backing down. She had a feeling about this and she wanted to prove it. “You’ll know, don’t worry.”

Another pause. 

“Fine.”

Looked like Abby couldn’t resist Lev’s puppy eyes either. 

Ellie took a few more moments to get a feeling for the cords, testing whether she was satisfied with their sound. 

She was, and started playing.

She had thought about a fitting song on their way here, but decided to settle on whatever came to her mind first once it came down to it. And why not keep an ancient tradition alive with this one? Abby must know the words to it too, Ellie would lose hope in humanity if she didn’t.

link

She could actually read the “Oh hell no, that one?”on Abby’s face when she recognized it after a few lines of Ellie’s playing and singing. She couldn’t help but grin gleefully between words and added a quick: “Can’t hear you, Anderson.” before the first chorus. 

Chagrined but not to be bested Abby joined in and hell yes , Ellie had been right with her theory.

Abby did have a beautiful singing voice. Her expression was still “I’m going to kill you afterwards.” but she gained some confidence in herself after a few more lines and was actually singing along in earnest with Ellie, whose hands were dancing along the fretboard. 

Lev, oblivious to their little mental argument and the deeper meaning behind this particular song  was peacefully tapping along the rhythm with his fingers on his legs. 

Ellie could have sworn that Abby actually enjoyed herself for a moment there towards the end but she knew Abby would start dancing mambo with Ellie right then before admitting it.

The song ended and Ellie stilled the residual vibrations of the cords with the flat of her hand. 

“See, t’wasn’t that bad.”

Abby looked like she considered throwing a pillow at her at mach speeds but when Ellie quietly added: “You have a great voice.” she only pursed her lips and returned an equally quiet “Thanks. Yours is too. As is your playing.”

Lev wasn’t satisfied yet, “Encore!”, he demanded. How did he even know what that was? 

Encore turned out to be a dozen more songs. Ellie released Abby from her singalong duty but was pleasantly surprised when she still joined in to the songs she knew the lyrics to. 

Ellie played whatever she could think of, mostly campfire classics like House of the Rising Sun or Country Roads but for her last song she decided to make it only instrumental. She’d learned it only recently and liked it a lot but wasn’t confident enough to sing it aloud in front of Abby. 

link

At this point, she’d found the zen zone in her mind where she couldn’t think of anything that worried or stressed her, it was just her fingers, the guitar and her mind remembering the sequence of strings to pull correctly. It was the reason why she never gave up on mastering this skill no matter how frustrating it got. She didn’t even notice that she was quietly mouthing the words along. She also didn’t notice Abby’s gaze wandering from her hands on the guitar’s neck to Ellie’s lips and back again, completely captivated.

After that song had ended too, she carefully placed the guitar on the ground, leaning its neck against the couch. By the time she was finished with that, Abby had shaken herself out of her trance, she was still looking at Ellie in a way she couldn’t quite parse though. 

Ellie cleared her throat.

“That’s it folks, I’m going to hit the hay now.”

She got up and stretched, Lev complimented her and asked if they could do that again soon, Ellie agreed and they collectively started wandering to their designated sleeping spaces with Lev taking the teen room, Abby the couch and Ellie the master bedroom (They’d played rock paper scissors for it) 

Lev had already left, happily humming to himself while walking down the hallway and Ellie was about to follow him when Abby called out to her: “Wait a moment.”

“Hmm?” 

“Actually...nevermind. Good night.”


“Night.”

When Ellie’s face hit the mattress two minutes later she felt like screaming. She didn’t, though. 


 

The next day of travel passed completely uneventfully, one could even call it boring .

Another hundred trees, toppled street lamps, decrepit houses, rocks and abandoned cars marking their passage later, they found the next stache of food in an relatively undamaged house and while Lev got once again started on cooking, Abby and Ellie decided to use the remaining daylight to scout for a bit and maybe hunt a bird or rabbit to supplement their dinner. They left Rosie to her well deserved after-work hours, so it was just the two of them. 

They were following a trail leading sharply downhill behind the house.

Abby was trying for some light conversation then.

“So Joel’s like your dad, right.”

Ellie shrugged in a non-committal but agreeing way. 

“And you’ve mentioned this girl called Dina, is she like, your girlfriend?”

Ellie chuckled, “No. I mean. It used to be complicated. But it’s not anymore. We’re just friends now. Why’re you asking?”

“I don’t know. Isn’t that...how you build friendships? Wanting to know about the other’s family and acquaintances?”

“So you’re saying we’re friends. No one gets to call me their friend just like that...”

It was pretty funny to Ellie to watch Abby squirm at that, she had some mercy on the other woman after a few moments, though. 

“Not unless they beat me at hand to hand combat first.”

Abby blinked. “What.”

“You heard me.”

“I beat your ass at arm wrestling. Did you hit your head or something since then?”

“You cheated, though.”

Ellie was walking in front of Abby and let go of the branch she’d been holding out of her own way so it smacked Abby in the face.

She spluttered indignantly at that, then said “I didn’t cheat! How would I even cheat at arm wrestling?”

“It was a contest of pure strength, I could never win that.” Ellie didn’t add that she had meant to win by using the proper technique Abby didn’t know about. 

“So you want to spar. You do know I’ll be using my muscles this time too, right?”

“Sure, I’ve taken down clickers with more beef than you have. I wasn’t doing arm wrestling with those.”

Ellie didn’t know why, she just had this primal urge to kick the shit out of Abby, or have her shit kicked out of her specifically by Abby. She guessed deep down she wanted to do other things with Abby and mutual shit-kicking was just the next best thing to her stupid animal brain. Who was she to deny herself especially when Abby played along so eagerly. 

“Let me say I’m doing this just so you’ll shut up about this and not because I’m trying to win your dumb friendship trial.” Abby said as she put down her weapons and backpack against the nearest tree.

Ellie followed suit.

They were standing on a small clearing, the ground was still sloping downwards but a massive line of rocks further down had formed a kind of ledge, so it wasn’t as steep here. 

“Rules?”, Abby inquired, as she made some stretches to warm up. Ellie wondered what that would have looked like without her thick jacket on.

“First one on her back to the count of five loses. Anything goes.”

“Anything?”

“No knives or lethal shit obviously, I’m not trying to kill you, jesus.”

“Dito. I mean. Bringing what’s left of you home in a little plastic baggie wouldn’t make the best impression with good old Joel I take it?”

Ellie laughed, “If your hits are as lame as your digs then this’ll be over soon. Now shut up and come at me.”

Abby complied. She didn’t so much “come at” Ellie rather, she barrelled toward her like full grown grizzly bear out for blood. 

Ellie barely managed to side step her, she used her momentum to grab one of Abby’s arms, hold it behind her back at a painful angle and went to kick at her leg so she would topple.

Abby wasn’t having any of that, she promptly bowed her upper body forward, pulling Ellie entirely with her, who landed in the snow in front of her with an oomph. 

Before Abby could move forward to hold her down Ellie had rolled away and was standing again.

Abby gave her no break, she surged forward, this time like a bull, her head connected with Ellie's stomach and she felt Abby’s arms around her midsection, she didn’t manage to throw her down that way however, as Ellie wedged a leg between Abby’s, shifting her center of balance.

What followed was a complicated dance of Abby trying to get a hold on Ellie long enough to force her to the ground and Ellie snaking out of her grasp again and again, all the while throwing in some mostly ineffective punches to Abby’s jacket-padded belly. 

Their match was completely unnecessary and undignified. 

Ellie couldn’t remember the last time she’d had that much fun. 

Abby was getting frustrated if her grunts were anything to go by, she was clearly used to sparring with people that had similar head-on fighting styles to her own, or freely murdering people or infected of various builds when necessary.

Ellie fit into neither category, she just kept evading her and the vice-slash-sledgehammer like doom of her arms and fists, choosing instead to skirt around and use Abby’s own weight to bring her down. Which Ellie couldn't say was working too well either, while Abby did need more time and energy to move herself around and was getting tired from it, she also seemed to have stamina for days, countering any of Ellie’s attempts with a sheer refusal to fall down. 

They’d reached a short lull in their fighting. Standing across each other, ready to strike again at any moment, assessing the other. Ellie noticed a few strands of Abby’s hair had gotten loose from the braid and clung to the sides of her face. They were collectively huffing and panting up clouds in the crisp air between them.

Ellie went for it first, which she realized to be a mistake immediately. Abby was expecting her and managed to simply grab Ellie mid-motion and shove her into the snow. Being as close as she was, Abby practically let herself fall down on top of Ellie, keeping her chest and legs pinned. 

For an instant they just looked at each other, Abby seemed almost surprised that she’d managed to finally capture her, she even forgot to start the countdown. 

Ellie had no hopes of being able to roll Abby off of her, she had a different idea instead. One of her arms had gotten trapped between her own chest and Abby's, the other one however, was free. 

With a big sweep she blew as much powdery snow into Abby’s face as she could gather. 

The pressure was gone immediately as Abby snorted and sputtered, she wouldn’t even be able to call it playing dirty, it was the oldest trick in the book after all. 

Ellie pulled herself away but before she could get up fully, Abby was grabbing at her leg with one hand while wiping her snow-caked face with the other.

She went down again and Abby was on her once more but their struggling had carried them to the left of the ledge, it was much steeper here and as Ellie tried to roll away before Abby would pin her down again she realized she wouldn’t be able to stop her movement afterwards and with a startled exclamation they started rolling down the hill, still clutching at each other.

They painfully familiarized themselves with every last pebble, knobbly root or fallen branch laying under the snow all the way down. 

It wasn’t very far, thankfully, and when they finally came to rest on even ground against a tree trunk Ellie was groaning -as was Abby- but when she tested her limbs she found none broken. 

“You okay?”, she wheezed towards Abby’s general direction, who was getting up slowly, dusting snow off her...off her everything.. 

“Ugh, I guess so. Remind me to never, ever do anything you suggest again.”

“So it’s a draw?”

Abby gave her a mean look and just as Ellie was about to get up as well, she gave her shoulder a shove, which made Ellie topple over again with an inelegant “huaargh.” noise. 

She joined Abby a minute later, who was now crouching behind a rock, surveying the open area before them.

“It was a draw.”

“Whatever you say, princess. Now look at that.”

Abby gestured toward the snowy expanse ahead. 

Ellie looked.

About 300 feet away she saw a bloodbath. 

Contrasting starkly against the otherwise pristine snow lay the fresh carcass of a bison. 

And it had a whole entourage of timber wolves -Ellie counted six- feasting on its flesh and squabbling over the best pieces. 

They watched the scene in silent fascination for a few minutes, even if there were six of them, Ellie was impressed they’d managed to take down such a large prey animal. It was still steaming and leaking bright red blood to the snow it rested on, so it couldn’t have been carrion they’d found. Despite their bloodied muzzles and coats, she also found them beautiful animals. They all looked similar, clearly a family but there was slight variation to their fur colors, some darker grey, some lighter. 

“Wow.”, Ellie breathed.

“Even more wow if we can get away without them noticing us.”

With some horror it dawned on Ellie they had no weapons. They were still propped against a tree farther up the hill. 

“Crap.”

“Here, take this.”

Abby offered her….a stick.

“A stick?”

“Shut up, it’s better than nothing.”

It was a tree branch she’d just broken off a fallen tree right next to them. She also had one for herself which looked more club-like. Ellie’s did look sturdy, she had to give her that. She’d still would have preferred her hunting knife. Or a gun. 

“Let’s get going then.”

They’d made it maybe ten steps up the hill when an unearthly shriek ripped through the dale.

A clicker, no three or four, and maybe ten runners, it was difficult to tell with them moving so fast descended on the bison carcass.

They’d come from the left, closer to where Abby and Ellie stood and two of them had spotted the two women who only stared dumbly for a few seconds at the absurdity of the situation.

A moment later, they were both engaged in fighting the runners. It wasn’t impossible but a damn knife really would have helped, without a proper weapon, they had to evade more and when the fuckers finally went down with broken necks, Abby and Ellie found themselves out in the open, much closer to the bison carcass and the calamity. 

The wolves hadn’t fled, maybe they were used to infected trying to steal their kills, maybe they were starving and couldn’t afford to give it up and maybe one of the wolves was mistaking Abby for a runner right this moment as it came sprinting toward her.

Afterwards Ellie felt like she’d seen it happen in slow motion, which was obviously bullshit.

The wolf made a lunge toward Abby, who held up her stick across her face in a defensive gesture. They both fell to the ground with Abby underneath the wolf, she didn’t hesitate, with a kick from both her legs she sent the wolf flying over her head before it could so much as think about biting Abby. The animal was massive. Up this close Ellie realized just how much larger wolves were compared to the dogs she’d seen.

It landed with a startled whimper, looked at them for a fraction of a moment and joined the rest of its pack fighting the actual infected again.

Ellie stared at Abby as if she’d just witnessed her slaying an actual dragon with a zweihänder.

Not for long, though. More infected were entering their battle, drawn from all the noise.

Ellie didn’t think she’d ever end up fighting an undead army hand in...paw with a pack of wolves. Yet here she was, stomping on a runner’s head until it stopped twitching. She saw a wolf tackling a clicker down and biting at its head with gusto next to her and couldn’t help but feel a kind of kinship.

Despite their unlikely alliance, things didn’t look too good for them. More and more infected joined in, faster than they could kill them.

Then there was the oddest noise reverberating across the dale, a mixture between a knnknknkn cracking sound and whale song. 

Abby ignored it in favor of clubbing another runner to death and Ellie was about to too when it came again and then she realized what it was.

“Shit. Fuck! Abby! We need to run!”

The wolves had realized it too, as if following the same cue they gave up the bison carcass simultaneously and fled in the opposite direction of where Abby and Ellie had first come from. 

“What. Why?”

“Because we’re standing on a fucking river.”

She should have realized it with the lack of trees or boulders but the snow had hidden it perfectly and with all that had happened in the last few minutes she hadn’t thought about it. The ice had held for a pack of wolves and a bison and two humans. But a dozen infected stomping up a small earthquake turned out to be too much.

With another sickening cracking noise the dead bison went under. Ellie saw the water, it was the blackest blue she’d ever seen, it had swallowed the bison whole. 

Needing no more invitation, Abby started running and Ellie followed close behind.

Even the infected had been startled but when they saw two fresh, juicy humans running, they kicked back into action. 

Two dozen trampling feet were where the ice really drew the line, it started breaking into jagged slabs without another warning. 

Abby and Ellie were much better at jumping from slab to slab than the infected, who the river claimed one after the other. With a quick glance over her shoulder, Ellie saw them splashing, but not for long. Infected were horrible swimmers. 

Abby had made it to the shore first, Ellie had had to take a different slab path and was somewhat behind. 

Two things happened at the same time.

One slab of ice wobbled more than she’d had expected it to, forcing her to take a moment to regain her balance. That moment turned out to be enough for one of the few remaining runners to get a hold of her. 

They both went falling into the water.

As much as it could even be called water. To Ellie it felt like a grave of needle sharp stings. The icy pain sucked the breath right out of her lungs and the runner was pushing her down on top. Panicked, she struggled, felt something solid underneath her -the ground! She had been close to the shore- and pushed herself up with a kick from her legs. The runner tried to hold onto her without success.

Ellie broke the surface with a pained gasp, desperately forcing as much air into herself as possible. The current of the river had pulled the runner and herself with it for a bit and Ellie shoved more at the water than she was really swimming in it until finally she managed to drag herself to land. Abby had caught up by that time and pulled her all the way out.

Her relief of not drowning didn’t last long, she was wet to the bones and she felt any body heat leeching out of her with a big fuck you I’m out

Ellie only managed a “c-c-c-c-old.”

Then she felt Abby’s arms under her and she was pulled to her feet -all the while Abby was releasing an unending string of colorful expletives to the cold air.

The trek back up the hill firmly planted itself somewhere in the top five of Ellie’s most painful experiences ever endured. She had to give Abby credit for not simply giving up and leaving her to her frosty death, she was leaning heavily on the other woman, who had one of Ellie’s arms over her shoulder, and the other around her waist. Ellie did feel herself making steps but they felt completely ineffective, it was mostly Abby dragging both their bodies up, all the while Ellie supplied them with unhelpful violent shivering and teeth chattering.

Somewhere after the half-way mark Ellie forced out a “S-s-s-s-sorry.”

Abby’s answer was breathy from the exertion because of course their journey had to lead steeply uphill, anything else would have been too much to ask for. “What for? You wouldn’t leave me laying down there either.”

“N-n-n-no.” Ellie swallowed, even her saliva was fucking cold. She took a breath and tried to still her shaking jaws for one sentence. “F-for getting us in-in-in-to this mess.”

Abby snorted. “Yeah, because you forced me to spar with you. Like I had no other choice.”, she said, her voice thick with sarcasm, then she sounded genuine: “You idiot...it was fun. And now I need you to not die on me here because I want a rematch.”

“G-g-got it.”

By the time they burst into the house where Lev was waiting for them, Ellie was close to passing out. She couldn’t even remember what “feeling warm” had been like. It was only a distant memory now. She still heard the things around her and felt it when something touched her, but dully, as if she were clad in a cold cotton cocoon. Her vision was blurry and she could only see general shapes. 

Abby laid her down on something soft. She heard her telling Lev the gist of what had happened and then a sharp, “Shit, she’s not even shivering anymore.”

“We need to get her out of those wet clothes.” That was from Lev. A single brain cell, somewhere deep in Ellie’s mind, registered what that meant exactly with dread. It was quickly overpowered by her others begging for some warmth. 

Abby spoke again, with urgency: “I’ll do it. Bring me blankets, a hot water bottle if you can find one. Not here, though. The couch is soaking too now. Bring them to the master bedroom.”

Ellie must have blacked out for a time, the next thing she felt was being laid on a different soft surface. The cold cotton cocoon was gone but she was still miserably freezing, she couldn't even feel her limbs anymore.  

Muffled talking. Lev was saying: “I couldn’t find a hot water bottle yet, but I’ll keep looking. Maybe in another house.” Then steps, away. 

More soft things -blankets- were being laid down on top of her, she felt them almost painfully against her goose-bump riddled bare skin.

And then, a quiet: “Fuck it. Just don’t hate me for this later.”

Followed after a while by a dip in the mattress behind Ellie. And then her back was being pulled toward the heavenly warmth of a sun. The sun wrapped itself around her from behind, making Ellie’s skin sing with bliss. 

She would have tried to scoot closer, but she couldn’t find the energy to move anymore, and so she had to bask in whatever was given to her. Her last thought before passing out was wondering why the sun was naked.  

Chapter Text

It was still dark outside when Ellie woke up. The full moon from two nights ago was waning now, but still bright enough to illuminate the room. 

Ellie mapped the parts she could see from her angle so she could ignore...the other thing for a few moments longer. It was a perfectly average bedroom, white walls, dark furniture, namely a dresser and a wardrobe. Clothing was strewn about on the carpet, probably from their former owners hastily packing a suitcase to evacuate.

She was sharing the bed with way too many pillows, why did people back then need so many damn pillows? Though, she wasn’t complaining about the amount of blankets piled on top of her…them.

Right

She had passed out last evening but she hadn’t lost her memories. There was some residual confusion but it did make sense. She was naked, laying in a bed with Abby who was spooning her from behind and breathing softly in her sleep. That certainly was a thing that was happening to her right this moment. Ellie propped herself up and turned around halfway, Abby’s limp arm falling to her lap in the process. 

Ellie bit at her bottom lip when she saw Abby was down to her underwear, likely so she could pass her body heat more effectively. (Because just like Ellie, she was that much of a golden retriever of a person when it came to saving someone else's ass.) She hadn’t left Ellie that last dignity, who was stark naked, obviously her own underwear had been soaked with river water. For a moment her mind pleaded with her to get back under the covers, to ignore the awkwardness that would ensue when Abby woke up later, at least for a little while longer. To be greedy and take what she could get for as long as possible. 

She didn’t act on that impulse however. (nor the other impulse to go back to the river and chill -heh- with the sunken bison carcass) Instead, she was transfixed by Abby’s peaceful sleeping form. Staring at the other woman’s relaxed features and gently rising and falling chest as if in doing so an answer to all of Ellie’s problems would present itself any minute now. 

Just don’t hate me for this later. Ellie clearly remembered Abby saying that before climbing into the bed behind her. Hate her. For what? Making sure Ellie got to live and see another day?

Frozen, Ellie kept still when Abby started to shift. The arm left Ellie’s lap and there was a blissful half minute where Abby wasn’t aware of anything yet, only occupied with waking up in the comfort of their shared warmth under the covers and stretching herself long like a big cat. 

The moment passed too soon.

It was unusual for Abby to wake up like this in any case. Ellie’s sample size was small, but she’d seen her either gain full consciousness and be finished getting dressed, washed up and cranking out a million push ups before Ellie had even gotten a hold of a single sock herself. Or the same thing but with a suppressed startle at the beginning. As if she’d had a bad dream and trained herself out of waking up screaming and kicking. 

Ellie dimly realized her upper body was completely uncovered and...reacting to the chilly night air. She couldn’t bring herself to be embarrassed now and so didn’t bother pulling a blanket upwards. Why should she be embarrassed after all, it kind of was too late to start with that now. Abby had seen all there was to see already. 

Abby didn’t share her sentiment it seemed. She looked pointedly at the dresser behind Ellie and it was hard to tell in the low light but Ellie thought she was blushing furiously. Which, under different circumstances, Ellie would have found quite endearing. Abby could take out a clicker in a single blow but some exposed anatomy had her incapacitated? 

It wasn’t as if there was a whole lot to see in the first place, Ellie thought soberly. 

Abby cleared her throat.

“You’re better. Good. I should go.”

Fury was cutting sharply into Ellie’s I-don’t-even-care-anymore mood at that. 

Ellie knew she wasn’t the best with words, hell one time Dina had almost slapped her because of it. It was when she was coming out to her, or had been trying to, between awkward mumbly coughs and fumbling with her own hands and ripping the bread they’d been sharing as their patrol provision into tiny flakes onto the ground. 

So no. Ellie wasn’t the right person to ask for a grandiose declaration or a poetic baring of the soul. To her, feelings were a sticky hot mess of a brain-tangle and most of the time she was fine with sweeping them under the carpet for her future self to stumble over on another day and break a leg in the process.

But god was she sick of Abby’s bullshit. She needed to know. Now . So she could face the rejection head on, take it in stride, maybe, definitely mope about it to Dina or Jesse for a while and then get over it. If she’d allow it to build up for weeks or months when they were back in Jackson she’d go insane. She was going insane already.

She didn’t even allow herself to think about the other possible outcome to this whole fucked situation.

And so Ellie grabbed Abby by her arm as she was about to abscond once more, and…

...and she hadn’t thought any further ahead, actually.

Abby let it happen, she could have easily pulled away by now, walked out of the room, packed up Lev and set this house on fire with Ellie still in it. 

Instead she stood there, halfway out of the bed.

A few seconds ago, Ellie had been prepared for everything. A punch to the guts, a slap, an angry fucking let go of me , a joking taunt to ease the tension. 

She hadn’t been prepared for Abby’s gaze. It was disarming in the literal sense of the word, Ellie was already naked, now she felt stripped down to her soul. It teemed with the prickling alive-ness of Abby, behind those eyes was a woman that had shared meals, supplies, even warmth and her own painful past with Ellie. Behind those eyes was a woman as vulnerable as she was strong at the same time.

Ellie met that gaze. Unwavering. 

It was hard to say whether Ellie pulled Abby or Abby pushed Ellie, whether it happened in the blink of an eye or at a glacial pace, it didn’t matter either way, when they met on top of the bed it felt like the voltage-heavy air before a thunderstorm finally finding its release. 

They both hissed from the intensity of the skin on skin contact. 

For a few moments their foreheads touched lightly as they did nothing but breathe the other in, reeling from what would, what needed to happen next. 

When Abby’s lips found Ellie’s at last it wasn’t sweet or gentle, they’d been starving for it after all. Ellie raked her fingers into the downy hair at Abby’s nape, tugging to get a better angle. The baritone rumble she received for it surged through Ellie’s entire body. Ellie felt the surprised shift of a tendon under her fingers when she opened her mouth and offered a quick sweep of tongue over Abby’s lips. Abby leaned closer still, deepening the kiss as well, and while their chests weren’t touching, Ellie could sense the heat radiating from the other woman’s skin. 

The need for air offered a brief reprieve. When those eyes landed on Ellie once again though, she became certain she wouldn’t make it out of this bedroom alive, they’d burn her to a crisp. The only solution to that was for Ellie to lean up again, for a second round. No preamble to it this time, the slide of tongue and hint of teeth had been too satisfying. She still needed more, though, she needed to press her lips to every last square inch of Abby’s skin. Her current position was counterproductive for that however and so she trailed one hand down Abby’s flank, raising goosebumps on her way. Her grip became firm on Abby’s hip and in a flash she flipped them both over, onto the pile of pillows. 

That blatant display of dominance must have roused something between them that had been at rest before because Abby didn’t stay put. Instead she sat up, which made Ellie subconsciously retreat so they wouldn’t smash their heads together. 

The next few minutes were incohesive. And electrifying. 

Half the pillows fell from the bed as they both scrambled for leverage, each pushing their advantage whenever one presented itself. 

Abby, pressing her down into the bed, nipped at the skin somewhere between Ellie’s neck and shoulder, always skirting the edge to truly painful.

Ellie left red welts down Abby’s back, eliciting a delicious contracting of muscles on her path. And a sigh right against her ear which her own body responded to in an entirely different place. 

The whisper of sheets, a change in position again and Ellie was left gasping when Abby took a fistful of her hair and tugged her head backwards just enough to gain access to her jugular. She could only helplessly palm at Abby’s abs when the other woman started laving her pulse point with torturously light kisses, no hint of teeth this time. 

Ellie managed to wrench herself away. She wanted to up the ante. And she needed to act fast because Abby underneath her looked poised to attack again. 

Abby was still in her plain black bra. Front clasping. An easy kill. 

Ellie had seen her share of breathtaking natural spectacles. Waterfalls seemingly made of liquid fire when the sun hit them at dawn. Steaming pools of rainbow, their colors too bright to be real. The northern lights even, that one time. 

They paled in comparison to Abby’s body laid out for Ellie to take in. The generous tone of muscles she must have worked so hard on, especially in this world that wanted nothing more than strip you to your bones. Every last scar on her skin, telling a story of its own. Her smoldering eyes. The soft wisps of hair that had gotten out of her braid and the swell of her exposed breasts, begging to be touched. God, she was beautiful.

“What are we even doing.”, Abby breathed more than asked.

Ellie thought it was all pretty self explanatory at this point but still offered: “Nothing you don’t want to.”

“I don’t want nothing.”, Abby looked at Ellie expectantly.

Ellie, not wanting to disappoint, cupped one breast in her hand, and covered the other with her mouth, eagerly circling the areola with her tongue.

Ellie could actually feel the moan that followed against her lips. 

“I didn’t think you’d be so sensitive.”, she grinned against Abby’s hot skin.

“F-fuck you. It’s just...been some time.”

She wanted to remedy that.

She spent some more time with Abby’s nipples. Sucking or twirling them until they stood stiff. Only then did she move on, kissing a trail downward from her sternum, feeling her abs actually flex involuntarily when she added her blunt fingernails to scratch lightly down her sides. All the while Abby could only groan and gasp helplessly. Her hands busy clawing at the sheets. Ellie didn’t even have to ask. Abby opened her legs all on her own for Ellie to further follow the path she was on. 

One last piece of fabric stood in Ellie’s way. She playfully tugged at the band of Abby’s boy shorts with her teeth, then switched to her hands and with some assistance in the form of Abby lifting her hips they were gone. 

She'd noticed the dampness of the shorts when she threw them away but seeing what they’d concealed was something else entirely. 

Abby was soaking wet.

Ellie repositioned herself on her belly, resisting the urge to briefly relieve some of the building pressure between her own legs with a quick touch. She wanted to savor the moment despite her own growing need, and so she went to firmly stroke the other woman’s taut thighs before switching her fingers for her lips. 

It was as if Abby had had doubts where exactly Ellie would be putting her mouth in the near future. And in the few seconds when Ellie was parting the field she heard a subdued “Oh, you’re really-” that turned into an entirely differently pitched “ Ooh! ” when she offered a slow, dragging lick all the way along Abby’s folds with the velvety flat of her tongue. 

She arched upwards and Ellie actually had to hold her hips down or she’d end up with a broken nose. 

Ellie snickered. Which wasn’t very sexy of her but she couldn’t help it. “Calm down bronco.” Then something dawned on her and her smile fell. “This can’t be the first time someone-”

Before she could finish with “-eats you out.” Abby interrupted her tersely “It is. I’ll...behave now, sorry.”

The only one who should feel sorry in Ellie’s opinion were the person or people who had had this gorgeous cunt in front of them and not thought of applying their mouth to it when given the chance.

Before Abby could get weird about her lack of experience in this particular field or realize that Ellie had just compared her to an unruly horse, Ellie returned to the task at hand. 

She let her breath ghost over Abby’s slickness, taking in her salty, musky scent before using her tongue again. She was careful not to overwhelm her right away, instead Ellie relied on even strokes and made wide berths around her clit. When Abby’s hands found and gripped her hair she gave an appreciative groan in response. The vibrations of which drew another of the rare moans from Abby Ellie quickly became addicted to. 

Ellie fought hard to keep her pace even, all the while trying not to start straight up dry humping the bed underneath her for some sweet, sweet friction. 

Her endurance soon paid off, where before, Abby had been writhing against the sheets, trying desperately to stifle her trembling and quaking against Ellie’s mouth -As well as the sounds she made. Ellie had a suspicion she could be louder. Way louder- she was now turning rock solid. Getting closer.

Ellie adjusted accordingly. She gave one last hungry lick and then went to give Abby’s clit some direct contact until it was swollen and hardened. Abby couldn’t take it much longer, her whole body seemed to draw into itself, Ellie stole a quick glance at her face, her eyes closed tightly and her brows knit together in rapture.

She keened once and with a choked “Oh, ohh fuck Ellie-” her abs bunched up under Ellie’s hand and she came pulsing against her mouth. 

Ellie let her ride it out patiently, despite the fact she’d almost followed suit at the sound of her name. 

When she was spent, Ellie leaned back, wiped her mouth with the back of her hand unceremoniously and crawled up to lay down next to Abby against the pillows. 

She leaned in for a kiss, Abby obliged her but she scrunched her nose when she tasted herself.

“That’s fucking weird.”

“Get used to it, sunshine.”, she answered lightly.

Abby moved to punch her in the shoulder but it was less than half-assed. She looked almost bewildered at her own arm for a second. As if she couldn’t believe it had betrayed her and turned into post-orgasmic pudding. 

“Just give me a minute.”

“Until you punch me?”, Ellie asked with a sneer.

“Until I rail you.”

That gave her pause. Not for long, though. “I don’t think dirty talking works if you threaten the other person with it.”

Abby rolled her eyes. “I liked it better when you shut up.”

She was about to move but Ellie stopped her. “You don’t have to. You know. I’m not expecting anything.”

Abby briefly glanced downwards, at Ellie's upper thighs. Where a glistening sheen betrayed her words of “not expecting anything.”

She raised an eyebrow, gave a small crooked grin. “Are you sure about that?”

Then, a genuine smile that made something deep in Ellie ache . “It’s okay. I want to. I really do.” 

And then she rolled over and on top of Ellie in one fluid motion, pushing her into the mattress with a splayed palm on her chest. The act made Ellie ache again, from anticipation.

She cried out when Abby nudged a knee between her legs and applied some pressure that wasn’t nearly enough. Ellie couldn’t help but grind against it. She was so very grateful when Abby got the hint that Ellie had moved beyond the need for foreplay about half an hour ago. 

Abby pulled Ellie closer by her thighs as if she weighed nothing at all and after Ellie had locked her legs instinctively around Abby’s hips, the other woman leaned forward, propped on one arm and started palming roughly at her breasts with the other one. Distracted from that, Abby sucking and biting at her neck and the sheer towering, sweltering presence of her above Ellie, she hadn’t noticed Abby’s free hand had wandered lower.

Until suddenly there was the pad of a thumb dancing over her clit and the heel of a palm spreading her wetness further. She caught herself clutching at Abby’s back and shoulders, adding more red welts to the ones she’d left there earlier. 

The hand was gone again. This was worse than foreplay would have been.

“Quit teasing.” Ellie glowered.

Abby angled her head, her nose brushing against Ellie’s temple. A light bite at her earlobe and then in a whisper:

“Where are your manners.”

Oh she would make her suffer next time, Ellie thought bitterly.

The hand returned, skirting, not touching anything Ellie really needed to be touched.

Ellie tried to chase it, in vain. 

“Please.”

And finally, finally she felt the tip of a finger at her entrance. Abby hesitated no more and pushed. It went in with an easy glide, that had Ellie gasping, so she added a second one and the way she started to fuck Ellie was completely ruthless.

Her movement didn’t stop at her wrist or arm, she put her whole body into it, Ellie felt the muscles and sinews of her back flow and ebb from it. Her pace was steady, and measured. Ellie wanted her to pick it up, go faster already but the plea died on her lips. She realized Abby wanted to draw it out for Ellie and was it ever working. 

She bit the inside of her cheek in order to muffle a moan. She wasn’t the most vocal person in bed but right now sound was threatening to spill freely from her as she came apart underneath Abby. 

Abby wouldn’t let her keep quiet though. “I want to hear you.” 

Ellie allowed it. 

There it was again, that gaze. This time Abby offered it like a life line.

She still hadn’t quickened her pace and if she were to stop moving now, Ellie was sure she’d die on the spot. 

Abby didn’t stop moving, instead she curled her fingers upwards inside Ellie with each push, drawing another series of moans, making her clench her legs and bear into the penetration. 

And then it was happening at last, she could think of nothing as heat flared under her skin, could only feel her own body shoot sparks and clench around Abby from the force of it, every nerve singing out in blissful relief. 

When she finally slumped down  after an eternity and Abby slowly pulled out one last time, Ellie was still twitching. 

They’d collectively kicked most of the blankets and pillows from the bed at this point and Ellie was treated to the sight of Abby’s firm butt as she leaned down and pulled one of said blankets up to cover both of them. 

When they’d both settled down laying close and facing each other, basking in each other’s presence, Ellie mused: “I should fall into rivers more often if this is what I get from it.”

Abby gave her a look of horror “No. Oh hell no, you don’t.” 

Dawn was still a way off. They were both utterly spent and there was still time to share more warmth and sleep some, too. They could figure the rest out tomorrow.