A/N: First time ever writing Fan Fiction, so go easy on me. The characters and story of The Last of Us have stuck with me since finishing the game, and I thought I would let my imagination run wild and write some stuff down. For those who haven't played it yet, there are some mild spoilers below. This takes place just after what I found to be one of the most emotional scenes in the game: (SPOILERS) immediately after Joel pulls Ellie off of killing David. There's a line of dialogue we can't hear that Joel says to Ellie. This line is where the story picks up. I don't know how much more I'll write in the future, but it felt good to get this on paper. Hope you enjoy.
DISCLAIMER/LEGAL MUMBO-JUMBO: I do not own The Last of Us, it is Naughty Dog's property.
"I'm gonna try to get you out of here, okay?"
She read the words off of his lips. Her head was swimming, and the rest of the world seemed to fade away. The smoke that was stinging her lungs seemed an afterthought, and the heat from the tears that ran down her cheeks and onto Joel's rough hands gave way to a strange numbness. Everything surrounding Joel's face in her vision grew dim and she locked her gaze on his eyes. Eyes that she had seen empty more often than not. Empty or cold; emotionless. Eyes that were now filling with pain and empathy. Eyes that she could swear were starting to well up with tears, as unbelievable as that thought was. She kept her eyes on his and nodded in acknowledgement.
Joel lowered his hands from cradling her face and helped her onto her feet. Keeping a hand on her arm, he wrapped the other around her and guided her to the front door of the restaurant. Looking ahead, Ellie saw where the frame had splintered under the weight of Joel's desperation. She wrapped her arm around his waist and pulled herself closer. His presence was an anchor to her, and she tethered herself to it. Amidst the terror and adrenaline within her, he became the eye of the storm, a calming wave that began to wash over her. The tears continued to fall, but at least her frantic breathing was returning to something resembling normalcy.
Joel leaned forward to check the surroundings before venturing outside. Deeming it clear, he led Ellie forward, away from the ravaged countenance of the monster who had tried to kill, or worse, his little girl. My little girl. The thought stopped Joel in his tracks temporarily.
Ellie clung to his side, trembling like a leaf, head still spinning, her whole being starting to go numb from shock, despite Joel's presence. Joel's eyes searched the glistening snow on the ground before them, looking for an answer to a question he didn't know he was asking. My little girl. He felt a tug on his right side as Ellie started to slip into unconsciousness.
He swept down and scooped Ellie off of her feet before she hit the ground. A grimace flashed over his face as a dagger of pain shot from his stomach. The wound. In his desperate search to find Ellie, the adrenaline had numbed the searing pain of his puncture wound. Nature's painkiller was starting to wear off. Gritting his teeth, he stood, Ellie's slight frame cradled limply in his arms. He readjusted her positioning to bring her head to rest against his shoulder.
"Ellie?" No answer. "Ellie?!" Nothing but the biting wind. He knelt in the snow and gave her the once-over. There was a deep cut on the bridge of her nose, spatters of blood smeared by tears on her freckled cheeks, and bruises beginning to darken the battered regions of her chin and forehead. Her hands were stained red and sticky with the blood of that cannibalistic son of a bitch. But she was still breathing.
"We've gotta get you somewhere safe," Joel said as he scanned the buildings of the lakeside resort. "Somewhere not here." He fought to stand against the pain emanating from his midsection, pulled Ellie's slight frame against his chest, and began trudging toward the house where they had stayed; the only landmark he had.
Joel carried her carefully down the stairs to the basement, continuously checking his footing while taking care not to bump her head on the cold cement walls. Everything was as he had left it since going to search for Ellie, and he gingerly lowered her unconscious body onto the mattress.
"We need to get you cleaned up," he said softly, more to steady himself than to comfort her. He rummaged through his pack for his canteen and the cleanest cloth he could find. He wet the cloth and began cleaning David's blood off of her hands. They were so small and frail against his weathered palms. Her little hands that had done things no one should have to do, least of all a 14-year-old girl. One hand clean, he began on the next, trying to wash away any evidence of what she had been through. He ran the cloth between each finger until claret gave way to the color of flesh.
As he worked, he felt a tear that had escaped from his left eye rolling down his cheek. Poor baby girl, he thought to himself, wiping his face with his sleeve. Her hands free of blood, he cleaned the cloth as well as he could and began to work on her face. Cold water dripped down her cheek from where Joel was dabbing the cut on her nose, causing her to stir. Her eyes slowly fluttered open, and she recoiled from Joel's touch, more from the human contact than the pain. He saw the fear that leapt from her eyes as she frantically scanned the room.
"Ellie, it's me... it's me... you're safe..." Joel said, attempting to soothe her.
When she realized where she was and who was by her side, she exhaled and laid her head back down.
"Joel..." she whimpered, squeezing her eyes shut through tears.
"I'm here, it's alright... lemme finish cleanin' you up and then you can get some rest."
She lie motionless, aside from a few involuntary sobs, while Joel gently finished tending and dressing her wounds. She hadn't known this side of him. She had most often seen him rough, ruthless, cold and calculating. She had even seen him rendered weak and helpless by his wound. She had never seen him gentle and paternal, and hadn't been sure what 20 years removed from his daughter would do to this side of him.
Her whole body ached. Her back from the table that... animal... had slammed her into, her ribs from the sharp kicks of his boots, her throat from his vice-like grip. The mere thought of him made her stomach turn. She shuddered, and Joel's eyes met hers.
"How're you holdin' up?"
She fought to keep the tears at bay. "I'm fine," she lied. The tears betrayed her.
Joel exhaled deeply as he straightened up, packing up the makeshift medical supplies. He sat down next to her and reached a hand up to wipe a tear off her cheek. Without thinking she reached up and put her hand on his.
"We'll get through this. I promise," he told her softly. She appreciated his economy of words. It suited him. "Get some rest, okay? If you need anything I'll be right here."
The light was fading from the window as evening came. He laid the same blanket that had kept him warm through all those cold nights over her tiny figure and then stretched out on the floor next to the mattress. Pulling his pack under his head, he turned to his side to face her. Ellie was in too much pain from the struggle to lie in any position but on her back, eyes closed from equal parts exhaustion and agony. She slid her arm up from her side to his direction, searching for him, a tension crossing her face.
"I'm here," he said, taking her hand.
The tension eased. Barely audible, she said, "Thank you."
Joel smiled, eyes fixed on her. "You did this for me once."
He watched her protectively while her breathing became deep and slow. Her hand was still enveloped in his, and she would stir anytime he attempted to pull away, so he left it. Whatever it took for her to be at peace. Thoughts started creeping their way into his brain, ensuring that the sleep he already knew he wouldn't get that night would never come.
My little girl.
He had forgotten what it felt like. What it felt like to truly care for someone. This waifish little spark plug of a girl that had made her way into his life by blind luck had opened his eyes to the concept of being human again. A concept he had long thought impossible in the hell this world had become.
He studied her face and watched her breathe, making sure every inhale and exhale went off without a hitch. Just give her one night of peace. One night of peace before the nightmares inevitably come, he thought to anyone listening.
He rubbed her fingers between his and whispered "'night, baby girl."
WITH CHAPTER 2