Author's Notes: Before I talk about the story I would like to say a little bit about myself. First of all I am not really a story writer, so I don't expect this to be as good as most of the fanfics on this site. I do write though, lyrics that is. I am an aspiring musician and I play drums and write lyrics. For that reason this is the only fic I ever plan to write so I can focus on my music. I just couldn't stop thinking about the game so this was something I had to do.
Now, about the story. This takes place after the game beginning with the final cutscene. The title comes from a song of the same name by the rock titans Alter Bridge. I feel like that song captures the "hopeful" side of the ending really well, so that's where part of the inspiration for this story came from. Now, this chapter gets to talking about religion a bit, but I am NOT IN ANY WAY insinuating that those are my beliefs. In fact the only thing I will share about my beliefs, is that I believe in keeping my beliefs to myself. So don't even bring up that topic in your reviews or messages, unless you're talking about it in the context of the story. I shouldn't need to say that, but I'm not taking any chances knowing how closed-minded some people can be.
And before anyone asks this will NEVER get to JoelxEllie. So don't even bring up that disgusting topic.
Disclaimer: I do not own The Last Of Us or the characters. All credit goes to Naughty Dog.
Brand New Start
CH 1: Arrival
"I gotcha kiddo." Joel stood on the ledge and extended an arm down to Ellie. The moment was symbolic of all the time the two had spent together. Just as Ellie looked up to him at this moment in a literal sense, she looked up to him figuratively as well. She trusted him with her life, and knew that everything he did was for her, and everything she did was for him. The bond the two had formed was steadfast, and it has finally brought them home.
But still, something weighed on Ellie's mind: what Joel had said in the SUV. In the back of her mind there was a hint of doubt, she couldn't shake the feeling that he had lied. She showed no signs, however, that anything was bothering her, and she jumped up to grab onto Joel's hand and be pulled up to the ledge.
The end of their journey was in sight. They would soon be safe, have a home, and get a chance to make a life that Ellie had never known, and one that Joel had nearly forgotten: a normal life.
Joel turned and began walking towards the town, but Ellie remained where she was. There was something important she needed to say.
"Hey wait," she said, as she grabbed her right hand with her left. Joel turned around and took a couple steps closer to her to listen to what she had to say, but she stayed silent. She looked away, thinking about what she wanted to say and how to say it. Frustrated at herself for not being able to say it, she let out a heavy sigh and bowed her head. Don't beat around the bush, just tell him. She picked up her head and dropped her hands to her sides, and spilled what was on her mind.
"Back in Boston… back when I was bitten… I wasn't alone." Joel could see where this was heading, but was unsure of why she was saying this right now. "My best friend was there… and she got bit too." Joel could tell that this was difficult for her to say, the event had clearly taken a toll that she had done a good job at hiding until now. "We didn't know what to do. And she says, 'Let's just wait it out. You know, we can be all poetic and just lose our minds together.' I'm still waiting for my turn."
Those words shocked Joel when they came out of her mouth. Surely she didn't mean it, right? She couldn't have honestly wished, after all she and Joel went through, that she had died alongside her friend. Joel knew all about that feeling though. He had felt the same survivor's guilt after losing Sarah, only he could have done more to protect her. There was nothing Ellie could have done with her immunity, she couldn't help it.
"Ellie-" Joel tried to reason with her, but she cut him off.
"Her name was Riley, and she was the first to die. And then it was Tess, and then Sam."
Joel recalled what she had said when they discovered that Tess was infected. I'm sorry, I didn't mean for this. It was clear to him that she felt responsible for their deaths, because of her immunity.
"None of that is on you."
"No, you don't understand." But he did. He understood very clearly how it feels to think you're responsible for someone's death.
"I struggled for a long time with survivin'. And you-" his hand went to his watch, but he managed to catch himself and snap back to the conversation with Ellie. "No matter what, you keep finding somethin' to fight for." Tommy had told him that after he lost Sarah, after he nearly ended his own life. The only response from Ellie was a sigh. "Now, I know that's not what you want to hear right now, but it's-"
"Swear to me." What? Where was this coming from? Swear what? "Swear to me that everything that you said about the Fireflies is true."
He took a step towards her and looked her in the eyes confidently, but hesitated just a second too long. Time's up, buddy. "I swear."
There was no doubt in her mind now that he was lying. She looked down at the town, at home. She had a chance to start over, to make a new life with the man she had come to think of as her father. She had no choice but to trust him. "Okay."
Joel walked over to her and put a hand on her shoulder, trying to reassure her. "We all have misfortunes. But no matter what happens, you need to keep strong. No matter how broken you feel, just know that life must go on."
She looked up at the man with tears forming in the corners of her eyes, but she managed to keep them contained. "Thank you, Joel."
He stepped back, motioning to her to follow him to the town. "Let's go, the road's just through these trees right here."
During the walk to the town, Ellie couldn't think about anything except Joel's lie. Despite swearing the he told the truth, she knew he wasn't. Why would he lie though? He's trying to hide something from me. Something happened that he doesn't want me to know about. She pushed the thought to the back of her head when they caught sight of the gate to Jackson.
"Now, the guards are gonna stop us, so let me do the talking and follow my lead." Joel held his hands up in the air beside his head, and Ellie followed suit. About a hundred feet from the gate, the guard in the tower stopped them, just as Joel told Ellie.
"Stop. Identify yourselves and tell me what your business here is."
"My name's Joel and this is Ellie. I'm Tommy's brother and we've come to settle in this town."
The guard spoke into his radio, trying to speak so Joel and Ellie wouldn't hear him, but Joel's sensitive ears picked up everything he said.
"Got a man and a girl at the main gate. The man claims he's Tommy's brother." Joel couldn't hear what the voice on the other end of the radio said, but from what the guard said next he was able to make a guess. "Are you sure? Don't you want to get Tommy out here to confirm it at least?" He waited to hear the guard speak again. "Yes ma'am." Guess he was talking to Maria. The guard lowered his rifle and motioned to someone below the tower. Joel guessed he was telling him or her to open the gate. "Alright, come on through. But keep your hands up as you're walking in."
"Got it. C'mon kiddo." The two followed the guard's orders and walked up to the gate with their hands up. When they got through the gate they were instructed that they could put their hands down, and then they caught sight of Tommy and Maria running up to them. Joel jogged up to meet Tommy and the two wrapped each other in a big embrace.
"Goddamn it's good to see you again, Joel!" Tommy exclaimed as he wrapped his arms around his older brother.
"Yeah, same goes to you." As the two hugged, Joel's eyes rapidly scanned around the town, marveling at what Maria's father had managed to set up.
"So what the hell took you two so long?" Tommy inquired as he let go.
"We got a bit sidetracked," Joel replied, purposely not giving even the slightest detail about the last half year.
"Well, I'm sure you'll tell me at some point." Tommy didn't care that Joel was holding out, he was just overwhelmed with joy to see his brother again. "So how are you doin' Ellie?"
She hesitated at first but eventually replied with a simple "I'm alright."
Tommy looked over the two of them, and could see that they were both tired. "C'mon, you guys look exhausted. How 'bout I show you to your house?"
"Lead the way, little brother." Joel gently grabbed Ellie by the arm, and the two of them followed Tommy to their home. Ellie couldn't fully grasp the concept of having an actual home. Even in the zone she never had a true home, just a place where she lived. She looked around the town with amazement as they walked through the streets. The houses were all still kept in decent shape. Part of her was saying that this wasn't real. It seemed too good to be true. And it got even better as they reach their house.
"Here she is," Tommy said as he handed Joel the key. As Joel received it, he held it up and looked at it like he had just been handed to most precious stone in the world. This was more precious than anything else the world could offer though, it was a symbol of a life to come. A life of peace, safety, and, most importantly, hope. It was a second chance.
He stopped marveling at the key long enough to stick it into the lock, turn it, and open the door. When Joel and Ellie stepped inside their jaws dropped almost in unison. The first floor had a bathroom right inside the door on the left side, a large sitting area and dining room in one, and a kitchen in the back. There was a staircase that went in an L shape on the right side of the room. The wallpaper was even still intact. Pale blue and off-white vertical stripes in the sitting area, and wallpaper in the kitchen was solid pale yellow.
"Joel…" Ellie could hardly speak because she was so overwhelmed by this, but she didn't need to speak for Joel to know exactly what she was thinking.
"I know," was all he said.
Ellie ran over to the right side of the room and belly-flopped onto the couch, burying her face in the cushion. A contented sigh came from her.
"The kitchen's stocked with a bit of food. It ain't a whole lot but you'll probably be doin' most of your eatin' at the diner anyway. There's three bedrooms upstairs and another bathroom." Tommy informed them. "And you won't believe this, we even got runnin' water." Ellie's head quickly snapped up from the couch and looked right at Tommy.
"Are you fucking kidding me?" she asked.
"No I am not. We got it working just last week."
"Tommy, I…" Joel tried to thank him, but the words eluded him. "I don't know what to say right now."
"You don't need to say anything." He shot Joel a smile. "I'll leave the two of you alone now to get settled in."
"Thank you," Joel and Ellie said at the same time.
Joel took off his backpack and set it on the dining table in the sitting area. He was satisfied to leave it there for the time being. He looked over at Ellie on the couch and couldn't help but smile.
"Oh, man. This is almost too much," she said. "I don't think I could get used to this."
"It's gonna take some time, but we'll definitely get used to it."
Ellie took off her backpack and set it down on the floor in front of the couch. "I think I'm gonna take a nap." She tucked her legs in a bit in case Joel wanted to sit down next to her.
Sure enough, he sat down on the unoccupied cushion next to her feet. "You do that. You've earned it." He stared off at the wall on the far side of the room for a while, then turned to look at the girl lying next to him. After almost a year of every day wondering if she would live to see the next, barely managing to survive, she was finally free from all the evil the world had tried to throw at her. He felt a warmth in his heart, and his gaze then turned from Ellie to the watch on his wrist. Ellie had often times made him think of Sarah, but he was beginning to think that she was starting to replace her as a daughter.
Could I really do that? He began to feel like he had betrayed Sarah by allowing Ellie to get so close to him. Have I really replaced my only true daughter for a girl I didn't even know a year ago? They had been through Hell together. They'd both at some point stared death in the face and refused to be defeated. All they had been through together had formed a bond just as strong as his with Sarah, but Ellie could never really be a replacement. No, I'd never do that. Instead of thinking of Ellie as a replacement daughter, she was simply a second daughter.
As he heard Ellie's breathing slip into a soft rhythm, he slouched a bit and leaned his head back. It wasn't long before he was asleep too.
The two were woken up by knocking at the door. Ellie started to roll off the couch to answer the door, but Joel quickly stood up and said, "No, it's okay. I got it." He opened to door to find Tommy and Maria standing there.
"Well, what do you think of the house you two?"
Joel searched for the right words to say, but once again they eluded him. "I don't even know how to thank you Tommy."
"You can thank me later. We got a surprise for you two now." That got Ellie's attention. And she picked herself up off the couch and jogged up beside Joel.
"I like surprises. Well, the good kind of surprise that is. Which I'm assuming this is."
"Oh, this is definitely a good surprise," Tommy assured her. "Now, you two close your eyes and follow us. Keep your hands on our backs so you know where we're going."
The two did as they were asked. Joel was following his brother and Ellie was following Maria. They were led out onto the street before making a left. "Where are we going?" Joel asked."
"You'll see." They walked approximately 200 yards before making a right. They could both smell something cooking. Ellie's mouth began watering at the smell. It was something she had never smelled before. After they stepped off the pavement and onto grass, Tommy and Maria stopped and stepped to the side.
"Okay, you can open your eyes now." Ellie giggled with anticipation. The two opened their eyes and saw a crowd of at least 200 people looking in their direction. They also saw that they were in what used to be a park.
When they opened their eyes the crowd all yelled out "Welcome to Jackson!" It was a party. In the time Joel and Ellie were napping Tommy and Maria organized a huge surprise welcome party for them. The two hardly reacted; they were too overwhelmed to know what to feel right now. They just looked at each other and smiled.
Tommy turned to the crowd and called out to them, "Alright, now you know how it works. They get first crack at the food." He gestured to Joel and Ellie, indicating that he was referring to them. They followed their noses through the crowd and saw a row of metal containers, similar to the ones Ellie had seen at the preparatory school cafeteria. In the first one there was what looked like chicken thighs. She eagerly grabbed a couple of those. In the second there was some kind of mix of vegetables. Normally she wouldn't even hesitate for that, but she could clearly see that there were better options. In the third container she saw shredded meat with some kind of thick brownish-red liquid.
"What's that?" she asked Joel, motioning to the mysterious meat.
"That is barbecue. I reckon you'd really like that. Go on, take some." She used the large serving tongs and scooped some up onto her plate. There was also a basket of rolls on the table. She was feeling ambitious so she grabbed two of them. Joel took note of how much she had on her plate. "Now don't eat too much. Your body's not used to eating so much food."
"Pssh. I'll be fine. Don't worry old man." She grabbed a fork from a utensil bucket, and went over to one of the park benches to sit and eat. Joel joined her on the bench after fixing a plate for himself. "Okay. Let's see what all the hype about this barbecue is about." She got some on her fork, inspected it for a second, and stuck it in her mouth. As soon as the flavor hit her taste buds she froze. She was captivated by the sweetness and smokiness of the sauce, and it all seemed to melt in her mouth. Her eyes closed in delight and Joel saw a stupid grin go across her face, accompanied by an equally stupid under-her-breath laughing.
"So, you like it?" She turned her head towards him with the same stupid look, and simply nodded in response. She swallowed what was in her mouth and began wharfing the rest of the barbecue down. "Whoa! Slow down kiddo." She ignored him. She finished the rest of it and looked at him with a triumphant smirk on her sauce-covered face.
"That may be the best thing I've ever eaten," she proudly declared.
"Had a feeling you'd like it."
"Hey, did you know that you're a shitty cook?" Joel couldn't help but chuckle at her remark. She was right after all. The food there put anything he's ever cooked to shame.
To both Ellie and Joel's surprise, both managed to completely finish their plates. "Oh, man. It's been a long time since I've felt full." She slouched in the bench and rested her hands on her stomach.
"That's something you'll probably be feeling a lot here, so get used to it." He looked at her and smiled, a smile which she returned. "I'm gonna go talk to Tommy."
"I'll be here," she responded. She sat in the bench for a few minutes, thinking about how great it was to finally be settled somewhere. Her mood changed quickly though when she thought about winter. The things she had seen, the things David had done, and what he almost did, have made wounds that she didn't think would ever heal. The physical damage may have healed, but the emotional and psychological wounds cut too deep.
Suddenly a girl about her age came up to her and sat down on the bench. She had light blond hair, like the color of Sarah's in the picture Maria showed her, and it was quite messy. She was shorter than Ellie, who guessed she was maybe 5'1" or 5'2" at the most, and skinny. Ellie was skinny as well, but this girl had a lot more food available to her. There was no reason for her to be that skinny.
"Why are you just sitting here? This party's for you, you should be having fun."
Ellie knew she was right, whoever she was. But the memories of that winter will never go away. She couldn't enjoy herself when she was remembering that Hell. "I've just got a lot on my mind is all."
"Oh. My name's Hannah. I think Tommy said your name's Ellie?"
"Yeah, that's my name."
"Well it's nice to meet you."
Ellie nodded. "Nice to meet you too, Hannah," she replied, even though she wasn't sure she meant it. The last two times she had met someone her age, they both died. She wasn't sure if she wanted to get to know anybody in the town.
Just then, another girl walked up to the bench. She was older than Ellie, and taller as well. She had curly light brown hair that seemed quite unruly. Her eyes were slightly squinted, giving her almost an angry look, but Ellie could tell that she was not an angry person.
"Well hey there, new girl," she said.
Hannah took the liberty of introducing the two girls. "Ellie this is Danielle, Danielle this is Ellie."
Ellie wasn't particularly comfortable with all the company, but she didn't want to brush them off either. "Hi Danielle."
"You can call me Danni if you want." She smiled at Ellie, and she had a smile that could make anybody feel better no matter how they were feeling. "Hannah, can you let me have some time to talk to Ellie?" Hannah obliged, standing up and giving Ellie and Danni some time to chat.
Danni sat down on the bench next to Ellie facing her. "Look… I know you've been through a lot, and I want you to know that I can help if you're willing to talk about it."
Ellie looked at her, perplexed. How can you possibly know what I've been through? Not even Tommy or Maria know, who could have told you? "How can you know that about me? You just met me."
Danni looked directly at Ellie, and put her hand on Ellie's shoulder as a way to try and open up to her. "I have a keen eye for that, a sixth sense if you will." Ellie still seemed confused, but she played along. "When I first looked at you I saw someone who was broken. And you know what? We're all broken in some way. It's just a matter of how well we hide the cracks."
Ellie could tell that Danni felt sympathy, but she wasn't sure why. "How are you broken, then?"
Danni sighed at the question, but felt obligated to answer. She knew that it might help Ellie open up to her. "When I was younger I saw my parents get gunned down by Hunters." Ellie felt the girl's tone change, and saw the grief on her face. "They gave themselves up to the Hunters to try and save me. I managed to escape, but I was so alone and so afraid, I had no way to fend for myself."
Danni's voice started to break as she told her story, and Ellie could feel tears welling up in her eyes as well. She had never known her parents, so she never had a chance to feel the grief of seeing them die.
"I wandered for days. I had no food, and my only water came from some lakes in the area. I found a small town, and went inside one of the houses, and just decided to wait there until I died." She fidgeted with her hands before wiping tears from her eyes. "Later that day, some of Tommy's men found me. They gave me water and some food, and brought me back to town. They saved my life. Let me tell you… I never was one to believe in anything spiritual, but that could only have been the work of some divine intervention."
"Pssh, sure," was the response from Ellie.
"You don't believe me?" Danni asked.
Ellie paused for a while before answering. "I don't know what I believe." Ellie had spent many nights thinking about this, and she had wished that she could take comfort from something beyond her. But she could never bring herself to believe.
"Well here's what I believe," Danni said as she leaned forward a bit. "I believe that there is something beyond our ability to perceive. You can call it a God, you can call it an entity, you can call it whatever you want. But there is something greater than us with a plan. Every person fits into that plan somewhere. When their part is done, they die and move on from this world."
Ellie thought what she was saying was nonsense, but went along with it anyway. "You mean like going to Heaven?"
"If that's what you believe. The reason that didn't happen to me is because my part wasn't over yet. I still have a job to do. That's why Tommy's men found me and that's why I'm still here today."
Ellie thought about what she was saying, and then her mind drifted back to the university last fall. Joel should have died that day. I mean, I managed to stitch him up and find medicine, but maybe there was something else at work. Part of her mind thought that there was some merit to what Danni was saying. "You know, you saying that's got me thinking."
"Last fall, Joel and I were at this university. He got impaled by a rusty piece of metal. I got him out of there and stitched him up but… maybe he got help from something greater than me." Ellie paused and looked at Danni, expecting her to reply. When she didn't reply, Ellie just looked down and said "Nah, I'm just rambling."
"No you're not. You're right." The two girls locked eyes after she said that. Danni could see that Ellie needed comforting, and thought that reassuring her that there is a higher power looking out for her would provide comfort. "Look, I'm not saying you have to believe. If you don't that's fine. I'm just saying you should keep an open mind." Danni reached out and placed a hand on Ellie's shoulder, to which she responded with a small smile. "Think about what I said. If you keep an open mind, I think you'll find some comfort."
Ellie could tell that Danni was trying to help, and she was right. She would be able to take comfort knowing that she wasn't alone in this world. The question is: would she be able to bring herself to believe? Even though she didn't believe what Danni had said, at least not at the moment, she was going to take what she had said to heart. It can't hurt. The only thing it could do is help. She nodded. "I'll think about it."
Danni gave Ellie a quick one-armed hug, and left her alone to think about what she said.
Joel and Ellie returned back to their house as the sun had just gone below the lowest ridge around the valley. Ellie walked over and immediately sat down on the couch with her head lowered and her hands folded in her lap.
"Well I'd say that was a pretty good first day here. What do you think, kid?"
Ellie didn't look at him. She had thought about what Danni said, wishing that she could find comfort in it, but finding herself unable to. "Sure," she replied.
Joel walked over and sat down on the couch beside her. "Ellie, is something botherin' you?"
"No, everything's fine. I'm just tired." She tried to play it off like there was nothing wrong, but Joel wasn't buying it.
"Ellie, everythin's not fine, I can tell. Just tell me what's wrong and I'll be able to help."
She picked her head up, and waited for quite some time trying to think of what to say. "What do you believe in, Joel?"
The question seemed random to Joel. He wasn't even sure he know what she meant by it. "Excuse me?"
"Like what do you believe in as far as… as far as religion goes?"
Well that clears up some of it. He still had no idea why she asked him that question though. The two had never discussed this topic, and it seemed odd that all of a sudden she wants to know what he believes. "Why do you ask?"
"I was talking with Danni, this girl in town, and she was talking about her beliefs. And I want to know what you believe."
Joel was still taken off guard by the question. And he wasn't sure how to answer it either. He was brought up Christian and brought Sarah up the same way. But after losing her he strayed away from those beliefs. He felt that he had been betrayed by a deity that was supposedly loving. How could an all-loving god take my whole world away from me? He answered as honestly as possible. "I don't know. And you shouldn't be worrying about this."
"I do worry though." She lowered her head and took in a deep breath before exhaling heavily. Joel could see that she genuinely did worry about this. "I don't like the idea of being alone in this world. And, like, what happens after we die? If when my time comes and... just... that's the end, wouldn't that make my entire life a waste? I don't like that feeling."
Joel could see that she was distressed, and he didn't really know how to reassure her. "Listen, baby girl," he said as he put an arm around her. "I can't tell you if there's any life after this one. But I can tell you that your life is most definitely not a waste. And you are not alone either." She wrapped her arms around him and held her head up against his chest. "You're young, you're safe now, you've got so much to look forward to. You shouldn't worry about stuff like that right now. This is the time to enjoy life. You've never had that opportunity before, so take full advantage of it."
She sniffled, trying to suppress the tears she knew were coming. Every time Joel held her like this and talked to her in this way, she would start crying. "Thank you Joel."
He took his arm off of her shoulders. "Now I don't know about you, but I am beat. What do you say we turn in for the night?"
Ellie let go as well. "Sounds good."
They went up the stairs and Joel went into the bedroom right at the top. Ellie, forgetting she could have her own room now, followed. "Hold on there. You can have your own room now, remember?"
She stopped. Every night for the past year they had slept right next to each other. Joel made Ellie feel safe, and even though she didn't need him to feel safe anymore, she wasn't sure about the idea of sleeping by herself. Still, it's a chance to prove that she's not too dependent on him. "Right," she said as she walked out of the room, closing the door behind her.
Joel laid down on the side of the bed facing the door, a habit he had become accustomed to in order to put himself between Ellie and any dangers that could walk in, and shut his eyes. I give her five minutes. Sure enough, less than five minutes later, she walked in the door. Joel opened his eyes and simply smiled at her, causing her to feel a bit embarrassed. She laid down on the other side of the mattress, giving Joel the space she knew he needed. Within minutes they were both asleep.
That concludes chapter 1 of Brand New Start. In the next chapter: Ellie makes a new friend.