Six months had passed
since they had returned to Tommy's. They had built a routine for themselves.
But could never fully immerse into it. They had just been through far too much
to try and live a normal life. Their relationship had its ups and downs. Case
in point was when Joel finally told Ellie the truth about what happened. After
four months Joel could no longer handle keeping it from her. He knew it would
cause a major uproar, and possibly tear them apart. But he could no longer look
at her without her knowing. It of course was not taken well. Initially she ran
away. Stealing a horse again, and causing him and his brother to chase after.
This time however, it took Tommy's wife to convince her to come back to town.
Eventually things smoothed out. Especially since Joel was able to give Ellie the last recorded diaries of Marlene. These helped his case a great deal. In a way this turmoil caused them to grow closer. There no longer was this wall between them. They could finally move on.
Thus, life improved exponentially. They found themselves easing into a lifestyle, one that suited them. They did not hold to the monotony that was their first few months there. No, they created their own rituals. They would wake early and hunt, then collect firewood, or other supplies. Hard labor suited them. In a way it helped fill the void of their past strains.
Evenings were a special time for them. Joel crafted a small table for in front of the couch, and they would have their meal together sitting back on the couch with their legs up on this table. Though his original intention was to use it as a dining table, this was their treat for the day, and a luxury they relished in. Once every meal was on the run, and that's if they could find one. Now they had more than enough, and were practicing absolute gluttony, by eating on a couch with their feet up. As they ate, they would tell stories. As per usual, after about her fourth helping, Ellie would fall into a food coma. Joel would dust the food crumbs off her, lift her up, and take her to her bed.
Heading back to the couch he picked up the remnants of their meal, and packed them away. After all was tidied up, he slumped down on the couch. Looking around, he took in his surroundings. The town had converted old shipping containers into housing. Along their narrow house were short partitions, and half walls. He could see Ellie sleeping in her bed from where he was. He could not believe how much it relieved him to see her like this. Out of all the regrets in his life, taking her away from the fireflies was defiantly not one of them. And, now that all was revealed about what went down that day, his life finally felt right. There were no more secrets, only new memories to make.
He leaned back and took in a big breath, and stretched his arms up toward the window. A quick flash of light ran across the broken face of his watch through the window. Opening his eyes he noticed the city lights dimmed for a second, then all the spotlights shot on, and the raid alarm rang.
"Awe shit," he cursed out loud, as he sprang up and looked out the window. From beyond the city he could see a concentration of armored vehicles all lined up and ready to fire.
"That's not good." Joel pushed away from the window, and quickly made his way to Ellie.
"Baby girl get up." He yelled through the first blasts from the armored vehicles as he shook her awake.
Ellie grumbled and rubbed her eyes, "what, why? Is it morning... What the hell is that?!"
"No, there is a raid going on. We need to get to Tommy and the others."
"What, fuck! Dammit!" She cursed with a stunned, and far less groggy tone.
"Get dressed, and get your gear."
They quickly got dressed, and frantically packed their bags with all their gear. They were unsure how long they would be gone. In a way they were prepared for this. Over the last month scouts from the village had spotted a higher concentration of tourist in the area. Most hoped they were just passing through, but more and more sighting were made.
Plans were made for emergency evacuation. They had just recently relocated half of the families to a nearby town, which was hidden in an much bigger facility. There they had more access to power, and clean water. It was the intention to move all the families to this new location, it just would have been preferred to not have to leave so much behind.
Dashing down the long stairway, Joel and Ellie found the back entrance to the underground tunnel that lead out of the town. Many families were squishing past them, and frantically running for their lives. Great booming sounds reverberated through the concrete walls, and shook the ground.
"Ellie, where are you? Give me your hand." Joel yelled through the sea of frightened townspeople.
"Joel. I'm here!" She called back, as she grabbed his hand.
They made their way to the end of the tunnel, where they saw Tommy standing at the checkpoint, counting every head that passed.
"Fifty-seven... Fifty-... Joel, Ellie, get a move on. Maria is leading the group to the next checkpoint. "
Joel nodded, and continued down to the tunnel.
It was not till midday that they finally reached the entrance to the new town settlement. Everyone managed to make it, which was a great relief. By late afternoon, all were settled in, and being assigned to temporary lodgings. They were all to sleep in the massive underground fallout bunker.
Joel and Ellie secured a location close to the back exit. They planned to wake early and start hunting. The town needed supplies badly, and they especially needed food. Zipping his sleeping bag shut, Joel grumbled out of discomfort.
"Miss the couch huh?" Ellie snidely remarked, as she turned on her side in her sleeping bag toward him.
"Helped me not feel my age at least." He said hyper extending his neck, which resulted in a loud crack and pop.
Ellie grimaced at this, and followed his example in competition. She however, only was able to produce a low crunch sound.
They both laughed for the next half hour, half at how miserable their sleeping situation was, and half at their realization that their misery was just from poor sleeping conditions, and not anything serious.
Eventually they fell asleep. Joel was dreaming of summer days on his porch, picking away at his six-string, when he was suddenly stirred awake by Tommy.
"Joel, get up. I need you to look at something."
"Eh, what? What is it?" Joel questioned, lifting himself up and reaching for his pack.
"You won't need that. Come on."
Joel quickly put on his boots and followed Tommy up the stairs, into the main control room. There was a dim light throughout the room from all the active green lights of water control units.
"Over here," called Tommy, who was heading to a cluttered desk with a light hanging low over it.
"What's this all about Tommy?"
"Here." Tommy said, handing Joel a leather bound journal.
"What is it?"
"Just read it."
Joel pulled out a chair from the desk, and sat down under the light. Squinting his eyes he looked at the page, he could see hand written cursive writing in dark blue ink that read:
I am the only one left. They killed the others. I can't believe it. I managed to get out just in time. I don't think they know I'm still alive.
Oh god. I don't know what to do. I wish I didn't have anything to do with this. Not like we knew what we were getting into. Perry, insisted we needed this to save the lab. So, I guess we had no choice. We especially had no choice when the government got involved. How could we have known we were going to be responsible for the genocide of mankind. I didn't fucking know, that's for sure.
I did return to the lab after they abandoned it. I wanted to see if I could at least salvage some of my old data. Sadly most of it was locked away. I guess I will have to make it to our safe house. Rene had hidden away some security pass codes and key chips there. Maybe I will be able to try and fix this. All I know for certain is that I cannot trust the government, and I sure as hell can't trust the Fireflies.
Joel quickly scanned over the book, and flicked through the many pages, trying to quickly find out more information. As he flipped through the pages he could see the writing become more stressed. Some pages only had short entries, one entry was not even dated, and just had the single phrase 'Fuck this!' in the middle. As he reached the end of the journal he could see something written in the inner cover at the bottom edge.
Dr. June Ridgemore
Joel looked up at Tommy and gripped the book.
"Well?" Tommy questioned him.
"Well, here is a second chance."
"For what? Another wild goose chase where we almost die, and end up with nothing again?"
"No, Joel. Can't you see. This woman is one of the developers of the original strain. She could help."
"You seem to put a lot of trust in someone you just read the journal of."
"Dammit Joel!" Tommy exclaimed, as he hit his fist down on the desk, crumpling a pile of documents.
"What Tommy?! What do you want me to say? I know for damn sure I'm l not going jeopardize Ellie's safety again. She has been through too much."
"But what about her future. You know from these last few months whenever she gets sick it takes her longer and longer to get better. She needs someone who knows what they are doing. And well... this Dr. Ridgemore may just be who she needs. Fuck, she may be able to help us all."
"And how do you know she will be able to treat her, how are you so god dammed certain Tommy?"
"Here," Tommy ripped the journal from Joel's grasp, and flicked though several pages, then plopped the book in front of Joel.
As Joel scanned the page, Tommy recanted the journal entry. It spoke of the early testing period. How she and her team were slowly becoming aware of what was actually going on, and how they secretly were working of antidote research.
"They were on to something Joel. Ellie could be a key to helping her find a vaccine."
"And what makes you feel like we can trust this person?"
"She is all alone Joel! She made it clear that she would not side with anyone."
"Okay, and how exactly am I supposed to find her?"
"There are slight hints as to where she has been. The last location she mentioned was somewhere on the border of Nevada and California."
"Shit Tommy," Joel said as he rubbed his forehead, and ran his fingers through his salt and pepper hair. "How exactly am I supposed to get all the way over there?"
"We have horses, we can spare a few for you and Ellie."
"Okay? But, we don't even know how Ellie will feel about this. She may event not want to go."
"Fuck yeah I do!"
Joel and Tommy both jumped at Ellie's sudden intrusion.
"Ellie, when did---."
"Come on Joel... Like I said before, this all couldn't have been for nothing." She began to leaf through the pages of the journal, as she leaned over the desk into the light. "Dam this chick writes in cursive, who does that?"
"Well I guess its settled then." Joel sighed. "It's probably for the best. You are going to have your hands full building up this town and helping out with that new baby of yours."
"Hey don't guilt trip me. Ya'll knew that things weren't over yet."
"Yeah... Reckon they weren't ." Joel said as he watched Ellie eagerly leaf through the pages.
Two days later they stood at the back entrance with Tommy and his wife. She was nine months pregnant, could barely stand from the weight, but insisted she needed to be there for this.
"Well little brother, adios again," Joel said as he shook Tommy's hand.
"Just make sure you come back, you got a nephew to help raise."
"Nephew, eh. It's going to be a girl, and you know it."
"You can just pay me when you get back and find out you lost the bet."
Joel laughed at this, and turned to Maria, who was reaching up to give him a hug.
"You be safe out there. Make sure you come back to us."
Joel only nodded at this, and took a few steps back, as he waited for Ellie to finish her goodbyes.
After her hugs, and a few whispered words between Maria, Joel lifted up the gate handle.