Not a single day goes by that Jesse doesn’t regret running through those doors. The seconds it takes to snuff Ellie’s light out, forever damning this world.
It had been just him and Ellie, talking like the old friends they were, and for the first time since he had gotten to Seattle. Ellie seemed hopeful, plan sent in place for a trip home. Dina’s news had settled in and he could tell Ellie would make a great mom.
He remembers their last conversation, how she called him a sap; but how she also opened up to him. They had gotten to planning out a small get together once they arrived back home in Jackson, alcohol included.
“ ‘sept for Dina.” Ellie had joked. If only he knew that would be her last one. He cries over the last words he ever heard her speak, he had asked her a question. Something off the top of his head.
“You okay with all this?” He gestured to the direction Dina had been sleeping and himself. He had seen her look in the direction of Dina, smiling softly before confirming.
“I am, I love her and that’s enough for me.” Ellie shrugged, her legs dangling from where she sat on the stage. A smile gracing her face, his heart breaks ever more. He wish he could go back to photograph that moment, the last vivid moment of Ellie’s life.
He’d do anything to have Dina experience it, she deserved it. Not him. Sure they had all been friends their teenage years but Dina and Ellie have, had, something special. Even he could see it building as the years went by.
To Jesse, Ellie was his best friend. To Dina, he knew they had been soulmates. He never believed in that kind of thing before witnessing them. How sometimes he couldn’t tell where Ellie began and Dina ended. They were two sides of the same coin.
He had turned to catch her smile and was readying his reply when they heard a crash from the front of the theatre, Jesse had cursed and rushed toward the doors.
When he closes his eyes at night, those moments play forever on repeat. Ellie reaching the doors first, her eagerness to help her family coming second to none. He had been a fraction, a half second, behind her. He hadn’t even seen the threat before he heard the shot, and saw Ellie stumble. Life draining in the second it took for him to open his door and throw himself to cover.
She stared at him, her green eyes dulling with each second that passed.
“Ellie?” He whispered in shock. Her mouth moved as if trying to desperately speak to him. He was just as desperate to understand.
Not a single syllable was able to pass her lips as the damage was too much. The forest green eyes that had shone impossibly bright on Jackson’s happiest days dulled until it matched the clouds in Seattle.
In life, Ellie had been loud and spoke of her love for space and the heroes of this world. In death, she was quiet.
Jesse heard the girl named Abby scream at him to show himself and he could not feel anything short of rage. The screams of Tommy reaching his ears before he risked it all and shot straight up, using the only advantage he would have all night.
Surprised at his quickness Abby hadn’t stood a chance, the small child with her meeting a similar fate.
Tommy despite being grazed by the child’s attempt to avenge his friend, ran and threw himself at his niece’s body.
Growing colder as the minutes drew by. She had fallen onto her stomach at the entrance of the room, and Jesse had similarly ran toward her body. Tommy pulled her into his chest, begging, pleading for her to wake up. For this all to be a dream.
The sting of his muscles from their over exertion of the day told him this was no dream. The deep pain residing in his chest told him a similar tale. Jesse stared at the lifeless form of his best friend.
Hoping, that she would show any sign of life. Challenging the memory of a few moment prior when he saw her take her last breath. Living just a few seconds after being shot.
He would do anything to have their roles reversed, Jesse had come from a privileged family. Growing up with both his parents in the sheltered community of Jackson.
Life had been cruel to Ellie, an orphan in the QZ; he would listen to her tales of the terrible conditions and the high stakes of crossing the country. She got to see peace in her life for five short years. Yet life still took from her everything, she had finally gotten a stable parent in her life. Only for it to be taken.
She had just started to overcome the deep trauma and began to see hope and light at the end of the tunnel. Before it was snatched away from her yet again.
Throughout 19 years of life , Ellie Williams had only knowing love and happiness for 5. God how he wished life hadn’t been so fucking cruel to the most empathetic person he had known.
God he didn’t even know how Dina would be able to take this. At that instant, he remembered Dina. Still in the other room, possibly awoken by the danger. He needed to get to her first; to warn her of what lay beyond these doors.
He stood warily, his eyes not wanting to leave the sight of the still girl in her uncle’s arms. Her once beautiful face, now eternally marred by blood and the destruction of a bullet.
Pushing through the doors, he walks down the isles furiously rubbing at his eyes. The water ever falling down his face, making close to impossible to see. The hiccuping in his chest as he cries overpowering his speech. Still he tries to call for his friend.
The stage curtains part and a pale faced Dina appears, cautious but alive.
He walks over to her and his state causes her fears to rise.
“What happened? I heard gunshots?” Dina asks as Jesse grabs her and holds her close. She tries to get an answer from him. Her suspicions rising at his lack of response.
“Jesse. Where’s Ellie, or Tommy?” Dina insists. Her eyes watering as if hoping the reason her beloved isn’t here is because of Tommy.
“Dina. I’m so sorry.” Jesse chokes out. His tears getting the best of him and grabbing on to his friend as she violently shakes her head, refusing to accept his truth.
“No, No, No! Ellie? Ellie!” Dina’s denial becoming palatable pain. Dina clutches his chest to the point where her knuckles are completely white. Jesse can only hold her tightly against his chest. Promising one last time to Ellie, that would protect her family with his life.
He closes his eyes, and lets his tears fall.
Tommy had covered Ellie by the time Jesse had calmed, as best as he could calm a severely distressed Dina. So when they passed the double doors, her face was bandaged, covering the worst of her fatal wound.
Dina had dropped to her knees and cried against her chest. Jesse could only watch as Dina pleaded Ellie to wake up, pleaded for her cold skin to turn warm once more.
Jesse had noticed in the hours prior to the attack, Ellie had placed the hamsa bracelet back on Dina’s wrist.
“To protect you on the way home. I needed it in Seattle and with you sick, you’ll need it more on the way home.” She had said. Jesse hadn’t meant to pry on an intimate moment, but with the cramped quarters they had it was impossible.
He sees Dina taking Ellie’s tattooed hand and cursing the girl, asking her repeatedly why she would taken the bracelet off.
Long after Dina’s tears had run dry, and long after he kneeled beside her. Tommy spoke, he had disposed of the bodies of the intruders.
“We should get going. She deserves to rest at home.”
Jesse cried more in those following days than he had ever in his life.
Dina would break multiple times on their journey home, Jesse picked up the fragments of her soul whenever he could.
He knew it was a losing battle, Dina had broken into a million tiny pieces, and the only person capable of putting her back together lay unmoving in her uncles arms.
She seems so small. Jesse hated it. Ellie was larger than life, she deserved more to life than this.
Upon their arrival back in Jackson, the townspeople mourned the loss of another in their community.
Light still shone through the clouds as the knowledge of Dina’s pregnancy was also celebrated.
The sun had risen and fallen many times before Jesse had been able to leave his parents home. Still like his wounds, time had started to heal his heart. Jesse had been hopeful, Dina had slowly began to deal with her grief.
His friend had used her religion to be more at peace and deal with the sudden onslaught of emotions that came with that final day in Seattle.
Many times he would cross the tiny road that lead to the cemetery and find Dina sitting across from the stone that read her name.
She often had her eyes closed, while she spoke. Many times she would rather look at the sky, staring off into the vast oceans of space and wondered what Ellie had discovered in her travels through space.
Jesse would listen, when he sat next to his friend. He would listen to Dina tell stories from Ellie, and he hoped that in her travels she had discovered a planet full of people with superhuman abilities.
The Miller/Williams estate had been left to Dina, while Jesse would often find her in the main house. He would often walk toward the small garage to the side of the house, to a home that no longer held its resident. That never would again.
He’d sometimes find Dina in there, heavily pregnant reading through the volumes of comics that had belonged to his best friend.
He’d sometimes join her, picking up a book for himself. Other times he’d sit on her couch and reminisce of their time.
On those days, he’d pick up the Society of Champions cards she had collected and rifle through them. As if he hadn’t memorized them. Some of them Dina had taken, for they had been soaked in her blood and she could not bear to look at them any longer.
It was six months after their return, that a small bundle joined the Jackson community.
Born on the first day of Hanukkah, December 21. Jesse smiled as he held Ellie’s son. Cradling him as Dina slept, Jesse couldn’t help but know that Ellie had been watching over them. She had given Dina her child as the first gift of the season.
“Welcome to the world Eli Williams.” He spoke in a soft tone. Dina had suggested she wanted to name her son after Joel as well, and thus his middle name was settled.
Eli was just six months old and still a little tyke, when the clouds turned dark and settled over Jackson.
This time would always remind of them of those they had lost. Jesse had taken the small three month old to Joel’s grave when March had rolled around. Even as a baby he knew of his grandfather.
Now that late May had come, the sky’s darken as if knowing what this day meant.
Dina hadn’t been able to join him, wishing to visit her loves grave on her own. Despite being Eli’s biological father, he knew he would never want to overtake Ellie’s role in his life.
He cared for the small boy, Dina even agreeing to let him be in Eli’s life. Still he spoke often of Ellie to Eli. Never wanting the boy to grow up wondering where his parent had gone, or had they ever loved him.
It’s in those moments with Eli in his lap, that he remembers conversations he’d had with his friend late into the morning hours.
“ Do you ever wonder about your parents?” Jesse had asked her. Dina passed out on the bed in Ellie’s house, him and her sitting on the couch. Drunk out of their minds.
“Of my mom, all the time. My dad not so much.” Ellie had shrugged.
“Why not?” He asked bold by the drink and wishing to understand his friend more.
“ I dunno, my moms note never mentioned him. Marlene said he died before I was born. She only ever told me his name. Angel. Which is fucken ironic.” The girl giggled.
“You don’t miss them?” He asks intrigued by his friends frankness.
She ponders the question for a moment, never really meeting his gaze. Instead looking at the crappy glow in the dark stars they had found on patrol a couple weeks back.
“I dunno. It hurt when I was younger, I never really grew up being around people who cared for me in the slightest. You kinda get used to it. It’s just-.” She stops before she finishes her sentence.
Jesse doesn’t ask this time, knowing his friend will either complete her thought or drop it. He notices her eyes locked into Dina sleeping, before she drops her eyes to the floor.
“I never knew if they loved me. My mom wrote about it, but I never got Marlene to tell me anything about her. Growing up, I started to hate them, For not being there. For leaving me alone. Does that make sense?” She had asked him, vulnerability shining through the drunken haze.
It had then.
It still does to this day.
Settling in with little Eli in his lap, bundled up for warmth Jesse starts off on his favorite story of the trio. Highlighting the day, all three of them had jumped into a near by lake. Ellie being the badass she was, had jumped first into the frozen lake, yelling at her friends as she resurfaced, of the nice warm temperature of said lake.
Dina had shoved him forward before launching herself, they had spent hours afterward struggling to keep warm while Ellie and Dina had ganged up on him to tell the worst cold puns they had.
Eli giggled at his funny voices and he hugged the small boy closer to him, eyes watering as the story ended. His voice catching his throat as he told the little boy, that he was sure that was one of Ellie’s last true happy memories.
The following week Joel had been murdered, and Ellie had set off with Dina toward her death.
“I miss you El. We all do, god I hope you’re bothering the fuck out of Joel. Wherever you two may be. At least your not in pain anymore. Rest easy.” He finishes, standing up letting little Eli place his hand on the cold stone.
Ellie’s last weeks of life had been full of pain, and hate. He just hoped she was finally resting. Free from the pain that plagued her, hoping that she found more peace in that world than she had in this one.
Eli was turning ten when he asked Jesse why if he was his dad, why didn’t he live with his mom.
Kneeling down to his sons height, he told him the tale as old as time. The thought of Ellie no longer caused him the heart wrenching pain it once did, time had softened his hurt. The ache was still there, and many things reminded him of his friend. Yet the pain, was manageable.
He never wanted it to leave, for that meant forgetting Ellie and despite being dead longer than he had known her. He never wanted to forget the impulsive teen that gave him the best years of his life. The years where everything was right, and nothing hurt.
He never shied away from telling Eli of who his other mother was. The romance Ellie and Dina had lasted just months, but in the years they had spent as friends he saw their bond grow stronger and stronger.
And so, he tells this to his son, that though he might be his dad, he was just one part of the boys life.
Dina visited him later that week, thankful of how he handled telling Eli. Jesse smiled at her reassuring her that he would never let the girls memory pass.
Another decade had passed and the Wyoming community had only grown larger. Jesse stood on the precipice of what he knew to be likely the last decade of his life. Patrols had gotten tougher on his body, now in his early forties. He moved nothing like his younger days.
He woke up to his door opening and his son walking in reminding him of their meeting with his mom. Dina. Dina had never gone on another patrol following that fateful day in March all those years ago. She instead found a role leading the town alongside Maria and Tommy.
Feeling more at home with Ellie’s family, and more useful to the community.
“Dad?” Eli asked.
“What was that?” Jesse asked, sitting down to place his shoes on. His back aching more than it had the right to.
“I asked if you could uh, tell me a story about Mom? One you hadn’t told me before?” Eli asks looking at him. Jesse had told him all there was to know about his namesakes, riveting in the stories of Joel and Ellie.
Still there were many that were left untold for their graphic and gruesome nature, Jesse waiting until his son grew of age to understand his mothers protective nature.
Despite being unrelated to Ellie in anyway, Eli grew up to be just like his mother. Not only in the geek loving sense, but also in his personality. Strong and loving, fiercely protective of his friends and family. Eli had made a name for himself in patrols and grew to be a valuable member of the community. He had asked both Dina and Jesse if they thought Ellie would be proud of him.
Each of them gave him a solid yes, with Dina growing tear eyed of the though of her love. Jesse smiling in pride of his son earning both of his names.
“One you haven’t heard before.” He mumbles thinking of memory, from before rage and vengeance had taken a death grip on Ellie’s heart.
“One of our earliest patrols was just me and your mom, Ellie. Dina was on a separate patrol.” Jesse began.
Jesse hadn’t seen the stalker, creeping up behind him. He only jumped at the sound of a gunshot from behind him. Fearing the worst, he spun searching for danger.
Only to be met with the infected twitching as it died, and a smug Ellie holding a shotgun in her hands.
“You really letting some book get you killed?” She asks as she walked over to him.
“As a matter of fact yeah.” He said as he pulled out a worn copy of the missing Superman book Ellie had been looking for.
“Holy shit!” Ellie quickly snatched it out of his hands, putting it in her backpack and zipping it back up. Leaving no room for protest.
“At least let me read it sometime.” He groaned and she shook her head. “Last time I let you do that you got weird chicken on it.” She checked drawers before moving on looking for supplies.
“Ya eat chicken once when reading and it’s the end of the world.” Jesse mumbles
“Too soon dude, too soon.” Ellie replies and he groans exasperated.
They get separated as they search the small strip mall they had found. Ellie was a few stores down when he felt the barrel of a gun pressed to his temple.
“Don’t make a fucking sound.” The hunter whispers at him. Jesse’s heart drops and he complies, when the man asks him to put his hands up he does so.
He hears a scuffle and curses as he assume Ellie does not listen to whoever is manhandling her. Typical Ellie.
He’s brought out to the old parking lot and is told to get on his knees and he complies. Two men are forcing Ellie to walk forward, her arms tied behind her back making the job just a little bit harder.
The shove her to the ground, threatening Jesse if she even moves out of line again.
He asks what they want from them and the hunters reply they want all the supplies they have in their bags and more from Jackson.
Ellie tells them to fuck off and recieved a hit to her head, Jesse pleads then to stop, that they’ll comply.
It’s then that one of them pulls of a crude drawing of the surrounding landscapes. The man behind Jesse pulls out a pen and kneels telling him to point on the map where their camp is.
Ellie’s eyes are furious at this point, but with her hands tied and the three of them with weapons their odds don’t look great.
Ellie started to up the ante on the insults until one of them threatens to shut her up the hard way with a gross smile. Ellie unfazed smiles back at him, saying she’d gladly bite it off him if he even got near her.
The man takes the bait and walks closer to Ellie, his partner looking on in interest. The man in front of Jesse is also looking and he realized this is what Ellie must want.
Ellie later tells him that she used her switchblade to cut her binds, but when she does it’s quick as a whip. One second she’s kneeling before the sick fuck and the next she has her knife deep in his throat.
Jesse takes that as his cue to snap the mans neck in front of him.
unbeknownst to him, The second man had reached his pistol and brought it up aiming directly at Jesse. Ellie jumped in front of the gun, sending a bullet straight through her clavicle, undeterred she dives her knife deep into the mans neck, slicing the tendons and relinquishing him of his life. A second too late and Jesse would have been dead.
Understandably Jesse had been pissed, angry at his friend for risking her life when all they wanted was information.
She had gladly yelled back that they would have been killed the second they gave up any information. He couldn’t stay mad at his friend for long as she was bleeding, but also at her unshaken faith in her actions.
It was just another day of being Ellie, but what she had done wasn’t something most people would have.
“When we got to Jackson Dina yelled her ear off, calling her reckless, stupid every name in the book. You could easily tell she was scared too. “ He left out the part where Dina later told him that, it was while Ellie was staying in the hospital, delirious out of her mind that she spoke of her feelings for Dina. Dina, had freaked out later, in private, but at 17 she knew that what she had with Jesse was nothing compared to what she could have with Ellie.
“That was one of the first times your mom saved my life, god knows it wasn’t the last.” Jesse laughs and sees his son smile at the thought of his mother.
Eli runs ahead of him, eager to meet up with Dina, Jesse turns as he walks by what was once the Miller/Williams house.
Reaching for the door he opens the small garage in the yard, looking at the room that hasn’t changed in decades. Smiling he pulls out a small card he had made for this day.
Placing her very own Society of Champions card on top of the pile she had collected. He straightens up and looks around the room he has forever memorized in his mind.
“Safe travels.” He whispers into the room. He walks back toward the door opening it, Dina and Eli await him for their tradition every spring. Jesse takes one last look into the garage.
“Happy Birthday Ellie.”
He closes the door.