Ellie finishes the dregs of her forth beer of the evening, tapping the neck of the now empty bottle against Jesse's shoulder.
“You know what, that’s why we’re bros, man” She slurs “No drama, no mixed messages, just straight forward, bro-like communication, like bros.”
“Fuck, yeah. I’ll drink to that” Jesse says, cracking the top of another bottle and passing it to Ellie before opening another one of his own.
On patrol, they’d found a long-forgotten stash in a nearby town that, to their surprise, was still good. Squirreling it back to their checkpoint they’d radioed Dina at hers.
“Could use a few extra hands, up here.” Jesse had said, trying his best to sound official just in case her patrol partner was listening.
“There’s some supplies up this way we need some help getting back to Jackson. If you could spare Dina for a little while we’d greatly appreciate it.”
A response from Dina, moments later,
“Eugene’s taking a leak, you can drop the act. We getting shitfaced?”
“I love you little scavengers. See you in an hour.”
They’d cooled their new found stash in a nearby river before returning to their checkpoint, it wasn’t as good as the fridges in Jackson but it was better than nothing.
Ellie wipes her hands on her jeans, setting her bottle down on the decaying coffee table, her drunk mind still somehow clear enough to use a coaster.
“If you and I have a problem; we just fucking say it dude. We just-we, like, we say it”
“You know who’s not being a bro? Cat. Cat’s been so weird lately, dude. Like, fucking, always around and like always giving me little gifts and being super nice to me”
Jesse bounces his foot against the floor, enjoying the warmth spreading through him in addition to his rapid intoxication.
It was hard to tell which was which at this point. He raises his hand like a student in a classroom,
“Pick me, I know this one! She wants something dude. That’s chapter one of the asskissing handbook. I should know, I basically wrote that shit.”
Ellies throws up a hand in frustration, “I don’t have anything, though! It’s always ‘This tattoo sessions on me, Ellie’ and ‘Here, I saved you some Jerky, I know it’s your favorite.’”
She takes another swig of lukewarm river beer, “Why is she being so nice to me? What does she want?”
The pair sit in silence for a moment considering that question.
Jesse stifles a burp, “Maybe she’s trying to bribe you into switching duties?”
“Nah, man, she’s always trading me for my farming shifts and farming fucking blows. Sometimes she’ll trade with someone else to work them with me.”
“Man, no one likes farming duty. Well, except for Dina but that’s beside the point.”
“Hey, no offense man, but Dina-” The name comes out in such a slur it’s almost incomprehensible “Dina, dude, she’s a little strange too.”
“Hey, careful about my girl El, don’t think she won’t kick your ass when she gets here.”
“Not, bad strange, I just mean…In conversation or whatever she’s always so close, she always has to touch you, like on the arm or something. I think it's to make sure she's got your attention, you know?” Ellie runs her own hand over her arm in a clumsy imitation
“and the eye contact, I feel…It makes me feel like she can see through me. You know what I mean? She listens so intently and she asks all the right questions. I always feel like shes studying me but-" she searches for the words "...but in a good way.”
Jesse racks his brain, or he tries to, as his foggy thoughts fade in and out of clarity. Did Dina ever talk to him that way? Maybe when they first started dating but he can’t be sure.
She probably did that stuff all the time and he was just used to it. That had to be it right?
Another momentary silence falls over the room, Dina’s compelling stare at the forefront of both of their minds. Ellie is the first to snap back to the dilemma at hand.
She physically starts as a thought comes to her, lurching unevenly in her current state. It all falls into place in an instant. How could she have been so blind?
“Jesse…you think Cat wants my comics?”
Jesse’s eyes widen, Dina’s conversation habits forgotten “Holy shit dude, she’s totally trying to weasel a Savage Starlight out of you.”
Ellie stands up, gesturing animatedly, “Oh my god, I’m such an idiot. Of course, that’s what it is. She read them all after I told her I liked them and she’s always bringing up the one where Commander Reeve and her girlfriend make it official. I bet that’s the one she’s after.”
Jesse, now with the couch to himself, lays down on it and throws an arm over his eyes as the room starts to spin “We could be like-uh-we’re…Mystery solvers”
“Detectives! We’re like that ancient ass show about those kids and that dog”
Ellie joins him on the couch again, sitting directly atop his now stretched out legs as if they weren’t there. Neither of them seem to notice, “Are you the dog?”
“Very funny. If I’m the dog who’s gonna drive that chick magnet of a van? You?” He wiggles a leg to jostle her as he chuckles “I don’t think so. You could sure use the help on the romantic front though.” His face folds in on itself as his brow furrows. A train of thought was dangerously close to finding a track but it was taking a second to connect all the clues.
Ellie scoffs “If you’re gonna rag on me for being dateless at least -”
He starts to sit up and look at her but the room seems to increase its motion as he does. He decides it’s probably best to just keep talking towards the ceiling.
“Wait, hold on, man. Holy shit! I think Cat fucking likes you, dude. I mean, totally wants you.”
Now it’s Ellies turn to furrow her brow. Likes her? What? “Fuck off.”
“I’m gonna make my case, gimme a second, I’m on some real Sherlock Holmes shit right now-”
“There are these books Maria brought back from- listen it isn’t important, check this shit out” He raises a finger for each point, one arm still slung over his face. “She’s always doing stuff for you; she trades shifts to hang out with you-”
“Shut up, I gotta get through this before I fucking barf. She finds out you like Savage Starlight and reads them all.” He stumbles over the words as his tongue refuses to cooperate “She knows how much you fucking hate farming duty-”
“Everybody hates farming duty!”
“Exactly! She’s not trading you for better jobs because she loves being knee deep in Shimmers shit, dude. She cares about you and-”
Jesse's voice fade to the back ground as Ellie's trys at, connecting the pieces in her own brain. ‘Cat’ was a square peg and ‘Crushing on Ellie’ was a round hole in the recesses of her brain.
Try as she might to put the two together, it just wasn’t happening. Jesse couldn’t be right. He was never right.
“We’re friends” She says, a slight edge of exasperation in her tone “Of course she care-“
“Interrupt me again and I’ll make sure that if these beers come back up it’ll be on those goddamn canvas sneakers you love so much.” He stifles a groan as his stomach churns
“Listen, is anyone else there when you guys do your tattoo sessions? Yas or no?”
“How long do they usually last?”
“I dunno? However long it takes to play two Sick Habit records back to back.”
“She lets you play own music? Especially that trash? I was making another point but this one is better.”
“Fuck off, dumbass, it’s from her collection. It’s funny actually, she remembered how much of a Habit fan I am, so on her last patrol shift she hit up this record shop and found a few more so she could put them on during our-…Jesse, I’m a fucking idiot. Cat likes me” Square peg, meet Square hole.
She’s upended suddenly as Jesse rolls himself off of the couch, both of them landing on the floor.
“We have a winner” He manages, looking sickly as he scrambles out from under her to crawl desperately towards the nearest window. How many runners had he laughed at that looked just like this? Well turns out it wasn’t so funny.
The scene that greets Dina when she opens the door is this: Ellie sitting on the floor, back against the couch, legs splayed, palms pressed against her eyes and Jesse halfway out of an open window, basically turning himself inside out with the force of his retching.
Ellie uncovers her eyes as she hears the door open. She runs her hands down her face as Dina wipes her boots on the mat by the door, “Dina! Oh my god. Cat has a crush…Cat-“
“What? Likes you? Yeah, dude, everyone knows. Subtlety is ,not her strong suite” She closes the door behind her and immediately goes for a beer. Judging by the slur in Ellie voice she had a lot of catching up to do and anyway, a drink sounded great right now. Another dry heave shakes Jesse’s body “My thoughts exactly” Dina mutters, before ripping a beer from its o ring, popping the cap and taking a swig.