Word count: 19,840
Relationships: Joel x Reader
Warnings: Explicit violence and discussion of sexual themes.
Summary: Joel was a man who you immediately despised the moment you met him. His smug attitude, his boring, one sided conversations. But for whatever reason, you kept finding yourself being stuck in situations with him, even asking him to make you a guitar. If you hated this man so much, then why did you enjoy being around him so much? And how would you react to a revenge driven woman trying to come into your town to kill him?
Wow. This story took me WAY too long, seeing as how I wanted this to be a quick one shot, but it ended up being an almost 20,000 word story. This is honestly one of my favorite stories that I have written, if not my favorite. The slow burn, the character development, the character interactions...ugh. I HIGHLY recommend that you listen to the songs that I have implemented into the story during the written parts where they are included to get a real vibe of the story. Anyways, thank you so very much for reading this story! I put a lot of effort into it so I really hope you enjoy it as much as I do. Our man Joel really needed some love so I tried to rain him in as much love as I possibly could. Also, the title is weird but you’ll get it once you read the story <3 Enjoy my loves.
You hated Joel the moment you met him. While hate is definitely a strong word, it was the only word that perfectly encapsulated the way that you felt about his arrogant, passive aggressive attitude. He was always so smug, he carried such a demeaning composure that drove you insane, and not in a good way.
You recall the day, driving in your shitty old car that you had since the end of the world happened. It had way too many miles on it, it was practically unbelievable that even still even ran, but it never failed you. The scrape of rocks against the cars’ tires were lost underneath the deafening sound of Fleetwood Mac playing through your speakers, and you didn’t waste any time shouting out the lyrics as you sped past all of the abandoned cars within the grassy streets before you.
Never really having a close family or any need to sit in one place, you found yourself traveling from area to area instead of joining groups. While it was quite lonely, it was what you preferred. No drama, no strings attached, it was the best way to practice your survival. You preferred the rush of the wind against your face as you raced down the barren streets of Wyoming, your only company being your car, your gun, and the sound of familiar music filling the small space. The best way to survive was to keep moving, so that’s exactly what you did.
Something that you enjoyed was collecting records whenever you were within an unfamiliar city. You did it often while growing up, and while you didn’t have a record player to play your music on due to not having electricity, you still chose to go store to store in order to add to your collection. Today you were on the hunt for Point of Know Return by Kansas. It was an album that you listened to on repeat with your dad when you were younger, and you’d been looking for it for ages. Today was going to be the day.
The deeper you got into the city, the more anxious you became, even turning off your music in order to focus on the scene in front of you. Pretty soon you weren’t on a long, empty stretch of road, but instead on a crowded street full of cars and rotting corpses. No matter how much you traveled, you always got extremely nervous anytime you got deep into the city due the idea of stumbling upon the unknown. Whether it was raiders or the undead, there was always a threat you had to be aware of.
Luckily, it didn’t take you long to find the record store, tracking it on the map that was on the seat next to you. In and out is what you planned, not wanting to be in town for more than an hour to avoid detection.
Putting your car into park, you reached into your glove compartment and pulled out a small handgun, the same one that you had been using since the fall of civilization. Thankfully, you never really found much reason to use it. You were always careful and quiet in an unfamiliar area, and since you were always moving and never stayed in one place, you never ran into people. While that aspect of your life was lonely, it was safe.
After making sure your gun was loaded, you quickly cut off the car's engine and prepared yourself for what might possibly happen within the next few minutes. In and out, that’s what you had planned.
You climbed out of your car, locking it while simultaneously cocking your gun as you trailed across the sidewalk. The city was silent, the only noise coming from the birds flying above the tall skyscrapers. The air was humid and sticky, being as it was right in the middle of summer. It was becoming almost unbearable, mostly because you didn’t stay in an air conditioned house, but instead slept in your car almost everyday. Regardless, you would take the heat over the harsh winter that you knew would come up quickly within the next few months.
You sighed, thinking about the heat, before finally opening the door and moving into the dark store. There was a sound of something dripping that echoed in the otherwise silent building. Pulling out your flashlight, you lifted your gun and started searching through the large shelves placed around the room, some of them tossed and thrown over from looting.
Quietly, you searched for the “K” section in hopes of finding where Kansas was organized on the shelves. After looking and not finding anything, you exhaled in annoyance, kicking a shelf that was to your left. Surprisingly, you heard a loud bang as albums slid out from the back of the old shelf, ones that were hidden and stuffed behind the lining of the wood.
And there it was.
“No fucking way,” you laughed out loud, violating your typical rule of not speaking during runs. This was an exception seeing as how the album you had been searching for almost forever was lying on the ground in front of you. Leaning down, you reached out and picked it up, seeing that it was still wrapped in plastic and in mint condition. How did you get this lucky?
To your surprise, your celebration was interrupted by the sound of distance gunshots, the noise echoing through the typically quiet city. Instantly, you sobered up and became serious, ducking behind one of the shelves and aiming your gun towards the front door.
What the fuck could be going on out there? On the drive in, you didn’t come into contact with anyone, and didn’t see any runners. Could you have been followed? Why would anyone have followed you? What if they tried to steal your car? It wouldn’t have been the first time someone was that bold. On top of that, the gunshots were getting closer to where you were hiding.
Thoughts rushed through your head as you tried to consider your options, the options being either stay in the store and wait for whatever chaos that is occurring outside to pass, or to make a run to your car. If you were to run, there was a chance of you being shot at, but if you stayed, you could get trapped within the city. Fuck, what should you do?
Before you had a chance to decide, your options were decided for you. The door of the record store was thrown open loudly as two figures rushed in, to which you quickly threw yourself down onto the floor behind the shelf in order to not be spotted. Your heart was pounding through your chest, your head becoming fuzzy from fear as you hugged the ground below you.
“Get some of these shelves in front of the door before they make it here!” someone shouted. It was most definitely a man, his voice huff and heavy as he commanded for the other person to get a move on.
You heard the shuffle of wood against the cold concrete floor as they both pushed the shelves down to the record store's door, not wasting any time on boarding it up. At least now you knew that it wasn’t a gun fight, but instead that these two people were being chased by the fungus infected undead that were hidden in the city.
Not knowing whether or not you should politely introduce yourself, you chose the latter, which was to continue hiding behind the shelves in hopes of the two strangers leaving within the next few hours. While it sounded extremely undesirable to keep sneaking around the record store, you couldn’t exactly leave and you didn’t know how they would react to seeing you. Strangers nowadays were ruthless, violent, especially men. And knowing that there was at least one gruff sounding guy standing out there, you didn’t want to risk anything.
“Looks like we’re going to be spending the night here El,” the man said, shifting something around as the floor squeaked under his feet. Although you wanted to see what was happening, you didn’t want to risk being spotted. So you sucked it up and continued to lay on the cold, wet floor as you strained to hear what exactly the pair was talking about.
“I told you crossing through the city was too dangerous,” a female voice grumbled back, to which she got a scoff from the man.
“You’re the one who ruined the other route for us. Blowing up that bridge was one of the dumbest ideas you have ever had, and that’s sayin’ a lot,” he mumbled back, but you could hear the hint of a playful tone in his voice.
So were they a couple? Father and daughter? Or just two strangers that were thrown into a situation together? Regardless, it was clear that they had been traveling together for quite some time, and trusted each other.
“Well hopefully they don’t send anyone out looking for us. We shouldn’t be more than a few hours away,” the younger woman who you presumed was “El” replied. Looking for them? Oh god, maybe you dug yourself into a bigger hole than you anticipated. If they were a part of a bigger group, then that means that they might be a bit more hostile.
“All we can do is wait and be quiet until the herd passes. Get some sleep, it’s going to get dark out soon. We’ll take turns keeping watch,” the man replied, to which he got a grunt of appreciation, and you once again heard shifting.
Okay, just a few hours of laying there and then you’d be scot free. No problem.
Except that since you had been driving almost all day, you were exhausted. Soon after their voices quieted down, you found your eyes becoming heavy and tired. You didn’t want to fall asleep and get caught off guard, but you also knew that if they left or were attacked, you would hear a commotion from them. It didn’t take long for you to fall into a peaceful sleep.
“Ellie, get over here!” shouted the male voice, except for the fact that the voice was much closer than before. Almost as if it was right behind you. You woke up from your sleep suddenly, turning back to see a man towering over your sleeping body, and before you had a moment to react, he grabbed the back of your hair quickly and yanked you up, the hot barrel of his gun pressed against your skull.
‘Oh god, oh fuck!’ you thought, scrambling to pull your gun out of your front pocket, but your actions were halted by the mysterious man, who removed the gun from your head and instead, hit the back of your hand with it. Your gun clattered to the floor, and you finally saw the woman come into view as she grabbed your weapon and pointed it at you.
The man returned the barrel back to your temple, this time cocking the gun, as all three of you eyed each other. His grip on your hair was becoming unbearable as you whimpered in his grasp, to which he grabbed an even bigger handful and pulled your head back with a jolt. He placed his lips next to your ear as you waited for his next few words.
“Who the hell are you and why the hell are you here?” he asked, his tone deadly serious. Your eyes reached the eyes of the small woman in front of you, your gun still being pointed at you. She was young, no older than twenty, with a noticeable scar across her face. Her light green eyes pierced through yours as she also cocked your own gun at your face.
“Answer him unless you want your brains on the wall next to you,” she demanded, a chill running through your spine at her words. They were quite serious, and you weren’t sure if you should be honest or lie.
You decided to nod towards the album that was laying next to your sleeping body, to which Ellie’s eyes shifted down to, a look of disbelief on her face.
You nodded quickly, to which the man scoffed and pressed the gun deeper into your skin, causing you to cry out in uncomfortable pain.
“Wait Joel, I think she’s being serious,” Ellie said, lowering your gun in an attempt of calming him down, wanting the situation to deescalate as much as possible. For whatever reason, it worked. He pulled the gun back from your skull and loosened his hold on your hair, giving you a chance to regain your thoughts.
“So you’re tellin’ me that you walked this deep into the city just to find a piece of shit record?” he interrogated, quite obviously not believing your story. And the piece of shit record statement was a bit harsh, right? You felt yourself becoming increasingly annoyed with the man, from your hair being pulled, the gun pressed against your head, and now this cross examination? You didn’t even do anything wrong.
“Obviously I didn’t fucking walk into the city, I drove. And you can check my car for all of my other records if you don’t believe me,” you snarled back, just as sarcastic as the fucker was being towards you. At this point, you didn’t really care about your consequences. To your surprise though, you saw the girl before you looked incredibly interested in your statement, not even bothered by your sarcasm.
“You have a car?” Ellie questioned, to which you mumbled a yes in return. Duh.
Ellie looked up at the man, shrugging, obviously sharing a mental conversation with each other. Oh god, they were going to steal your car, weren’t they?
“Could you at least let go of me please? She has my gun, it’s not like I can pull anything with you two anyways,” you asked, getting extremely tired of the feeling of the man on you. You heard a loud huff as the man threw you to the side, making your body hit against the hard wall next to you. An annoyed sigh slipped past your lips as you regained your footing and finally had the chance to see the man who had a gun against your head.
He was older, probably a good eight to ten years older than you if you were to guess. His hair was greying, along with his beard, and he had a tired look on his face. That, along with wrinkles, proved that this man had been living a long, rough life. Just like everyone else in this hell scape.
He was no longer paying attention to you, but now focused on Ellie, probably due to her suggestion.
“Absolutely not,” he began, but was quickly cut off by her.
“Oh come on Joel! They seriously need this medicine, and if we can get a ride back, then we would be able to get back in half the time we anticipated. It wouldn’t even matter that we were stuck here all night,” she begged, trying her best to convince the man, Joel.
“I can drive you guys wherever you need me to. As long as that means you don’t kill me,” you half joked. You were being deadass though. You didn’t know why you were offering in the first place, but it seemed as if you either drove them, or they would steal your car. And you really liked your car.
Joel looked at you, clearly annoyed that you were speaking out loud in the first place. It sobered you up quickly, making you dart your eyes away from his gaze briskly.
“Come on Joel, we have her gun and it’s not like she could take down both of us. It’s Houser we’re talking about. He really needs medicine. We could get out before we make it to town and she’d be on her way.”
You looked up to see Joel sighing and shaking his head, running a large hand down his face at Ellie’s words.
The room was silent for a moment as Joel considered what to do. Finally, he turned towards you and raised his gun again.
“You’re takin’ us home. It’s daylight out, and the clickers are all cleared out,” he commanded, no suggestion in his voice as he walked away from the two of you, Ellie shooting you an apologetic smile before following Joel.
“Oh, and the next time you are tryin’ to hide, make sure you don’t fall asleep next time. You snore loud as hell,” he said loudly as he walked outside to the street. Fucking asshole.
“So what’s your name?”
You didn’t expect the sudden question from the younger girl, so it took you a second to realize that she was actually speaking to you.
“Oh shit, right, I’m y/n,” you replied quickly, focusing your eyes on the road. You had been driving for about an hour, and the car was extremely uncomfortable and awkward. You appreciated the fact that Ellie was actually trying to hold conversation.
“Oh cool. I’m Ellie, and that’s Joel.” she replied, leaning in between you and the man in the passenger seat. You saw Joel shoot her a look before shaking his head, but Ellie didn’t pick up on the hint.
“So what are you doing all by yourself?”
Hm, good question.
“I guess I just never felt the need to be with anybody else. It’s easier to survive that way,” you replied bluntly.
Your response really killed the mood, leaving the conversation off on a sour note. Ellie hummed in response, but besides that, the car was quiet once again.
The ride back felt a lot longer than it needed to be, mostly because Joel was intentionally shifting his gun around in the passenger seat in order to prove a point that he would kill you if you gave him a reason to.
Ellie had eventually decided to sleep, knowing that Joel would wake her up if he ran into any problems with you. Which he wouldn’t. You were sure to be on your best behavior in order to not piss the guy off, seeing as how you saw how aggressive he was even when you didn’t give him a reason.
He kept giving you directions quietly, obviously not wanting to be in the situation in the first place. You guessed that this ‘Houser’ person was important if it made Joel get in the car with you. Thank god for Houser.
Instinctively, you turned up the radio a bit, wanting to distract the awkward feeling in the air with a bit of music. You hummed along quietly, not wanting to wake up Ellie as your car sped across the empty street. It felt good to be back in familiar territory and out of the city.
To your dismay, you noticed Joel turning down your radio with a grunt before leaning back in his seat.
“Hey asshole,” you said, directing your gaze to the entitled prick sitting in the seat next to you. He looked back at you with a look of interest and annoyance as you continued to speak.
“This is my car, and I’m doing you a favor. You don’t have a right to touch my shit.”
He laughed gruffly and rolled his eyes at your statement.
“Yeah, well, it’s either sit here in silence or I dump your ass on the side of the road and take your car. Your choice.”
Silence it was.
A few more hours passed, Ellie waking up close to the end of the trip, and Joel told you to go ahead and slow down.
“Okay, this is where we’ll stop. We can walk from here,” Joel said, motioning for Ellie to go ahead and get out.
“Oh come on Joel. She took us this far, you don’t think that we should at least offer for her to come and meet everyone?” she questioned, to which Joel huffed and shook his head.
“Ellie, you can’t trust every person you meet.”
It wasn’t like you weren’t sitting right there and could hear everything that they were saying… jeez.
“Come on, don’t you want to come? That’s the entire reason for our town, to take people in,” Ellie expressed, turning her attention towards you. Her words were passionate, and you were surprised that she was all for having you come and stay with them. But that would be breaking your typical survival skills, which was avoiding relationships and large groups. Being alone is what protected you. Larger groups only ever spelled trouble.
“I don’t know. I don’t usually travel with anyone. You guys are actually the first people I’ve talked to in months.” you replied quietly, Joel and Ellie’s eyes on you.
“Isn’t that lonely? Wouldn’t you want a place of your own where you can still have neighbors and even plug up your record player?” she asked, gesturing to the pile of albums in the seat next to her. Wait, they had energy?
“You guys have electricity?” you asked, not believing her words.
“Well yeah, of course,” she said.
That definitely changes things. Instead of sleeping in the cold, upcoming winter outside in your car, you could have a warm bed. The winters here were becoming increasingly intense and hard, practically blizzards. Maybe it was time for a change. Plus, you could always leave.
“Yeah, I’ll check it out I guess.”
Ellie cheered, clapping her hands, to which Joel rolled his eyes, sitting back in his seat. You guessed that you were really going to see what exactly the hype was.
The hype was valid. Jackson exceeded your expectations tremendously.
It was basically a slice of paradise in the savage world you found yourself living in. The closest thing you’d get to normalcy.
Along with that, you loved Tommy and Maria. It was unbelievable that Tommy was related to Joel after seeing what a goofball he was. Regardless, the couple put a lot of faith in you, and trusted your story of not being a part of a larger group from the get go. They were also the ones who showed you around town and introduced you to everyone, along with giving you a new home to stay at.
You couldn’t believe that you would have your own place, with a shower and clean clothes and electricity. You immediately set up a room in your house to show off your large collection of albums, excited to spend a large majority of your time relaxing there.
Truthfully, it was a bit overwhelming. The first few weeks of being in Jackson, finding yourself having to interact with so many people constantly was beyond intense for someone who hadn’t been around other people for years.
You found yourself often hiding in your house, except for when you would be outside of Jackson running errands and finding items for people. Word got around that you were a talented runner, and many people quickly began to flag you down to go out and find specific, random items for them. After convincing Maria that it was a good way to make the people of the town happy, and that you would share a portion of your trades with the different shops within town, she was content with the idea of you going in and out, as long as you let her know beforehand.
It was a good way to get your own peace and quiet, your own sense of normalcy, while still being surrounded around a larger group.
And for some odd reason, you found yourself spending time with Ellie. You hadn’t seen Joel since you dropped both of them off in Jackson, but Ellie frequently visited you so she could see how you were settling into the community which was something that you found extremely admirable.
You even eventually invited her to stay and listen to a few of your records with you, showing her some of your favorites.
“So this was wayy before your time little lady. This is my most favorite album ever, the Sweeney Todd musical. It’s really long but you’re about to sit here and listen to it with me so get comfortable,” you said, tossing a pillow down on the floor next to Ellie before laying yourself down.
She didn’t seem to have any objections, but instead threw her head back down on the pillow and listened to the album with you.
Moments like this, you appreciated a lot. Ellie was one of the only people in town that you truly enjoyed being around. She talked a lot about her life, her childhood. She was sure to leave out mentions of Joel, knowing that the two of you didn’t click. She was just such a good kid, and you were happy to call her a friend.
“She fucking wants to cook them into pies?!” Ellie exclaimed, yelling over the song, making you jump in surprise.
“God Ellie, you haven’t even seen the worst part. The bitch, Mrs. Lovett, is actually insane. You’re not ready,” you teased, to which Ellie shook her head and shut her eyes again, focusing back on the music.
The night pretty much went like that, Ellie being shocked at how far Mrs. Lovett went for love, and how sad Sweeney’s life was altogether. Ellie loved the album though, continually talking about it after you both finished listening.
“Aw fuck,” Ellie said, glancing down at the watch on her wrist, “I gotta go. Joel is probably wondering where I am.”
You sat up and looked up at her standing and rushing to grab her jacket off of the chair you placed in the corner, quickly running back to give you a surprising hug. You hugged her back, shocked that she was being so kind to you, as she pulled back and ran out of the room, yelling goodbye on her way out.
You hadn’t seen a guitar in ages, you had searched every music store you had stumbled along but sadly never uncovered a good quality guitar. If there was a chance you would find one at all, the wood would be soaked and overgrown, and the strings rusted and frayed.
Yet here in front of you was a man walking along with a group in front of your house, the man you were referring to with a guitar strapped to his back. You quickly rushed off of your porch to run to the guy, not caring how silly you looked to the other people walking with him.
“Wait, where did you get that?” You asked frantically, walking up quickly behind the man strolling past you. He turned to you, his eyebrows raised at your distressed question. He moved a bit more towards you, leaving his group of friends as he responded to your question.
“I got it from the carpenter,” he said deeply, a look of interest on his face.
“Well who is the carpenter?” you asked, a look of confusion of your face. You’d been living in Jackson for quite a few weeks but had never heard of a carpenter in town. Why the hell was this guy being so vague?
“You know, the carpenter,” he said, gesturing to the sky, his face scrunched in an attempt to remember the carpenters name.
You stood there with a look of disbelief and impatience on your face as you watched him struggle with his words.
“Fuck, Joel, yeah, that’s his name,” he finally said, an expression of relief drawn on him. Fuck no.
“Are you sure? I don’t think that’s him,” you replied, desperately wanting this guy to be lying to your face. There was no way that an asshole like Joel would be able to make something so beautiful. And there was no way that you were going to go and ask him to make you one.
“Nah, I’m positive, that’s the guy. Had to give him an arm and a leg in order to get one but he does good work. I’m sure he’d make one for a pretty little lady like you.”
“Well thanks, I appreciate it,” you replied quietly, walking away from him. Were you really about to beg the guy that had a gun to your head to build you a guitar? Were you this desperate for a meaningless chunk of wood?
The answer to that question was a definite yes. After asking around, you finally found out where exactly Joel and Ellie stayed, and now you found yourself standing outside of his front door. Nervous wasn’t exactly the best way to describe how you were feeling, but sick to your stomach was much more accurate. You couldn’t believe that you stooped so low into asking this dick to build you something so important to you.
But there you were.
You quickly knocked before you talked yourself out of it, wanting to get this mortifying situation over as soon as you possibly could. Hearing a shift from inside the house and the creak of the floor as footsteps got closer to the door, you tried to compose yourself in a way that made you seem as bored and relaxed as possible. Joel didn’t need to know how uneasy you were around him.
The door opened, revealing the tall, husky man that you hadn’t seen since you got to Jackson. He looked the same, his tired eyes scanning over your small frame as he took in your presence on his front porch.
Wow, what a warm welcome. You didn’t expect any less from him.
You took a deep breath, biting your tongue at saying what exactly was on your mind, and instead put on a friendly smile before meeting his hardened gaze. You were going to try the civil way.
“I just wanted to meet my neighbors! I didn’t know you lived here Joel, how have you been?” you began, but were cut off by a cold scoff and an eye roll from the older man in front of you.
“Well, I have shit to do so come back whenever you want to ask whatever the hell it is that you want,” Joel replied, his voice cold and stern, before turning away from you and preparing to shut his door in your face. Disappointment and annoyance raced through your veins as you shoved your foot in between the door in order to stop him from shutting it, to which earned you a sharp glare from the man.
“Okay, fuck. I heard that you make guitars and was wondering what I had to do for you to make me one,” you said quickly, shifting your eyes from his in agitation. This was absolutely humiliating for you. You told yourself that the next time you saw Joel, you would give him a piece of your mind, but here you were begging him to build you something.
“You play?” he asked, suddenly seeming a bit more interested. While he didn’t seem ecstatic that you were there, he did look entertained at the notion that you might possess a talent with the object you were there for. His usual dark eyes seemed a bit brighter as he waited for your response, opening the door a tad more in order to hear what you had to say.
“I mean, I used to. That’s kind of why I’m here. I haven’t been able to find any anywhere and then I heard that you make them so…” you trailed off, not really sure what else to say.
He leaned back against the door frame as he looked down at you, clearly thinking about the situation being presented to him. His eyebrows were drawn in thought as he finally opened his mouth to speak.
“Yeah, I’ll build you one,” he began, earning an internal cheer from you. You were beyond excited, you were practically a ball of energy from his words. Now you could play along with your records, and practice getting better. It was the last piece to your long standing collection.
“But,” he continued, instantly shattering your mood. You stopped your mini celebration and looked at him, annoyance radiating off of you as he continued to speak. The smug look on his face was enough to make you scream, truly having to resist and restrain yourself from smacking it off of him.
“You have to bring me a comic book back in return. Ellie collects them,” he clarified, obviously not wanting you to think that he liked comic books himself. Which wouldn’t have even been a problem but that is besides the point.
This seemed too good to be true. You were constantly running errands for people around town, forever grateful to Maria for letting you go outside of the walls on your own in order to create your own trade within Jackson. Getting a measly old comic book for Ellie would be a piece of cake.
“That’s it?” you asked, and now it was your turn to be smug. Joel underestimated you, clearly.
“That’s it. Bring it back and I’ll make your guitar the moment my eyes lay on the thing.”
You shrugged, not wanting to open your mouth and accidentally give away how certain you were that you could get this done. Actually, you were going to head out as soon as the next day to get it for him. The sooner the better.
Getting the comic book was just as easy as you anticipated. Joel never specified which one to find, so all you had to do was hit the nearest mall to grab one. Luckily, the mall you ended up going to had been cleared out a long time ago, seemingly like someone stayed there for a while keeping infected out. Since you liked Ellie, you ended up grabbing as many as you could, which ended up being five.
While you expected the trip to take a day or two, you ended up finding the book about five hours into your hunt.
That meant you had an immediate guaranteed ticket for a brand new guitar.
You were waiting outside, the comics tucked under your arm, about to knock on Joel’s front door, whenever you heard footsteps beside you. You turned back to see a girl around Ellie’s age walking up the steps, a large grin on her face.
“Hey! You here to see Ellie too?” she asked before pounding on the door. You heard footsteps running through the house as you replied to the young woman’s question.
“Actually I’m here to see Joel. I’m y/n, it’s nice to meet you,” you greeted. She gave off almost the same exact energy as Ellie, so you could tell you would get along with her easily.
“I’m Dina! And wow, it’s about time Joel has someone visiting him,” she shot back with a wink. Before you had time to even react, the door opened to reveal Ellie. Your face was red at Dina’s words as Ellie greeted both of you, inviting you in.
“What are you doing here?” Ellie asked, a quirk in her eyebrow as she stood with Dina.
“Joel needed me to do him a favor. Is he here?” you asked, to which you got a surprised glance in return.
“Yeah, Joel’s upstairs in his workshop,” Ellie replied, shaking her head in confusion as she walked away with Dina, walking through the house and out of the back door. While you were glad that she didn’t ask questions in front of Dina, you knew that you would hear about it the next time she came to your house.
You took in the large house, much bigger than yours. You guessed that’s what happened when you were related to the people who ran the town. Sticking your petty thoughts in the back of your head, you went to go find Joel. You took in your surroundings, noticing a photo of Joel and a young, blond haired girl on one of the hallway tables that you walked past. Joel had another daughter? You decided to push the thoughts away and continued to make your way through the house. It wasn’t your business anyways. Walking up the stairs, the wood creaking beneath your feet, it didn’t take you long to find the room Ellie referred to.
Joel was sitting at the long desk next to the window, leaning over the desk as he carved a small figure in his hand, the smell of wood intoxicating. The carving in his hand looked like a cowboy on a horse. You also noticed the four beautiful guitars hanging off of the wall adjacent to him. He truly did great work.
He was completely focused, not even noticing your presence even though the floor creaked louder the deeper into the room you got. As you got closer to him, you noticed the splatter of freckles on the back of his neck. You also noticed his forearm, the thick veins popping out it. You never really looked at Joel like this before, and it seemed like this was the first time that you noticed how attractive the man was.
Shaking your weird thoughts out of your head, you pulled the books out from under your arm and tossed them on the desk, the loud smack of the paper on the wood desk making Joel jump. You couldn’t help the smirk that grew on your lips at the reaction you got out of him. He shot you back a glare, carefully sitting down the piece of wood he was busy working on as he reached over to eye the comics you brought back for him.
“Hm. You outdid yourself,” he replied gruffly, “She’ll appreciate it. I guess I’ll start workin’ on your guitar soon then.”
“Awesome. I’ll be going now,” you replied, turning away from him quickly, but you were stopped by him before you could make your way out of the room.
“Hold up, you didn’t even tell me what style you want,” Joel said, spinning around in his chair.
“There are different styles?” You asked, to which he shook his head and chuckled.
“You don’t know much about guitars huh?”
You blushed in embarrassment. Your dad passed away before he could fully teach you how to play, much less explain the makes and models of the instrument. All you knew were chords, that was really it.
“I know a little. I was always more of a singer,” you replied back shyly.
Joel looked intrigued at your statement, his eyebrows raising in curiosity.
“I was the opposite. Well, I’m thinkin’ a Dreadnought style of guitar for you. Simple, classic. Unless you had something else in mind.”
What the fuck is a Dreadnought?
“No, Dreadnought sounds good.”
He could see right through your façade and stood up, motioning for you to follow him. In confusion, you followed him to the wall of guitars he had hanging.
“So, this one right here is a Dreadnought style of guitar. A lot of people like it because the sound is deeper and louder,” he said, tapping the wood and then running his fingers along the body of the guitar. For whatever reason, the act was sensual and slow, and you could only imagine what else those fingers could do.
Wait what the fuck, ew! You did not like Joel, at all. You hated him, right?
“But this one here would probably be easier to hold,” he continued, pointing to another guitar while simultaneously pulling you out of your thoughts.
“I like the first one,” you replied simply, not being picky at all for what Joel was going to build you. You knew it was going to be beautiful anyways. You could tell that he took his time and put a lot of his effort into his work, so you put your trust in the man.
“Well, what kind of color do you want? A light wood or dark?”
It was almost cute how passionate he was about this kind of stuff, really wanting to make sure that you would enjoy the end product. It kind of made you feel bad for only getting a few comic books for Ellie because you knew that it took a lot of effort to make something like an instrument.
“Surprise me,” you replied, smiling up at him. This was the first time that you felt genuinely relaxed around the man, almost enjoying the conversation to an extent.
He nodded and let you know that he would let you know when he finished it. As he walked away and sat back down in his chair, about to continue working on his current project, you decided to show your gratitude.
“Thanks Joel, by the way. I appreciate it, a lot.”
Not turning back, he picked up the small wood figure and gave out a grunt in return to show you that he heard you, and that you were no longer welcome there. So much for enjoying the conversation.
“Seriously?” you groaned to Maria, to which she rolled her eyes at you. She showed up at your house, practically begging you to cover someone’s patrol shift. You had gone a few times with a younger guy named Jesse, a friend of Dina and Ellie. While you enjoyed the patrol, you think you only really liked it because of Jesse. He could tell you didn’t really want to be there so he constantly cracked jokes to keep you entertained.
“Ester said she’s too sick to come out for it today. I know you like doing your own thing but you have to help out too. It’s not permanent, just for today. One quick patrol round, that’s it,” Maria scolded, to which you sighed in return. You didn’t have a choice but to go on this patrol.
“Who with?” You asked, and her reaction is what scared you. She instantly became quiet and shifted her gaze away from yours.
Oh god, please don’t say Joel. While you were both getting along a bit better, you still didn’t want to have to be in an intimate, private patrol with him, just the two of you. He was just so… ugh. Even after you’d stayed in Jackson for a few weeks, he would still act like you didn’t exist. You almost thought he ripped you off about making your guitar until Ellie told you that she saw him sanding down one a few days ago.
“Joel. I know you guys don’t really like each other but I can’t let him go by himself. It’s the rules,” she said.
You stopped arguing. You knew you had to go, so you only decided to nod at her stiffly.
“Okay, meet me at the gate in thirty. It’ll be quick, I promise.”
It was quick. Joel didn’t seem too bothered that you were both grouped together, and actually tried making small talk with you. He asked you a lot about your life growing up, and genuinely seemed interested in your responses. He let you know that he was getting closer to finishing up the guitar, and explained the process of staining the wood on the guitar.
He even surprised you by apologizing for how he treated you when you first ran into each other.
“I just wanted to say I’m sorry for how I acted when we first met. You can’t trust anyone these days, y’know?” Joel started, awkwardly scratching the back of his head as he talked to you. It was clear that he didn’t apologize often due to the embarrassment evident on his face, so you were pleasantly surprised.
“Naw, it’s fine. We gotta do what we gotta do. I get it,” you replied, shooting him a small grin. He looked surprised that you so easily accepted his apology, but you were genuinely over your past experience with him. You saw the person he truly was, and you knew how people had to survive in this world. Couldn’t say that you blamed him for being cautious.
He seemed to appreciate and accept your understanding towards his actions, because he gave you a small smile in return. You hated to admit it, but you actually enjoyed spending time with him during this patrol.
You heard a knock on your door one fall night, not soon after the sun went down. You couldn’t believe that you stayed in Jackson for that long already, but you were beyond happy there.
You rose from your couch, placing the book in your hands on the coffee table centered in the middle of the room as you went to see who was at your door. You knew Ellie, Dina, and Jesse planned to have a game night at Dina’s place, so you couldn’t imagine who might’ve been visiting you.
You opened the door to see Joel before you, along with a large guitar in his hands.
“Hey. I know it’s late but it just finished dryin’ and I couldn’t wait to show you,” he said quietly.
“God Joel, it’s beautiful. Let me get a look at it,” you replied, taking it out of his hands gently before sitting down on your front porch steps. Joel followed you, sitting next to you and watched you eye the brand new creation.
You were both quiet as you examined the guitar, a small smile on your face.
“I’ve always wanted a guitar of my own,” you said softly as you strummed against the tough strings, the feeling against your long fingers nostalgic, “but my dad couldn’t afford it. So we both shared his.”
The air between the two of you was relaxed, warm, as Joel listened to the hum of the notes from the guitar strings. The town of Jackson had its usual quiet buzz, but it wasn’t even noticeable. All you could focus on was the man before you.
“Smart man. I tried teaching my girl how to play, she never seemed interested in it though,” Joel muttered with a chuckle in his deep voice. His heavy eyes seemed lost in thought as he watched your fingers move across the fretboard, his pupils tracking your movement. His lips were curled up into a grin as he thought about whatever was going through his head.
“I thought Ellie played?” you replied, drawing him out of his thoughts, his dark eyes flicking up to yours. You had heard from her friend Dina how talented both her and Joel were at playing the instrument, so his statement made no sense to you.
He shook his head, his dark, gray streaked hair shaking as he leaned back against the steps and looked up at the night sky.
“Nah, not Ellie.”
Not needing much more explanation, you both dropped the topic. You weren’t one to pry on someone who quite obviously didn’t want to explain more. It wasn’t really your business and you didn’t want to annoy him anyways. This was the first time you were both opening up to each other so you didn’t want to ruin it.
“So, what happened to your dad? Is he still around somewhere?” Joel questioned, shooting his gaze back over to yours. The question instantly made you sad, as you typically tried to avoid remembering your dad's last days.
“He died. Before all of this thankfully, whenever I was in college. Cancer.”
Joel’s face dropped at your words, the pity emitting from him obvious. You didn’t want his pity, or anyone’s pity for that matter. Your dad lived a long, happy life, and while it hurt to watch him deteriorate in front of you, you knew that he died content. He watched you grow up, become a young woman, go to college. He was your best friend but he knew that he prepared you for life as much as he possibly could.
“Don’t feel bad for me Joel, it’s fine. He died happy, you know? He didn’t have to live in a world like this. Worry about me every second of his day,” you reassured gently, stopping the strumming to instead shockingly reach across and set your palm carefully against his.
You don’t know why you did it. Maybe it was because you hadn’t been around another human in so long and you were unsure how to convey your emotions in a way that wasn’t weird as fuck. What you did know was that he felt warm against your palm, his large hand radiating a type of heat just from the tender gesture. It was comforting, a refreshing feeling. It surprised you that you didn’t want the feeling to end, but instead, to feel more of him.
It wasn’t shocking that Joel noticed your action, seeing as how he awkwardly pulled away and cleared his throat. You couldn’t really hide your disappointment, but what did you really expect? It wasn’t like you guys were the bestest of buddies. You did him a favor, and in return he did you one. That’s it.
“I guess I should probably head back,” he mumbled, standing up quickly as he nervously ran his hand up and down his thick beard. You didn’t say anything back, instead nodding quietly at his words. While you didn’t expect him to flip your hand over and hold it, what you didn’t expect was for him to run away from you.
“Catch you around,” he replied before stuffing his hands in his pockets and walking away from you. You glanced up, your face hot, as you watched him trail away from you as his boots crunched against the ground lightly.
You and Joel were assigned a patrol route together again. You didn’t mind spending time with him last time, so you didn’t complain when you saw that you were needed this week. You were both waiting for the next group to meet up with you guys to clear off their perimeter, so you both found yourselves sitting on a couch together in the old watch tower. While you were nervous around him, you felt insanely comfortable with his energy now. You also enjoyed that you didn’t have to constantly keep up a conversation with him.
“How’s it goin’ with the guitar? You enjoyin’ it?” asked Joel, breaking the comfortable silence.
Truthfully, you were terrible at playing. It had been so long since you had played that you completely forgot the chords. You didn’t have the heart to tell Joel that it had been sitting in the corner of your bedroom. You tried and tried to keep practicing, but you would constantly find yourself becoming frustrated and exhausted.
“Yeah, it’s good,” you replied, to which Joel scoffed and rolled his eyes.
“Ellie told me that you told her that you don’t remember how to play.”
That little asshole. Well, now you knew not to tell her shit anymore. God that shit felt embarrassing, knowing that you lied to Joel and knowing that Joel knew that you lied to him.
“Sorry Joel, I just didn’t want to tell you that I forgot. It’s embarrassing,” you replied softly, lowering your eyes to the ground.
You heard a shift next to you as Joel moved a bit closer to you on the couch.
“Hey hang on, it’s alright. Don’t feel embarrassed. It’s hard as hell to learn, you should’ve seen Ellie,” he told you, trying to cheer you up. Ellie even told you that she would help teach you to play but you didn’t want to ask that of her. She seemed quieter lately, as if something was on her mind. You didn’t want to add onto that.
“What if I taught you how to play?” He asked, drawing a shocked reaction from you. You glanced up at his face, half expecting him to laugh but he looked extremely serious. His face was close to yours after moving down towards you, and you couldn’t help the drift of your eyes from his gaze down to his lips.
You felt nervous. While you usually felt nervous around him, it was for a different reason. Typically, it was because he was a timid guy and you didn’t want to do anything to embarrass yourself in front of him. Now, you felt nervous because you wanted to be around him more and more. You wanted to talk to him about his life and get to know him better. You were nervous, because he made you anxious whenever his hand would brush against yours as he gave you the pen to sign your name off with in the patrol book.
“I don’t know Joel. That’s a lot to ask of you.”
“I’m offering,” he said bluntly, seeming like he wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Your answer was cut off though, due to the door to the room being opened by the next patrol group. Joel greeted them, and updated them on what exactly you guys had seen during your time together. It wasn’t exciting, just a few runners that you both killed very quickly.
While Joel was talking to them, you couldn’t help but think about him and how much you found yourself liking him. He was truly a great guy. A good dad, a good friend. You never imagined that he would be the kind of person that he is. While you hated to admit it, you realized that you might have a small crush on the man. It wasn’t surprising, seeing how he was an attractive man who gave you a lot of attention. A really attractive man.
“You ready to go?” Joel asked, nudging your foot with his to pull you back to reality.
“Yeah, let’s head back.”
It had been a little over a year since you had resided within Jackson. While you were usually a loner, you found yourself becoming extremely attached to the town in a way that you didn’t anticipate. Having your weekly trips in and out of Jackson in order to scavenge was an escape that was much appreciated, but your calls were getting closer the more you went out. You weren’t sure if it was because of the upcoming winter, or if you were just becoming careless, but your encounters with the dead were becoming very close.
It was something that Joel did not find amusing. You would always come back and share the details of your trips over dinner with Joel and the kids, and while the kids would gasp in awe of your near death experiences, Joel did not find them entertaining in the slightest
You actually ended up taking Joel’s offer on letting him teach you how to play. You were almost as good as Ellie, and nowhere near as good as Joel just in the few months of practicing. You both would often spend time at each other's houses, playing and practicing together. It was an experience you didn’t anticipate spending with Joel, but you would be lying if you said you didn’t enjoy it.
Speaking of Ellie, Joel and her were on really bad terms. While she was once tolerating him, joining you two for dinner and all that jazz, she was now not talking to him at all. One night he came over upset, telling you how Seth said some homophobic shit at the dance and Joel called him out, but Ellie got pissed at Joel for interfering. After that, she’d been staying with Dina, who she’d been dating now for a few weeks.
Joel seemed genuinely upset that Ellie moved out and stopped talking to him, but when you pressed to ask what exactly happened for her to be so mad at him about, he froze up and dropped the conversation. You knew there was something being hidden from you but you didn’t want to keep trying to pry information out of him. Instead, you comforted him and told him that she would eventually come around. She loved Joel, everyone knew that, but kids sometimes went through phases. He just had to realize that.
“Are you listening? You’re up,” Maria said, bringing you back into reality. Ah yes, the concert. Every other week someone would host a small get together at their house, and this week you were actually invited to play since word got around that you’d gotten better at guitar. You would usually attend to watch Joel play, and even Ellie a few times but it was weird to be the one who was up to sing.
There weren't a lot of people who would come, just the usual Miller gang and a few other singers in town. You’d never performed in front of anyone before so you were nervous. While you would play in front of Joel, you never sang in front of him. You had been practicing religiously all week so you really hoped you wouldn’t fuck it up.
You invited Ellie to come watch you play, but the moment she heard that this week's concert would be hosted at Joel’s place, she turned you down. You knew whatever happened between them had to be serious for her to risk upsetting not just him, but you. Luckily, you understood not to take it to heart. Regardless, Dina and Jesse were still there to show their support so at least you had someone besides Joel, Tommy, and Maria.
You breathed out deeply as you made your way into the center of the living room, one that you found yourself in more and more often lately. You and Joel had been spending a ridiculous amount together from practicing with him, and most of the time was spent in his living room.
“Okay, we got y/n up everyone!” Tommy cheered, to which everyone in the cramped living room began to clap. There was a decent audience, probably of about 15 people. The thing was, was that you weren’t nervous about singing in front of them, but of Joel. He was perched on the edge of the large couch he had positioned in the living room and watched you as you situated the guitar he created for you, tuning it to the pitch of the song you were going to sing.
He looked thoughtful, almost eager as you finished getting yourself ready. He tried numerous times to get you to sing in front of him but you always felt too shy. The only person you ever really sung in front of was your dad, so it meant a lot to you to have such an excited audience.
“Okay so I’m sorry if I’m really bad at this,” you began, to which Dina and Jesse booed loudly, getting glares from some of the older folks in the room. You couldn’t help the snicker that slipped past your lips at their actions, and you will admit that it made you not feel as nervous.
You glanced back at Joel, and this time he noticed your gaze. He gave you a wink and nodded at you as Tommy took a seat next to him, both of them ready to hear you play.
Here goes nothing.
A quiet tune began to hum out of your guitar as you started to play the song.
“I sent you the sun.. from my hometown, and Chicago, and Atlanta. Sinking at the sight of your shadow, on the sidewalk in Spain,” you began to sing, the room quieting down as everyone listened to your voice.
You were too nervous to look up from your fingers moving across the neck of the guitar, so instead, you focused purely on that in order to make your way through the song.
It felt as if it ended quickly, probably due to the pure adrenaline rushing through your veins from performing in front of everyone.
When you came to a finish, the entire room clapped and cheered, the noise exhilarating and rewarding.
You finally glanced up to see Joel watching you, a huge grin on his face. Oh lord, you knew he wasn’t going to let you live this down.
The rest of the night went by quickly, and everyone was fast to compliment your singing. It made you feel good, and this is when you realized that you were truly a part of this community. To know that people were excited to see you around town, ask you how your day was going. It meant a lot. A few more people performed before you realized how late it was getting.
You and Joel were sitting next to each other, watching Houser play a Pink Floyd song at the front of the room (Yes, you did finally meet Houser!). Your legs were touching, your knees leaning against each other’s as you placed your hand on his shoulder, leaning into his ear.
“I forgot that I had to get going a little early. I have to get up tomorrow and go on my medicine scavenge,” you whispered into Joel’s ear, being careful not to disturb the audience.
That was something that you and Maria had decided that would be a good help to the town. It was hard to trade with people who would come and go into Jackson for supplies, and to look around town to find good medicine. And with the upcoming winter, it was always good to be prepared. Due to that, you decided to go four to eight hours away from home in order to look for medicine. Joel didn’t really enjoy the idea when you first brought it up to him, not wanting you to go so far out alone, but you convinced him that you would be fine.
Joel nodded in understanding of your words before he turned back to you, leaning towards your ear. The close proximity almost made you melt, his beard brushing against your hair as he began to speak.
“I’ll walk you home after this one. Tommy can hold down the fort until I get back,” he whispered, his lips extremely close to grazing the shell of your ear. You nodded in response as you blushed quietly. You were never going to admit it, but after this past year, you found yourself head over heels for Joel Miller.
“Hey, wait up,” you heard from behind you. You were at the gate bright and early, just about to leave to start your scavenging trip, but Joel decided to come by and see you before you left.
“Oh hey Joel. What are you doing here?” you asked, turning towards him and shooting a smile.
“I wanted to see you before you had to leave,” Joel said, almost shyly. It wasn’t like the big guy, he was usually much more reserved and passive. You didn’t expect for him to show up and say goodbye, and you certainly didn’t expect for Joel to be exposing his feelings like this to you. It made sense due to the close calls that you had been experiencing, but he should have known not to worry about you. You were as slippery as a snake on the outside, and knew how to wiggle your way out of uncomfortable situations.
You noticed the man standing at the gate becoming impatient, so you knew you had to wrap this up soon and move along. You wouldn’t be out more than a day, Joel knew that.
“I have to go, sorry Joel. I think our buddy over there is about to shoot me if I don’t hurry up,” you said, impatiently shifting from foot to foot. You were so excited to leave, and Joel knew that.
“Yeah, I’d like to see him try,” he growled deeply, shooting his dark, brooding eyes over to the guard. You’d be lying if you didn’t feel something from the possessive tone in his voice. The guard heard the interaction and awkwardly looked away, his face flushing red. Regardless, Joel sighed and nodded before suddenly grabbing you and pulling you into his strong arms. He felt almost overwhelmingly warm, his jacket opening in a way that allowed you to press yourself against the thin t-shirt he had underneath.
The feeling was completely unexpected, not anticipating such a caring gesture from the usual quiet man. You certainly weren’t complaining, and instead wrapped your arms around his firm body before hugging him back. The embrace lasted a lot longer than you would expect Joel to tolerate, but it didn’t take long for him to pull away and shoot you a small smile.
“Come back in one piece,” he said, with undertones of more of a command. You simply nodded in response, shooting him a reassuring grin in return before turning to leave. You were stopped in your tracks once again by the shouting of your name, sighing before turning around to see what was preventing you from leaving.
Jesse, Dina, and Ellie were bounding quickly towards the gate, their tracks throwing snow every which way as they tried to catch up with you.
“We wanted to see you go!” Dina breathed, bending over in order to catch her breath. You couldn't help the laugh that snuck past your lips at the trio, all three of them breathless and panting. It made you feel special, like you fit within this small community. You never imagined having people like this here. It was refreshing.
“I’ll see you guys in two days,” you grinned to them, pulling Ellie into your arms and giving her a hug. Dina and Jesse followed in suit, hugging you and wishing you luck before finally releasing you. Your lips curled up in a grin as you shot all three of them a wink, turning your gaze back to Joel. He hardly made eye contact with you, clearly still bothered by you leaving. You knew that there was a lot you needed to figure out with him, but it had to wait until you got back.
You also didn’t miss how Ellie made sure not to turn back to Joel, even though Dina and Jesse were talking to him. That was also something you had to figure out when you got back.
You FINALLY turned away and made your way to the gate, shooting an apology to the guard to which you got a mumbled “it’s cool” in return, and made your way to your car stationed directly outside of the walls. It was time to get on the road.
The first day of your trip went extremely well. You went through Dubois, Burris, and Riverton to hit whatever hospitals, ambulances, and pharmacies you could find. With a car full of a different array of medicine and bandages, you decided that you came far enough, and would just take a different route back to hit more hospitals.
So, you spent the night in your car, and woke up early the next day in order to make it back to town in time before you worried your friends. Obviously, you had to stop by a record store before you got back, your usual ritual while traveling. This time you were on the hunt for Back In Black, the classic AC-DC album.
Your car sped through the town about an hour from Jackson, one that you saw had a record store from your trusty map, and you would be lying if you said that you weren’t excited. You guessed that one of the main reasons you hunted records was because of your dad. You both enjoyed vinyl's, and he was the one who would take you shopping for them.
God you missed that man.
As you continued through town, you suddenly noticed an unarmed man abruptly running out into the road, almost hitting him with your car. You quickly hit the brakes, your tires screeching as you tried to avoid slamming into the man. Luckily you were quick enough to miss him as your car came to a stop with a jerk.
“Holy shit,” he said, jogging up to the window as you quickly reached for your gun, “I am so sorry! My friend is hurt and I was wondering if you could help us out,” he said quickly, a genuine expression of worry on his face.
Jesus Christ, what the hell was happening? It wasn’t everyday that a stranger ran up to you begging for help. If it was anyone else besides you, they probably would've ran him over.
“I know this is sudden, but I’ve been wandering around for hours looking for anything to help. Do you think you could help us out?” he begged, to which you sighed. If it was you, you would want someone to help your friends.
“I have some bandages, let me grab them and I’ll come with you,” you replied, deciding to help the man out quickly. You had your gun and knew how to get out of a tough situation if this escalated beyond a friendly gesture. Grabbing a few wrappings from the back, you climbed out of your car and followed him across the street and into an old laundromat, finding a large group of people huddled around a person who was laying on the cold floor.
You noticed a makeshift fire burning, and suddenly felt all eyes on you as you entered. You could tell that they had been staying there for a while.
“She brought bandages,” the man said, informing the large group of your actions. You smiled and introduced yourself quietly, nervous about the huge amount of people huddled in the room.
“I’m Owen,” the man said, giving you a smile before making his way over to join the large group as you stood there awkwardly. You noticed a distinct pendant hanging off of a necklace around his neck, the design something similar to a bug with wings.
“I’m Abby,” said a larger, muscular looking woman from the center of the group. She stood, walking over to you, a timid look on her face. She introduced everyone in the room, all of them including the injured person greeting you back, and explained how one of them cut their arm up pretty bad busting into the laundromat. You could tell that this Abby person was the leader of this small group, and you made note of that as you handed her the bandages to patch her friend up.
“What are you guys doing way out here?” you questioned as they stood back and let Owen wrap up Jordan’s, the injured man, arm. The room was quiet, anxious, as Abby turned towards you.
“Just drifting along. Looking for a place to call home,” she replied to you bluntly.
You were being careless, you knew that, but you couldn’t help it. After Owen finished taking care of Jordan, he helped him stand as everyone's eyes fell onto you, waiting for you to respond to Abby.
“You guys should come stay with me,” you spluttered, unable to hold your tongue. You knew that you should be wary around new people, especially a large group like this. Not everyone was like the people who lived in Jackson, but Ellie and Joel were also rough with you when you first met them. Now, you trusted them with your life. You guess you wanted to give these people a chance like Ellie did with you.
“Where do you stay?” Abby asked, looking at you with a very serious and intrigued face. It didn’t phase you, and you continued to speak.
“A town nearby. We have some really good people there, electricity, farms. It’s really a slice of paradise,” you replied, a smile on your face as you described your home. You took notice that the room fell quiet, but you assumed it was just because they were listening to what you were saying.
“Does an older guy named Joel Miller live there?” Abby asked suddenly, catching you off guard. How would she know who Joel was? That was the moment when you noticed that everyone around you was standing on guard as they watched the interaction unfold suddenly between you and Abby.
You also noticed her hand inching towards the gun at her hip, and that’s when you finally realized the seriousness of the situation. They weren’t here looking for a place to stay. They were looking for Joel. Owen had used you. He brought you here in hopes of getting information out of you, the bastard.
You didn’t know what Joel did to piss these people off, and you didn’t care. Instead, you knew that you had to act quickly before this group of people killed you.
Quickly pulling your gun from your holder, you aimed it at Abby, completely prepared to shoot her directly in the head and then to duck and cover. Sadly, Abby was much quicker and instantly shot at your gun, shooting the gun out of your hand while the bullet shot through your hip.
You cried out in shock and pain, your body falling back as you covered your hip with your hand, hot, sticky blood gushing through your fingers. You’d never been shot before luckily so you didn’t know what to expect, but what you felt was a hot, burning feeling, almost like a fever but all over your body.
Your breaths became heavy as Abby walked over to you, her face stern and dark as she pointed the gun at your contorted face.
“Where is he?” she questioned as she stood over you, her voice cold as Owen rushed behind her.
“You said we wouldn’t hurt anyone else besides Joel,” he whispered in a rush, making Abby roll her eyes in annoyance at his statement.
She cocked her gun, the shell of the bullet that was lodged into your side dropping to the cold ground with a clang.
“I won’t ask again. Where is he?”
You weren’t going to sell Joel out. While you cared about him, beyond comprehension, you weren’t going to put not just Joel but the entire town of Jackson in jeopardy.
“Fuck you. We’ll kill you before you could even reach him,” you snarled back, venom dripping off of your words. Wrong answer. Abby shot at you once more, this time in your left shoulder. You gritted your teeth in pain as the bullet went straight through your arm, the feeling muted and hot because of the adrenaline rushing through your body.
Your head became fuzzy as you heard Owen yelling at Abby, telling her that she wasn’t thinking straight. You weren’t paying attention, instead, began to crawl away, attempting to get to the entrance of the small building. Everything was happening so quickly, and you knew that you had to hurry up before she killed you.
Before you could make it anywhere, you felt a grasp on your leg, your body being dragged across the floor by the one and only Abby, getting into your face before speaking once more.
“I’m going to find him whether you help me or not and now I know I’m close. So either you can tell me now or you can bleed out here, or wait to be eaten by the infected who just heard my gunshots. What will it be?” she asked, her face dark with seriousness.
You looked up at her, your vision becoming spotty as you laid back and looked up at the mold spotted ceiling. You would die before you put your friends in jeopardy.
“Have it your way,” she replied, shrugging. She nodded towards Owen to pick up your gun before walking out of the entrance, the rest of her friends following.
You listened to their footsteps trail away as you laid there and stared up at the ceiling, the sound of the swirling snow making your head ring.
This was it. How you were going to die. You’d survived so long on your own, and this was the way you were going to go out, because someone wanted information out of you for knowing another person. While you broke your usual rule of staying alone, you didn’t regret it. You had met so many people, created so many friends. Fallen in love. And it was all worth it.
Your head started to become blank, dark as you felt the blood draining from your body onto the cold floor below your body. The fire was still burning, cracking loudly, the heat raging, but all you felt was cold, your body shaking.
You drifted in and out of consciousness, knowing that it wouldn’t take long for it to all be over. You weren’t sure how long you were there for. Minutes? Hours? Days?
But then you remembered. Joel told you to make it back in one piece. But you couldn’t. You were so cold, so ready to move on. To see your dad.
But for whatever reason, you felt your body sliding across the floor, the blood below wet and sticky as you left a trail behind you while you drug yourself to the entrance. The wind was harsh and cold as you opened the large doors, but you could see the sun starting to set in the distance. You had been there all day, and by now, someone in Jackson had to be wondering where you were now.
You weren’t sure how you did it, but you somehow made it to your car. Your body was covered in snow with the amount of time it took for you to slide there, and your pants were tattered from sliding on the asphalt sidewalks.
You finally made it to your old, faithful car. Getting into it was going to be another challenge, seeing as how you could only use one arm to pull yourself in. It felt like it took you hours to open the door and climb up into the car, your body screaming for you to stop as you finally got in.
Luckily it started, the cold not killing the engine, as you leaned over and looked down at the map. You knew you were about an hour out, but you weren’t even sure how you were going to get back due to your eyes being spotty and out of focus.
Deciding to say fuck it and get a move on, you began to drive with one hand, the road already hard to see due to the snow falling quickly around you. Trying to keep your heavy eyes focused on the road, it wasn’t long before you saw the walls of Jackson in front of you.
The gates opened, recognizing your car through the snow. You pulled in, your body finally giving up on you as you opened your driver’s side door while you were pulling through the gates, the back of your car hanging out of the entrance.
The guard on watch noticed your actions, specifically when you fell out of the car onto the cold snow on the ground. You could feel more blood rushing out of your open wounds as the guard screamed for help, rushing over to your beaten body. You looked up at him as he told you to hang in there, and to not close your eyes. You weren’t listening though, too distracted by the sky. It looked beautiful today.
You woke up in the infirmary, surrounded by the town doctor and more unfamiliar faces. You begged them to see Joel, Ellie, Tommy, anyone but they wouldn’t let you until you calmed down and they got you patched up. You needed rest, they told you, not to be stressed out.
Maria was the first one they let come in and see you, with her being the leader of Jackson and all. You quickly explained to her what happened, telling her how they were dead set on looking for Joel. She wanted everything you could remember, names, faces, clothing. You went over everything you could remember, but the only thing that seemed to stand out to her was the pendant that you described that Owen was wearing around his neck.
Her face turned white at the description, and you instantly knew that she knew something that you didn’t.
She left you alone after that, and you didn’t see or hear from her for a day or two after that.
The doctors finally allowed visitors two days after you had been staying in the infirmary, and you were beyond happy to see Dina, Jesse, and Ellie. You told them the story of what happened, and you noticed that Ellie also reacted the same way that Maria did. She became very quiet after you explained what happened, and she left quickly afterwards, leaving you with Jesse and Dina.
You were beyond disappointed that Joel didn’t come to see you within the six days that you spent there on bed rest.
Jesse was the one to help you back home. You had an awful limp that the doctor said would most likely go away after your hip healed fully, and your shoulder was in a makeshift cast. You were lucky to be alive, they told you, your body almost drained of the amount of blood you needed to stay alive.
You thanked Jesse for helping you back home, appreciative that someone did at least. You knew that Maria and Tommy were probably busy trying to figure out what the hell was going on and Ellie and Dina were most likely put on town duties, but Joel was different. He didn’t have an excuse. It hurt you that he wasn’t there for you when you needed him the most.
It was late the night you got back, you were actually about to go to bed, when you heard a knock at your door.
You weren't surprised to find Joel standing on your porch, very similar to how he was there a year ago to bring you your new guitar.
“Hey,” Joel said quietly, his eyes shifting when away from yours when you tried to make eye contact.
You noticed that he had a thermos in his large hands.
“Hey,” you replied back, not really sure what to say. What were you supposed to say? You wanted to run into his arms, hug him, tell him that he was the reason you made it back at all. But all you felt was hurt and rejection.
Joel shifted uncomfortable under your gaze, before asking if he could come in. You nodded, moving back so he could walk into your house.
“I brought you some tea. Thought it might help,” he said. Your heart swelled at the gesture, but you still couldn’t help your frustrations towards him.
“I’ll grab some mugs,” you replied, shutting the door behind you and attempting to walk towards the kitchen. You limped slightly as you started to walk there, but Joel stopped you quickly, telling you to sit down and relax.
“I was wondering if you were going to come see me,” you said gently as you sat down on your couch while Joel grabbed two cups from the kitchen for you. A sigh could be heard, before he returned back to the couch and sat the glasses down on the coffee table.
“I visited every night. When you were sleeping,” he said as he sat down next to you, the old couch creaking from the weight of you two combined.
“Why so ominous? Why not see me when you knew I needed you?” you asked, to which you gazed over to Joel in return. He looked down at his hands sadly, the thermos of tea between his fingers. You moved closer to him, placing your only available hand onto his, which caused him to finally make eye contact with you.
“I needed you Joel,” you said seriously.
“I know you did y/n, that’s why I couldn’t be there. This was my fault, all of it. She hurt you to hurt me and I hate myself for it,” he mumbled, still maintaining eye contact all the way through. You could see the sincerity of his words, and on top of that, the hurt that was obviously buried deep within him. He didn’t want to see you because he didn’t want to cause you anymore pain.
“Stop that shit. Look Joel, I don’t know what you did to her and honestly, I don’t give a fuck. You’re my family, along with Ellie, Tommy, Dina, Maria, Jesse, and every other person that lives in this town so if she has a problem with you, then it’s my problem. You don’t need to explain your past to me. We’ve all done fucked up shit and I’m sure you’re no better. But what you’re not going to do is blame yourself for someone else’s actions.”
His eyes were wide at your words, obviously surprised that you were okay with not knowing what events unfolded to make a woman travel just to murder Joel. While you did want to know, you could live with not knowing. If that meant that Joel slept better at night, then so be it.
“You really don’t want me to tell you what happened?” He asked gruffly, to which you shrugged in return.
“You can tell me when you feel ready. It’s clear that right now, you aren’t. I’ll be here for you whenever you are and that can be it.”
It’s as if you could see a weight lift off of Joel’s shoulders. He was suddenly very quiet, lost in thought as he took in your words. He placed down the thermos, pulling his hands away from yours. The feeling of his long fingers leaving yours was disappointing, and it reminded you of the night so long ago where you were sitting with Joel on your porch. Who would’ve thought that you both would have gone through so much since then?
Abruptly, you felt Joel’s rough palms against your cheeks as he embraced your face, pulling you towards him. You didn’t know how to react to the sudden feeling, so instead, you let Joel press his lips against yours. You practically melted under his touch, a soft mewl emitting from your throat as Joel deepened the kiss, trailing a hand down from your face to your uninjured waist, pulling your body into his.
Your fuzzy brain finally decided to act as you wrapped one of your own arms around his large frame, running it over his shoulders as you ran your fingers through his greying hair. You pushed his head closer to yours as you both kissed each other passionately, almost rough to an extent. Joel was careful not to touch your body too roughly though, taking note of your injuries.
Joel groaned into the long kiss, the sound from the man sending shockwaves through your body. You had waited so long for this, and Joel didn’t disappoint.
This was something that you had wanted for months. To feel Joel, to know that he was yours. To feel his lips on yours. You guessed all it took to get a kiss from Joel was a near death experience.
He pulled back, trying to catch his breath as he kept eye contact with you, his hazel eyes holding so many emotions behind them. He seemed scared, apprehensive, as if he expected you to tell him to not touch you and to go away. It was a lot for the man to put his emotions out there, god forbid that you would condemn him for doing so.
Before he could speak, you pulled him to you once more and kissed him softly, your lips tender against his. His beard scratched against your face in the most intoxicating way as he kissed you one more time before pulling away.
“I came here to tell you that we found her. And that I’m leavin’ tomorrow to kill her for what she did to you,” he suddenly said, his words shocking you. Joel always had such phenomenal timing.
“Someone noticed some tracks on patrol yesterday. We found a house and it looks like someone has been staying in it.”
Your head swam with thoughts at his words. It didn’t make sense, why would he come here, kiss you, then tell you that he’s leaving to go on a suicide mission to kill this woman?
“You shouldn’t go Joel. You didn’t see how she was, the moment she sees you, she’s going to take her chance,” you started to say, but he cut you off quickly.
“I can’t risk more people getting hurt because of me. Tommy and I will go come sunrise.”
You shook your head, pulling back from him in disbelief. There was no way that he was doing this to you. He couldn’t be.
“You need to stay here and look after Ellie. She wants to come but I told her that you need her more than I do right now,” he said quietly, to which you felt outraged.
“I’m coming too Joel, I can manage!” You replied back to him, fury in your voice. He shook his head sadly, refusing to accept you coming with him.
“Hell no. You’re still wounded, I saw you limping when you opened the door. You’re not comin’,” he replied, and you know it was final.
You sat back, at a loss of words. Was Joel really going to go through with this?
“If I make it back, I want to be with you. I want whatever this is going on between us to become real,” he said, pulling your hands into his. You were speechless and overwhelmed, not sure how to process all the information Joel was telling you.
“You don’t have to say anything. But just know that I do plan on comin’ back. So don’t give up on me. I have’ta go now, Tommy and I need to go over the plan,” he told you, letting your hand fall into your lap.
He quickly pulled you towards him once more, kissing you roughly and passionately, as if he thought it might be the last time he would feel your lips. Which truly was a possibility.
Without giving you a chance to speak, he quickly got up, telling you to make sure to drink the tea before it got cold, and made his way out of your house, leaving you alone with a spinning head.
If Joel expected you to sleep that night, then he was out of his mind. Part of you wanted to run after Joel, get on your knees and beg him not to leave you. You couldn’t bear the thought of him, nor Tommy, being butchered by this group of people who showed no mercy on you. Who stood back and just watched as Abby treated you like an animal at the slaughterhouse.
Something that you had learned though, was that Joel was one stubborn old man. A person who cared deeply about the people around him, even if he didn’t admit it. Because of that, you knew you wouldn’t be able to change his mind, even if you screamed and begged.
You lay in your bed, eyes wide open until the day light began to stream through your bedroom windows. The thing was, was that you weren’t even tired. You were scared, terrified even. You had a terrible feeling about the events that were about to unfold, and you had to sit back and watch from the sidelines. You had no control whatsoever.
So you laid there, until morning had passed. The light shining into your bedroom became harsher the longer the day moved on, and you finally realized what you needed to do.
Hopping out of bed, being careful not to pull any of your healing wounds, you quickly pulled on your heavy coat and climbed down the stairs, rushing out of the door, almost slamming into the person you were looking for.
“Whoa, slow down, you don’t want to hurt yourself,” she said quickly, reaching out towards you in case you began to waver.
“Where are they staying?” you asked quickly, to which her face instantly fell after seeing the impatience in your eyes.
“I promised Joel I wouldn’t tell you. I can’t,” she said, sadness on her face. She reached out to place her hand on your uninjured shoulder, but you jerked back quickly, anger flooding your body.
“Where the fuck are they Maria?” you demanded, making her jump in return at your loud shout, drawing glances from passing residents.
“Okay y/n. You need to go lay down before I get the doctor’s here. I won’t ask again,” she said sternly, a look of anger streaming onto her face. You couldn’t just go lay down when you knew that these people had the upper hand. Joel was going to die without a doubt if you didn’t do something, and if you had to march out there without any information, you would.
“Maria, please,” you began, tears starting to stream down your face. She looked shocked at your desperate display of emotion, seeing as how it was something that you never did around her before. You were always joking with her, peppy and joyful. She had never seen you so serious before.
“Joel wouldn’t listen to me. He’s going to die Maria, and Tommy might too if you don’t hurry up and tell me where the fuck these fuckers are!” you exclaimed, getting a loud sigh from Maria. You knew this was hard for her to hear, but she needed to realize that neither Tommy nor Joel was invincible.
“Maria,” you begged, grabbing her arm roughly, getting a wide eyed gaze in return for your actions.
“I love Joel. And if I don’t go right now, then I won’t ever get to tell him. Nobody here went through what I did. These people don’t show mercy,” you sputtered, your voice cracking from the amount of tears that were beginning to flood your vision.
You knew that if Maria didn’t tell you now, then she never would. You did as much as you could in terms of begging, so the next step would be stealing a gun from the armory so you could bullet straight between Abby’s eyes, and sneaking out of the neighborhood somehow.
Maria was quiet, thoughts running through her mind as she looked at you, desperation and misery emitting off of your shaking body.
“I can’t go with you, and I won’t allow anyone else to go. I told Tommy that I would stay here and keep everyone safe if they didn’t kill them and Joel made it clear that he didn’t want anyone else getting in the way. I’ll give you a horse, a gun, and a map. Everything else is up to you,” she said harshly. You were twisting her arm, you both knew, and you knew that she was beyond pissed off at you for it, but you couldn’t help pulling her into your arms. She hugged you back stiffly before telling you to hurry up and meet you at the armory.
You were out from the walls within thirty minutes, riding the large horse awkwardly through the snow with one arm, your body practically hanging off as the creature sped through the heavy snow.
The area Maria described to you was a few hours out by horse, and while you would have taken your car, you had to be as quiet as possible. You didn’t know what you were walking into, but you had to be prepared for anything.
In your head you were trying to figure out what you were going to do the moment you saw Abby. How you were going to make her suffer for what she did to you. Maybe you would kill all of her friends in front of her and save her for last. Or you could leave her to die like she did you. Anything would do, as long as you had her blood on her hands.
The closer you got, the harsher the snow pelted both you and your horse. You could tell that the gentle creature was getting worn out, but you knew you couldn’t be too far from where the group was staying.
The moment you saw the large house Maria described in the distance, you felt like screaming. This was it.
Not wanting to ride any closer, you went to a tree that was close by and tied your horse up there, stashing your backpack there and covering the horse with a large winter blanket that Maria had advised you to take to make sure you kept the creature comfortable and alive by the time you came back to it.
After you made sure that you were set, you checked your gun, reloading it before turning towards the house.
You heard loud screams echoing through the house as you snuck around the back deck, noticing a set of footprints in the snow. You knew you had to be on guard here on out, so you cocked your gun, ready to shoot whoever you needed to.
You made your way through the open door on the deck, leading into an empty bedroom. Screams continued to echo through the house, but for some reason, they sounded so familiar.
Goddamn, it was Ellie.
‘What the fuck is she doing here?!” you thought as you moved quicker through the house, being careful not to have a full on sprint to avoid detection, but practically speed crawled through the lower portion of the house. Following the loud shouts, you finally found that the noise was coming from the basement of the house.
You took a deep breath as you walked down the steps quietly, seeing that the door was already opened. Looking through as you crouched, you saw Ellie being pinned down by a group of two familiar people as she screamed for them to let her go, her voice cracking in fury as she kicked and threshed below them. While you wanted to run into the room and put a bullet in everyone’s heads, you knew that this was a delicate situation. You couldn’t just rush into a room of a group of armed people and expect to make it out alive.
So instead you quickly took in the situation. Your eyes flashed over to the left, noticing Tommy’s body still on the floor, his head covered in gashes. Tears filled your eyes at the sight, but you had to keep going and move on. You just prayed that he wasn’t dead.
Finally turning towards the middle of the room, you saw Joel, or at least what was left of him. He looked severely beaten, if not dead, and the one and only Abby was standing next to him with a golf club in her hand. It took everything in you not to run into the room and wrap your hands around her throat until the life left her eyes, but you needed to do this the right way.
Taking a deep, shaky breath, you tried to see how many people were armed with guns. Owen, Mel, Manny, and Jordan. Okay, you could do this.
Just as you were about to bound into the room, you glanced at Joel once more, to see him looking back at you. Your heart almost dropped at his gaze, tears running down your face at the sight of him. He stiffly shook his head at you, and you knew that he wanted you to leave. Over your dead body. Now that you knew that he was alive, you had even more of a reason to fight.
You swallowed the anxiety filling your body as you ran into the room, shooting two quick shots at two of the people holding down Ellie, to which they instantly collapsed in pain.
Owen and Mel quickly armed their guns, pointing them at you, but you slid across the floor swiftly and grabbed one of the people that you had previously shot, using them as a shield. You pressed your face into their back, gripping them with the hand you had your gun in due to the inability to use your injured arm as Mel and Owen unloaded shots towards you, hitting the person you were using as a shield.
You turned to Ellie who was quickly getting up, grabbing the gun closest to her and shooting off a round towards Abby, causing her to run and duck behind the couch to your left.
You threw the now lifeless body that you had been using as a shield down to the wood floor and shot a bullet at Mel, the bullet shooting her directly in the leg. She screamed loudly, falling to the ground as she clutched her leg in pain.
Owen and you made eye contact, shock flooding his face as he quickly grabbed Mel and ran to your right, hiding behind the bar. Manny and the man named Jordan, who had a fresh cut across his face, began to shoot at both you and Ellie, to which you quickly shot back and instantly put a bullet through his head, his body dropping with a thump next to Manny. Manny looked at you in shock as he also took off behind the bar to be with Mel and Owen.
You wasted no time in striding over to where Abby was hiding behind the couch, noting that she only had a club as a weapon. As you limped over to her while Ellie kept firing shots at the bar, being sure to avoid Tommy’s lifeless body, Abby attempted to lunge out at you, her loud scream echoing through the tight room as she ran at you, the golf club raised high.
Before she could even get close, you fired your gun at her, the bullet shooting through her stomach. The room was suddenly quiet as she abruptly stood still, her eyes wide and locked on yours.
Your eyebrows were furrowed, gun still locked on her as she unexpectedly coughed, blood spilling out of her mouth. She stumbled forward as you heard a scream from behind the counter from Owen as everyone in the room watched as Abby fell to the ground.
You were careful when aiming at her, trying to avoid any major organs. You didn’t want to kill her just yet. You wanted to enjoy it.
“Dramatic bitch,” you grunted as you looked down at her while she clutched her wound, her knees bent. You moved closer to her, dropping your gun into your makeshift sling, and then grabbing her braid as you yanked her head back. Ellie turned towards you, aiming the gun at Abby’s head, beyond prepared to blow her brains out.
“Come out. I know Mel is injured and I don’t want to have to kill anybody else. I will if I have to,” you said loudly, your voice hoarse.
You saw both Manny and Owen slip out from behind the bar, their hands raised, guns still in hands. As soon as they showed themselves, Ellie pointed her gun at them, letting them know that she would shoot if she needed to.
“Slide your weapons to me,” you commanded, to which Manny quickly shifted his eyes over to Owen, his finger close to his trigger.
You immediately let go of Abby’s braid, pulling your gun out of your cast and placed the barrel against the back of her skull.
“I’ll kill her,” you growled, eyes locked with Owen’s. He knew you were serious, seeing as how you already destroyed half of his team while injured.
“Drop it,” Owen whispered to Manny, Manny growling in response as they both slid their guns over to Ellie’s feet.
Groans were suddenly coming from Joel, gaining looks from everyone, including Abby. He looked horrible as he shifted around uncomfortably, on the brink of death, as you called out to him.
“Stay awake for me baby!” you cried desperately, glancing between everyone in the room, wanting to just shoot Abby and be done with it. But you couldn’t just yet.
Joel mumbled something indistinguishable, his voice hoarse and low. He kept speaking, his words slurring together as he turned towards you, locking his swollen eyes on yours.
“Don’t...kill her,” he groaned, rolling his head back and shutting his eyes.
Don’t kill her!? They tried to kill you, Ellie, Tommy, and just look at Joel. He was practically on his deathbed, knocking at death's door. You loved Joel, and you knew that he tried to think through every decision, but you weren't sure if you could do this for him. She had almost taken him from you.
“Please,” Joel begged one last time, his breathing ragged and wheezing.
You looked over to Ellie, quickly trying to make up your mind. Ellie looked just as outraged as you, confusion and anger apparent as she listened to Joel’s request.
Looking over at Owen and Manny, their desperation to save Abby, you realized why Joel wanted to save her, because your desperation to save Joel was exactly the same as theirs. This cycle of revenge in the world that you were living in was just that; a cycle. If you killed everyone in this room, then you knew that more people would come and try to kill you for taking away someone that they loved.
While it hurt you, you understood that you had to let them go.
“Take the horses that Joel and Tommy came here on and get the hell out of here,” you commanded, pulling Abby up and shoving her forward, where she fell into Manny’s arms. Both Owen and Ellie looked at you in shock, in disbelief that you were letting them go.
“I spared her, so I don’t expect to see your faces again around here. If I do, I won’t be so kind,” you growled, raising your gun at the three people. They all stood there, watching you in confusion, unmoving.
“Get the fuck out of here!” You screamed, shooting off a bullet into the ceiling. Owen and Manny quickly moved, dragging Abby and helping Mel run through the back door before you changed your mind.
The room was finally silent as you heard a shuffle from outside, then the patter of hoof against the ground as they rode away with Joel’s horses.
“Why the hell did you do that?!,” screamed Ellie, turning towards you. She had never spoken loudly to you, but you understood her frustrations. Right now wasn’t the time to deal with it though.
“Go round up your horse and bring it back here. My horse is a bit further past the house in the woods, you won’t be able to miss him. Hurry up before Joel bleeds out,” you demanded, not in the mood to answer her questions. She huffed angrily as she followed your request, quickly running out of the room to get the horses.
You limped your way over to Tommy, checking his pulse. Thank god, he was just knocked unconscious. He’d probably have a gnarly headache, but he'd be okay.
You finally made your way to Joel, ready to check on him and see exactly how bad he was hurt. It was bad. His knew was mangled, shot in, and his face was badly beaten. You could hear him breathing roughly below you, and you took his lifeless hands into your own as you really began to sob, your body shaking violently from the tears.
“It’ll...be okay,” Joel said slowly and hoarsely, his hands slowly wrapping around your own as you rested your head on his shoulder.
Ellie was quick with bringing both horses back, rounding Joel up on hers as you both threw Tommy on your own. The ride back was painful to say the least, the fear of not making it back in time at the back of your mind, but somehow you did.
The guards helped grab Joel and Tommy, rushing them to the infirmary as you stood with Ellie, scared of whether or not Joel would even make it.
It had been three, long days since you had last seen the man you had fallen in love with. Maria was beyond upset with what had happened, especially after finding out that you let them leave. You tried to explain your reasoning to her, but she didn’t want to hear it. You were sure that they wouldn’t return, but you couldn’t help but feel guilty after getting yelled at by both Maria and Tommy.
Still, they were appreciative that you came there in the first place. Maria seemed shocked at how Tommy and Joel got beaten so badly, but you knew that it was going to end up that bad.
Today you were trying once again to see if you could see Joel. The past few days you got turned away, telling you the same thing that they told you when you were the one in the hospital. After asking Maria, you knew that Joel was okay and getting better, but you just had to see him yourself.
Thankfully, the doctors decided that Joel was healing well enough for you to come and see him. Nervously, you opened the door to his room and entered. The room was silent except for the quiet beeping coming from the machine that Joel was hooked on to.
You finally gained the courage to look at Joel, his eyes shut as he slept quietly in the hospital bed. Walking to his bed slowly, you stood over him. He looked better, his face not as swollen and red. You weren't sure how his leg was since the blanket was covering up, but you prayed that he would be able to walk at least.
His eyes fluttered open, squinting at the harsh light as he looked up at you, a small smile spreading across his lips.
“I see I’ve died and gone to heaven,” he mumbled, his voice hoarse and worn out. You shook your head as you let out a breathless laugh, feeling hot tears running down your face once again. It seemed as if all you did these past couple of days was cry over this man.
It was just that the shock of actually seeing him safe, healing in front of you overwhelmed you.
“Hey now, don’t cry,” Joel said, slowly reaching out to pull you into his arms. You moved into his grasp, and found yourself crawling to lay your head down on his shoulder as you adjusted the rest of your body to sit next to him in the bed.
You both lay like that for a while, taking in each other’s existence.
“Ellie’s immune to the virus,” Joel said quietly, his chin buried in your hair as he began to speak. The room was dead silent, the shock of finally finding out what everyone was hiding from you overwhelming.
Wow. Ellie was immune. That meant that there was actually a future for the world. A chance that things could change.
“A few years back, way before I met you, someone named Marlene asked me to take Ellie across the country to get tested on. When we got there, they told me they had to kill her in order to make the cure.”
Oh man. You knew how this was going to go.
“I wasn’t going to let them kill her. So I killed them first, and then I lied to her about what happened. I know what I did was wrong, and selfish. But I would do it all over again if I had to. She stopped talking to me a year ago because I finally told her the truth,” Joel said, his voice wavering.
“I killed Abby’s dad. That’s why she was after me, because I killed her dad when I took Ellie from the fireflies in Salt Lake City. He was the doctor testing on Ellie.”
You didn’t really know what to say. So instead, you continued to lay with him. Truthfully, there wasn’t much for you to say. You couldn’t change the past, and you didn’t want to. Joel knew how you felt about his actions, and he knew that you didn’t judge him. All you could do at this point is move forward.
“You ready?” Joel asked, limping gently into the room you were in, the old wood creaking beneath his boots. He had healed really well after the encounter with Abby, all except for his leg. All that mattered was that he was able to walk, even if he did limp badly. He knew he’d have to use a cane eventually, but he didn’t mind. He was alive. That’s what was important. As for you, you’d healed up nicely, except the dark scars from your gunshot wounds.
You opened your eyes and looked up at him, a small smile on your face as he reached over and pulled up the turntable, quieting the soft music that previously filled the room. You were in his workshop/ your music room. Shortly after moving in with each other, he brought up the idea of setting up your records in the corner of his workshop so you could both spend time with each other there while separately doing your own thing.
Surprised wasn’t the word to describe how you felt when Joel asked if you wanted to live together. For some reason, you felt like you were about to cry when he brought up the idea. It showed that your relationship was valid, and that Joel truly did want to be with you. Not that you doubted it, but it was reassuring to actually know that he wanted to wake up every morning next to you.
Ellie was also ecstatic about you moving in, because she asked you if it would be okay to take your house. You didn’t care at all, you actually preferred that someone would be living there instead of having it sit and collect dust overtime. Ellie was extremely appreciative and wasted no time moving in with Dina.
She and Maria also forgave you for letting Abby go. You hadn’t heard from the Fireflies ever since way back when, so you weren’t worried that they would come back. You guess it took time for them to understand the importance of mercy in a kill or be killed world. You were just thankful that they weren’t upset with you anymore.
Along with that, she had been getting along with Joel much more lately. You guessed that after seeing how close he had gotten with death three years ago, that she had a deeper appreciation for him now. In a world like this, you never knew when someone could die. That’s why you had to love and live everyday like it was your last. Regardless, you were so happy that they were getting along like they used to.
“Yeah I am,” you replied, reaching out to the arm Joel had extended out to you to pull you out of the chair. He pulled you up into his arms swiftly, kissing you suddenly, his lips warm against yours. You pretty much melted in his arms, seeing as how you never got tired of his kisses.
“Let’s go put on a show baby girl,” Joel mumbled into your lips before pulling back from you, taking your hand into yours as he led you downstairs.
It was the town's weekly concert. More and more people began to attend, especially after Joel started giving classes for woodworking. It seemed like a lot more people wanted to learn how to build their own creations, and Joel was very passionate in teaching people within the community. It was a good way for him to spend his time instead of being cooped up in his shop alone.
Tonight, you and Joel were going to finally sing together for everyone. You both sang together a lot, but Maria and Tommy had been pestering both of you to sing for the town for whatever reason. Joel was the one who was reluctant, but you, along with a lot of pestering with Tommy, finally convinced him to.
Everyone started to clap when you and Joel stepped into the large back yard where you were going to perform. While everyone used to fit in the house, with all of the new attendees, the living room was entirely too cramped. Because of that, you had the great idea to set up some chairs outside and sing in the night air.
You and Joel split off to greet a few people, not forgetting to stop by where Ellie and Dina were sitting.
“Where’s Jesse?” you asked them, surprised that he wasn’t anywhere to be found.
“He has a date tonight actually,” Dina replied, to which you lowly whistled. That dirty dog. You were actually really happy that he was finally going out and trying to meet some more women. Dina was his last girlfriend, three years ago, so it was definitely time.
“Hey y/n, you ready?” Tommy asked, strolling up beside you, a big grin on his face. Maria and Tommy were also both doing well, and you and Joel often found yourselves having dinner with the two of them. Tommy was also looking much better, all he had to show that he ran into the Fireflies was a small scar on his forehead. He got away with much less than you and Joel.
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” you joked, drawing a chuckle from him. You walked away from all three of them before meeting Joel at the middle of the yard where he was beginning to tune up his guitar. He shot you a smile before asking if you were all set, to which you told him that of course you were.
You both were ready, but made sure to share a quick kiss first before turning to the audience, and began to sing.
“I’m lying on the moon,” you began, your eyes locked on Joel’s as he played the guitar softly next to you.
“My dear, I’ll be there soon,” Joel sang, gaining a loud whoop from Ellie in the audience. You both shook your heads, a large smile on your face as you continued to sing together, the stars in the night sky lighting up Joel’s face. Tears formed in your eyes as you kept singing the next line, your voice shaking, your mind overwhelmed with emotions and so, so much love for the man sitting next to you.
You always believed that things happened for a reason. It was something that your dad preached religiously to you, especially after your mom left you when you were a child and didn’t understand why. If you studied for a test all week and still bombed it, your dad would tell you that it happened for a reason. Even the time that you got rejected from the college you wanted to go to the most.
Singing with Joel in this community, surrounded by people who cared for you, and who you loved, showed that things did happen for a reason. You were meant to get trapped into that old record store with Joel and Ellie. You were meant to run into Abby and Owen. Because it meant that you were there now, with everything you now knew, and to share it with Joel. Everything that you experienced brought you closer together, and it was meant to happen that way.
Falling in love with Joel Miller was something that happened for a reason.
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