Tess is up and about by the coming weekend; three days of lounging about in bed makes the woman stir-crazy, even with Joel as company most times or Ellie entertaining her with jokes and drawings and little stories from her days out with Tommy and Maria.
Joel’s moving about by the second day, so much of Tess’ time is spent in bed alone in the afternoons with Ellie’s comics or Bear sitting at her feet. As much as he’d prefer to stay in bed and keep her company, Tommy needs him out and around for patrols; Tess kicks him out of bed in the mornings even though she cuddles into the warmth he leaves behind and mopes around a little bit.
Most times when Ellie comes in with breakfast or new game she’s hunted, she finds the woman on her stomach with her nose buried into Joel’s pillow; avidly reading through the comic books. She smiles inwardly, nudging the woman up and slipping in beside her as Tess keeps the comic away and huffs at her. “How’re you feelin’ today?”
“Like I’m about to lose my mind staring at these fuckin’ walls all day,” Tess scowls, scrubbing at her face to get the listlessness off it. Bear sits at the foot of the bed, wagging his tail and panting happily as Ellie produces fresh oranges from the orchard. Tess raises an eyebrow at the fruit, taking one from the girl and sitting up gingerly and waving aside Ellie’s concerned look. “What’d you do with Maria today?”
Ellie chatters on about her day; Tess listens and comments where she thinks she should, eating little slices of oranges and handing Ellie pieces whenever she’s done with her own. There’s a less than pleased look on her face when Ellie mentions in passing about Maria wanting Joel to head a new hunting party, though Tess feigns indifference when Ellie eyes her perceptively.
“He’s not gonna though,” she placates the woman, even as Tess shrugs at her. “He’s letting Johnny go instead - he wanted to be around in case you needed him.”
Tess scoffs, brushing the orange peels off the bed covers and into the trash. “I’m not some damn china doll sitting on the edge of the shelf, y’know.” She stands on her feet, grimacing quietly when her muscles strain, and makes her way to the bathroom.
“Big guy wants to hunt, beat his chest, climb trees like me Tarzan you Jane ; I’m not gonna hold him back.” Ellie gives her a strange look at the reference, but Tess shrugs flippantly again. “I’m not his wife, Ellie - he can do whatever he wants.”
Whatever doesn’t include other women or men, though. It’s a clause they agreed on a while ago.
Partners tends to be a rather exclusive title.
Ellie rolls her eyes at the woman, trailing after her and leaning against the wall by the bathroom. Crossing her arms loosely, Ellie eyes Tess when she reappears out of the bathroom, still wiping her hands on a towel. “I’m just saying that he’s not gonna miss your date night.” There’s an emphasis sharp enough to almost be accusing; the teenager narrows her eyes at the woman almost threateningly.
“You remembered, didn’t you? You and Joel’re supposed to go out on a date night tomorrow.”
Tess rolls her eyes drolly. “Of course I remember - how can I forget if you won’t stop mentioning it every five minutes?” she retorts, but inside her stomach clenches at the reminder and her mind begins to question if this was a good idea to begin with.
Damn Joel and his stupid googoo eyes and cute Southern gentleman thing.
Ellie huffs at her, stomping her feet mildly. Really, it’s only because it’s like a challenge to the girl - with the two adults in her life being so emotionally stilted at times, she wants them to be able to go out, be with each other and relax.
Without worries, without responsibilities, and just...fucking be .
Who knew comic books could be so philosophical?
“C’mon, Tess,” she cajoles the woman, smiling encouragingly when Tess arches a brow and eyes her almost haughtily. “You can’t tell me you’re not at least a little bit excited for this?”
Of course she’s excited, she thinks. She’s too fucking excited for her own goddamn good, because she shouldn’t think about all the things she’d like to do with Joel together; it may not need to be movies and dinner or a walk in the park at night with him (but she does dream of days past like that), but it’s the thought of having not to worry about things. Of having to keep the distance between them as solely partner or lover or whatever it is that’s between them; there’s no barrier and no facade to keep in place.
Respite, quiet and kind respite from having to convince herself that he doesn’t quite love her just the same.
Pursing her lips briefly, the woman scowls at her, lifting her head to the sound of the front door opening. Bear goes barking down the stairs after it, and Tess raises a brow at the way Ellie’s face lights up happily when Joel’s low voice sounds from the hallway.
“Y’know if I didn’t know any better, I’d think you had a thing for the old man,” Tess quips, nearly smiling when Ellie’s face twists into a disgusted and offended look.
Ellie makes a gagging sound in her throat, shaking her head incredulously at the thought. “That’s the grossest thing you’ve ever said!” she cries, wrinkling her nose. “Joel’s like a dad to me - I’d be sick in the head if I liked him that way!” She stares at Tess when the woman shrugs her shoulders. “That’s so gross!”
“What is?” Joel appears in the doorway, a little mussed and tousled, but there’s a strange lightness in his face. He eyes Ellie first, and then makes his way into the room to where Tess is standing with her arms folded over her chest by the bathroom.
It’s as if gravity simply doesn’t allow him to be anywhere else; he’s wrapping an arm around Tess’ waist and helping her back to the bed even if she can walk fine, and smacks him across the chest as she insists this. “Did you tell ‘er ‘bout the time we had to hide out in the sewers again?” he murmurs to her, pressing a kiss to the side of her face, just because.
Tess makes a sound in her throat, her mouth twitching. “No, because that’s not something I like to keep reminding myself that I did.” She settles on the edge of the bed, waving aside Joel’s attempts at pushing her back to rest. She glares at him with an exasperated scowl.
“Seriously, if I stay in this bed any longer, I’m gonna shoot myself.”
Joel clicks his tongue at her at the mere thought, and settles down beside her as he’s shedding his button down and leaving it in a pile by the bed as Ellie comes to his side like a homing device and hovers by his battered shoulder. Even Tess is chiding at him for it, but the man merely musters a small smile. “You should see the other guy.”
Tess huffs, watching as Ellie disappears downstairs to grab their first aid kit before taking a closer look at Joel’s shoulder. She palpates the area around the most vicious looking scrape and bruising, brows pulling tighter together at the tenderness and the way Joel hisses. Her eyes snap to his face, narrow and reproaching even as the concern lingers.
“It’s nothin’,” he assures her, when he sees that look on her face and the way she’s pressing a little too hard into his shoulder. “I’m fine.” Joel tries for a smile that comes out as wan and thin as Tess’ patience for the way he sees to be running himself into the ground. He places his hand over hers, pulling it gently away from his shoulder and settling it in his lap instead. “S’nothin’ a little bit of ice won’t fix.”
Tess sighs, and surprises Joel when she has nothing to say about it, and instead presses her mouth to his cheek. He blinks, sitting there motionless as she kisses him; feels her squeeze his hand tight before releasing it and rising off the bed just as Ellie comes bounding up the stairs.
“I’m gonna take a walk,” she tells them, and Bear comes to her side with just a tap of a hand to her thigh. She smiles crookedly and somewhat strangely at them both, and pats Ellie gently on the shoulder as she passes the girl in the doorway.
“Take care of him for me while I’m gone, will you?” she murmurs, and Joel shifts at the disturbing accuracy of her almost dreamy, distracted words. “I won’t be long.”
Joel opens his mouth to call her back; to lift himself off the bed and stop her from leaving and asking her why, but she’s gone and so is Bear. He sighs inwardly, frowning at Ellie as the girl stares at him with the same confused and concerned look she must see on his face.
“C’mon now,” he says to her eventually, gesturing her over. “Patch me up quick and we’ll take a walk down through some of the old houses. See if there ain’t nothin’ in there we might need for tomorrow.”
Ellie’s eyes brighten briefly; she dabs the alcohol to his skin gently. “Are you gonna get her somethin’?”
Joel’s mouth twitches, and he swallows the hiss in his throat when the alcohol smarts. “Actually, I was figurin’ something to wear.”