There was a knock on the window to Ellie’s bedroom. Her hand instinctively went to the pocket in which she kept her switch knife and she jumped from her bed, ready to defend herself if needed.
But when Ellie looked in the direction of the window instead of a threat she saw a grinning Dina who then waved at her. “Help a girl out.” came her voice, muffled from the closed window.
Ellie's hand immediately returned the knife inside her pocket and she moved to the window. “Hey.” Ellie greeted her. “What are you doing here?”
“I told you I would be coming over, dumbass.” Dina told her not at all helpfully and switched her weight between her feet impatiently. “Open up.”
The roof was so very steep and Dina was not being careful at all and it made Ellie’s heart skip a beat in fear at the thought of what would happen if Dina fell. “I know.” Ellie opened the window and helped her up as carefully as she could. “But why are you coming in from the window and not the front door.”
“Because,” Dina said and raised her hand in which she held a dark bottle, shook it and listened to the sloshing sound it made. “I’m smuggling this.” she pushed it towards Ellie until she took it and Dina moved to sit on the bed, making sure to hit her shoulder against Ellie’s on her way there.
“How are you going to leave? Joel is downstairs.” Ellie sat next to her and struggled to open the cap.
“The same way I came in.” Dina told her like it was the most obvious thing.
“That's dangerous, you might break something.” Ellie told her, very careful to not let her voice sound too concerned.
“Good to know that you’re underestimating my climbing skills. Again.”
“I'm not, I just don’t want you to die.” Ellie shrugged, trying for casual.
“So nice of you,” Dina grinned at her.
Ellie finally succeeded in opening the bottle, she sniffed it and grimaced at the strong smell. ”Did you steal this?”
“I would never.” she winked and took the bottle out of Ellie’s grasp, taking a sniff herself. “Wow! Smells like poison.” She then took a big gulp out of the bottle, coughing a bit after it. “Tastes like poison too.”
“Where did you get it?” Ellie asked her, accepting the bottle from Dina.
“I was owed a favor. Now drink up.” Dina helped Ellie bring the bottle up to her lips and drink from it. So thoughtful of her. “We need to be drunk for this.”
“What kind of favor?”
“If I tell you I would have to kill you,” she laughed. “But I promise I didn’t steal it, I would never,” Dina reassured her and pushed the bottle towards her mouth again. “Drink.”
“Why?” Ellie asked her, no longer concerned with where the booze came from. Rather with what it was, she wouldn’t want to be vomiting her guts out in half an hour. “You sure that it's not gonna kill me?” But she didn’t wait for an answer as she took a bigger gulp this time, coughing as the alcohol burned down her throat.
“Only one way to find out,” Dina told her and laughed at Ellie’s horrified expression. “I’m joking don’t worry.”
“Why do we have to be drunk?”
“Because I've always wanted to play truth or dare like in those old movies and there they're always drunk there so I thought that we should be too.”
Ellie felt her heart skip a beat at the thought of what usually happened in those movies. How the characters often got to kiss their crushes. She could do that, but only if she had the courage which seemed unlikely.
She felt like dizzy and not because of the vile taste and effects of the unknown liquid in the bottle.
“So,” Dina drawled. “What do you say?”
“Just the two of us?” Ellie asked just in case she got something wrong.
“Yeah, it's gonna be more fun that way,” she smiled at Ellie. “No one to annoy us.”
Ellie failed to see how it would be fun with less people. People didn’t say the more the merrier in vain. “Okay,” Ellie agreed because honestly she could never say no to Dina. She didn't want to either.
“Good,” Dina said, her smile turning into a bright grin that made Ellie's heart speed up. She stood up from the bed and sat on the ground, her back propped up against the bed. “Come here,” she patted the spot next to her. “We can also spin the bottle to make it more fun.”
Ellie barely contained her eye roll, they didn't have to spin a bottle if it was just the two of them, but she didn’t say anything, just followed Dina's orders and sat on the floor.
“I'll even let you go first.” She took the bottle and placed it on the floor in front of them. “Just spin it and ask me ‘truth or dare'.”
This time Ellie couldn’t contain her eye roll because she had watched those movies with Dina and she knew very well what she was supposed to do. “I know, dumbass.”
“Good for you, now go before I change my mind.” Dina took her hand and put it on the bottle.
Focus on the game, Ellie, and not on Dina’s hand on your own.
“Okay, okay.” Ellie took better hold of the bottle and spun it. It didn’t quite land on Dina. It didn’t land on anyone really. “Shit.” Ellie was already reaching for it to spin it again.
“That's good enough.” Dina stopped her before she could and instead took the bottle and popped open the cap. “Now we drink and before you start with your smartass questions about how those are not the rules,” she paused so she could take a sip from the bottle and then handed it to a reluctant Ellie. “They actually are the rules because I say so, you got it?”
“Yes, sir,” Ellie grinned at her, but before she could salute her Dina took her hand again and to keep it still brought it to her mouth and kissed the knuckles of her hand.
“Don't ‘yes, sir' me,” Dina warned her.
Ellie decided to not focus on the tingling feeling left by Dina's lips. (Yet again she didn’t succeed.) As soon as her hand was freed Ellie hurried to take a sip from the bottle, thinking that it would probably distract her at least a little bit.
“Go ahead and ask me.”
“Uh, ask you what?” Maybe her tactic not to think about it hadn’t worked as good as she thought it would because she was pretty sure that if someone asked her name she wouldn’t be able to remember it either. But could you blame her?
“Truth or dare, dumbass.” Dina patted Ellie’s head, making sure to mess up her hair as much as she could.
“Dick,” Ellie grumbled, trying to fix her hair. ”Stop calling me dumbass.”
“Only after you stop calling me dumbass,” Dina told her and laughed at Ellie’s somewhat pathetic attempts to fix her hair. “I'm pretty sure that you are the one that started calling me a dumbass so it's really your fault.”
“Whatever,” Ellie said and gave up on fixing her hair, instead she untangled the hair band out of it and began tying it up again. It wasn’t Ellie the one who started it. She was 95% sure. Okay 93%. Anyways, she wouldn’t stop saying it first. “Truth or dare, dumbass?”
Dina rolled her eyes, then tapped her chin, pretending to consider it. “Let me see,” she said and hummed thoughtfully. “How about truth?”
Okay. Now Ellie had to think of something that she could ask her, something harmless. Something that had no way of backfiring at her. “Uh, what are you thinking about right now?”
“About how beautiful you're,” she simply said, as if she didn’t even have to think about it. As if it were true.
Ellie looked away from the bottle where her fingers were toying with the old and sun bleached label to look at Dina who was already looking at her, a soft look in her eyes, one that Ellie saw very rarely. It made Ellie’s heart stutter in her chest.
Maybe that question wasn’t as harmless as Ellie had first deemed it.
“Sure,” Ellie murmured under her breath.
“What?” she asked her. “You don’t believe me?”
“No,” Ellie answered, wrinkling her nose. “You’re just saying that because you couldn’t think of anything else.”
“Or I’m saying that because I think that you're absolutely gorgeous.” She was still looking at Ellie, that weird look still in her eyes. She reached her hand over, breaching Ellie’s personal space and before Ellie could flinch away, tucked a stray piece of hair behind her ear that Ellie had missed when she was redoing her hair. “As unbelievable as it sounds to you you're the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen.”
In a rare moment of courage, one that was probably fueled by whatever was in that bottle Ellie said, “That can’t be possible because you are the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen.” If none of the other things that had just happened made her blush this one did, but she fought the urge to look away and she kept her eyes intently on Dina's.
“Oh, what a charmer,” Dina said, her hand trailing down to Ellie's shoulder and her other one clutched at her heart dramatically.
“Shut up,” Ellie blushed a deeper red, this time she couldn’t fight the urge to hide her burning cheeks from Dina so she pressed her face against her shoulder.
“Never!” Dina whisper yelled so she wouldn’t draw Joel’s attention to their impromptu meeting. She wrapped her arms around Ellie’s shoulders and squeezed her in a tight hug, swaying them from side to side. “You're too cute for your own good.”
Ellie didn’t return the hug because she was mad at Dina. Also because the position of the hug was kind of awkward because they were both facing forward and their bodies twisted uncomfortably to the side to be able to hug.
“No, I’m not,” Ellie grumbled from her spot against Dina’s shoulder. The sound came out muffled and she was pretty sure that Dina wouldn’t be able to make out what she said.
“But know that I mean it - you're gorgeous.” She let go of Ellie, whose cheeks were thankfully feeling a lot cooler than earlier. “It’s my turn now,” she said and the mischief was so clear in her voice, Ellie knew she was in for a lot of trouble.
Dina placed the bottle in front of them then she spun it and when it stopped it was facing away from both of them she simply laughed, but didn’t move to spin it again. She picked it up and took a sip then handed it to Ellie. “Truth or dare?”
Ellie took the opportunity of drinking as an excuse to buy herself some time. She didn't know what Dina had in store for her, but by the smug smile on her face she knew that it wouldn’t be anything good.
Oh, how Ellie hated her.
“Uh,” she decided that she should just bite the bullet and get it over with. “Dare.”
“Do a handstand,” Dina urged her excitedly and this was not fair because apparently she had come prepared and Ellie didn’t even know that they would play this game ten minutes ago.
“I don’t know how to do a handstand,” Ellie complained because how the fuck would she know. She stretched her legs in front of herself because they were getting stiff from sitting cross legged for so long and by the looks of it she was about to do a handstand.
“Bullshit, then why are you working out so much?” Dina asked incredulously.
“Because, Dina,” Ellie rolled her eyes at her friend. “I want to go out on a patrol and to do so I have to do whatever Joel tells me to. And he tells me that I have to work out.”
“But you chose dare so you have to do it.” Dina stood up and offered Ellie a hand to help her get up. “I'll help.”
Ellie took the offered hand and she stood up with a groan. She felt dizzy, the alcohol was already working. Meaning that this would be harder than anticipated.
“I’ll catch you if you fall,” Dina reassured her.
Ellie didn’t feel very reassured because Dina looked kind of drunk too, but she placed her hands on the ground and tried to rise her legs in the air, the first few times she failed so she decided to go all in and pushed herself off the ground with as much strength as she could. For a few milliseconds she balanced herself in the air, but then - then she fell.
Dina was there to catch her. She didn’t exactly catch her, she more like fell on the ground with Ellie because she lost her balance, soaking up most of the fall.
“Fuck.” Her knee connected with the ground and it made Ellie groan in pain. “Are you okay, Dina?”
“Uh, fine. Just move your leg a bit.” Ellie did. “Not that one, the other one.”
Ellie instead just rolled off of her.
“Are you okay, kiddo?” Came Joel's voice from downstairs and Ellie just about died right there.
It wasn’t like Dina didn’t visit them almost every day, but today in particular she had sneaked in and brought booze which Joel wouldn’t appreciate. As much as Joel adored Dina Ellie knew that this he wouldn’t forgive.
“Yeah, I’m fine I just uh, dropped my-“ Ellie raised herself up on her elbows so she could stare pleadingly at Dina, waiting for any kind of help. “I uh dropped myself?” Ellie kind of ended it as a question.
She could see Dina face palm herself from where she was still lying flat on the ground. “Fucking lightweight,” she grumbled to herself, but Ellie still heard. If the situation wasn’t the way it was Ellie would have argued with Dina, but she was too busy trying to save their asses.
“You dropped yourself?” Joel yelled back. Ellie could practically hear the frown in his voice.
“Uh, yeah, yeah I tripped,” Ellie winced, hoping that it would work. “But I’m fine.”
Ellie waited with bated breath for a response, but it never came, nor did any footsteps and she knew that they were in the clear. Ellie fell back on the ground and let out a deep sigh, slinging her arm over her eyes. “Fuck you, Dina.”
“You aren’t really angry,” Dina stated and she must have stood up because then Ellie felt a light kick against her ribs, Ellie grunted at the impact even though it didn’t hurt her at all. “Come on, get up.”
Ellie reluctantly stood up and sat down against the bed and next to Dina where she was waiting for her. “Are you okay?”
“Are you sure? I did fall on top of you.”
“You aren’t that heavy, Ellie.” Dina let her head rest against the bed and closed her eyes. “A couple of bruises perhaps, but otherwise I’m fine.” She said and instinctively touched her shoulder where Ellie guessed the bruises would be.
“Eh, it was my idea so it's really my fault,” Dina shrugged it off. “Now it's your turn,” she nodded towards the bottle sitting in front of them.
Ellie still felt bad for what had happened. She never liked seeing Dina in pain and she liked it even less when she was the one causing it as rare as it was.
Ellie spun the bottle and for the first time when it stopped it actually pointed towards Dina. Dina gave a quiet cheer, mindful of what had happened the last time they made too much noise. She took a sip from the bottle and then Ellie did too.
“Truth or dare,” Ellie asked dutifully.
“I’m not gonna give you a chance for revenge so I’m saying truth.”
“Okay then.” And in a bout of stupid, stupid hopefulness Ellie asked, “Uh, do you like anyone?” And then when Dina just stared at her silently she added, “Like romantically?” Ellie looked away and toyed with the hem of her shirt.
“Oh,” Dina laughed gleefully. “I do actually.”
“You do?” Ellie asked her, looking up suddenly. “Who?”
“Hold on, Ellie, you get only one question.”
“Right,” Ellie puffed out a breath and stared at the empty wall in front of them. Fascinating.
“Don’t look so sad,” she said and caressed Ellie's cheek. “You get to ask next time, that is if I choose truth.”
“Whatever,” Ellie grumbled and leaned away so Dina’s hand fell away from her face. “Your turn.”
They continued with their routine, spinning the bottle then drinking.
“Truth or dare?”
“Truth,” Ellie answered before she could stop herself. Both hoping that Dina would ask her if she liked anyone and hoping that she wouldn’t.
It took Dina some time to think about her question or maybe consider it. Then she asked, “When were you afraid the most?”
That wasn’t what Ellie expected to be asked, not at all. She wanted to ask why that question exactly, but she didn’t. “You will have to be more specific, I have been afraid so many times that I don’t even think that I can remember all of them.” And she really could hardly remember most of the things that had happened in the one year Joel and her had traveled across the country. It was almost a blur everything that had happened, like she was just a spectator to it all. The arrival to Jackson had given her something other than being constantly afraid and that helped with trying to ignore all the bad stuff that had happened during her still short life. “Do you want to hear about when I have been afraid the most for myself? Of myself?” She really didn’t want to remember the first time she was afraid of what she was capable of doing. “For someone else? What do you want to hear?”
Dina was looking at her, something unfamiliar in her eye. She was fiddling with the cap of the bottle, flipping it between her fingers. “Your choice.”
“Okay.” She hadn’t told the full story to anyone, not even Joel, not even Marlene. Ellie was silent for a while, preparing herself for what she was about to tell. “This was the first time I had been scared, truly scared.” Ellie took a deep breath and willed herself not to cry. She could still feel that fear in her nightmares and it felt so real, just as if she was experiencing it for the first time. It was the kind of fear that left you breathless, made you selfish. She would never forget what it felt like. “I lost my best friend.” Ellie admitted.
Ellie didn’t know how this had turned from a drunken game of truth or dare to her telling someone something so personal to her. She laughed, but it didn’t sound happy it sounded broken. Dina placed her hand on Ellie’s shoulder, trying to comfort her. She didn’t say anything and Ellie was grateful because she didn’t know if she could have continued after.
“My friend - Riley.” Ellie hadn’t realized that she hadn’t said that name out loud since – since Riley died, it had been years and she still couldn’t. “She left me and… and I thought that she was dead, but she came back, she came back for me and then first time I saw her,” Ellie laughed then, it was probably the first time she laughed to a thought of Riley instead of crying. Maybe this is what healing felt like. “She scared the living crap out of me. She bit me, she fucking bit me to wake me up. She snuck in my room and she bit me, that asshole.”
Dina was smiling a soft, sad smile because she could tell how this story ended. She knew. Her hand was still on Ellie’s shoulder, warm and reassuring.
“I was angry at her for leaving me for the stupid fireflies that were going to get her killed,” Ellie stopped for a moment, thoughtful. “But I got her killed, not the fireflies,” she laughed a mirthless laugh. “It was actually me and not them.” She’s had so much time to think about all of this, but this was the first time she realized that if Riley hadn’t came back for her she would probably still be alive. “The second I saw her smug face I had forgiven her, I didn’t want to admit that to her or to myself, but I had.” It was getting so hard to talk, her throat was closing around tears and her eyes burned, but it felt good to finally share this burden. “She took me around an abandoned mall near the quarantine zone and we had so much fun. I could almost forget she had left me at all, but then I… I kissed her,” Ellie admitted, it had been so long since it had happened and it didn’t feel real anymore, but saying it out loud made it feel like she wasn’t making it up anymore. “And I asked her to leave the fireflies and stay with me. She agreed and ripped out her firefly pendant, threw it on the floor.”
Ellie clutched at her chest, wanting to feel the pendant she still kept around her neck. Wearing it made her feel like she was keeping a part of Riley alive, but it was also a painful remainder.
“Is this hers?” Dina asked her, her voice quiet like she was afraid that it would break Ellie.
“Yeah, it was.” Ellie clutched the pendant tighter, the dull edges digging in the skin of her palm. Riley should have been here, drinking and laughing with them, but she wasn’t because this dead world took everything full of live, everything worth living for. “In that moment I felt like everything was possible and then in the next one Riley was bitten and everything had already ended before, before-” Ellie took a deep, steadying breath. She couldn’t tell Dina that she got bitten too and that she thought that they would die together and then they didn’t. “She died so fast. It didn’t take two days like they say. It was so fast. And she left me again, so soon after she came back and I was alone again.”
“I’m so sorry, Ellie,” Dina told her. Ellie didn’t have to look at her to know that Dina wanted to say more, but she didn’t. She just wrapped her arms around Ellie in a hug that sad more than words could.
“The worst thing about all of this is that I didn’t die with her,” Ellie said, her face pressed against Dina’s sweater. It smelled so much like her and it comforted Ellie a bit. “She was the coolest person I have ever met.” Tears were silently rolling down her face, but she didn’t make a noise, hoped Dina wouldn’t notice. If she wasn’t this drunk she wouldn’t have cried or at least that’s what she told herself. “I loved her so much, I think I still do.” Ellie bunched her hands in the worn fabric of Dina’s sweater and pulled her closer. “I only ever got to kiss her once.”
Dina didn’t say anything, just hugged her tighter. “Thank you for trusting me enough to tell me this Ellie.”
“Yeah, of course.” Her nose was running so she decided that she should blame it on the alcohol, she could blame everything on it. She blamed the tears on it too. “You’re my best friend, I trust you like a lot.” she tried to sniff quietly because it was getting hard to breathe. Of course she failed to so now Dina must have figured out Ellie had been crying if she didn’t know already. “I’m sorry, must be getting a cold,” she lied because she didn’t want Dina to know.
Dina didn’t laugh, didn’t even tease her about it and Ellie was grateful. “Now tell me about something that makes you happy.”
“It’s not my turn,” Ellie complained.
“I make the rules so yeah it is,” Dina reminded, her hot breath hitting the side of Ellie’s face.
“This town,” Ellie didn’t even have to think about it. If someone had asked her this a few years back she wouldn’t have been able to come up with anything, not even if she had hours to think about it. “And all the alive people in it, the animals, even the stupid vegetables.” Ellie wanted to add something else, something that could possibly mean trouble. But she was drunk and crying on her crush’s shoulder so what could go wrong. “And my best friend too.”
“Is that me or do you have a secret best friend you haven’t told me about?” Dina teased her and Ellie laughed. She pulled away from the hug and wiped her tears as discreetly as she could, which wasn’t much considering that they were sitting side by side and were facing each other.
“Yeah, it’s you,” Ellie laughed. “Though sometimes I wonder why.”
“Oh, fuck you,” Dina faked an offended face and turned away from her dramatically. It was so ridiculous that it made Ellie laugh again. “I’m a very good friend I’ll have you know.”
“Okay, fine, you are,” Ellie gave up and waited for Dina’s smug smile which she knew would come inevitably to add, “but only when you’re drunk.”
This time Dina’s offended face seemed very real and Ellie had only that moment of realization before the air was knocked out of her lungs as Dina tackled her and they both fell on the floor. “You’re such an asshole, Ellie.”
“You know me so well,” Ellie’s laugh was cut short when Dina’s elbow hit her ribs and made her yelp. “Don’t hit a drunk person.” Ellie tried to push her away, but couldn’t quiet do it because Dina was persistent and Ellie was laughing too hard. “That must be some kind of rule.”
“It is, but only if you don’t know the drunk person,” Dina told her and Ellie shrieked again, trying to roll on her side to avoid anything that might come her way. “But if said drunk is your annoying best friend that is yet again very annoying then you can do whatever you want.”
“Dina, stop making up rules,” Ellie complained, finally on her side she hugged her knees to stop Dina from trying anything else.
“Fine, but if I’m drunk and you’re drunk too then we are equal and I can do whatever I want.”
“You’re very smart when you’re drunk.” Ellie sat up when she knew Dina had given up. “But you know, only when you’re drunk.” Dina rolled her eyes hard and it made Ellie grin.
“And you’re very smiley,” Dina said and watched as Ellie’s smile turned in a frown. Ellie knew what followed, but she still rolled her eyes in protest. “But you know, only when you’re drunk.”
“You’re a fucking dumbass.” Ellie tried to stand up, but stumbled drunkenly and gave up. “But like always, not only when you’re drunk.” Ellie let herself fall against the floor, groaning when the pain from the fall came. She had kind of forgotten about that. About gravity.
“You too.” Dina stood up gracefully and Ellie was jealous. Fuck her and her long not clumsy even when she’s drunk legs. She sat on Ellie’s bed and stretched.
Did Dina always have such long, graceful legs?
Ellie’s belly stirred strangely and she thought that it maybe meant that she was going to vomit.
Ellie was too drunk to argue with Dina so she sat up and extended her arms. “Help me up.”
Dina rolled her eyes and muttered something to herself. Maybe about how she was such a great friend, which was true, but Ellie wasn’t about to admit it. Dina helped her up and led her to the side of the bed, made her sit on it.
“Thank you for playing the game with me, Ellie,” Dina said and why was her smile always so brilliant and why did it make Ellie feel happier and lighter? “It’s late so I’m gonna go.” She pushed Ellie until she was laying down and wrestled the blanket from underneath her until Ellie was no longer laying on it.
“You aren’t gonna go through the window though, right?” Ellie asked because even though Dina was graceful even when she was drunk Ellie didn’t want her to have to climb through the window again.
“I don’t trust my legs, don’t worry.” Yeah, her legs. Ellie’s eyes followed the path of her thoughts, lowering down Dina’s body. “I’ll use the stairs instead.” Dina threw the blanket over her and tucked her in. “I’ll be quiet, grandpa Joel won’t even hear me.”
“As if,” Ellie scoffed, if there was one thing she had learned during their travels was that his hearing was inhuman. “He’ll hear you within two seconds of you stepping outside of this room.”
“Isn’t he like sixty though?”
“Yeah, but he only gets stronger with age, I think it’s got something to do with him being a southerner.”
“Joel loves me though? You don’t think he’ll be mad?”
“You’re drunk, I’m drunk. You snuck in, there is half a bottle of something that can probably kill in the middle of the room. He will put it together so probably. Yeah.” Joel would one hundred percent kill the person that got Ellie drunk even if said person was Dina.
“Shit.” She sat on the bed and tried to scoot to push Ellie aside. It didn’t work because Ellie was too drunk to move. “I’m staying so scoot.” She waited until Ellie did so with an annoyed groan and laid beside her.
“This bed is too small, we won’t fit.” Half of Ellie was off the bed and she didn’t trust her drunk self to have enough balance to stay on it without falling the whole night.
“I don’t mind,” Dina said. She threw the blanket over herself too and turned on her side facing Ellie. “You’re lucky that I love cuddles.” She threw her arm over Ellie and scooted even closer. “Oh, and remind me to hide the rest of the booze in the morning.”
Dina waited for an answer, but it never came. Turns out Ellie was too drunk to stay awake for this long. No one was going to remind Dina to get rid of the bottle too.
Dina watched the steady rise and fall of Ellie’s chest and yeah she was definitely knocked out. Her face was slack, so free of worry. She never looked so relaxed when awake, her brow always furrowed and Dina was glad she was getting at least some rest when she slept as rare as that was for her.
Dina wrapped her arm tighter around Ellie and pulled her closer so she wouldn’t fall off the bed. “Always falling for your best friend, aren’t you?” She kissed Ellie’s shoulder and closed her eyes.
Ellie never heard that because she was too fucking drunk.