Fandom: The Last of Us
Word Count: 5989
Rating (for fic as a whole): R
Chapter Summary: Ellie is confused. Joel makes her even more so.
Ellie never knew what to do when she saw a person crying. Someone her age or older, anyway (little kids were pretty easy). It was so awkward. Were you supposed to ignore them? Go give them a hug? Pat them on the back? Bullshit them by saying it would be okay when you didn’t even know what the fuck they were crying about? She wished she knew how to handle it, because she felt bad for them –- crying sucks –- but since she was clueless, she found it annoying. Crying was a sign of weakness or childishness. People should realize that if you absolutely have to cry, the considerate thing is to do it in private.
They’d never talked about it, but she would guess that Joel felt the same way (well, maybe not the part about feeling bad for them). And yet it didn’t feel awkward, crying into his shirt… he just let her do it. He didn’t bullshit her. Didn’t say anything at all. He just stood there, solid and warm, arms wrapped around her.
When she got control of herself again, she mumbled an apology, and predictably, he told her that wasn’t necessary… he was still holding her close. She wondered how long they would stand there like that and figured maybe it was up to her to go first. She pulled away, half expecting him not to let her… but he did.
“I don’t wanna go home yet,” she announced. “But I want… I don’t wanna be alone, either.”
“All right. Can we go somewhere besides this house though ‘cause it stinks in here.”
Ellie couldn’t even smell the burnt odor anymore, and it hadn’t seemed that bad to her in the first place. “Okay… like out where you were sitting? On the grass?”
Joel led the way with his flashlight, then switched it off outside. He bypassed his spot in favor of sitting down with his back against the wall of the next house. “You thirsty?”
She drank what little was left in his canteen. “Thanks.” And now she felt more awkward than when she’d been crying. She didn’t know what to say… didn’t even know where to sit… she kinda wanted to curl up at his side… she couldn’t do that. He probably wouldn’t mind, but she’d been weak enough already. She mimicked his posture, back against the wall, a few feet away from him. They were both in the shadow of the house. She wouldn’t be able to read his expressions very well. Not that Joel usually displayed much variety in those… or that she’d be able to look at him much. Stay strong, Ellie.
“How’re you feelin’?” Joel asked. He sounded like he really wanted to know. He always sounded sincere, though, when clearly he wasn’t always. She must be an idiot.
Ellie shrugged. “How would you feel if you found out I’d been lying to you every day?”
“I only lied about one thing, one time.”
“If that’s true, it was one huge thing so it should count more, and every day you didn’t tell me the truth means you were lying. Oh, and this morning you added a couple lies to it, too.”
“It was still all tied to the one thing… all right, it don’ matter how many times, or how you wanna count it. Yes, I lied. I’m sorry. It was only ‘cause I had good reason to.”
“Yeah, okay, but the thing is, you’re not sorry; if you had to do it again you’d totally do the same thing. You’re sorry I found out.”
“Of course I didn’ want you to find out. Not about me lyin’, but about the whole damn mess back there.”
“Well, lying made it way worse.”
“It was for your own good.”
“So that makes it okay. You can lie to me about whatever you want as long as you tell yourself that you’re doing it for me?”
Joel didn’t answer right away. Probably because he knew she was right. He was being defensive, but… not combative. “You make it sound like I lie to you all the time. I don’t. You know that, don’tcha? It seemed like you had an idea, that I was lyin’… that you didn’ believe me…”
“I didn’t, that’s why I asked you to swear to it. Which you did, no problem. Looked me right in the face and everything.”
“No, I mean when I swore… even then it seemed like you weren’t sure. But you didn’ call me out on it.”
“Oh, so now it’s my fault you lied? Because I didn’t—“
“No! No, that ain’t what I meant. Jus’ that somehow… somehow you knew. I thought I was bein’ convincin’ but you could tell that… somethin’ was wrong. Is that right?”
“Yeah. I guess.” What did that matter?
“Have you had that feelin’ since then? That I was lyin’ about anything else?”
Ellie thought about that. “Um… I dunno. Maybe not. -Oh, well, what about that next day at dinner when you and Tommy and Maria went outside and you said it was about ‘nothing.’ Obviously that was a lie. You do that when you don’t wanna tell me something.”
“Fair enough. You do it too. If you don’ feel like tellin’ me somethin’, do you say, ‘Joel, I ain’t gonna answer that question ‘cause I don’ want you to know due to some reason I can’t tell you’ ? No, you tell me it’s nothin’. That ain’t the same thing.”
“I don’t do that,” Ellie protested automatically. But… maybe she did do it, once or twice…
“No? All right then. So that time I walked in on you’n’Maria talkin’ about… somethin’ secret, I still don’ know what… later when I asked you what that was about, you didn’ say ‘nothin’’? And when I caught you singin’ what I’m sure was a—“
“Okay okay okay, YES, if it’s something embarrassing – that’s different, you can’t call it lying.”
“You do the same thing any time you don’ want me to know somethin’. Not jus’ with stupid shit.” Joel paused, probably racking his brain for such a time. “Like that day I asked what you did to your pants, you had Millie patch ‘em up thinkin’ I wouldn’ even notice, but when I did—“
Ellie broke in with an aggravated sigh. “Joel, what’s your point? I’m a liar, you’re a liar, it’s all the same? It’s so not the fucking same.”
Joel paused a beat. “I know, that ain’t what I was gettin’ at. …What was I gettin’ at…”
“Fuck if I know.” She crossed her arms in front of her chest and stared at the fence of ‘her’ house.
“Oh… right… what I was tryin’ to say is I don’ lie to you all the time, an’ you know that’s true ‘cause you can tell. So please don’ think that I’m constantly lyin’ to you, or that you can’t trust me.”
“I can’t trust you. That’s how it works: you tell one lie, and now I won’t know if I can believe you or not, cuz of that one time.”
“You will know. But it don’ matter, you won’ have to know ‘cause I ain’t gonna lie to you no more.”
“Whatever.” She could see how much it bothered him to lose her trust. If she was honest with herself, she wasn’t sure how much he’d really lost… because she did feel like he was genuine with her. It wasn’t like he’d lied to her for sport. She wasn’t about to cut him any slack, though. He should have to earn her trust back. She was just being an idiot again if she let him off the hook after a few words of apology.
At least Joel changed the subject then. “Ellie… I know you were upset this mornin’ an’ that’s why you ran off like that, but… next time you wanna be alone, can you please jus’ let me know where you are? I won’t bother you, I jus’ need to –- I would appreciate it if you let me know where you’re at.”
There won’t be a next time because I won’t be here much longer. “Okay. Would you have left me alone today if you’d known where I was?” she challenged.
Joel hesitated before answering. “Today, prob’ly not, no. Because you were… shocked. I was worried.”
Good, so far no bullshit. “And… next time you won’t be worried if I wanna be alone?”
“No. Well… maybe some. But if you say you need space, I’ll give it to you. You don’ have to run away.”
Ellie glanced at him. “Space. Like, if I sit on a roof, you sit on the ground and watch me? That’s not the kind of space someone who needs space is looking for, Joel.”
Joel actually chuckled. “No, I mean real space. Although I’d prefer it if you talked to me ‘bout what’s botherin’ you instead. Or… if not me, to someone. I s’pose I ain’t the easiest person to talk to.”
Ellie found it endearing when he was self-deprecating like that. In spite of her issues with him, this time was no different. She smiled a little. “You’re okay. Really. I do talk to you. But this is…” She couldn’t even think of a word to describe it.
Joel filled in the blank for her. “Overwhelming.”
“Yeah. Kinda. I… don’t hate you, you know. I heard you, before, when you were looking for me…” It was awkward again. “I couldn’t talk to you. I wasn’t ready. I was mad. I’m still mad. And I don’t know if I’m ready but I, um… might never be, so…”
“What do you mean by ‘ready’?”
“Like… strong. Sure of what to do next.”
“You don’ gotta do nothin’, Ellie. Except wait for time to do its thing… to accept what happened an’ get back to normal…”
Ellie scoffed. “There is no ‘normal’ anymore.”
“Okay, not the best word… a new normal.”
“I can’t just do nothing, Joel.” How much should she tell him? Damnit, she’d already said too much.
Joel didn’t like the sound of that. “What are you thinkin’ about doin’?” he asked in a warning tone that let her know his answer to whatever she said would be ‘like hell you are.’
“Nothing,” she said, more to buy some time than because she thought he’d believe it. She looked away from him again. He lied to me, I can lie to him. Or try to. I could tell him I’m thinking about what I SHOULD do, and let him think he can talk me out of it… yeah, that might work…
“Nothin’.” Joel sighed. “Right.”
“Okay, not nothing. Joel, I ain’t gonna answer that question, for a reason I can’t tell you. Is that better?” she sneered.
“Ellie, look at me, please.” He was so calm. For some reason, she had expected him to be yelling and punching walls or something. She turned her head. He had shifted around so that his whole body was facing her, one leg up with his elbow resting on his knee, the other leg crooked on the ground. “There’s nothin’ you need to do, nothin’ you can do. That’s why I… did what I did. You can think it was selfish of me, but I did the right thing. You woulda died for no reason. I had to—“
“No reason?! How can you say that? It’s probably the only good reason there is to die –- to save lives! To save the fucking planet.”
“No. It was a goddamn science experiment. They didn’ know what the fuck they were doin’.”
“It didn’t sound like that to me. Sounded like they knew exactly what they had to do.”
“They killed immune people before you came along. Still no vaccine. Why would this time be any different?”
“That’s… not what they said…” Ellie wasn’t so sure, though.
“They mentioned somethin’ about previous cases, on that tape. People like you are jus’ lab rats to them.”
“They didn’t say they all died.” Ellie did remember that much for sure. “They did say I was different!”
“Maybe they didn’ die, maybe they let ‘em all go when they were done messin’ with ‘em. I doubt it, but we’ll never know. They did say, very clearly, that you would have to die. Marlene said it. They were gonna cut into your brain—“
“Okay, yeah, I had to die. But they knew that. Cuz they knew what they had to do to make the vaccine. People die all the time, Joel. Some people get bit by Infected, some get shot by hunters or soldiers or other survivors… it’s all so senseless. My death would mean something. It would matter. It would mean that you and Tommy and everyone in Jackson, everyone everywhere, wouldn’t have to worry about getting infected, you could start rebuil—“
“Ellie, stop. That’s naïve. First of all, those motherfuckers may have had an idea, but they didn’ know for sure that it would work. There’s no way they could know that. There’s no guarantee they’d learn anything from you that would even get them any closer to makin’ a cure. Second of all, even if they did succeed in makin’ somethin’, they wouldn’ just waltz around peddlin’ it out to everyone. The government— the military would get involved, and they’d have to test it, and decide who should benefit from it and how, and it would all turn into some political bullshit.”
Ellie hadn’t thought it through that far. Maybe she was naïve, but Joel’s view sounded awfully cynical. “Well… it has to start somewhere. Maybe I could... oh! I could make them take an oath –- I could make them put it in writing and everything –- that if they made a vaccine they had to bring it to Jackson first.”
Joel shook his head and chuckled. “If only it were that simple. Hell, they could sign whatever you wanted ‘em to sign. Sign their own lives away. What makes you think they wouldn’ jus’ rip that shit up as soon as they knocked you out?”
Was he making fun of her? It seemed like it. “You know… to some people, giving their word actually means something.”
He didn’t have an answer to that one. Ha! She hoped it hurt. He deserved it.
“I guess I deserved that,” he said, at the exact moment she was thinking it. Eerie. “Look… it’s really sweet that you wanna help everyone. Save the world an’ all that. But you can’t. It’s too late. I killed everyone. And if I had it to do over again, you’re right, I wouldn’ do no different. I don’ regret it. See, it ain’t your fault. It’s mine. You had no say. You can be pissed at me all you want but don’t you feel guilty about it when there’s nothin’ you coulda done.”
“But now that I know—“
“Still nothin’ you can do,” Joel insisted. “Nothin’ for the Fireflies, anyway. You can do plenty here, jus’ by… livin’. By bein’ who you are.”
Ellie’s chest felt tight. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. She was supposed to let Joel’s babble go in one ear and out the other while she congratulated herself on giving a compelling performance of believing him, smug in the knowledge that somehow she’d figure out how to go off and… die.
“That’s not… it’s not good enough, Joel.” She pulled her knees up so she could bury her head in them. No way was she going to cry again.
“What do you mean? Of course it is. You’re so…” He let that thought trail off. Probably something that would make her feel worse.
“If I don’t do anything, now that I know, what does that say about me? It makes me a bad person.”
“No, it sure as hell doesn’t. No way. It makes you… it makes you human.”
She rested her chin on her knees. “Well, if it makes me feel like a bad person, it’s the same thing… how can I just turn my back on my destiny and pretend I’m normal?”
“’Destiny’ is horseshit. It’s somethin’ they made up for movies ‘cause it makes a nice story. It ain’t realistic.”
“Yeah, says me. Like I said, it don’ matter. I killed everyone. There’s nothin’ for you to go back to.”
“You killed everyone. Really. How do you know? I bet some of them hauled ass outta there when they heard you coming. I mean… the unarmed non-soldier-like people? The doctors? Scientists? You didn’t kill them, did you?”
Joel didn’t answer, which of course meant he did. “Jesus, Joel! And you’re so sure you did the right thing. Fuck… even if you’re right about… the cure, or whatever… you killed all those people. Instead of just me being dead, a whole bunch of people are dead. Good people. People working to save mankind!”
“They were a bunch of assholes. You deserve to live more than any of ‘em.”
How could he just talk about killing innocents like a… like… she didn’t know what. He sounded cold. Uncaring. She knew he was no saint, but… she also knew he had a heart. “And I’m supposed to not feel guilty that they all died –- all these people you didn’t even know to be assholes, they probably had kids and families… and they were heroes, for fuck’s sake -- they all died because of me.”
“No. Listen to me. They died because of me. I’m the one who made that choice. Not you. If anyone is a bad person here, it’s me. But I’m fine with that. It ain’t somethin’ new. I’ve told you that about myself, you jus’ don’ wanna believe it. Maybe now you will.”
Ellie swallowed a lump in her throat. She hated it when he labeled himself a bad person. He never acknowledged all the good things he did. She had always thought of him as a good person who’d had to do some bad things to survive. Like herself. Was she wrong? This whole time had she been wrong about him? But… it didn’t make sense. He was too good to her to be bad.
“Hey,” he said softly, after she’d been quiet for a little while. He sounded more like ‘her’ Joel. “What are you thinkin’?”
She rested her cheek on her knees, facing him but not quite looking at him. “What you did… you did it because of me. Because you didn’t want me to die. If you were bad, you wouldn’t have given a shit if I died. You wouldn’t have risked your own life to save mine.”
“It wasn’ really as noble as that,” he said quietly. “It was pretty much the same thing.”
“The same as… what? What do you mean?”
“Nothin’.” Joel cleared his throat. “Ellie, promise me you won’t try an’ go find any more Fireflies.”
“I can’t promise that. I still don’t know what I’m gonna do.”
“Well, they prob’ly don’ know what to do either, without Marlene. Maybe they’ll disband.” He sighed. “I’m sorry about Marlene. Not sorry that I… I mean I’m sorry you lost someone close to you, someone you’ve known your whole life. I know it’s hard.”
Marlene. Ellie still didn’t know how to feel about her, either. She went back to leaning against the wall, but scooted a little closer to him. “I didn’t know her that long. I only met her when I was thirteen. We were close I guess but not like…” Not like you and me.
“Wait a minute. She told me she’d known you since you were born, that she took care of you.”
“Nope. She knew my mom. She promised my mom she’d look out for me, and she did, somehow… I don’t know what all she did, to be honest. Made sure I had somewhere to go after I got kicked out of each school, I guess? But yeah, I only knew her for like a year, then I left with you.”
For some reason, this really enraged Joel. “That fucking bitch! She was actin’ like you were practically her kid, an’ that’s why it was so hard on her to –- shit, she made it sound like she was a superhero, takin’ care of you while runnin’ the Fireflies. That stupid cunt told me that I --“
Ellie cut him off. “Joel, she was still my friend. Don’t talk about her like that.”
He stopped talking out loud but Ellie could tell he was still raging inside. He leaned against the wall again and looked in the other direction. He started flexing his hands. For some reason, she was finding it really difficult to be mad at him. Even when he was insulting Marlene. Maybe even especially when he was insulting Marlene. Which was fucked up, and made her feel guilty. Even so, something possessed her to scoot even closer and put her hand on top of his, as a comforting gesture. He looked at her hand. Almost instantly he relaxed.
“You’re cold again,” he observed, and he put his other hand over hers to warm it.
Ellie thought about jerking her hand back… then realized she didn’t really want to. I’m crap at being mad at people. Who knew? “Yeah, so um… Marlene. What difference does it make when I met her? Don’t be mad at her. None of it matters. She’s gone.” Ellie felt like she wasn’t as sad as she should have been about that. If she had to choose between Marlene and Joel, Joel won easily. Even though he’d killed her. It didn’t seem respectful to Marlene.
Joel removed his hand from on top of hers, and turned his other hand palm-up to hold hers properly. Their fingers were all jumbled together. She was holding hands with Marlene’s killer. And enjoying it. I AM a bad person.
“And you’re upset with me about that. That’s fine, I don’ expect you to forgive me. I’m jus’ glad you’re willin’ to talk to me. Glad you don’ hate my guts.”
Ellie squeezed his hand. She was feeling emotional again, and not about Marlene. “How could I hate someone who did so much to protect me? I don’t agree with what you did, but… no one’s ever cared about me like that, y’know? Not even Marlene.”
Joel squeezed back. They sat there quietly for a little while, fingers intertwined, his thumb stroking hers. Before they’d started sharing a bed, they weren’t very physical. They weren’t constantly touching each other now, either, but a little more often than they used to. Sometimes when they sat on the couch, she leaned against him, or stuck her feet in his lap (although when she did that, she risked getting tickled). It was so much easier to fall asleep when his arms were around her. Most of the time, she only knew when she’d had a nightmare because Joel would ask her in the morning if she remembered it. If that stopped happening, would he stop sleeping with her? He seemed to like it, though… or at least, he never pushed her away. And he never brought up the subject of altering their arrangement.
“You ready to go home now? Get some sleep?” Joel asked, and again it struck Ellie that he seemed to be reading her mind. Although it wasn’t like a random concept, going home and sleeping… it had to be really late, and he had to be really exhausted. She didn’t want to sleep. Ever. She’d be permanently asleep soon enough. …maybe. She wasn’t so sure about that now. How could she spend all day figuring shit out and end up more confused than before?
“Okay.” She’d tortured Joel enough; she could at least let him rest. And she didn’t imagine he’d be able to sleep if she stayed out here. They stood up together, and Ellie kept hold of his hand, mostly because she was curious to see if he’d let go of it when they started walking.
He didn’t. They headed slowly back towards civilization. Joel said maybe he should go tell a guard that he’d found her, so the guard could let everyone with a walkie talkie know, but then he said fuck it, they could find out in the morning whenever he got around to it. Ellie was supposed to work at the farm in the morning, but Joel said they could manage without her, that the two of them could go down there later and let Annie know she was back. And they could go find Clicker, too –- Joel told her how the kid had helped him search for a few hours, and Ellie was touched that Clicker would do that, especially right after she’d been mean to him. Joel didn’t have a specific job he was expected to work on tomorrow, so he reckoned he wouldn’t be putting anyone out if he didn’t show up.
“You don’t have to stay with me 24/7, Joel,” Ellie pointed out, only mildly irritated. “I’m not a child.”
“Technically, you are,” he reminded her. “But it ain’t that. I’m jus’ not convinced that you won’t go pull some stunt to try an’ leave.”
“I won’t!” she protested.
“You couldn’ promise me. We’ll talk about it s’more tomorrow, yeah?”
Ellie sighed. “Fine. But you still can’t be with me all the time.”
“Sure I can.”
“So you’re gonna take me in the bathroom with you when you gotta go? Gross!”
Joel chuckled. “That’s a good idea. You can turn your back, you don’ have to watch. Jus’ hold your breath. Or pinch your nose an’ breathe through your mouth.”
Ellie playfully shoved him with her shoulder. “Ewwww! No way! Okay then -- what about when you take a shower? Can I watch that?”
“Uh…” Oh how cute, he’s embarrassed! “Maybe I won’ take a shower for a while.”
“Oh, come on, Joel, don’t be shy,” she teased. “Okay, I’ll turn my back. But I’ll have to be in there with you or you won’t be able to grab me when I start running. I’ll just sneak a peek here and there.”
At least he seemed amused instead of pissed off. “You’re gonna take a shower with me? That’s your solution?”
“Nooooooo, not take one –- just -- I’ll have clothes on.” Now she felt embarrassed. Her face was hot… if she was blushing, at least Joel couldn’t see it in the near-darkness.
“Well, that don’t seem fair.” He said it in a teasing way, but he immediately sobered, then let out a very long, loud sigh and something similar to her ‘pfffft’ sound. Only it was more like a groan. “Fuck. I think I need to get some sleep.”
“What makes you say that?” Ellie asked innocently… but she figured it had something to do with the ‘fair’ comment, which was… hmmm. Was he hinting that he wanted to see her without her clothes on?
“Nothin’. I’m tired, that’s what.” He let go of her to run his hands through his hair. And then didn’t take her hand back.
She let that ‘nothing’ slide, preoccupied with analyzing the comment. Maybe she shouldn’t have gone there. She’d only been joking around about watching him in the shower. He knew she was curious about… male anatomy, and so forth, but she couldn’t imagine actually doing that. She’d die of embarrassment sooner than Joel would. But… it sort of felt like Joel was flirting with her… maybe? She didn’t know much about flirting. The possibility of him truly wanting to see her naked was… not as disturbing as it should have been. Not disturbing at all, actually. It kindled that funny feeling in her stomach. It was somehow exciting…
Except, if he meant it, why did he snap them out of it like that, before she could even react? It was probably a good thing, because if she’d tried to flirt back, he would have just made fun of whatever lame thing came out of her mouth.
Maybe it bothered him because he did mean it. Maybe he was afraid of scaring her or offending her. It SHOULD offend you… duh, he’s like your father. What the fuck is wrong with you, Ellie? She just... forgot, sometimes. Maybe Joel did too.
When they got home, Joel switched on the light and looked at the clock. “Shit, it’s almost four in the mornin’. And damn, look at you –- I didn’ realize how filthy you were.”
She grinned. “You are too. Look, I made your shirt all black. And your hand.”
He looked down and chuckled. “Yes you did. Why don’ you go clean yourself up. I’ll jus’ wash up a little in the sink here.”
Ellie thought about making some cutesy remark about how he could watch if he wanted… but she couldn’t say it. She knew it wouldn’t come out right and besides, Joel wasn’t playing anymore.
She looked at her grimy face in the mirror. Yuck. There was probably a time in the past year that she’d looked worse, but she couldn’t think of one. In the shower, she looked down at her ugly body and sighed. She still had no boobs. Well, almost none. They were nowhere near sexy. They might have grown a smidge since that day she’d asked that weird fortune teller toy thing if she’d ever get some. The last day she had with Riley before…
The pain had laid low for a while because Joel had distracted her from it, but it hadn’t gone away. It would never go away. She slapped some shampoo on her head and scrubbed her scalp vigorously. Why am I even thinking about boobs and Joel and stupid shit? None of it matters. My life as a regular person is over. Even if I can’t leave here yet, it’s not like I can be happy. I owe it to everyone who died -- everyone I care about –- to do what I can to help make a cure.
She was feeling quite somber by the time she’d brushed out her hair and dressed for bed. She stared at the happy bunny faces on her feet. They were mocking her, smiling like that when there was nothing worth smiling about anymore.
“Ellie? You all right in there?”
She must have been taking too long. She stepped out of the bathroom and found Joel sitting on the couch in his usual bedtime attire of lounge pants and tank top. He patted the seat next to him and she sat down. The anger she felt towards him… it was probably still there, somewhere… but now she only felt sad. Sad because at some point she would have to leave him. How the fuck could she ever do that? But she had to. She couldn’t let him brainwash her with his fantasies of living happily ever after together.
It would be easier if you didn’t snuggle with him in bed every night, for fuck’s sake, she scolded herself. She should try to distance herself from him. Maybe she couldn’t do it in a big way, like lying to him about not wanting to be his sort-of-daughter anymore, but she could do little things. Toddle away with baby steps.
“So, um… are you gonna sleep out here?” she asked tentatively. Maybe she could let Joel take the first step.
He looked at her a long moment. Like… like he was trying to figure her out. “No. That is, I will if you want me to, of course. I know you’re pissed at me…”
“But you want to sleep in the bedroom?” Please say yes… wait, no. Say no. The whole point was for him to say no, that he was only doing it because—
“With you. Yeah, I do. I wanna make sure you’re all right. An’ that you won’t leave again.”
Yes, only because of THAT. “If you didn’t have to worry about that stuff, would you still want to?” She looked at him steadily.
Okay, so that was a rather awkward question. Maybe she shouldn’t have asked it. But whatever, she’d managed to get her ‘no,’ if she chose to take it. “I figured. You can sleep out here, I promise I won’t run off before you wake up,” she added coldly. Ellie stood up to leave before she lost her nerve.
“Wait, now, hang on a second.” He tugged at her elbow and pulled her back down next to him. “I didn’ say I wouldn’t want to. I’m… not supposed to want to. You understand?”
“Yeah but we talked about that and you decided you didn’t care, that it’s no big deal.”
Joel sighed. “Not exactly. It is a big deal. I don’ want it to… to mess you up, somehow…”
“Pfft. How would it mess me up? I’m already messed up anyways. And we don’t do anything, so it’s not bad.”
“Ellie, can we jus’ go to sleep? I don’ have the energy for this right now.”
He did look pretty beat. But she persisted. “Not until you tell me if you like it or not.”
“Yes, I like it,” he answered, too quickly.
“You just said that to shut me up.”
“I did. But it’s true. Now go on.”
“Is it really?”
“Ellie, why are you tryin’ to make me feel like a pedophile? What do you want?”
“A pedophile? Like, a child molester?! I’m not young enough for it to be that.” She could understand why it might make him feel like a pervert or something, but God –- she was fifteen years old, not eight. “Is that really how you feel?”
Joel sighed again. “Go lay down an’ I’ll tell you.”
She couldn’t deny that she was glad he’d be in the bed with her, even if the cold, practical side of her brain didn’t like it. She got under the covers while he did his thing, making sure the door and windows were secure, then switching off the light and joining her in the dark.
Ellie waited for him to get settled on his back and then snuggled up to his side with her head on his chest. They usually started out that way. And she’d started leaving her hair down, because then he could run his fingers all the way through it. “I’m not a child, Joel. I’m all grown up.”
“It’s okay for you to like this. It’s not bad.”
“You’re so not a pedophile or a pervert or anything like that.”
She poked him. “Joel! You can’t fall asleep yet, you were gonna tell me how you feel.”
He chuckled at that. “Is that what I said? That don’ sound like me.”
“Joooeeeellllll,” she whined. “About being a pedophile. Even though I’m not a little kid.”
“Right.” He let out a big yawn first. “You’re underage. You ain’t real little, but if a grown man sleeps in the same bed as an underage girl, he’s takin’ advantage. It’s wrong.”
“But we’re not fucking. So it’s not wrong.”
“Jus’ because we’re not—“ He didn’t even want to say it. Joel was pretty fucking adorable sometimes. “That don’ make it all right. I’m still… gettin’ somethin’ out of it.”
“I’m touchin’ you, ain’t I?”
“Not in my private areas.”
“Awww, man. You’re ‘Ellie’-ing me for that? I didn’t even say anything bad.”
“I’m done talkin’. Good night, baby girl.”
“Good night.” Ellie wasn’t going to sleep, though. She was kinda tired, but… You’re being dumb, Ellie. You’re going to have to sleep at some point. It’s not like you can leave tomorrow. For now, she wanted to savor being close to Joel while she still could.
She fell asleep pondering what exactly Joel was ‘getting’ from her that was even remotely bad.
~Continue to Chapter 14~