Lumy (luminations) wrote,
Lumy
luminations

"Accretion" Chapter 21: "Do Or Die"

Title: "Accretion" - Chapter 21: "Do Or Die"
Fandom: The Last of Us
Word Count: 5287
Rating (for fic as a whole): R
Chapter Summary: Ready, Set, Action!


The day had finally arrived. This was it! Do or die. …not to be melodramatic or anything. But Ellie couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt this nervous. She’d rather face a roomful of Infected than this. How fucked up was that? It was just Joel. A man who loved her. What was the worst that could happen, really?

Ellie woke up before Joel, before her alarm went off -- neither of which was unusual. She switched it off and looked at the back of the sleeping lump a few feet away from her. He was always on his own side of the mattress in the mornings now. Ellie slipped quietly off the bed and went around to his side. The rising sun had begun to tint the room a ghostly gray through the curtains, but his face was still in shadow. This is the last time I’ll see you before everything changes, she thought happily. She gently kissed his forehead, then went off to start her day.

A very looooong day. She considered backing out. Several times. She didn’t have to do it, she could just keep things the way they were… But then Annie would catch her eye and shoot a gleeful, excited look her way, and Ellie remembered that she had a lot to feel hopeful about. Either way, she had to know. And she already knew, somehow. Joel just needed a nudge… and unequivocal consent.

But… but… guh, so many things could go wrong! What if Joel spaced it and went to Tommy and Maria’s, and Ellie was sitting around waiting like an idiot? What if Annie saw her scar and freaked out and Ellie had to deal with that instead of getting ready? What if she burned dinner? What if she spilled something on Annie’s pretty dress? What if she somehow ripped or otherwise mangled the dress? Joel would think she was just a little kid trying to play grown-up. What if everything went just fine but she couldn’t manage to flip the switch over to romance? Maybe he wouldn’t get it. What if he laughed at her? What if he told her that what she thought she knew was bullshit, that he didn’t think of her that way at all and she was crazy for thinking that he could?

Nothing went wrong in Annie’s kitchen when they were prepping her shepherd’s pie. The two girls had the kitchen to themselves since Esther was helping Farm 2 all day. Annie had told her mom she’d be helping Ellie cook a nice dinner for Joel, as a cover -- ha! She figured it was a good story because Ellie and her mystery man wouldn’t be eating the entire pie that night and Joel would likely have leftovers, if Esther ever happened to bring up the subject of Ellie’s cooking in the future. Still a gamble… Annie fretted that her mom might say something about Ellie making it for Joel instead of him merely sampling some leftovers, but Ellie assured her there was no need to waste any time thinking about such remote possibilities.

With about an hour and a half to go, the girls headed up to Joel’s house armed with the casserole, the dress, and hair styling tools. The timer on the oven didn’t work, so Ellie would have to remember to pull the dish out at the correct time -- about ten minutes before Joel was expected to arrive. Ellie had reminded him again last night to come home at exactly six o’clock, and since she wouldn’t tell him why, she hoped he would be intrigued enough not to forget.

She had so much grooming to do! She had to shave her legs, file or clip her nails, wash and condition her hair, rub lotion all over herself –- and that was really extravagant, as lotion was meant to be stored for use in the winter when skin got so dry it chapped. Even then it was to be used sparingly. Annie insisted it was important that she have soft, touchable skin, and that this occasion was worthy of lotioning.

Ellie didn’t want to put the dress on until the very end (both to keep her arm hidden as long as possible and to minimize the chance of messing up the dress) so after she’d showered and groomed herself, she wore a bathrobe while Annie worked on her hair. Ellie sat on a kitchen chair in front of the bathroom mirror. There wasn’t enough room for Annie to pass behind her so she had to keep twisting in her seat to let her reach the other side of her head. Ellie had never in her life had her hair blown dry; it felt very self-indulgent. The hot air tickled the nape of her neck and made her squirm a little.

Annie brushed her hair out until it crackled, then fluffed it around her shoulders. The uneven locks that normally framed her face appeared to blend in to the rest of her hair. “Look how shiny and soft it is, Ellie! It’s beautiful! You have to leave it down. He’ll want to touch it.”

Ellie had used a conditioning rinse Annie made for her out of beer, honey, and aloe vera (only a tiny bit of beer, according to Annie). She fingered a strand; it was rather soft, and it smelled like the plant, not the beer, thankfully. Of course, Annie didn’t realize that Joel had touched her hair plenty already. Ellie imagined him touching it with both hands, cupping her face while she was standing in front of him… then he’d lean in to kiss her.... She promptly blushed and giggled. “I hope he does!” Excitement began to edge out the fear and anxiety, and she felt confident again.

“It’s really pretty like that -- he doesn’t stand a chance,” Annie declared.

“Ha! If all that decides this thing is my hair, maybe! Soooo I guess it’s time to turn into a complete girl now and put that fucking dress on…”

Complete girl indeed. A little bit of Annie’s homemade ‘lip gloss’ (more aloe vera and honey) completed her look. Ellie barely recognized the girl in the mirror. A vision of Joel walking in the door and instinctively pulling a gun at the sight of a stranger in his house made her laugh. That would be quite the start to their evening! She looked strange, sure, but… she didn’t look half bad, she thought. She shyly emerged from the bathroom, keeping the bathrobe folded over her right arm. Annie squealed in delight when she saw her. “Eeeeeeee it’s perfect! You look amazing!”

“Shut up,” Ellie grumbled, embarrassed but happy, her head bowed.

Annie groaned. “No! Remember what you’re gonna say when he compliments you?”

“’Thank you’,” Ellie recited with a sigh.

“And don’t look down!”

She kept looking down… at her bare feet. Annie had some sandals that would have looked cute with the dress, but Ellie’s feet were too small. Esther’s feet were closer to Ellie’s size. Too bad the only shoes in Esther’s closet were even uglier than Ellie’s sneakers. Since it was summer, they decided that going barefoot would be preferable to wearing inappropriate footwear. Hopefully Joel wouldn't pay much mind to the bottoms of her feet, as they’d be plenty dirty before he even got home.

Annie offered to stick around and help Ellie pass the remaining time, and to make sure the casserole came out okay. It was a tempting offer, but Ellie didn’t want to risk cutting it too close. “I got it from here,” she assured her friend with a quick hug, remaining conscious of the angle at which she kept her scarred arm. “Thank you sooooooo much. For everything. I owe you big time!”

“You’re welcome, it was fun!” Now Annie appeared to be the anxious one. “Don’t forget to go to the bathroom after you eat so you can put on more lip gloss. Keep your head up. Smile a lot. Don’t forget the candles. Um... what else… I wish we had wine, romantic dinners in the movies always have wine—“

Ellie laughed. “Stop, you’re gonna make me all nervous again. I’m good. Now get outta here, I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow! Remember, you promised -- no spying.”

Annie rolled her eyes. “Not spying –- back-up!”

“Spying in disguise, you mean. I’m fine! Bye!” To Ellie’s amusement, Annie had offered up the services of herself (and Jacob, if Ellie would allow her to tell him) to hang out nearby in case things got ‘out of hand.’ If only Annie knew how ludicrous that was! Joel was the last person on the planet who would do anything like that to her (which was part of the fucking problem, really). Ellie had reminded her that in the unlikely event of any unwanted advances, she was quite skilled at protecting herself, especially against an unarmed civilian, for fuck’s sake; she didn’t need friends hanging around in ‘scream distance’ for security.

Twenty minutes to go. All that was left to do in preparation was to yank the dish out of the oven, and light the two tapered candles. They were already burned about halfway down from use during power outages -- the intended use for them, but again, Annie told her it was important enough to ‘waste’ them to create a cozy romantic glow. The sun wouldn’t even set for a couple hours so this was really wasteful. With the curtains shut, at least it was relatively dark inside, and maybe that would make Joel feel extra secure in their privacy should he feel like kissing her…

Omigod he’s SO going to fucking kiss me tonight. Somehow. How?! What was she even going to say to him? She’d tried to plan this out and never got very far. She couldn’t rehearse a speech. She had to go with the flow.

With no task to distract her, Ellie started feeling a little panicky again. Wasn’t there something she could do while she waited? Annie had already tidied up the house and set the table while Ellie was in the shower, and besides, Ellie was handicapped by the dress: she had to keep it clean and unwrinkled and perfect. She perched carefully on the edge of the couch. Soon she’d be sitting here with Joel! They would eat a nice meal and talk about whatever and then Joel would want to stretch out and relax so they’d move to the couch… maybe she’d end up in his lap? She wouldn’t be worried about wrinkling the dress then –- its job would be done. She got shivery just thinking about it. He’d tell her how pretty she looked (and she would not tell him to shut up), she’d look into his eyes and try not to do the nervous laugh… he’d notice how shiny and kissable her lips were…

A loud rap on the door interrupted her fantasy. What the fuck?! Joel wasn’t due for another fifteen minutes, and he wouldn’t knock. Before she was even up off the couch, Annie burst through the door, panting like she was on the run from a cluster of Infected. “Ellie! Big problem! Joel’s coming! He’s not working late like you thought! We have to do something!”

Shit! Ellie rushed over to the door. “What? Where did you—“

“I went to the library!” she panted. “He was there -- I watched him leave! I wanted to make sure –- so I followed him out--”

“He’s probably going to Tommy’s…”

“No, he’s heading this way! South, not east! Where else would he be going?! I ran as fast as I could to beat him here -- he can’t be too far behind though -- I had to go around –- I have to distract him! Enough that he won’t come here.” Annie squeezed her eyes shut like she was thinking hard.

Oh God. “No, don’t worry about it! Go!”

Annie ignored her. “Oh! I know! I can run in front of him -- and I’ll pretend to trip and hurt myself! He’d have to help me –- I could act like my ankle’s twisted or something—“

Fuck! This could be disastrous. Ellie had to admire her friend for being so dedicated to this plan, detrimental though it was. She just had to get rid of her before Joel showed up! “Annie, no! It’s fine, I can handle it, just go!” She pushed her gently backwards towards the doorway.

But Annie was intent on doing this; she just raised her voice over Ellie’s objections and kept laying out a plan. “No –- this will work! We’ll hobble real slow all the way back to my house –- he can go get my mom off Farm 2 -- and my mom and him will start talking –- we’ll get him to stay for dinner over there –- I’ll even tell him we’re expecting you for dinner so he’ll stay –- later I can say I got the days mixed up—“

“Annie, no! I got this! You have to trust me. Just go!” Ellie tried to turn her around and shove her a little more forcefully this time.

Still, Annie wouldn’t leave. “But what are you gonna do?!” she wailed.

“I’ll think of something! Just fucking GO! I don’t need help!” Ellie grabbed her by the shoulders and marched her out the door, giving her one last push –- almost directly into Joel’s arms. FUCK FUCK FUCK! He’d been trotting up to the porch; he must have heard their shouting. Who knows what he heard, with the fucking door open. FUUUUUUCK!

Annie backed up a few steps and blocked the doorway. Joel couldn’t really see Ellie that well, with Annie standing in front of her… not getting out of his way. “Ellie? You all right? …Annie?” Joel looked at Annie in confusion, but she offered no explanation.

Did Annie think Joel would just go away if she stood there like that? Ellie might have laughed if she wasn’t so busy trying not to freak out. “I’m fine. Annie was just leaving.” Annie turned to see Ellie’s expression, perhaps to look for some sign of a plan… Ellie pleaded with her eyes and mouthed ‘GO.’

A bit flustered, Annie chuckled nervously and tried to smile at Joel like everything was all fucking normal as could be. “Yeah, um… I was just leaving. See you tomorrow, Ellie!”

Without thinking, Ellie slammed the door shut and hurried across the room. Like she could just pretend that hadn’t happened and Joel would walk through the door all casual as planned and she’d turn around and greet him with what she hoped was a flirtatious smile and…

Of course, Joel opened the door, and he was anything but casual. “Ellie, what the fuck—“

Ellie wished with all her being that she was wearing her jeans and T-shirt instead of this stupid dress, and that her hair was normal and she wouldn’t have to try to explain anything to Joel. She couldn’t make herself turn around and face him yet… but at least I haven’t locked myself in the bathroom either? “You’re not supposed to be here yet! I told you six!” she said angrily.

“Yeah, and it’s… almost six,” Joel said slowly. “Is there someone else here?”

“No!”

Joel went to check the other two rooms anyway. Ellie’s bare feet had somehow frozen themselves to the floor. “I said no. Why do you think someone else is here?”

“Why were you an’ Annie fightin’ like that? What did she do that—“

“Nothing! God!” Can you please go outside so we can start this over?

He stood in the hallway, looking at her. She was too discombobulated to face him so she turned her back on him and tried to think. She had to get control of herself. “What are you up to?” he asked suspiciously.

Ellie remembered the casserole in the oven and found the courage to uproot herself from her spot. “Wait. Stay there.” As if he might not notice her going to the kitchen? But it bought her a tiny bit of time to think. She’d failed in worse situations and recovered. Calm down, Ellie. Don’t yell at him. This isn’t ruined, not yet. You shot an arrow at a clicker and missed, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still shoot the fucker with a shotgun…

She managed to get the dish on the stove without burning herself, and she switched the oven off. Fire hazard neutralized. She turned around and found that, naturally, Joel hadn’t stayed put. He was standing by the table. “Why are you acting weird? And why the hell are you wearing a dress?” He didn’t sound angry, he wasn’t making fun of her, it was more like… he was concerned.

The interrogation was making her feel defensive. “I thought it was pretty,” she said meekly, realizing how lame it sounded before she’d even finished saying it. If he thought it was pretty -- if he thought she looked pretty, he didn’t give any indication. Fuck! Okay, you shot and missed, time to grab a Molotov?

Trying to relate this to the familiar turf of killing Infected wasn’t helping matters. At least Joel didn’t know what to say either, and he was slow to respond. He frowned at her. “Are you tryin’ to impress some boy?”

“No!” Ugh -- okay, wait, this is actually a move in the right direction, don’t yell…

“That boy from the library last night?”

Lucas? Ha! “No,” she repeated, making more of an effort to stay calm.

“You always wear your hair in a ponytail…”

“Well, I felt like doing something different. It’s nothing to be mad about!”

“I ain’t mad.”

“Then why are you yelling at me?” She just needed him to shut up so she could fucking think.

“You’re the one doin’ the yellin’,” he pointed out.

He was right, of course. What was wrong with her? And why was she glaring at him? She didn’t want to be mad… that wasn’t supposed to happen…

Joel gestured to the couch. “C’mon, let’s sit down an’ have us a little talk.”

Ellie dutifully sat down on the couch with him. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad. Sitting on the couch was part of the plan. So they’d skipped the dinner part. She didn’t feel like she could eat right now anyway, not with the way her stomach was roiling. They were sitting quite close, their knees almost touching… but Joel didn’t touch her. She wondered if he’d freak out if she decided to have this talk while sitting in his lap... yeah, of course he would. She bit her lip, tasting the gloss.

“You know you can talk to me,” he began. “No, lemme rephrase that –- I want you to talk to me. I don’ like you sneakin’ around doin’ things without tellin’ me but I… I reckon you did it ‘cause I ain’t exactly been… understandin’… about boys an’ such.”

Ellie sighed. “I already told you, it’s not about that.” When Joel got an idea in his head, it was hard to dislodge it. Was he forgetting that she’d been expecting him to be here? Maybe that’s how she could turn this around and make him see what was right in front of him…

“Well, I don’ know why else you would—“

She waited for him to find the words. None came. “Why I would what?” she prompted. Do you think I look pretty, Joel?

“Do all this,” he said, covering her appearance and the dinner with a sweeping hand gesture.

Okay, here goes… She leaned toward him a little and bravely looked him in the eye. “Joel… it’s not for a boy,” she said pointedly.

And she saw it –- the comprehension, the look of understanding, finally –- and… relief? She didn’t get the feeling that he was particularly happy, though. Nor did he seem repulsed. Joel nodded. “I get it. A girl. Nothin’ wrong with that. You an’ Annie…?”

What?! Ellie was so frustrated she wanted to scream. How could he be so completely utterly fucking oblivious?! “Oh my God. No!”

“It’s all right, I understand—“

“You don’t understand anything! What is wrong with you?!” Getting mad wouldn’t accomplish her goal but she just couldn’t help herself.

Joel blinked. “Wrong with me?”

“You don’t get it. You completely don’t fucking get it. It’s not a girl! It’s not a boy and it’s not a girl. So why else…” No no no STOP. This isn’t how it’s supposed to go. Don’t just blurt it out. It was a wonder that she’d managed to keep sitting. She turned away from him, away from the infuriatingly clueless, puzzled look on his face.

It was also a wonder Joel hadn’t lost his patience by this point, actually. It must be frustrating to be so dense. “Ellie, if you would just tell me what’s goin’ on with you, I wouldn’ have to guess.”

You shouldn’t have to guess, you should fucking know by now! Was the idea that she’d try to have a romantic evening with him such a foreign concept to his brain that it didn’t even compute? She decided the first part was safe to say out loud. “You shouldn’t have to guess.”

“That’s right. Because you should tell me.”

So be it. “Fine! I did it for you, okay? I wanted you to— I made you dinner,” she amended. She could let him puzzle out her reasons. She was pretty sure everything was ruined now. Wasted all the ammo, better make a run for it…

“For me,” Joel repeated doubtfully, as if he hadn’t heard her correctly and expected her to correct him. Ellie felt her face burning but she forced herself to turn around and gauge Joel’s reaction -- one of genuine surprise. …and nothing else? “Is it so hard to believe?” Clearly it was. “I wanted to do something nice for you.”

Joel seemed to conclude that she was telling the truth. He smiled a little and leaned closer to ruffle her hair. “That’s awfully sweet. Thank you. You didn’ have to.”

“I know I didn’t. I wanted to.” He still wasn’t grasping the full picture here. Ellie wasn’t sure she wanted him to anymore. She was really bad at this. Or was Joel truly just that thick? Maybe it was both.

Then he touched her hair again, more gently than the ruffling, and her heart leaped. Maybe all was not lost! He toyed with a lock of it, and his fingers grazed her bare shoulder, sending a little shiver down her spine. “Your hair… it’s softer’n usual. It’s nice.”

Ellie didn’t know what to say. She couldn’t tell him how she’d made it softer, or anything else she’d done to increase her desirability. At least he’d finally commented on some aspect of her appearance. It wasn’t the ‘you’re so beautiful, Ellie’ remark of her fantasies… but she had to admit, her fantasies could be a little farfetched. Joel wasn’t exactly Prince Charming. Then she remembered that she could have said ‘thank you’… but after a few moments pass, isn’t it kind of too late?

“Dinner smells good. Let’s eat. You hungry?” Joel was way too comfortable with her; no way did he realize what the point of this evening was. She wasn’t hungry at all but she followed him over to the dining area. When he went to the counter to get the food, she grabbed his arm to stop him.

“No no no, let me get it! Just sit down.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

That’s better. She believed that Joel secretly liked it when she bossed him around, when he ‘yes ma’am’ed her like that. Ellie donned the oven mitts to plant the pie in the center of the table, cautioned Joel that it was still hot, and went back to retrieve a serving spoon from the drawer. She felt like they were playing house, and she was the good little wife; it was fun, even if it didn't feel real.

“What’s with the candles? Did the power go out here? It was fine at the library. It does look like a storm’s brewin’, though.”

She should have lit those stupid candles before, then he might have said the lighting was nice instead of asking her why they were there… nah, he still would have asked. She didn’t have the courage to light them now. “Um… it flickered,” she fibbed. “Enough to fuck up the alarm clocks. I reset them already.” If Joel could tell she was lying, he didn’t let on. She stood in front of the table dumbly holding the spoon. Am I supposed to scoop some on his plate or let him do that? Why didn’t I think about this shit before? She only debated for a second before setting it on the table in front of him and taking her seat. He might think it was weird otherwise. Not that this whole thing wasn’t weird as fuck already.

According to Joel, the shepherd’s pie was awesome, which made Ellie feel all glowy inside, yet still she could only pick at it. He asked her about her day, like usual (she confessed that Annie helped her with dinner, but she took full credit for the peeling and mashing of the potatoes, which was the hardest part, really), and this time she even remembered to ask him about his day. It was nice and all, but... but what? She wanted to sulk like a spoiled brat, which was stupid, because they were having a pleasant dinner, and she had Joel’s undivided attention… a couple of months ago, this scene would have been heaven to her.

Joel had two full helpings in the time it took Ellie to eat her half serving. He commented on her lack of appetite, and she fibbed again, saying she’d pigged out at lunch. She didn’t think he bought it, but he didn’t push. She couldn’t explain what her stomach was doing. If this thing was fucked, shouldn’t the ball of anxiety in there melt away? But it’s not necessarily fucked. Yet.

After the table was cleared and the leftovers put away, Joel plopped down on the couch like he usually did at Tommy’s after meals. He’d offered to help with the dishes but she’d shooed him away, then left them in the sink –- she could wash them some time when she wasn’t wearing a dress she didn’t want to mess up.

It felt like the couch presented an opportunity to enlighten Joel… somehow. How? He still hadn’t asked her about the dress. Either he had no curiosity whatsoever, he thought she might get upset if he broached the topic, or he really did know what she was doing… and, what? Didn’t know how to handle it so found it best to ignore? Hoped it would go away? She hoped it was option two, because she’d just thought of the perfect way to bring it up.

Joel reached behind him and tugged the curtain open a little. “It’s rainin’,” he observed.

“Hmm? Oh. Aren’t you gonna tease me about leaving dirty dishes over there?” she asked playfully as she sat next to him. She tried leaning back, the way he was, but it felt too… too casual, or something.

Joel chuckled. “I should, seein’ as how you nag me over leavin’ one little thing. I did offer my services so you can’t get pissed at me this time.”

Ellie wanted to sit sideways with one leg tucked under her, but the dress seemed to limit her options. At least until she was willing to let it get wrinkled. That would be whenever Joel decides he wants to touch me. So…never? Ugh, come ON, Joel... She crossed her legs and hoped she looked ladylike. “I’ll do them when I’m not wearing… this. I borrowed it from Annie.”

“Annie wears dresses all the time an’ it don’ stop her from doin’ things.”

Did he have to think of it like that? Jeez. “But those are like… work dresses. They’re supposed to get dirty. This one’s not.”

Joel wasn’t even looking at her. His eyes were closed. “Mmhmm. You never told me why you’re wearin’ it in the first place.”

Okay good NOW SAY SOMETHING FLIRTY, ELLIE. “I’m wearing it because…” No, too direct. “I wanted to… um…” How is that LESS direct? FLIRT, damnit… “Don’t you like it?” Better, but possibly pathetic?

“Sure. It jus’ don’ look like… like you, is all.”

“Because it’s pretty?”

Joel smirked. “Exactly.”

“Fuck you.” She could tell he was just giving her shit, not trying to be mean, and normally she’d either give it right back or pretend to be mad at him… the ‘fuck you’ had slipped out rather automatically. How can I make this time different? Why is this so hard?!

Joel looked at her then. Sat up a little. Maybe he noticed the lack of laughter in her voice. He lightly play-punched her arm. “Hey. I’m jus’ teasin’ you.”

“I know.” She forced a laugh. Then, in some fucking bizarre divine moment of clarity, it hit her how utterly ridiculous it was for her to think that she could woo Joel with flirtation when she didn’t really know how to flirt and when he still wasn’t even perceiving her as a woman. She and Joel had always become closer in the moments when they were being real with each other. Part of her still thought being direct was a mistake… a bigger part of her felt the torture had gone on long enough, and it was time to either shit or get off the pot. “But... I’m not just… you know. Jeans and dirt.”

“Since when?” He seemed amused. She needed him to not be amused right now.

She plucked at her skirt, which gave her an excuse to look down. “I mean… there’s a side of me you don’t even know, Joel.” God, this is almost as difficult as flirting!

“All right. What don’ I know?”

“The thing is… I’m not sure you wanna know. That’s what I’m trying to figure out.”

“Of course I wanna know.” Good, he was acting more serious now. He leaned towards her. “You can tell me anythin’ you want.”

“But what if you, like… laugh, or something?” Much to Ellie’s horror, she felt like she wanted to cry. She blinked rapidly to ward off the tears. Tears were not sexy. That much she knew.

“I won’t. I promise.” Joel put his hand on her shoulder; he was in comfort/console mode. That was probably the best she could hope for.

Ellie looked at the hand. Watched his thumb move gently back and forth. Kept blinking. “What if I told you…” Fuck, I can’t say it!

“Told me what?” Joel prompted. “Ellie, what is goin’ on with you? Maybe I can help you with it.”

She smiled a little. “I know you can, actually.”

Joel seemed pleased to hear that. “Well, good. So tell me.”

“It’s just… um…” Ellie swallowed. This is it. No going back. Oh please please please let it be a change for the better! She looked at him. At his face -- the rugged, whiskered face she was so fond of. In his eyes… he looked so intense right now she felt like he already knew what she was going to say, somehow, in spite of his earlier cluelessness. It gave her the last ounce of courage she needed. “Joel…”

“What is it, baby girl?” he asked softly.

She took a deep breath. Do or die. “I’m in love with you.”

~Continue to Chapter 22~

Tags: accretion, fic, tlou
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