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"Uncertainty" Chapter 12: "What Comes Naturally" (12/46)

Title: "Uncertainty" Chapter 12: "What Comes Naturally" (12/46)
Fandom: The Last of Us
Characters: Ellie, Joel, Tommy, Maria, OCs
Pairings: Joel/Ellie
Warnings: Underage [please see A/N of doom in Chapter 1!]
Word Count for this chapter: 7319
Rating (for fic as a whole): R



Ellie did manage to help Maria get dinner served a tad earlier than usual, but her efforts were nearly in vain when they were ready to eat and Tommy hadn't even arrived home yet. It amused Joel to see the annoyance flicker across Ellie's face when she heard Maria tell him on the walkie talkie that she'd keep the food warm in the oven while they waited for him. But Tommy, ever the thoughtful one, insisted that they go ahead and start without him. His brother had no idea how many points that gesture had just scored him in Ellie's book.

Tommy ended up being only about fifteen minutes late. He'd been doing what they referred to as an intake: admitting new residents to town. A group from some place in Nebraska known as Lord Ranch. Maria usually helped with that too, but now that she was pregnant, Tommy had felt it was safer not to expose her to their foreign germs, at least until they were done with the quarantine period... and Maria had agreed, a bit reluctantly. Overprotectiveness runs in the family? The way Joel saw it, whatever viruses and whatnot they might be harboring wouldn't necessarily be gone in a few days. Some townsfolk who routinely go Outside could pick something up from somewhere, too. None of them lived in a bubble, although it did feel that way sometimes... anyway, with a pregnant woman, he supposed it was a reasonable precaution to take, and it wasn't like it put undue strain on Tommy to handle the newcomers himself. He was the one who'd extended the invitation in the first place.

Tommy and Maria had been expecting this group's arrival, but naturally, they hadn't been able to anticipate the exact day and time, and had kept fairly quiet about the whole thing, even with Ellie and Joel. Which Joel could respect, because who knew if the people would even make it? But now that they were here, it was okay for Ellie to get excited. At least she let him sit down first; Tommy had just begun to dig into his Yorkshire pudding when she started pumping him for information.

"So what are they like? How many in their group? Anyone my age? They brought horses too, right?"

Tommy answered her questions in detail, rattling off the 'stats' of the group, and Joel knew Ellie was filing it all away in that sharp young mind of hers. Tell her something once, and she'd remember it. Joel, on the other hand, would be lucky to pass a pop quiz on the newcomers ten minutes later. Things would click a bit better in his head after he met them (though he still might forget their names). Ellie wanted to meet them because she was curious, and she liked talking to people... hearing all their stories. Joel wanted to meet them to gauge their threat potential. Not that he didn't trust his brother's judgment...

Well, when it came down to it, he trusted his own more than anyone else's.

The group had once been larger, but their numbers were steadily dwindling... just like everywhere else outside of Jackson, it seemed. It was tough to survive out there. Even if you could survive attacks from Infected or hunters, you also had to keep people from stealing your shit, and a place like Jackson must seem mighty attractive to folks unaccustomed to being safe from all that. All that remained of them were six horses, five men, two women -- one of them married, thank God, but the younger of the two was single, and Joel knew it was only a matter of time before Tommy started making suggestive remarks. His brother knew better than to try to play matchmaker anymore, but no matter how many times Joel told him to knock it off, Tommy couldn't seem to resist needling him some. Now that Tommy believed Ellie had a bit of a crush on Joel, Joel hoped he'd at least be sensitive enough not to do it in front of her. He didn't need Tommy inadvertently planting more insecurities in her head.

What he didn't expect was for his brother to abruptly shift gears in his matchmaking game. All Tommy did was smile at Ellie, and Joel felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle. "So. You wanna meet them?" Tommy asked, sounding way too eager for Joel's liking. "I'll bring you in there if you want. I kinda mentioned to Colton that I had a niece about his age, and he wants to meet you. Good-lookin' kid, loves horses..."

Of course he does. What the fuck kind of name is COLTON, anyway? Joel glared at his brother. "How old did you say this kid was?"

"Eighteen."

"Too old," Joel said without hesitation. Yes, I'm a fucking hypocrite. So shoot me.

Ellie laughed. "Too old for what? To be my friend?"

"Yes." He tried to give her a pointed look. He always warned her about being mindful of exchanging meaningful looks, that they weren't always as unreadable as she might believe... but everyone in the room -- probably in the whole town -- already knew Joel had the overprotective father thing going on with Ellie, so this would reveal nothing.

She just ignored him anyway. "Okay," she said to Tommy, cheerfully spearing a forkful of vegetables and shoving them in her mouth. "I'll meet him. Them."

Maria seemed to have some sympathy for Joel. "Don't worry. You go with her, give him the evil eye... he'll get the picture."

"Hey!" Tommy protested. "Whose side are you on?"

"Ellie's," she replied, winking at Ellie before turning back to Tommy. "Babe, do you really think Joel's gonna let her date some new boy we barely know anything about?"

"He won' let her date the ones who've been here for years, either, so what's the difference?" Tommy said, chortling a little.

"You guys!" Ellie jumped in. "Joel doesn't have to let me do anything. He's not my dad, remember? We're like roommates."

Tommy threw a look Joel's way... one that did not go unnoticed by Ellie. Tommy had noticed that these days, Ellie was quick to point out that they were not father and daughter, whereas before, she seemed to like that association. He assumed it had to do with her crush on Joel. Conveniently, almost anything that Ellie didn't hide could be attributed to her alleged crush, and Joel wasn't inclined to disabuse Tommy of that notion. It was pretty damn close to the truth... and yet, a whole lot different, as far as others' perceptions were concerned.

"Oh, I'm definitely goin'," Joel said in response to Maria's first comment. Because he couldn't think of any reasonable precaution thing that would fly with Ellie -- and, much as he might like to sometimes, he couldn't keep her under house arrest. "What's the plan? Send 'em up to the sister farm?"

"Maybe at some point," his brother replied. "We'll let 'em settle in here first. They've been travelin' so long, they seemed kinda excited to spend a couple days in quarantine not doin' jack shit. You wanna go house-huntin' with me tomorrow? They want to stay together, at least for the time bein'. I was thinkin' one of them big ol' houses over on Willow Street might work out nice. Might need to transplant a door or window here an' there... maybe some furniture..."

"Can I help?" Ellie offered. "You're still short some construction guys, right?"

"What about the farm?" Joel asked, scooping up the last bite of pudding'n'chicken on his plate.

"I'll do that in the morning, then come help you!" she declared, looking from Joel to Tommy for the okay.

Joel chuckled. "Anythin' to get outta your field work, hmm?"

"They don't really need me anymore," Ellie said dismissively. "It's pretty much done... for now, anyway. It'll be fun to go fix up a house with you guys!"

Joel hadn't even told Tommy he'd do it, but it wasn't like he was in the middle of any important projects. And he knew Tommy intended to get back to the sister farm soon. "Sounds good to me."

"All right, Ellie, you can bring the woman's touch to the place," said Tommy.

"Cool!" Ellie beamed.

Joel snorted. That 'woman's touch' would likely amount to remembering to furnish shit like bed sheets and bath towels, not like the old days when people had the luxury of choosing their decor. He reached for a second helping... partly just to see if Ellie would get annoyed about prolonging their table time. She didn't seem to, though. And he knew she wouldn't refuse seconds. "Hand over your plate, kiddo. Maria...?"

"Just a little, thanks."

"The baby likes the Yorkshire pudding, huh!" Ellie chirped.

"He doesn't not like it, at least," Maria replied. She referred to the baby as a 'he' while Tommy referred to it as a 'she' -- and Ellie tried to alternate genders, but tended to say 'he' more often. She'd decided this meant they were having a boy. Just to be contrary, Joel had then predicted it would be a girl.

Tommy refused seconds, as he still had plenty of food on his plate. "You can finish it off, Joel. If I get hungry later I'll just eat all your popcorn." He was referring to the popcorn Joel and Ellie had popped at the library earlier. It wouldn't be nice and hot, but it would save them a trip over there prior to the start of the show -- and saving time was priority number one for Ellie tonight.

"Not Ellie's share, you won't," Joel said teasingly. "She won' even share hers with me."

She kicked him under the table. "Shut up -- we eat out of the same bowl!"

A half hour later, the meal consumed and the dishes done, they were all settled in the living room, cuddled up on their respective couches, about to watch the two-part pilot episode of Lost. Ellie had checked the running time: 79 minutes for both parts. That shaved 11 minutes off of Joel's estimation, Ellie noted -- with silent glee, presumably.

Joel remembered hearing about the show when it was on the air, but in those days, he hadn't had much time for TV, so he'd never watched it. With six seasons, Ellie had asked if they could watch one episode every time they ate dinner at the house, which was maybe three times a week, these days. Joel had his doubts about the kids -- the various ones who were there throughout the week on the normal non-family-movie-night days -- letting Ellie actually watch anything uninterrupted, since they regarded her as a cherished playmate. But she did the math: if they only watched on family movie night (which happened about once a month) at the rate of two episodes a night, and there were 121 episodes total... she would be twenty before they finished the series. And that was assuming they never watched any actual movies on family movie night instead, or skipped a month somewhere.

He wondered who would be more distracted during the show: Ellie, from being excited about the upcoming step, or Joel, from having to decide what the hell that step should entail.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Surprisingly, Joel wasn't too lost in his own head to get into the show, and he even enjoyed it. If the walk home was any indication, Ellie did too; she was brimming with her usual happy chatter, questions, observations, and -- since this wasn't a movie with an ending -- some speculation about what would happen next. Joel even wondered if perhaps she'd forgotten all about The Step.

However, the moment they got safely inside their house, Ellie pounced on him with hugs and kisses and questions about what they were going to do. He had to laugh. "Hold your horses! The night's still young..."

"No it's not, the night is old and I've been waiting all day!" she exclaimed, tugging him toward the bedroom.

Joel resisted the tugging. "Not all day. I only mentioned it this af--"

"Close enough!" She tugged harder. "How long are you gonna make me wait now?"

"Well, since you're bein' so impatient, I might be tempted to drag things out even longer," he teased, pulling her close. "How 'bout we do a guitar lesson first?"

"Jooooeeeelllll!" she whined.

"Ellliiieeee," he mimicked.

But then she turned on the pout, and he knew he was done for. "All right, all right... jus' go an' get ready for bed. You can go do your bathroom stuff first."

The pout transformed into a huge smile, and she made a "eeee!" sort of noise nearly under her breath. "Okay -- so -- I should still... get dressed for bed, too?"

"Yep." She seemed a little disappointed, and again, he had to laugh. "You wanted to jus' come outta there naked, is that it?"

"Well..." She blushed. "Yeah! If you want me to? Yeah..."

Right, that wouldn't be awkward as hell or anything... "No. Go on." He kissed her, turned her around, and gave her butt a little swat before nudging her toward the hall. She went without further complaint.

He assumed she was wondering if he intended for them to remain fully clothed, and if so, how small must this step be? Haven't figured it all out yet myself, baby girl... Joel just thought it would be better to keep things... organic. And by removing garments gradually, they could just stop if she got shy; she wouldn't have to hide under the blanket or go put her nightclothes on -- or, worse, secretly endure the feeling of discomfort because she thought she was doing what he wanted.

While she was doing her thing in there, Joel shut down the house for the night... and played with the lighting a little. The bedroom lamp felt too bright... not for him, but for Ellie. It was nicer with the light on in the other room and the lamp off in the bedroom. Nearly dark, but there was enough light to see by. But... then he'd have to go switch that off and fumble around in the dark, or turn on the lamp and then go... not a big deal, really, but annoying. He decided they could bust out a candle for the occasion. The town was supposed to be getting a supply of them before winter anyhow, in anticipation of the longer nights making the power outages more debilitating (there was someone in town who knew how to make candles, but it was actually easier to obtain already-made candles than the wax and wicks required to make them). He hid the candle and matches under the bed, to keep it as a little surprise for Ellie.

When it was his turn in the bathroom, he teasingly told her to keep her shirt on while she waited for him -- and yes!, she was wearing that light yellow button-down shirt that would be... well, easier to work with. As for himself... he decided to forego the pajama pants and tank top he usually wore; Ellie had seen him in nothing but his boxers before (though only very recently). He thought about how far they should go as he cleaned up a little... thought about it, and still couldn't decide for sure. Maybe it didn't make sense to draw a line beforehand -- other than the non-negotiables already seared into his brain. Maybe I can't decide because I'm SUPPOSED to just wing it...

He returned to the bedroom to find Ellie sprawled out on the bed in a way he'd never seen her before: sort of half on her stomach and half on her side, propped up with her chin resting on one hand, her ass lifted a bit, one leg coiled in front of her. It was sexy as hell, no doubt, but something about it didn't feel natural to Joel. Not necessarily because it was his baby girl being sexy... no, it was more like... she wasn't comfortable. Like she was trying to hold a pose because she felt like she was supposed to.

She's imitating Sophie, he realized. That's the way Sophie was laying on the bed that day. He knew better than to mention it.

He must have been lingering a little bit in the doorway because she laughed nervously.
"Well?" she asked.

...What exactly is she asking? He just leaned over the bed and gave her a quick kiss. "Hang on a minute."

He retrieved the candle, and she cooed at him. "Oooo, romantic..."

"Thought you'd, uh..." ...feel less self-conscious getting naked? If that's what we end up doing... "...thought you'd like it."

She rolled over into a more Ellie-like position -- completely on her stomach, legs scissoring back and forth. She usually only had the collar button and the top button undone on that shirt, though, and tonight she had the next one undone as well. He could just imagine her debating with herself whether to undo it, trying it out in the mirror... maybe she'd undone the next one too but thought better of it... he averted his gaze. Yep, still feels pervy to want to look down her shirt. How the fuck am I going to--

"Are you nervous?" she asked, smiling at him, looking way more relaxed already as he lit the candle. Did the thought of him being nervous somehow put her more at ease?

He wasn't nervous. Not really. ...Well, maybe a tiny bit. "We ain't havin' sex," he reminded her. As if that answered the question.

"I know! Still."

He just chuckled a little and switched off the light. Sat on top of the bed and leaned over to kiss her, barely brushing his lips across hers. The candlelight gave the room a soft, cozy glow.

"This is nice." She swung her legs around and sat up with him. "So... now I tell you what to do. Right?"

...what? "Uh... what is it you wanna tell me to do?" he asked, amused.

She pondered this. "I can't just say... 'fuck me'?"

Joel snorted. "You can. Don' mean I'm gonna do it. An' it ain't specific enough." He wasn't touching her at all now. Just waiting to see what she'd do.

"Specifics. Okay. Um... kiss me? No, wait -- kiss me," she repeated the command with more authority. Still looked like she was stifling a nervous giggle, though.

Nevertheless, he obliged her, gently caressing her cheek and tilting her chin up. He kissed her tenderly, slowly... and tried to ignore her eager tongue... the way she opened her mouth... "Go slow," he whispered.

"Okay. Don't be scared..."

Scared? And she said it without laughing -- is she serious? He smiled. "I ain't scared of you."

"I think you are," she said in that challenging tone she had that... sometimes worked on him.

He didn't answer. Just kept kissing her, his hand moving through her silky hair to the back of her head, massaging it slowly. He teased her a little with his tongue, but he didn't want to kiss her too deeply and get himself all worked up just yet. His dick was currently... interested in the proceedings, but it was easy enough to keep it where it belonged: in the back-seat-driver role.

He slowly slid his right hand down her arm to her side and nudged her a bit to get her to lay down with him. She didn't exactly flinch, but... something close enough to it that Joel got the feeling she wasn't entirely relaxed. "Don' be scared," he parroted back to her, eliciting a smile.

"I ain't scared of you," she recited cheekily, giggling a little before kissing him.

"I'm not gonna jus'... touch you when you're not expectin' it," he assured her.

"I know," she replied... although Joel wasn't all that certain that she did. "Not that I'd care. You can touch me wherever you want. You know that, right?"

Joel knew that it was easy for her to say that when he'd never taken her up on the offer -- at least not beyond a little clothes-on petting. But he also knew that she was indeed very willing to do more than they'd done. He wondered what she'd do if he extended that same offer to her. Would she immediately shove her hand down there, or would she be shy? He could see it going either way.

And he wasn't so sure he wanted to be thinking about that right now, because that was... shit, I still can't decide which is actually dirtier: me touching her or her touching me? He knew which would be easier for him to execute -- him touching her. Making her feel good. And no way was this first step that she'd so been looking forward to going to involve... exploiting her, is basically what that is.

But he wasn't exactly not-exploiting her, going the other way. The idea of touching her was still a little... ugh. Washing his hands earlier hadn't made them feel any less dirty.

"Joel?"

"Hmm?"

"Are you okay?"

Her hand was on his cheek, her thumb stroking it a little. He leaned into her touch. "Don' worry about me."

She kept caressing his face, running her fingers along his beard. "But... I do. I mean... not worry-worry, but like... I want you to be... you know. Cool with everything. Maybe it'd be better if you told me what to do, so I don't... fuck it up or something. Sorry."

"...'Sorry'? You haven't--"

"I'm sorry cuz most guys like it when a girl orders them around in bed," she said sagely.

"Is that so." He smirked a little. "An' you know this because... you've been in bed with lots of guys?"

"Oh yeah. Tons."

"Mm. Guess I'll have to go kill tons of guys, then."

She giggled. So cute. "Nooooo, you promised me a fucking step!"

"That I did. Guess the killin' can wait a while." He kissed her in the same manner as before, his fingertips lightly massaging her head, then her neck. She seemed a bit more relaxed again. He let his hand wander a little as they kissed, sticking to safe territory: her shoulder... arm... hip... the small of her back.

"Joel..."

"Yes, baby girl..." He kept kissing her softly. Fluttery little kisses.

She kissed him a couple more times before speaking again. "Can you, um..."

That made him pull back a little. "Can I what? You wanna stop?"

"No! Fuck, we haven't even done anything. You're not getting off the hook that easily," she teased.

Was he on a hook? Maybe. A little. But he didn't want to stop before they started, either. He tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear. "Then... ?"

"Just... you're not telling me what I'm supposed to do."

He smiled. "There's no s'posed to. I've already told you--"

"Yeah yeah, you always tell me to be myself. Which isn't specific enough."

"Ha! Look at you, throwin' my words back at me." He tried to kiss her again, but there was no distracting her from this thought.

"I mean like... there's different versions of me, right? Not just me... it's everyone. We act different depending on the situation."

He decided it was a good time to kiss her neck the way she liked. He gave a little 'mm' response to indicate that he was actually listening to her, though.

"Like, with you... there's serious Joel and funny Joel... and... like you're different when you're working... or when you're... well, killing people... and you can be really... sweet..." She let him kiss her ear for a couple seconds before pulling back, laughing a little. "Are you even listening to me?"

"Yes. I'm tryin' to be sweet-Joel for you." He pulled her close again, but figured he'd better stick to her neck, which apparently didn't make her think he wasn't listening, the way her ear seemed to...

She allowed it. "Okay. So... I don't really know how to be... ..."

"...be...?"

"You know. Sexy. I'm trying to learn but it's... kinda hard to learn without... doing it, I guess? Er... I mean... am I supposed to act like... I don't wanna make you..."

He kissed her lips. Caressed her cheek and looked into her eyes. "What're you afraid of? You're doin' fine. Jus' enjoy yourself."

"I am, just... okay, so like, one thing I shouldn't do is... laugh. Right? Because then you'll think I'm a little girl. Women don't really laugh, when..."

Where does she get this shit? Joel chuckled. "You think that... girls stop laughin' when they become adults?"

She rolled her eyes. "No, silly. I mean for sex. Or sex type stuff."

He was still a little bewildered. "Uh... you can laugh if somethin's funny? Sometimes it can be funny. Or if somethin's ticklish... jus' laugh if you want to."

"Doesn't that... kill the mood, or whatever?"

"...I don' think so?"

"But really I'm supposed to moan. And then not laugh at how dumb I sound when I moan."

"Ellie..." He sighed, but not in an exasperated way. He kissed her nose. "When I say 'be yourself,' I mean... be yourself. Laugh if you want to, moan if you want to, jus' quit thinkin' about what you think you're s'posed to be doin', an'... do what comes natural."

"That's the thing. What if what's supposed to come natural... doesn't?" She pouted a little. "What if I do something stupid and you laugh at me?"

Generally, she seemed to like it when he laughed at her. Maybe not with the shower singing... but he hadn't even given her that much shit for it. He loved that she made him laugh. He'd laughed more with her in this past year than in the last twenty-plus years on the whole. He ran his hand through her hair and pulled her close for another kiss before looking at her again. "Do you feel like I'm laughin' at you?" he asked with genuine concern.

"No... not really... ... ...maybe a little, kind of..."

"I'm not. I swear. I... like the way you... it ain't the same as makin' fun of you. I want you to ask me things... tell me things... don' stop doin' that." He punctuated it with a little kiss. "Please."

She gave him a shy smile. "I like asking you stuff."

"Good."

"But... I don't want you to think that I'm... too young, or too immature."

"I don' think that at all," he assured her. "You are young, yes, but that's... because you are."

"Gee, thanks for that brilliant insight."

He laughed. "That didn' come out right. No, I was gonna say... you're young, but I won't... think of you that way, based on your questions, or... inexperience. I actually think the opposite."

"You do? That I'm old?"

"That you're mature enough to talk to me, an' tell me what you're thinkin' or feelin'... it makes it a little easier to be the dirty old man who--"

"You're not! Don't call yourself that!"

"It's what I am. Denyin' it's like sayin' you ain't young. We are what we are. I want you to talk to me, 'cause if you don't... an' I do somethin' that upsets you--" --he covered her mouth with his hand before she could tell him that he wouldn't-- "--you know how shitty I would feel later?"

She licked his palm, which succeeded in making him drop the hand from her mouth. "I knoooooow. But you don't have to worry about that. I do tell you how I feel. Except... actually there's something I have to tell you before we... do anything."

"What's that?" Her tone didn't lead him to believe it was anything seriously bad... she looked a little sheepish, if anything...

She kissed him first, her hand grazing his cheek again. Then she looked him directly in the eye and said, "Joel... I love you."

He certainly hadn't expected that. Hearing it made his stomach do a little flip... maybe Ellie's not the only teenage girl here. She seemed to have that effect on him sometimes. She's so sweet... so sincere... but damnit, I was supposed to say it first! She had told him she was in love with him, that one awful night... only because he'd been so slow on the uptake that she'd had to spell it out for him. But somehow, it wasn't quite the same thing. Like the 'love' carried more weight as a verb. Plus, she hadn’t even said as much since then. He realized she was waiting for him to say something, and he smiled at her. "That's good... 'cause you might've noticed, I love you, too."

"Really??" She beamed at him, and then kissed him so hard that Joel wondered if it was actually news to her.

He laughed and hugged her. "You really didn' know?"

"No, I did, I guess, but... not for sure? I mean, we talked about the whole... unconditional love thing, that one time... but that's not the same thing as... I mean, I love you-love you."

Joel chuckled. "I know what you mean. I... love you-love you too. Shit -- I'm sorry I didn' tell you before."

"Aww, don't feel bad! It makes more sense for me to tell you first. I do most of the talking, between the two of us. And I had to tell you because if a person says it after... messing around... then it doesn't mean anything."

"What? Ellie, where are you gettin' these notions from?" Joel snorted. "I could make an argument for the opposite -- if you say it before, maybe you're jus' sayin' it to get into the other person's pants." Maybe Joel was a sick fuck, but at least his being with Ellie prevented her from being with manipulative, opportunistic assholes.

Ellie giggled. "Ohhhhh you got me. That's why I said it. Except you're not even wearing pants. I already got past those."

"You aren't wearin' any either," he whispered like it was a secret, and he ran his hand up her leg to her butt as he started to kiss her again. He'd touched her ass enough times that it was relatively 'safe' (although he usually did it when she had jeans on). He rested his hand there a moment, then inched it toward her crotch. He felt her tense a little, but she kept kissing him... he grazed the front of her underwear with the back of his hand before returning to her thigh. It was the lightest of grazes, but he'd only ever touched her there -- fleetingly -- through her jeans.

She didn't roll away from him. Didn't tell him that he was creeping her out, or that she maybe wasn't ready to do this stuff after all. In fact, she seemed to like it. "Do I take my underwear off now?" she asked eagerly, between kisses.

So much for being shy? "No, baby girl... ssshhh..." He trusted himself more with a barrier in place, even if it was a rather flimsy one.

They'd been kissing for about another minute when she spoke up. "Joel... you can touch me there again. If you want."

"Good to know," he said lightly. He would make her wait a bit, though -- his hand was on her shoulder now. He trailed it down over the front of her shirt to her left breast. Not counting the time he'd accidentally molested her in his sleep, he'd only touched her there through her clothes as well. He hooked his thumb on the 'v' of her shirt. "What about here?"

"That's good too," she breathed.

He kissed her slowly, a little more sensually now, as his fingers worked open another button on her shirt. He couldn't do much with his other hand at the moment, due to the way they were situated, on their sides... but it was better if she only had the one hand to worry about anyway. He waited a bit before undoing the next button, leaving only the very bottom one buttoned... so that the shirt wouldn't just fall open and possibly make her self-conscious. No protest so far. He slipped his hand inside and caressed her side, from her waist up -- firmly enough not to tickle, though she squirmed a little in anticipation of that, and he chuckled. "That didn' tickle, did it?"

"No..." She kissed him as he drew his hand up the far side of her breast... then all the way back down... up between her breasts, and back to her stomach. She broke their kiss and smiled at him... and damn, was that a sexy smile she gave him right there... "You can touch me. It's okay. I want you to..."

He had assumed she wasn't opposed to it -- hell, she'd been telling him that since the sleep-fondle thing -- but he still couldn't help feeling a bit... well... dirty.

She seemed to read his mind. "I'm not a little girl," she reminded him. That point was debatable, but he didn't argue. He rested his hand just beneath the more accessible breast, the left one he'd been teasing a bit... his thumb stroking the underside of it. She surprised him by putting her hand on top of his and moving it up over her nipple, pressing herself into his hand and hitching her leg up over his to get closer to him. "Is that okay?" she asked him.

He chuckled. "Hey. I'm supposed to be askin' you." Why does this whole thing seem a little ass-backwards?!

"My answer is always gonna be yes, so you don't have to ask," she said with a grin. "I want your hands on me all over the place..."

He kissed her a little harder, but kept his touch gentle; there'd be plenty of time in future 'play sessions' to find out what she preferred, and he wasn't even completely okay with just the soft touches himself. It's all right... she WANTS you to, he told himself. That makes it okay, or sort of okay... or at least not NOT-okay... He kneaded her breast lightly... lifted his hand a little to dance his fingertips over it... cupped it while his thumb caressed the nipple... she made some soft 'mmm' noises that told him she at least wasn't hating it. 'Seeing' her breast with his fingers was exciting, and made him want more of her. After all this time, he still couldn't quite believe that this beautiful young girl -- young woman -- was willing to let him touch her, kiss her... that she would make herself vulnerable in this way, as she had with no other man. That fact was possibly as intoxicating to him as the physical stuff, if not more so.

His lips drifted to her throat... her neck... her collar bone, then down her chest, resting there a moment. She was still hugging him close to her. "You can kiss me there if you want," she offered.

She's so cute -- she won't just tell me to do it. Just in case maybe I wouldn't want to? He kissed her flesh slowly, planting three soft kisses on his way to her nipple. Gentle and slow... he grazed his lips over it tentatively... she told you it was okay, motherfucker, just do it. He kissed it the way he would kiss her forehead, or her nose. She didn't freak out, or cringe, or do anything to make him think twice about where he was putting his dirty mouth. He still couldn't see her that well, with the dim candle light throwing everything into shadow -- but he didn't need to see her with his eyes. His hand massaged her side as he kissed the rest of her perfect little breast, his lips caressing the soft skin in a path that circled around her nipple for half a minute. When he returned to it, he wet his lips and parted them a little more... enough to cover it with his mouth.

She clutched his head and pushed against him... like she'd push her entire breast into his mouth if she could. Obviously, she likes it... He gave the nipple a few wet kisses, then dabbed at it with his tongue, experimenting with flicking motions... licking... when he sucked the nipple into his mouth and sort of lapped at the underside of it, she 'mmmmmm'd loud enough to make herself giggle a little. Joel thought that was cute, but he didn't acknowledge it... didn't want her to think that noises of pleasure were noteworthy enough to make him stop and comment... that she might be, God forbid, weird. The nipple stiffened a little... not as much as my dick just did, though...

She was clearly annoyed with her shirt. She shifted around and tugged on it a little as he worked her nipple in his mouth... eventually she pulled back enough to undo the last button with both hands, unlatching him. "I don't want this thing on," she grumbled.

He helped her pull it down off her shoulders and arms... she tossed it aside, and then she was laying there, as close to naked as he'd ever seen her, her panties askew enough to give him a glimpse of... well, it could have been a shadow, or... even a wrinkle in the fabric? ...no, that don't make sense, but a shadow, maybe... the candlelight kept it ambiguous enough to allow for some speculation. He couldn't seem to help staring a little. I would know if I touch her there... on her inner thigh first, then--

She smiled shyly and kissed him again, rescuing him from that little dilemma. Her breasts pressed against his bare chest. "Mmmm... this is like, way better than hugging you with clothes on," she murmured into his mouth.

"It sure is," he agreed, holding her close. Something about skin-to-skin was just so much more pleasurable and satisfying than skin-to-cloth. "You good so far?" She sure seemed like she was, but for some reason, he still had to ask.

"Mmhmm. Very good. That was like... I liked that. What you just did. Which is a little weird..."

"How is it weird? It's... natural." Maybe he was overusing the word, but it did apply. "I did it 'cause I thought you might like it."

"I did! Just, um... well, is that what it feels like when a mom feeds her baby? In the movies or whatever, you can't tell if... it doesn't look like..."

Joel chuckled. "I wouldn' know. But I think it's... I wouldn' know," he repeated dumbly. "You can ask Maria next year."

She giggled. "Oh yeah. Cuz that wouldn't be an awkward question or anything."

"Just ask her if it hurts an' maybe she'll try to describe how it feels," Joel suggested.

"Good idea. So... what about you?" She touched his face gently. "Are you good so far?"

He took her hand in his and kissed her fingertips. "I'm... happy as a pig in shit."

She giggled softly. "So romantic. You know, you said 'shit' the first time you kissed me."

"Did I?"

"Yeah. Like you fucked up or something." She ran her hand through his hair. "It was kinda cute, actually."

"I ain't cute," he growled, moving his lips back over her neck.

"You aaaaaare!" she insisted. "And you like it when I think you're cute. You just can't admit it cuz you try to be a bad-ass all the time..."

He snorted. "I don' think I'm bein' bad-ass right now...?"

"Hmm. Isn't it pretty bad-ass to get a girl in bed? A naked girl? Or, almost-naked..."

Right... it's a real feat to lure an eager, hormonal teenage girl to bed. "I s'pose... if the girl's as pretty as you? Sure."

Her laugh was a little nervous, and she started to contest that, but stopped herself. My Ellie still can't take a compliment about her looks. He lifted his head back up to plant little kisses on her face, ending at her lips. "You're beautiful, you know that?"

"I'm... glad you think so," she said, which at least wasn't a denial. He would bet she was blushing right now, but the dim lighting was merciful to her that way.

"I do, 'cause you are." He gave her another lingering kiss, then trailed a finger down her cheek... to that shy, tentative smile that had returned.

"Joel, um... so do you think... ... ..."

"...do I think what?"

"Do I look like... do they look like... you know..."

"You're beautiful," he repeated.

"You don't think that... maybe... um... ..."

"...hmm?" He kissed her gently. He knew generally what she was trying to say -- that she was trying to figure out if she was 'normal' or not -- but he wondered if she could voice something more specific. Joel couldn't fathom what that would be; she truly was beautiful.

"Nothing," she mumbled.

He trailed his hand back down to her breast. "Ellie, I don' know what you could possibly think would be... wrong, about... anythin' about your body. You're perfect."

"Am not," she scoffed. But she seemed pleased.

"To me, you are." He kissed her while his hand idly fondled her. She was more relaxed now, definitely... he just wasn't sure how far to take things. The idea of steps was nice and all, but... like he was thinking earlier, maybe it was too logical for something that just wasn't meant to be entirely logical. If he wanted her to act 'naturally,' it made sense for him to do the same... or is that my dick talking? He wanted her. All of her. If he didn't put restrictions on himself, they could very easily end up having sex, and he just couldn't be so casual about taking her virginity. Fooling around was bad enough; he was crossing lines right and left, sure, but that would be going too far, no doubt about it. And he didn't want to overwhelm Ellie. This was all new to her. I'll give her an easy out, if she wants it. "We can jus' keep doin' this... nothin' more... that was a pretty big step, don'tcha think?"

"No!" No hesitation.

"You don' think gettin' half-naked an' lettin' me--"

"Yeah, fine, it was a big step, but I don't wanna stop! Do you?"

...Did he? Not really. His dick certainly didn't, but Joel wasn't planning on indulging its wants tonight anyhow. "All right, let's jus' see how it goes."

A huge smile. "It's going great. We can totally do another step. I'm proud of you!"

Ha! "Is that so?"

"Yep! See, it's not so bad, right? It's fun?"

"Very." He re-tangled his hand in her hair and pulled her into another kiss. She's proud of me... that's pretty fucking adorable. Joel didn't think it would be appropriate right now to tell her he was also proud of her, because she might take it as... a judgment of performance, or something along those lines. That as long as she raised no objections and did whatever he wanted, he would be proud of her.

But he was proud of her. Proud to be with her... proud that she was his. And the trust she placed in him... he couldn't even describe how good that made him feel, other than to say it felt truly amazing. Time to make HER feel amazing now...

Or so he hoped. There was still the chance she would stop him before that point... or maybe his efforts wouldn't be successful, for whatever reason. Judging by the way she'd responded to him so far, though, he was feeling pretty confident that she would enjoy it too much to call it off, and eventually...

If she thought Step One was great, Step Two was about to blow her mind.

~Continue to Chapter 13~

Tags: fic, tlou, uncertainty
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