Fandom: The Last of Us
Characters (in this chapter): Joel & Ellie
Word Count: 1880
Chapter Summary: Joel and Ellie tackle the bed issue. (cue awkward convo #1 of infinity)
Joel was sitting on the ratty old couch, a sulky Ellie sitting beside him. He thought maybe after all those months out on the road stuck with his ass she’d be glad to have her own room. Well, now, that would just be too easy, wouldn’t it.
“The bed is plenty big enough for both of us,” Ellie repeated the point. “We’ve slept in tight quarters before. I slept right by your side the whole time you were sick!”
Was she playing the guilt card? Joel sighed. He had a feeling he’d be sighing a lot before this conversation was over. “That has nothing to do with this. We had no choice then. I needed you close to me to keep you safe. And… yeah, same for you, keepin’ me safe last winter.” Definitely Joel’s least favorite time of the past year. Not so much for being hurt, but for the burden it placed on poor Ellie. The damage it did to her. While he laid there on his ass not doing a goddamn thing except worrying her. “That was different. We’re safe here, and I won’t be far away, I’ll be right here in this room. You’ll still hear me snorin’ and all.” He poked her in the ribs playfully.
But Ellie was having none of it. “You can’t sleep out here. I mean…I don’t want you to. Like you said, we’re a package deal. I want you with me. I need to make sure you’re okay and… really the only time I feel safe is when you’re with me.”
“I will be, just out here – you can leave the door open if you want, you can call out to me if you need anything and I’ll hear you.” Why couldn’t she just do what he said? Maybe that consideration only applied in life-threatening situations. If then, even. “Ellie, it ain’t proper for a grown man and a teenage girl to sleep in the same bed.”
Ellie groaned. “Why not?! Jesus, Joel – it’s you. It’s not like you’re some pervert. It’s you and me. How can it be wrong?” She looked up at him plaintively.
Joel sighed, exasperated. Ellie had pretty good street smarts, and he’d rather have her beside him in a fight than most grown men out there, but in some ways she was so damn innocent. He wasn’t about to get into the gory details of why it was inappropriate. “It just is. We’re in civilization now. The rules are different.”
Ellie rolled her eyes. “Since when do you give a fuck about rules?”
She had a point there. But he couldn’t let her win this one. Better to cease fire. “Ellie, we’re sleepin’ in separate rooms and that’s final.” And with that conclusive declaration, he got up and pretended he needed to rifle through some shit in his backpack on the floor.
Naturally, Ellie followed him and planted herself on the floor next to him. Stubborn girl. He didn’t look at her, he just examined some random firearm parts from his pack like he’d never seen them before. “Look,” she said finally, her tone gentler now. “I don’t mean to be a pain in the ass, or like… a wuss, or anything, but…what about my nightmares?”
Now he looked at her. Her eyes were shiny with tears he knew she would not shed – she never really cried, usually; she was a tough kid, his Ellie. As for being a wuss? Pffft. There wasn’t a wussy bone in her body.
“Oh baby girl.” He sighed, slumped down on the floor, and took her hand in his. Part of him wanted to give in and assure her he’d sleep beside her if she wanted him to, but if he was going to be a father figure to her, he had to consider what would be best for her in the long run. Hell, the fact that he wasn’t her father made it creepier for him to sleep in her bed, in a way. He wasn’t her parent; he had no real authority over her – a matter they hadn’t discussed, it was just understood that they were father/daughter now. At least, that’s what Joel assumed… Ellie probably didn’t even know what it meant to have a dad. Maybe they should talk about that. Some time when he wasn’t so damn tired. “I think when you get settled in here and realize you’re safe, you’ll stop having the nightmares.”
At least, that’s what he hoped. Never mind that he still had nightmares about Sarah after all these years. Ellie hadn’t really had many nightmares to speak of before that fucker David messed with her. Now, she had them just about every night. Joel had heard of PTSD, and figured Ellie probably had it. He just had no fucking clue how to fix it. Granted, most of the remaining population was fucked up in some way, but Ellie… she wasn’t most people. Her reactions to the world were full of child-like wonder. But now, she didn’t whistle or hum her strange little tunes. She didn’t yammer his ear off or ask him all kinds of questions. Shit that used to annoy him. Funny how he’d come to miss those things. There was such a distinct “before” and “after” aspect of her personality now. Joel made a mental note to see what the town’s library had on the subject. Maybe he’d even find something that told him it was perfectly fine to sleep in a teenage girl’s bed under certain circumstances. Right. “Look. I’ll be right here. I’ll hear you. If you call me, I’ll come to you, I swear. Okay?”
Ellie was quiet for a long moment. Finally she mumbled “okay.” And for the second time today, he wasn’t at all convinced by it.
A short while later, Joel stretched out under a blanket on the lumpy couch (he had a feeling he’d end up preferring the floor before too long) and sighed again, this time with relative contentment. He was completely wiped. Ellie was too, and Joel hoped that the exhaustion plus the fact that they’d had a good night – a meal with family, no Infected or hunters or anything to worry about – would keep her nightmares at bay.
Joel tossed and turned for a while, trying to find a position comfortable enough to induce sleep. He gave up on the couch and opted for the floor, figuring the familiarity of a hard surface would do the trick. The door had a good solid bolt on it, the perimeter was guarded, and he had el Diablo within arm’s length by the wall. Ellie had her pistol in her room. Even though they were safe here, it was still a foreign place, and the guns were security blankets. He’d grown accustomed to sleeping in strange places: in abandoned cars, under bridges, in some place that had a roof if they were lucky. Usually he had little trouble falling asleep, weary from the grueling pace they kept -- although he did sleep lightly, with the proverbial ‘one eye open.’ Maybe now he’d be able to sleep soundly.
But not just yet. He needed to make sure Ellie was okay. She had indeed kept the door open, so he had no doubt he’d hear her if she cried out. Was she asleep? He was too far away to hear her slow, even breathing. Maybe that’s why he couldn’t fall asleep; it did feel strange not to have her beside him. Maybe he should sleep on the floor next to the mattress. There was room to squeeze in there. Just in case she needs me, he justified it to himself. Maybe Joel could wean her off of sleeping near him in baby steps. He should have thought of that before! He gathered the blanket and quietly crawled across the floor. Slowly he crept into her room… she definitely was not asleep.
The room was dimly lit by moonlight and Joel was grateful for that. With no street lamps out here by their secluded house, the room would have been pitch black otherwise. He wondered if he should see about getting her some kind of night light, or if that would make her feel like a baby. He figured it would probably help, if she woke up in the middle of the night from a nightmare, to immediately recognize that she was in a safe place. “Ellie?” he whispered.
She didn’t answer him. He knew she wasn’t asleep.
“Ellie, are you all right?” he tried again.
“Yeah. I’m okay.” Her voice didn’t waver, but to Joel it still seemed like she was merely putting up a brave front. She was facing away from him, towards the wall. Maybe she was pissed off at him?
You wanted to know if she was okay, and she’s okay. Now go to sleep, you asshole. But… she just didn’t sound quite right. He crawled up on the mattress next to her and realized she was trembling slightly. “No, you’re not. What’s wrong? Are you afraid?”
Ellie was silent for a long moment. When she spoke, it was so softly that Joel had to strain to hear her. “Just… I see him. He’s here. I know he’s dead, he’s not really here, but it feels like… like he’s waiting for me to fall asleep so he can come get me. I’m sorry, Joel. I know I should be stronger. I’m trying, I swear. It happened so long ago, I should be over it… I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” Her voice cracked and Joel’s heart broke a little.
“It wasn’t that long ago,” he said gently. He wished the fucker was actually here so he could beat him to within an inch of his life, over and over, while he begged Joel for mercy, which of course Joel would deny him. Oh he’d had himself some good long fantasies about torturing the asshole. That was the only way he knew how to deal with… with this. “And you are strong. You’re the strongest person I know.” He scooted forward, his torso against her back, and began tenderly stroking her hair. “I’m here. I’ll stay here all night if you want me to. All that shit I said before? Fuck it. If you want me to sleep in here I will.”
Joel could feel her relaxing already. “Thank you,” she whispered. “I’m sorry.”
“Sssshhhh. Ain’t nothin’ to apologize for. You do know you’re safe now, yeah? I’m never gonna let anyone hurt you ever again.” A lofty promise, perhaps, but Joel meant it. And she seemed to believe it. Knowing that she trusted him so much gave him a warm feeling inside… but not like the kind you get from a bottle of Scotch. It was almost like… No. It ain’t like that. “Now get some sleep. Good night, baby girl.” He kissed the top of her head.
“Good night, Joel.” She was as limp as a rag doll now. Joel relaxed as well. They’d both be asleep within minutes. Apparently the sleep-inducing position he’d been seeking was to be wrapped around Ellie. It was a mildly disturbing thought so he shoved it away. I’m just worried about her, that’s all. She’s been through so much. Too damn much.
~Continue to Chapter 4~