Fandom: The Last of Us
Characters (in this chapter): Joel, Tommy, Ellie
Word Count: 4860
Chapter Summary: Joel employs the 'do as I say, not as I do' parenting trick, and has a disturbing thought.
Joel stood up as Tommy drew closer to him. “What is it?”
“Sit down, we jus’ need to talk.” Tommy sat in the chair opposite him, leaning forward with his forearms over his knees, frowning at Joel.
Fuck. Joel slowly sank back into his chair. “I thought we got all our talkin’ done this mornin’,” he said warily.
“Not about that. About Ellie and that gun of hers. Did you know she threatened a young boy with it today? Two boys, actually.”
Joel’s frown mirrored his brother’s. Ellie had conveniently forgotten to mention that when she recited her day for him. “No, I didn’t. How young? What happened?”
“Thirteen an’ fourteen. The fourteen-year-old’s mother came an’ told me about it. She’s worried her son might be traumatized from it, and she thinks you all shouldn’ be allowed to carry guns around here. I told her you’d talk to Ellie about it and make sure it would never happen again. But you know, I reckon she might have a point.”
“But what the hell happened? Ellie wouldn’ do that unprovoked.”
“You sure? How well do you really know this girl, Joel? She ain’—“
“I know her better’n anyone else does,” he grumbled. Jesus Christ, he did not want to have to try to explain their relationship over and over. He couldn’t help feeling defensive of Ellie, even if she’d done something wrong. “You still haven’t told me what happened. What Mom says happened, anyway.”
“According to his mom, Ellie an’ that girl she met on the farm today, Annie, were riding their horses through town, and her boy A.J. was in the Square, hangin’ out with a friend of his. They were mindin’ their own business, goofin’ off some like boys do, an’ it had nothin’ to do with those girls. Ellie comes up and starts braggin’ about how many men she’s killed and waves her gun around sayin’ she’ll kill them too if they piss her off. They were scared shitless an’ they took off. A.J. heard Ellie laughin’ like it was real funny.”
Joel wasn’t buying it. “Oh, come on. Ellie wouldn’ do that outta the blue.”
Tommy leaned back and threw his hands up. “All I know is what Gina told me. Ellie’s side is prob’ly a little different, sure. Regardless, she can’t go around scarin’ people like that. Even if the boys said somethin’ that made her mad. You get that, right?”
Tommy had seen Joel’s temper get the best of him more than anyone else on the planet. “Yes, I get that,” he said irritably. “I’ll talk to her. But she has to have a gun. I can’t be with her all the time.”
“Shit, Joel, what do you think is gonna happen? She’s safe here. Things have calmed down out there as far as raids go. No one’s gonna get past the dam anyhow an’ that’s the most attacked side of town, by far. It’s been over a year since anyone even got in on the west side, an’ that was only ‘cause it was an unusual situation.”
“Over a year, but it has happened,” Joel pointed out. He didn’t care what the unusual situation was. The fact was, shit happened. “I’m not jus’ thinkin’ about Outside. She’s a girl, and there are men here. And you prob’ly think you have a perfect little town… from what I’ve seen so far, I think yeah, it’s pretty nice. But people are fucked up, Tommy. Maybe they seem nice enough to you an’ behind your back they’re really evil as shit. Or they can be nice one minute, then snap the next.”
Tommy snorted. “That’s exactly my point. If someone’s gonna go batshit, I’d rather ‘em not have a gun in their hands. And that includes you an’ Ellie. I understand you’ve been through a lot so I’m willin’ to be lenient some. After you’ve been here a while an’ see it’s safe, you can leave the guns at home, only carry ‘em where needed.”
“So if someone does go batshit, we just have to be happy they can’t shoot us,” Joel snorted. He wasn’t worried about himself so much as Ellie. He’d beaten plenty of men to death. Strangled them with his bare hands. He definitely felt more comfortable when armed, but he could still handle a situation if he wasn’t. Ellie, however… she didn’t have even a fraction of his physical strength. She needed to be able to protect herself, preferably from far enough away that no one could overpower her -- and that pretty much meant a gun.
“It ain’t the perfect solution.” Well, at least Tommy could see that. “We do let plenty o’ folks keep weapons in their homes. Not everyone. We have to observe ‘em a while first. An’ they have to prove they’re responsible enough. Some folks don’ care, they’re content to let the militia do their job. Some have young kids and don’ want guns at home on account o’ that. Guns can make people nervous. Another reason not to have ‘em floatin’ around town all willy nilly. Anyway, we’ve had hardly any trouble since puttin’ the no-carry rule in place.”
“And before that, I take it you had trouble?”
Tommy nodded. “We did. And Joel, I ain’t proud of it, but… I was part of that trouble. One of the incidents, anyway.”
His sensible, compassionate, peace-loving brother had actually caused a problem with violence? Joel quirked an eyebrow. “No shit?”
“I’ll tell you about it some time. Maybe over a beer or two.” Joel was curious as hell but he could see Tommy clearly wasn’t inclined to spill now. “I don’ wanna ride your ass about the gun thing, I really don’t. Please jus’ don’t gimme a reason to.”
“And I don’ care to have my ass ridden. I’ll talk to her when we get home.”
“I appreciate it. And you know, this ain’t a dictatorship. We talk about shit like this at the town meetings. You’re welcome to come –- in fact, I encourage you to come… get to know some of the people here… you can bring up the gun issue if you want. Some folks’ll bitch that the subject’s been beaten to death, but you’re welcome to.”
Joel didn’t really see the point in raising the subject at a meeting. As long as he and Ellie were armed, the rest of the town could go to hell for all he cared. He glanced at the movie door. It had probably been at least ten minutes since he last peeked in. “Tommy… what do you know about the kids in this town? The teenagers? They seem like good kids to you?”
Tommy pondered a moment. “Uh… yeah, I s’pose, generally speakin’. They’re not all angels or nothin’, but not bad. Some of ‘em we know better than others. Maria tries to help out some o’ the girls with their problems. Boy trouble an’ such.”
Joel’s eyes narrowed. “What kind of boy trouble?”
“I don’ know, Joel, I try to stay outta all that bullshit!” said Tommy with a chuckle.
Joel sighed. “You have no idea? Do they pressure the girls to have sex? Date rape? Shit like that?”
“Rape? No no, not that I know of.” Tommy frowned. “Maria would tell me if somethin’ like that happened. As for sex… I’m sure it happens. Maybe some of the boys kinda push the girls into it. I would assume some of ‘em do, yeah. Jus’ like when we were kids. But the boys could prob’ly complain plenty about the girls, too. They’re jus’ not so likely to cry into Maria’s shoulder about it, know what I mean?”
“Right. So, what do you know about this kid Jacob?”
“Jacob… we have three Jacobs. You must mean the seventeen-year-old. Lives with his eleven-year-old sister… or maybe she’s twelve now… they’ve been here a couple years. I never knew his mom, she got infected so it was jus’ them an’ his dad… Dad’s gone now too, he got killed on a scavenger mission shortly after they got here. Jacob, he’s seein’ that girl Annie. He likes workin’ on the farm… an’ he’s got some mechanical aptitude too, he’s been helpful repairin’ appliances, and up at the dam--“
“So he’s a good kid?” Joel interrupted impatiently. He didn’t need the boy’s whole life story.
“Yeah. Sure. There some love triangle goin’ on with him’n’Ellie’n’Annie or somethin’?” he teased.
Joel grimaced. “No. I won’ let Ellie get involved in anythin’ like that.”
Tommy laughed. “You gonna control her love life? Wait –- you’re not even gonna let her have a love life! Right? Poor girl -- stuck with your ass forever, is she?”
His little brother could be so infuriating sometimes. “Fuck you, Tommy. Of course she can date.”
“Sure she can. But over your dead body, right?” Tommy grinned.
“Glad you’re amusing yourself with these brilliant observations o’ yours.”
“I gotta give you shit. Haven’ been able to do it for years now.”
Joel chuckled. It was kind of funny, the way Joel had assumed the stereotypical overprotective father role of this girl he didn’t even know existed a year ago. He didn’t want Tommy to realize his little jokes were actually spot on, though. “Well, I don’ need shit, what I need is…” What did he need? Advice? Somehow he didn’t think he’d want to hear anything his brother had to say about this.
“You want me to fix up Ellie with some nice young kid? I could do that. Hell, it’ll be easy, I can jus’ invite him’n’his family over for dinner some night—“
“NO.” That was the last thing Joel wanted! “No matchmaking. No puttin’ ideas in her head like that… she don’ need to be worryin’ about boys right now. She’s been through hell. She jus’ needs to be a kid.”
“That’s prob’ly true enough.” Tommy looked at him thoughtfully. “But you, on the other hand… how long’s it been since you had a woman? I’m sure if I think about it I could find you some nice—“
“NO!” Christ! That was the second-to-last thing Joel wanted. He glared at Tommy, not the least bit amused now. “Get that thought outta your head right now, Tommy, I’m warnin’ you.”
“Okay, okay, take it easy. Shit. Maybe jus’ keep it in mind for the future then. I’m tellin’ you, this fucked-up world is a whole lot easier to take when you got somebody by your side.”
I know it is. I have Ellie. Joel kept that to himself, though, because he knew his brother would say it wasn’t the same thing. Like he knew all about it. He doesn’t know shit about Ellie and me. No one does.
Joel needn’t have fretted so much about movie night; it turned out to be a grope-free, uneventful affair. On the walk home, Ellie asked Joel all kinds of fun questions. Like did rich people really have moving clothes racks in their closets and computers that matched things for them, did Joel go to parties with dancing and drinking and drugs and some game called ‘suck and blow,' did people say ‘I’m outty,’ and on and on. The pop culture references predictably went over their heads –- how could they not? –- except for the ones some kids knew, or said they knew, from old fogeys like Joel telling them after a previous viewing. Ellie said she wanted to watch it again with Joel some time so he could explain things to her, and he teased her about spoiling the whole thing for him already. Which was bullshit, because he couldn’t assemble any sort of plot out of the jumble of questions she fired at him.
Now Joel sat on the couch in his pajamas (well, jammy pants and tank top) and waited for Ellie to finish getting ready for bed. The room felt rather toasty with the help of the space heater Joel had procured from the ‘warehouse’ earlier that day. He’d meant to use it in the bedroom, but Ellie thought that would make it too hot in there. Their blood had probably thickened some after all the cold they’d endured. Or maybe she prefers body heat… He leaned over and switched it off.
Ellie emerged from the bathroom wearing the long nightgown Maria had given her and… bunny slippers?
“What the fuck are those?”
Ellie grinned and plopped down next to him on the couch, extending her fuzzy pink slipper-clad feet for Joel to admire. “Aren’t they great? They’re really comfy, too. I could prob’ly get you a pair. We could match!”
“Wouldn’ that be adorable,” Joel grumbled.
“Yes it would! Glad you think so too. I’m on it!”
Joel hated to be a killjoy here, and he would have been content to fall into bed right now, but he had to talk to her, and it was either now or first thing in the morning… and Ellie had mentioned wanting to get down to the farm early. Maria had given them each an ancient clock radio alarm. The radio was just static, of course, but the beeping alarms still worked. Joel had plugged his in next to the couch to keep up appearances. “Ellie… we gotta talk about somethin’.”
Ellie noticed the radio and frowned. “Why did you plug that in? What… you’re sleeping out here now?”
“No, but remember, you and I are the only ones who know I’m not sleeping out here.”
“Oh right. All the visitors we’ll have over here… someone might notice. Uh-huh.”
“You never know who might come by,” Joel pointed out. And wouldn’t his brother have a field day if he knew…
“I guess. Gotta keep our dirty little secret!” Ellie smirked.
Joel winced. “Do not call it that. It’s bad enough I’m doin’ it in the first place.”
Immediately she was contrite. “It’s not bad! I’m sorry. I’m making you do it, it’s not your fault.”
Joel sighed. “You’re not makin’ me do anythin’. That’s not what I wanted to talk about…” He paused, trying to remember what he’d practiced in his head.
“Are you gonna tell me why you lied to me?” she asked quietly.
Oh God. Not now, I can’t do this. Not yet. Not ever. “I didn’ lie to you,” he lied feebly.
“Yes you did. You said nothing was going on at dinner, even though you were totally acting weird and then you and Tommy and Maria went outside.”
Joel relaxed a little. Oh, that. The ‘aftershock lie’. “It’s nothin’ for you to worry about. What we talked about was of no concern to you.”
“If it concerns you, it concerns me. No matter what it is.”
Joel wasn’t going to go around in circles with her about this. Time to get to the matter at hand. “Ellie, you wanna tell me about the incident this afternoon where you threatened a couple boys with your gun?”
“What?” Ellie gasped. “Is that what that meeting was about? Were you guys deciding what to do about… wait, without even asking me what happened?”
Joel hadn’t expected her to connect this to the dinner thing, but that was pretty damn convenient, actually. He could certainly let her believe it. “I’m asking you now.”
“How did you hear about it?”
“I shoulda heard about it from you. I want you to tell me this shit, Ellie. I wanna know everythin’, the good and the bad.”
“So who told you?”
This is going to fucking take all night. “Tommy. One of the boys told his mom an’ she complained.”
“What a fucking pussy!” cried Ellie, outraged. “He tattled to his mommy? Which one told?”
So much for the tiny hope that Ellie might have been wrongly accused. “It don’ matter which one. So it’s true then? You threatened this kid an’ his friend?”
Ellie squirmed a little. “Well, yeah, kinda… it wasn’t a threat, exactly. But Joel, they totally deserved it! Did the asswipe tell his mommy the shit he said before that?”
“Whatever he said, you don’ go pullin’ your gun on people, Ellie! That is definitely a threat, no matter what words you used. Unless you’re in physical danger, which you apparently were not, you can’t go around--“
“Wait, wait. What? That’s bullshit. I didn’t pull out my gun. I never touched it!”
“You… didn’t?” Joel wondered if she was lying… he was pretty sure he’d be able to tell if she was. He looked at her intently. “Why would he say that you did?”
“Well, I did sorta act like I might. They saw I had a gun on me and I let my hand like, hover by it…”
“And? You threatened them?”
“Not exactly. I just let them think that if they got me any more pissed off I might shoot them.”
Joel groaned. At least he knew she was telling him the truth. “And were you gloating about how many people you’ve killed?”
She looked down at the floor and nodded, looking quite miserable. Joel hated seeing her like that, and part of him wanted to take her in his arms and tell her it was okay. But he suspected that wasn’t what he was supposed to do here.
He did put a hand on her shoulder, though, and spoke to her in a gentler tone. “Can you tell me why? Why did you act like that?”
“I don’t know,” she mumbled. She glanced up at him. “I mean… I know why –- they were assholes. Joel, they really were. Annie was just going to ignore them, just let them say whatever… like it was okay. I couldn’t do that. I had to stick up for her. So then they started on me and I couldn’t help it. Joel, I swear, if you were there, if you heard them, you woulda shot them. At least the one doing most of the talking. I’m not even gonna tell you what they said, you’d get mad.”
Joel sighed. “You really think I’d shoot a couple of unarmed kids?”
“These kids? Fuck yes.”
Joel wasn’t sure how to feel about that. Did Ellie think he was a monster? Or maybe the boys were truly little monsters. Ellie was a tough kid; he knew she could stand a little teasing, so it must have been pretty obnoxious. “I wouldn’t have. We are done with shooting every person we see.”
Ellie rolled her eyes. “I know that. But they were total shitheads.”
“Be that as it may, I need you to promise me you’re not gonna use the gun to bully people no more.”
“I wasn’t bullying! They were the bullies! Oh my God. Why are you taking their side? Aren’t you supposed to be on my side?” She got up and strode angrily across the room to the kitchen.
“It’s not about taking sides.” He followed her. Stood awkwardly behind her. “And I’m not gonna tell you you shoulda ignored them. You tell ‘em to fuck off an’ leave you alone, then you go on your merry way.”
“And if they don’t leave me alone?” Ellie said angrily, whirling around to face him, a challenge in her tone.
Joel thought about that. “Then you tell me and I’ll take care of it.”
“How? How would you take care of it, Joel?”
By beating the shit out of the little brats. “I wouldn’ shoot ‘em.”
“What would you do, then?” She crossed her arms over her chest and glared at him. She was angry, sure, but she didn’t look very menacing in those bunny slippers. Joel tried to keep them out of his line of sight for fear of really pissing her off by laughing.
“I would talk to them.” Joel tried to imagine this. If they were tormenting Ellie, he was far more likely to ‘talk’ to them with his fists, but he didn’t want Ellie to do the same. Maybe just one lazy half-assed stomach punch would do it. No real damage done, it would just hurt like hell and make the kids think twice about bothering her... although he’d undoubtedly have to deal with another lecture from his baby brother.
Ellie snorted. Her hands dropped to her hips. “You’re such a liar. Okay, so what would you say?”
“I’d… tell ‘em to fuck off.”
Now she laughed. “And then you would threaten them somehow. I know you would. And if one of them looked at you with that fucking stupid cocky smirk on his face you’d clock him.”
Joel sighed. She might be right, which meant it was time to shut the hell up. He put his hands on her arms and looked at her earnestly. “Jus’ don’ use that gun to scare people anymore. Please, Ellie. I think we might really like it here. It’d be a damn shame to have to go out on our own an’ fend for ourselves again.”
She looked at him wide-eyed. “Were they going to kick me out of town cuz of that?”
He let his arms fall back to his sides. “No. But Tommy’s already bendin’ the rules by lettin’ you carry that gun. I reckon he’s gettin’ some flak for that from people already. If this kinda shit keeps happenin’… maybe he’ll decide it’s best if we leave.”
“But he’s your brother!”
“Don’ matter. I told you, me’n’him ain’t exactly been close in a long time. And if Maria’s the one really wearin’ the pants here, she don’ know me from Adam.”
Ellie padded over to the bedroom dejectedly. “Whatever, Joel. Next time some asshole harasses me, I won’t do a fucking thing. I’ll just sit there and take it and let him say and do whatever he wants to me.”
Oh for fuck’s sake! “That’s not what I said!” Joel hated it when Ellie got sulky. Sometimes she acted so mature, he nearly forgot she was still a kid. Shit like this reminded him quickly enough.
He sank into a dining chair, leaned on the table with his head in his hands, and tried to think. What else could he say to her? What was he supposed to do? And if she’s pissed at him did that mean he wasn’t welcome in the bedroom now? Maybe that was a good thing. It was wrong, sleeping next to a little girl. And that’s what she was –- a little girl. He should take this opportunity to get them both used to sleeping independently. Yeah, that’s what he’d do. He’d give her some space to cool off and maybe address that last comment in the morning… he was sure she was just being petulant, but just in case she wasn’t…
“You comin’ to bed?” called Ellie from the bedroom.
She still wanted him there. Joel’s heart skipped a beat. He went to the doorway… it was mostly dark in there, the room lit only from whatever spilled in from the hall, but he could see she was under the blanket, laying on her side with her elbow propped on the pillow, on the far side of the bed, facing him. Looking at him sweetly like nothing had happened. He felt stupidly nervous. “If… you want me to?”
“Of course I want you to.”
“All right then.” Joel switched off the lamp and fumbled his way into the bedroom. The clock radio’s digits glowed a soft red; it wasn’t good light to see by, but would probably serve adequately as the night light he’d been considering. Joel laid down on his back, a respectable distance from her. Surprisingly, a damn strong urge to touch her welled up inside of him. It wasn’t sexual, of course, he just… wanted to feel the warmth of her body against his. He shouldn’t have touched her last night. They’d fallen asleep in that spooning position, but during the night he’d rolled back over to his side of the bed, and when he’d woken up, she was sleeping on hers. That’s how it should be. If he was going to be enough of a pedophile to share a bed with her, it didn’t mean they had to have physical contact. All she needed was to know he was nearby. Very nearby, not in the next room. That’s all I need too, he reminded himself.
But then she scooted up against his side and put her head on his chest, and his arm naturally moved around her back to accommodate her.
“Your heart’s beating really fast,” Ellie observed. Joel wished he could slow it down with sheer mind control. Christ, this is so fucking wrong. “Can you pet my hair like you did last night? That felt nice.”
Joel couldn’t exactly push her away. She wouldn’t understand. It would hurt her feelings and then they’d have to talk for who knows how much longer. No, he was stuck. Forced into pedophilia to keep the peace. He obligingly began to gently stroke her hair.
“You sure you wanna get up at six?” he asked her; he’d taught her how to set the alarm when they got home. “It’s goin’ on eleven now.”
“Yep! I wanna milk the cows. I was just starting to get the hang of it at the end. There’s a knack to it, you can’t just yank on their tits any which way.”
“Their teats,” Joel corrected, trying to suppress a laugh.
“Er… yeah, teats. Same thing! So I guess it’s like that with girls, too, huh. Gotta have the knack?”
“Ellie…” Joel said warningly. Why did she have to say things like that?
“What? I’m just sayin’. You have to squeeze a certain way… white stuff shoots out… okay so it’s probably more like giving a handjob, actually. Ha!”
“Ellie!” Joel froze. He did not want to think about Ellie doing that to some little jerk. Another image popped unbidden into his head, of Ellie’s hand straying from his chest to… FUCK! Jesus fucking Christ, he really was a pervert! And he’d better knock it off before his body really started to betray him. He shoved the disgusting thought into the nether regions of his brain where, with any luck, he’d never have to think it again. Ellie was laughing… it was the closest thing he’d heard to a giggle, coming from her. At least it helped his fucked-up brain to remember that she was only a child. “Do you want me to go sleep in the other room?”
“No! No, I’ll shut up. Keep doing my hair. Please.”
Joel resumed the hair-stroking and sighed. “Jus’ try an’ get some sleep now.”
She yawned and settled herself more cozily against him. “’k. Good night, Joel,” she murmured drowsily.
“Good night, baby girl.” Joel forced his thoughts to Sarah; there was no way he could get any nasty ideas then (and, thanks to whatever miracle Ellie had worked on him, it was no longer unbearable to remember his daughter). He used to snuggle with Sarah at times, and he’d never had any such thoughts. She’d been younger than Ellie, but still. When exactly had he become a lecherous old man? Ellie ain’t your daughter. -No, that was the part of his brain he couldn’t listen to right now –- the part that made excuses for him. Ellie was his daughter in every way that mattered.
Another thought came to him, and while he didn’t like it, at least it wasn’t dirty -- maybe Tommy was right: maybe he should try to find a lady friend. Not anything serious, mind you, but someone to… take the edge off. Satisfy him in a way Ellie could not, and thus, keep him from becoming the very thing he needed to protect her from. Joel knew he wasn’t husband material, or anything that a woman would want if she was after more than sex. Tess was proof of that; on paper, the two of them were tailor-made for each other, but in reality, it just didn’t work, through no fault of hers. Besides, he didn’t need or want any female in his life besides Ellie -- what woman could live with that? And it’s not like he could spend the night with anyone else. No, the woman would have to be the love-‘em-and-leave-‘em type. He’d have to make that clear right up front, to the point of being a dick about it, if need be.
Or maybe he just needed to jerk off in the shower more often. And what might you think about when you’re doing that, you dirty old man? ...right. Okay, so he could find someone physically attractive he could fantasize about first, or remember someone from the past… anything to keep his brain from going to that dark place. Maybe the library had some Playboys...
Ellie was quiet, though perhaps not quite asleep yet. He ceased petting her hair and let his hand rest on her arm. Innocent thing that she was, she trusted him. Holding her warm, soft body close to him, knowing she was safe and content, Joel felt a sense of peace he hadn’t felt since God knows when. I won’t jeopardize this. I can fix it.
~Continue to Chapter 9~