Fandom: The Last of Us
Word Count: 5182
Rating (for fic as a whole): R
Chapter Summary: Atonement.
Tommy left after that, saying with satisfaction that his work there was done. Joel was so grateful to have avoided waging war with Tommy over Ellie’s ‘should-I-stay-or-should-I-go’ dilemma that he tried not to feel pissy about the fact that it was his brother who’d won her over, not himself. The only thing that mattered was that Ellie was staying.
He believed her when she made the promise. What worried him was that she seemed to be doing it to make him happy, not because she completely agreed with the decision. He’d have to keep reinforcing that this was where she belonged, that she was not a bad person for wanting to live her life (the idea was so ludicrous to Joel that he couldn’t believe a girl as smart as Ellie would even think it).
They decided to go back to bed for a few hours, which ended up being many hours; it was after two o’clock when Joel woke up. He felt a moment of inexplicable panic, which immediately dissolved when he realized Ellie was right beside him, sleeping soundly. She was on her stomach, facing towards him, her hair flopped over her face, sleep-breathing but not quite snoring. He reached over and gently tucked the stray locks of hair behind her ear, then lay back and watched her sleep for a few minutes. She looked so peaceful… so angelic. Yesterday at this time he’d been franticly searching for her, afraid she might hate him, or at the very least, not want to continue living with him, yet here she was -- still wanting him to sleep in her bed, even.
It had surprised Joel when she didn’t consent to him adopting her. It didn’t seem like she’d refused in order to avoid giving Joel veto rights on her decision: she wasn’t planning on leaving anyhow, it was the very next thing she’d said. Did she think he was trying to use her to replace Sarah? He’d never compared the two, and he never would. He was pretty sure Ellie understood that, though. No one could ever replace Sarah in his heart. Just like no one could replace Ellie. And Ellie was family to him, whether it was recognized or not. He did have some non-parental feelings for her, true… but she didn’t know that, and since nothing would ever become of those feelings, father/daughter was the relation that fit the best. He’d assumed that a kid who’d lost so many people she’d cared about would jump at the chance to form an official bond like that. If the subject had come up two days ago, she probably would have, with no hesitation. So, yes, Ellie had agreed to stay, and she wasn’t so pissed off at him that she couldn’t stand to be near him… but he’d fucked things up and he wasn’t out of the doghouse yet. He still had some repairs to make.
He started by making her a nice hot breakfast when she woke up. Not that that was any great feat. Just something nice. One step at a time. She’ll come around.
It also bothered him that she didn’t expect to be happy anymore. Over the next few days he tried to think of things he could do to please her… even just silly little things he could do so as not to annoy her. Like putting the toilet seat down. Washing his dishes right away instead of leaving them on the counter for a while -- usually it was just a drinking glass, never the remains of some five-course meal or anything, but she would always accuse him of leaving it there for her to do. Sometimes his mind was elsewhere and he simply forgot, but he’d also taken to doing things like that on purpose just so he could tease her when she bitched about them (she was cute when she was irritated about stupid shit). He stopped doing that now, though; he became a model roommate. Clothes lying around on the floor didn’t seem to bother her, probably because there wasn’t much alternative… but he fetched them a hamper from Ghost Town anyway. It wasn’t like they couldn’t use one.
One thing he thought she’d really like was a dresser. They’d been keeping their clothes in a couple of crates on the floor, and one time, after they’d been in Jackson about a week, Ellie had grabbed a shirt from hers and freaked out when some beetle-like bug fell out of it. The thing attempted to hide itself somewhere in the crate. Joel had been in the other room at the time, and of course had hurried in there all concerned when he heard her shriek. The memory still made him smile.
“There’s a bug! A big one!”
“Yes! It was on my fucking shirt!”
“You’re screamin’ like a girl… over a bug?”
“It was ugly!”
“How many bugs have we seen since we left—“
“That’s different! They’re not supposed to be in a real house, crawling through our clothes!”
“So, kill it then.”
“I don’t know where it went! It’s somewhere down in that stack!”
“Okay, well, you got your shirt, it won’ bother you none, bein’ in there.”
“Joooeeellll! I can’t stick my hand in there again if it’s there -- or what if it decides to go somewhere else and I don’t know where it is?!”
“Oh no! You’re right, that’s jus’ terrible! What in tarnation would become of you then?”
“Fuck you. I hate you.”
“All right, all right, lemme find it. All the shit you been through, an’ you’re scared of a tiny little—“
“It was fucking huge! And I’m not scared of it, it’s just gross, is all.”
“Uh-huh. Sure sounds like you’re scared of it to me. You better leave the room, it might go scurryin’ across the floor. Better yet, go outside where all the other bugs are, it can’t get you there.”
“You’re such a dick.”
“So I’ve been told. Go on, then. I’ll play the hero and commit murder for you, will that redeem me in your eyes?”
Yeah, that last bit wasn’t actually funny now.
Of course he’d disposed of the thing, and he was only teasing her about letting it stay there; he didn’t like bugs being in the house any more than she did, especially when he didn’t know which species were harmful or caused damage (he made a mental note to look that shit up some time). She’d manned up after that, somewhat… if there was an insect on the floor, she’d stomp on it herself rather than ask Joel to kill it. The ‘somewhat’ came into play when she made a big thing of it, making sure Joel knew just how brave she’d been, and how appreciative he should be that she hadn’t made him do it. That was pretty girly (albeit adorable). Then she’d nudge the carcass across the floor and out the door with the toe of her shoe rather than pick up the little dead body herself. Joel would tease her about losing some of its legs along the way.
Ellie didn’t do things like that anymore… things that showed her spunk -- or much personality at all, really. It wasn’t anywhere near as bad as a few months ago, though, thankfully. This had a different feel to it. And apparently she got some respite from her troubles at night; the time she was most Ellie-like, for whatever reason, was when they went to bed.
If he’d been paying more attention the day he’d gone through all those empty houses, he might have remembered if there was a really nice dresser somewhere, but he’d been so focused on finding Ellie that anything not Ellie-shaped hadn’t made enough of an impression on him to stick. The one he’d taken would do fine (what did a ‘nice’ one look like, anyhow?). He’d done it by the book and had the appropriate person mark it off that anal little inventory map, then dollied the thing all the way back to the house himself.
It was such a tight fit in that little room that the only place for it was at the foot of the mattress, and the bottom drawer wasn’t even able to open all the way. Ellie had seemed pleased with it, though. She’d pulled out all the clothes that Joel had put away (he’d thought he’d done it neatly enough) and reorganized them to her liking. Took her time about it, too. As he did so often these days, Joel had wondered what was on her mind. Sometimes she would actually answer him if he asked her how she was doing or what she was thinking about, but only if she’d given some indication that she wanted to talk. Asking out of the blue just seemed to make her more sullen.
The next day, Joel reckoned that while he was at the protection-from-bugs thing, he may as well help himself to a bed frame from Ghost Town as well -- and that one, he kept off the books. Every time he asked her, Ellie insisted she didn’t want a ‘real’ bed. Joel suspected she might be afraid she’d end up getting a twin-sized bed... and she was probably right about that. He couldn’t justify getting her anything bigger, and he wasn’t sure he could move something that big without help, or without being detected. The frame, though, that was no problem. It would be a bitch to carry back to the house, but he’d manage, and if anyone took notice of him, they wouldn’t necessarily find it odd that a construction guy was carrying rails of metal around. He took some tools with him for disassembly, and set out to acquire a simple metal queen-sized frame.
When Ellie went to the bedroom that night to change, she gasped in the doorway. “What the fuck?!”
Joel walked up behind her, and scooted past her into the room so he could switch on a lamp on his side of the bed. Now that they wouldn’t be sleeping quite so close to the floor, He’d overturned the crates to serve as end tables. The bed still had only the one mattress, and no headboard, but it definitely looked more bed-like this way. And now he wouldn’t have to fumble back to the bedroom in the dark after turning the light off in the other room.
“It’s startin’ to look like a real bedroom, now, ain’t it?” He sat on the bed and waited for her expression to shift from surprise to… something happy. She just stood there and stared. What didn’t she like about it? “It’s the same ol’ mattress, don’ worry,” he assured her.
“But… why? What was wrong with how it was?”
“I thought you’d like bein’ up off the floor.”
“Yeah, what else would it be?”
“You’re still gonna sleep in here, right?”
“Of course. That’s got nothin’ to do with it. Is that what you’re worried about?”
Ellie shrugged. “Just wondering.” She flopped down on the bed.
“See? It’s the same thing. Only higher.”
“It’s nice.” She plucked at the blanket absently.
“…but?” Joel twisted around to lie on his side next to her, propped up on his elbow.
“It’s nothing.” Before he could give her a Look, she rolled her eyes and recited humorlessly, “I don’t feel like answering that question for some reason I ain’t gonna tell you, Joel. No but really, it’s nothing.”
“If you say so.” Joel couldn’t imagine what it was that bothered her about the room. He had told her he’d keep sleeping there, after all. “So… you like it, then?”
Ellie nodded. “Yeah. It’s cool. But, Joel… why are you being so nice to me?”
Joel laughed. “What do you mean? Ain’t I always nice to you?”
“Ha.” At least that made her smile a little. “You’re like… going out of your way to be extra nice. I left like one swallow of milk in the bottle and you didn’t even give me shit about it. I know you noticed, too, cuz you finished it.”
“Did you do that on purpose?” Joel would be amused as hell if she did.
She didn’t answer the question, though. “I thought maybe you were acting different cuz… I dunno, maybe you’re mad, or—“
“I ain’t mad. You think… I’m bein’ nice to you ‘cause I’m mad at you? That makes no sense.” Maybe that was a girl thing. The female brain boggled Joel’s mind sometimes.
“No, not like—“ She sighed, clearly frustrated at Joel’s inability to understand what she was saying, despite the fact that she wasn’t articulating it very well.
“Like what? Why do you think I’m mad at you?”
“I don’t, I just wondered if maybe you were. Okay, if you’re not mad, you’re… scared of me?”
Joel chuckled at that. “I ain’t scared. Why can’t I do nice things without you thinkin’ somethin’s up?”
Ellie glanced at him sideways. “I think maybe you think you have to do stuff to make me wanna stay. Even though I already told you I’m being selfish and not leaving.”
“You are not bein’ selfish, Ellie,” he said vehemently. “I’ll remind you every day if I have to. You’re doin’ the only thing that makes sense. If you feel selfish you jus’ remember how much we all need you here. Yeah?”
She nodded, although he never knew if she really heard him when he said such things. They seemed to float in one ear and out the other, for all the good they did.
Joel sighed. “I jus’ wanna make things better for you, if I can. You’ve been so quiet… “
“So have you.”
“On account of you bein’ quiet, maybe.”
Ellie rolled over on her side, propped on her elbow, mirroring Joel. “So you’re okay?”
“Of course I’m okay.” What the fuck? She was the one who wasn’t okay. “You can be quiet if you want. You can keep comin’ home after dinner instead of goin’ to the library. Or if you want the house to yourself for a little while, that’s fine, I’ll go. I ain’t exactly sure what you need right now so I’m jus’ … followin’ your lead, I s’pose.”
She stared at him. He stared back. What is going through that head of yours, baby girl? “I don’t want it to myself,” she finally said. “Do you want it to yourself sometimes?”
“Do you wanna go do other things without me around?”
Maybe she thought it was creepy, him hanging around her all the time; he didn’t follow her around the library or even stay that close to her, but if she was there, he was there in the building somewhere. Maybe she felt smothered. But then, why wouldn’t she tell him she wanted to be alone, especially when he asked? “No. If you want me to, like I said, jus’ tell me—“
“What about what you want?”
Joel blinked. “Me? I want you to be happy. You know that.”
“Well, I want you to be happy.”
“Good, that works out then.” When did this become about me? The conversation was getting a little too… feel-y, for Joel’s liking. He ruffled her hair and then sat up. “I’ll leave so you can change.”
Ellie didn’t object. He knew she’d bring it up again if she wasn’t satisfied, and that was fine. In the meantime, maybe he could figure out what she was getting at. He wasn’t placing any expectations on her, and if he racked his brain, he couldn’t even think of a reason why she might even think that he was. I really suck at this shit.
Joel went through his nightly routine and returned to the bedroom a few minutes later to find Ellie sitting in the middle of the bed, wearing… was that one of his shirts? “What is that?”
“It’s called a shirt.”
“Smartass. Where’d you get it?”
“I found it when I was doing the drawers yesterday… this is the one you didn’t like, right? You were gonna give it back cuz it made you look gay?”
I’m not checking her out like a sleazeball, I’m trying to determine what shirt it is. It was a pale yellow dress shirt… it did look like maybe it was the one Joel had tried on and didn’t like. He wasn’t crazy about the color, but that wouldn’t have mattered if it had fit decently. He sat down in his spot on the bed. “Yeah, I think so. It was too small. Looks bigger when you’re wearin’ it.”
“I like it. I don’t wanna give it back. What’s wrong with looking gay, anyway?”
“Nothin’… if you are gay an’ wanna get hit on by other men.”
That made her smile. “Ah. Good point. Did Bill ever hit on you?”
“Aww, why not?”
“Guess I wasn’ his type.” He hadn’t been ‘hit on’ per se by another man in Jackson, but he’d been… vetted, was probably a better term for it. Ellie didn’t need to hear about that (though she sure would get a kick out of it). Joel got under the blanket but remained upright, unsure if Ellie was even ready to go to sleep. She was still sitting in the middle of the bed, her bare legs splayed out to the side, shirt not even buttoned up all the way... he tried not to look at her. “So… you’re wearin’ that to bed, are you?”
He should probably tell her not to do that… but she’d surely want to know why, and that would make it worse. I got this. “Aren’t you gonna put pants on?”
“Pfft. No.” Like it was a ridiculous question. “I don’t wear pants under the nightgown.” Like it was comparable.
“But the gown’s longer. A lot longer.” Stop glancing at her, you perv… did she really have to leave the top couple buttons undone like that?
“So, you’ll be… cold.”
“No I won’t, I’ll be under the blanket. And you’re always warm.” She crawled over to get under the covers next to him, the front of her shirt slipping away from her body a little with the motion, and his gaze was automatically drawn to the hollow created by the unbuttoned part of her shirt. Jesus fucking Christ, now I’m trying to look down her shirt?? Only for a second, then he looked away. Thank God he hadn’t seen anything but a shadow. He hurriedly switched off the lamp and decided that, lamp in here or not, he’d better go back to the old way of turning off the light in the other room and climbing into bed in the dark. At least when she wore that shirt. He hoped she wouldn’t make a habit of it… yet at the same time, he kind of hoped that she did.
Joel slid down to lay on his back with her head on his chest, their usual position. She hitched her bare leg up over his. She’s your daughter she’s your daughter she’s your daughter, he reminded himself desperately. Not that it worked. Probably because it wasn’t even true -- his body knew it, even if his head didn’t want to accept it.
He began slowly stroking her hair the way she liked. “If my brother decides to pay us any more early mornin’ visits, do not answer the door in that.”
Ellie laughed softly. “Don’t worry, you’re the only one who gets to see my legs.”
“That ain’t—“…what he meant, but he liked the sound of it anyhow. “Well, that’s good. I jus’ think if he saw you wearin’… I think he’d get the wrong idea about us.” Or the right one, depending on his point of view.
“Which he probably already has,” Ellie pointed out. “Did he say anything to you after… the other morning?”
“He did.” Joel was content to leave it at that, but naturally, Ellie wanted to know more. She whined, pleaded, cajoled, threatened… Joel wouldn’t budge. It was much more amusing to torment her than tell her the truth, as there wasn’t all that much of it to tell –- Tommy had tried to talk to him, but Joel had shut that down pretty quick, indignant that Tommy could even think he’d do anything inappropriate with Ellie. …yeah, Joel was a little bit of a hypocrite. But he hadn’t done anything extremely inappropriate. And it wasn’t his idea for her to wear a sexy shirt. That’s right, I am just an innocent bystander in all of this. Sure.
Joel knew he should put an end to the bed-sharing. After she’d run off, when he’d thought she might not want him so close to her, it had been easy to tell himself he’d start sleeping on the couch, especially when bargaining with God or whatever powers may be: Just let her come home safe and sound and I’ll knock that shit off. And when he found that she did want him in the bed, it was just as easy to put it off for a while (or indefinitely): I don’t want to upset her right now, she’s dealing with enough as it is… she acts normal when we’re cuddling… and she does still have nightmares sometimes…
The truth was, he didn’t want to sleep apart any more than she did. Was it harming her in some way he couldn’t fathom? As long as he kept his disgusting thoughts to himself, what was so wrong with being chastely affectionate? If the danger was that she’d come to rely on sleeping next to him… well, it might already be too late to do anything about that. Was he somehow impeding her sexual development? He couldn’t really ponder that one because it required him to think about other boys touching her –- NO, he couldn’t go there. She didn’t seem interested in that with anyone, so… again, no harm done, as long as he behaved. His behavior shouldn’t even be a part of the equation, but… it was, and Joel thought maybe he shouldn’t beat himself up too much over it. He and Ellie weren’t biologically related, nor was he the one who’d raised her –- and she didn’t even want him to be her father, at least not yet (or was it ‘not anymore’?). The perversion factor had less to do with incest and more to do with her age.
Mornings were… a little interesting, sometimes, but he and Ellie usually rolled off to their respective sides of the bed some time during the night, and he was careful to keep Ellie’s innocence intact. There’d been a few times he’d awoken to find himself lying on his side directly behind her, spooning, and had to remedy that by shifting his lower half a little or by changing positions completely. It made him wonder if she’d ever woken up before him while he’d been pressed up against her, and if so, had she noticed anything peculiar… or if there’d even been anything for her to notice. He didn’t wake up hard every day, and he figured if it didn’t happen until about the time he was waking up, even if he was in a compromising position (which wasn’t even the norm), there was a good chance Ellie was oblivious. …hopefully. Unless the contact caused it, even in his sleep? And he had no idea if he had erections throughout the night that she may have become aware of, if she woke up at all... he really had no way of knowing without asking her, so he made assumptions based on her behavior. She’d never mentioned it, never asked him anything related to it (even if she was in one of her ‘let’s embarrass Joel’ moods), and never had any reservations about sharing the bed with him. One time, she was even spooning him on his side of the bed when he woke up, which Joel found rather adorable. Ellie viewed him as an oversized teddy bear, a security blanket of sorts, not some horndog perv. Maybe he was the ostrich sticking his head in the sand here, but it seemed to him that if she knew, he would somehow know that she knew.
Joel could take advantage of her innocence, of course –- in theory. But he wasn’t going to mess with her head by pushing the boundaries, experimenting with or exploiting her feelings for him. Other guys might be tempted, if they were in his shoes… not him. He could handle it. He cared too much about her not to. So, if there was any man in the universe Ellie should be sleeping next to, it was him. How’s THAT for justification! Unless he had evidence that his presence in the bed was detrimental to her in some way, he figured the pros outweighed the cons.
A week later, he would come to rethink that notion.
He woke up slowly, lazily… he was not on his own side of the bed, he was curled up behind Ellie with his arm slung over her. He scooted his hips backward slightly in a reflexive motion. Did she feel it? I wasn’t RIGHT up against her… I don’t think… He sensed that she was awake. “Mornin’,” he mumbled into her hair, inhaling the pleasant scent of her fruity, girly shampoo.
“Morning,” she replied. It was only one word but it sounded ‘off’ to Joel… like she was nervous, or anxious. She was absolutely still. It was then that it dawned on him, to his horror, that his right hand was inside her shirt, cupping her breast.
“Shit!” He pulled away from her abruptly, rolled off the bed and stumbled into the bathroom. He slammed the door so hard the house shook. FUCK! Goddamnit Joel, you sick fuck, now you’ve done it. He hastily stripped and turned the shower on cold. He just stood there and let the water pelt him while he tried to think of something other than curses and derogatory names for himself.
“Fuck!” …did he say that one out loud? He hoped Ellie wasn’t listening. God, what was he gonna say to her… he had to apologize, obviously. Should’ve done that before he bolted out of there. But he couldn’t look at her, couldn’t stand to see the look on her face –- whatever sort of look it would be, he was sure it fell into the ‘bad’ category. He didn’t want to know which flavor of bad.
If it had been the other way around… if he’d woken up to find Ellie’s hand somewhere it shouldn’t have been, he would have calmly removed it and probably chuckled to himself. But girls were sensitive about shit like that. It fucked them up. And Ellie… oh God, what if that motherfucker David had touched her… and now Joel had just traumatized her some more.
Why hadn’t she shoved him away? Ellie had no trouble expressing herself when she didn’t like something that he said or did. Did she think there were different rules in the bedroom? That she had to go along with whatever the hell he wanted? Was she afraid not to, because she thought he’d decide to sleep elsewhere otherwise? Or that he’d be unhappy with her? She did say she wanted him to be happy…
Ugh. He should have known something like this would happen sooner or later. What the fuck was he thinking, sharing a bed with a child? And of course, his hand hadn’t just grazed the outside of her shirt, it had slithered in there… would she believe him when he said it was an accident? That he’d been asleep? Yes, she had to know that much, at least -- she had woken up before him. And she was just lying there, frozen. Probably trying to be brave. Or being reminded of that son of a bitch David.
Well, at least he’d finally break them both of the bed-sharing habit now. Would she be upset with him for ruining that? Or maybe she wouldn’t want him within ten feet of her now, him and his filthy groping hands.
Whatever the case may be, he needed to put aside his shame enough to apologize. He’d left the room so fast he didn’t even know if she was okay. Relatively okay, that is. Of course she wasn’t okay, she’d woken up to find a pervert molesting her. Poor Ellie. How long had his hand been there?!
Joel got out of the shower without even washing up at all. He hadn’t taken the time to pick out some clothes before he’d darted across the hall, and he wasn’t going to subject Ellie to seeing him in a towel again, so he put his night things back on and opened the door.
She wasn’t in the bedroom… or the other room. She was gone. And, parent of the year that he was, Joel felt relieved that he didn’t have to face her yet. He checked the time; it was about forty minutes after her alarm would have gone off. He had seen her set it last night, so she must have woken up early (probably when his hand had decided to fondle her) and switched it off ahead of time. Damnit, she probably was lying there a while with his fucking hand on her. Maybe with his dick pressed up against her ass, too.
They didn’t always have breakfast together, but he was going to work earlyish that day and they were planning on eating together –- he had commented that they could split the last apple with their oatmeal. It was past the time she usually left for the farm, so it wasn’t surprising that she’d skip it… and he noticed the apple was gone. She’d probably gotten dressed as fast as she could, grabbed it to eat on the run, and gotten the fuck out of there. At least she’s not too disgustedly sick to her stomach that she doesn’t want to eat?
And she didn’t usually shower in the morning –- especially not before going to the farm -- so that wasn’t unusual. He recalled that she’d just showered before dinner last night. But wouldn’t she want to shower now to try to get that unclean feeling off of her? Maybe that was just a Hollywood thing, that girls who’d been assaulted would go sit in the shower and cry their hearts out.
I didn’t assault her, though, goddamnit. She HAS to know I didn’t mean it. I hope that makes a difference… that she can forgive me. He thought about going down to the farm… and decided against it. If she really wanted to talk to him, she would have waited. Maybe she didn’t even go to the farm, if she was too upset. It didn’t matter… either way, she wouldn’t want to see Joel any time soon.
When is she going to get fed up with me fucking shit up?
~Continue to Chapter 16~