Lumy (luminations) wrote,

"Accretion" Chapter 18: "Leo"

Title: "Accretion" - Chapter 18: "Leo"
Fandom: The Last of Us
Word Count: 3637
Rating (for fic as a whole): R
Chapter Summary: Ellie confides in Annie... or lets her play twenty questions, anyway!

Ellie had finally come to a realization, and now that she knew, it seemed so fucking obvious that she wondered what the hell had taken her so long. There was no denying it now: she was in love with Joel. Simple as that. Simple, yet… complicated. Because it was Joel.

She hadn’t had that many crushes when she was younger. Boys were either playmates or tormentors, girls were… usually just tormentors. Until Riley –- and even Riley had been mean to Ellie in the beginning. That had been more than a crush, though; Ellie had loved her. And when she’d felt like Riley might feel the same way… oh, how the visions of happily ever after had whirled through her head! For the whole ten seconds before everything went to hell.

So, then she was a lesbian. It didn’t matter, though, because she wasn’t ever going to love anyone besides Riley. -Until she did. Only… now she was straight, clearly. She hadn’t realized it could bounce back and forth like that. In movies and books, most people were straight, some people were gay. Nobody was both. Ellie was some kind of freak of nature. She didn’t really care. And somehow it felt like less of a betrayal, this way: Riley could still be the girl she loved.

The black cloud that had been following her around since she’d learned about the Fireflies had lifted. The movie night had probably helped with that, too; she felt more content overall. Things were worthwhile again. Even mundane things. Life was fucking good. What had she been thinking when she’d considered leaving? Now she was more receptive to the idea that living her life did not make her a bad person. Maybe she was already exactly where she was supposed to be.

Ellie was having lunch with Annie, Esther, and Annie’s little brother, Will. Eating the best fried tomato sandwich ever, and she said as much to Esther.

“Well, thanks, glad you like it so much,” said Esther, amused. “Hmmm. I guess it’s not a boy, then.”

“What?” Ellie laughed. “What’s not a boy? The sandwich? Hey, you’re right, it’s not!” Will snickered, and Ellie grinned at him. I'm such a dork!

Esther smiled. “You just seem different today. Happier. A bit… dreamy. But if it was a boy, you’d have no appetite.”

Annie rolled her eyes. “I never lost my appetite, Mom. That’s so cliché.”

“It’s not a boy,” Ellie said, mentally smirking at the half-truth. “I just… feel better. I hung out with Joel and Tommy and Maria last night, we watched a movie and it was a lot of fun.”

“Oh good! That’s wonderful. I hope you keep feeling good, sweetie.” Esther was so nice. Everyone was. Life was good!

After lunch, Annie beckoned Ellie up to her room and closed the door. “Okay, it’s just us now. So spill. Is it a boy?”

“Haha! Jeez, why does it have to be a fucking boy?” Ellie felt giddy. She was bursting to tell someone...

“It doesn’t have to be… I just hoped it was. If you liked someone, would you tell me?”

“Yes, I told you I would.” They’d discussed this before. All Annie knew about Ellie's love life was that Ellie had loved someone back in Boston and it hadn’t worked out. “So… um… I guess I better tell you…”

Annie squealed. “Really?? What happened? Who is it?”

Ellie laughed. She could feel herself blushing. No way could she tell Annie ‘what happened’ –- like Ellie even fucking knew –- and she definitely couldn’t tell her who it was. Annie would freak. Ellie sat down on Annie’s bed, cross-legged, and heaved a long sigh. “You can’t tell anyone. Okay? Not a soul.”

“No one, I swear to God!” Annie sat across from her and made the bed bounce a little in her excitement.

“Where do I begin...”

“Try the beginning!”

The beginning. When was that -- last summer? Last month? Last night? “Um…”

“Okay, the middle then?”

She laughed. “The thing is… well…” How much should she tell her?

“Would it be easier if I asked you stuff?” Annie offered eagerly.

“Maybe? Yeah. But I might not be able to answer everything.”

“Okay. Who is it?”

“Yeah, I can’t answer that one.”

Annie laughed. “Why not? I won’t tease you… much…”

“Well… I don’t wanna jinx it.” Yes! Totally believable.

“Ohhhhhh okay. So you guys haven’t kissed yet?”

“No!” Her face and neck were on fire. “We… almost did. I think.” It could have been my imagination.

“You think? Okay, that’s good, so he probably likes you back.” Annie giggled. “You should see how red you are. So… what’s he like?”

Ellie bit her lip. What’s he like? He’s the most amazing guy ever. “Um… he’s really sweet… and kind… thoughtful… fun… he makes me laugh…” Annie would so never suspect it was Joel by that description. Not only did it not sound like Joel –- at least, not what Annie knew of him –- but it was generic enough that it could apply to loads of people.

“Good, good… and he’s cute? Er, obviously, or you’d only like him as a friend. Is he sexy?” She waggled her eyebrows, giggling.

“Um, yeah,” Ellie said, grinning so wide she thought her cheeks might split. Annie preferred the word ‘sexy’ to ‘hot’ because it sounded more grown-up or something. How apt! “He is. I can’t tell you what he looks like though cuz you might guess!”

“Okay, I can respect that. I’ll just imagine it’s Leo.”

Ellie laughed. “Oh I’d never steal your guy! But okay, sure. Pretend it’s him.” Annie had a thing for Leonardo DiCaprio. Joel didn’t look anything like him, making him the perfect person for Annie to mentally cast in the role.

“Yay! Okay. So… has he ever worked here? At any of the farms? That’s a fair question, isn’t it?”

There were quite a few guys who worked at least sporadically at one of the farms. “I guess it’s fair. Yep, he has. No spying on me now, though!” Not even a lie: Joel did milk a cow once. Actually, he might have done a few odd jobs here and there, too, on the nights they ate dinner here, but again, she didn’t think it would make Annie consider Joel a possibility.

“I won’t spy! Much. Okay, let’s see… you can’t tell me what he looks like… can you tell me how old he is?”

Ellie groaned. “That’s the problem -- he’s older than me.”

Annie gasped theatrically. “Oooo, an older man. Why do you think it’s a problem? Is he a little older or a lot older?”

“Um… define a little and a lot.” Oh, aren’t I so clever! In what universe would Joel be only ‘a little’ older than me?

“A little… like, if he’s seventeen, eighteen? Sixteen is older, for you, but if it’s only a year I don’t think it should count as ‘older.’ A lot would be early twenties… or more? He’s not older than that, is he?”

Ellie almost wanted to tell her the truth just for the shock value. She ignored the last question. “Okay, so I guess you’d say he falls into the ‘a lot’ category. But you can’t make me tell you his age cuz you know everyone in town and that would really narrow it down!”

Annie chuckled. “I don’t know everyone’s exact ages… wow, you really don’t want me to know who it is. What if I guessed, then would you tell me?”

“No! If you even try, I’m not gonna answer you one way or the other. No process of elimination.” Ellie was sure her friend wouldn’t guess Joel, but she’d rather keep her guessing. It might be fun, actually… she could flirt with random guys when Annie was within earshot just to make her wonder. Ha! Ellie would probably be too shy to actually do that. But she did need to practice flirting so she could do it competently with Joel…

“Eventually you’re gonna tell me, right? Before you get married and have his babies?” Annie grinned.

Ellie swatted at her playfully. “Shut up! Omigod. Yes, I will tell you, if there’s anything to tell. Way too early. I don’t even know if anything’s gonna happen.”

“Wait. Is he… available?” Annie suddenly looked worried.

“Yes!” Ellie assured her. “No worries there. Totally single.”

“Good. It would be pretty hard to hide it around here if he was lying about that…”

“He’s not, trust me. Really the only problem is he thinks of me as a kid. If I could just be a little bit older…”

“Awww. Like that song, ‘Born Too Late.’ Have you heard it?” Ellie shook her head. Annie softly sang a couple lines of it. “~Born too late for you to notice me, to you I’m just a kid that you won’t date…~”

“Oh I wanna hear it! Do you have that one?” Ellie hadn’t even listened to music for a while. Now every song she heard was going to make her think of Joel. She’d have to find some that could be ‘their’ songs. A little wave of happiness fluttered through her. It was fun being in love!

Annie smiled at her enthusiasm. “I do! It’s by the Poni-Tails. Let’s listen.” Annie actually had a record player in her bedroom. Those were apparently so old that they were even scarcer than walkmans. The library didn’t even have any record albums available to check out; they'd all been divided between the few townsfolk who had working players. Annie’s record collection spanned several decades, ages before the pandemic.

Ellie stretched out on Annie’s bed and listened to the sad song. Twice. She could have listened more but didn’t want to annoy Annie too much. “That poor girl. Do you think she ever got the guy? I hope she did.”

“Me too. That girl she saw him walking with? Maybe she ran off with another boy, and then he noticed the Poni-Tail girl.”

“Yeah. Then he thought, hey, young girls aren’t so bad. They’re more loyal and appreciative.” Ellie snorted. “Okay, so I don’t know if that’s true. If only he would give her a chance!”

“This might not be a big deal, you know,” Annie said seriously. “You’ll just have to make him realize age doesn’t matter. Once he gets to know you, he’ll see you’re an old soul.”

Once he gets to know me? Ha! He knows me better than anyone else. Ellie laughed. “I don’t wanna be old-old, just… old enough.”

“It doesn’t mean you’re old, it’s more like… you’re an older person in a young body.”

“Really? That would be perfect. Except I wouldn’t mind it if my body was a little older, too.” Ellie sat up and looked pointedly down at the two little bumps on her chest that were supposed to be boobs.

“You’re adorable, Ellie. You don’t need big…” Annie made a comical ‘big boobs’ gesture.

“Do you consider ‘tits’ a bad word? I mean, it’s not cussing,” Ellie teased.

Annie giggled. “I’d rather say ‘bosom.’”

“Bosom? Are you for real?” Ellie shook her head. “Man. That’s bad. ‘Boobs’ is my personal favorite. And mine need to be bigger. No wonder he thinks I’m a child.”

“If he likes you, it really doesn’t matter,” Annie assured her. “So you think you almost kissed? What happened?”

Ellie blushed, remembering. She couldn’t tell Annie about that! “I think he was going to but chickened out. It might have just been my imagination,” she said dejectedly.

Annie sat quietly for a moment, frowning in thought. “Maybe you’re not sending him the right signals? If he thinks of you as a kid sister, maybe he doesn’t even know you have these feelings? You haven’t told him, right? Have you even hinted at all?”

Had she ever told Joel how she felt about him, in a platonic sense? Ellie couldn’t remember doing so. But she didn’t have to, because he knew. Just like she knew he loved her. He wouldn’t assume she loved him romantically, though… maybe she did need to tell him that. What a terrifying thought! How do you tell someone who practically runs away screaming after touching you that you ~like~ him? Too humiliating. “No, I haven’t said anything. I can’t. I’d have to be sure he wouldn’t, like… laugh in my face or something.”

“He wouldn’t do that! You said he’s nice.”

She could totally imagine Joel doing that: “Jesus, Ellie, what the fuck?! You’re joking, right?” Ugh, no, she had to be subtle. “I can’t. I need to do stuff to make him figure it out himself, I think. And to make him see me… that way, instead of just as a dumb kid. What did you do with Jacob?”

“Not much. I didn’t have to.” Annie smiled apologetically. “He… made it pretty obvious he liked me. You’re lucky, Ellie. The beginning is so… it probably sounds cheesy, but it’s almost magical.”

Cheesy or not, Ellie couldn’t deny that. All she had to do was think about Joel and things inside her reacted. The flutters in her chest and stomach, the giddiness –- sensations she had for no real reason, the man wasn’t even around -- were some kind of fucking magic. Sometimes when he touched her, she felt a shiver travel through her whole body. And they hadn’t even kissed yet. -Yet. Like it’s going to happen. …yes, it IS going to happen, I will make it happen, somehow, someday. She looked at her friend. “And it just gets better and better, right?”

“Well…” Annie’s expression soured a little. “For a while.”

“I thought you said things were better -- did something happen yesterday?” Annie had mentioned that Jacob seemed distant lately, and that when she’d tried to talk to him about it, he’d denied that anything was different. But the other day, they’d had a good time together, and Annie thought maybe she’d overreacted.

“He left early. He didn’t even bring the milk in. He said Alyssa was waiting for him and he’d see me tomorrow -- today. It’s okay if he wants to spend time with his sister, I understand, it's just… something about the way he was acting bothered me.” Annie sat up straighter and smiled brightly. “Enough about that! We need to figure out your situation.”

Now Ellie felt selfish. “Hey, I don’t wanna go on and on about me if it’s gonna make you… feel bad, or whatever, cuz of Jacob…?”

“Bah. Not at all! I might be worrying too much and this’ll keep my mind off it. So! How to make this guy notice that you’re interested, and that you’re old enough… do you know Amanda and Dexter? He’s old enough to be her father, and they seem pretty happy. Age doesn’t matter!”

“I don’t think I know them! How old are they?” Ellie asked hopefully, as if that would determine whether she and Joel were a viable couple or not.

“She’s nineteen, he’s forty-two.”

Even though she knew it was silly, Ellie was disappointed that the age gap between them was less than between her and Joel.

“She lives with her mom. Doesn’t bother him, I guess.” Then Annie gasped and clutched Ellie’s arm. “Oh no, Ellie! You have a bigger problem than age: the guy that you live with!”

“Joel?” Yeah, he’s actually the entire problem…

“He’s so overprotective! Jacob says if he even just talks to you in the library, Joel gives him the evil eye. Is he gonna let you hang out with this guy unchaperoned?”

Ellie laughed. This was too funny! She wished she could confide in Annie. Someday she would. Maybe after she and Joel had been together a little while… together. Just the thought of that made Ellie feel fluttery again. “I don’t have to get his permission, I can hang out with whoever I want.”

“Okay, you say that, but, come on. You don’t want to get the poor boy killed!” Annie giggled. “Or maybe not killed… scared off?”

“Pfft. He’s more harmless than you’d think.” Another half-truth. “I can handle Joel, I’m not worried about that.”

Except she didn’t know how to handle him in the way she wanted. The whole groping thing had been a disaster. If she’d known Joel was going to freak out like that, she wouldn’t have… well… helped his hand make its way under her shirt. She felt a little guilty about it now. His hand had accidentally landed there, on the outside, so it wasn’t like she’d manipulated the whole situation. For a few minutes after she’d woken up, she had lain there, watching it, willing it to move inside. Out of curiosity, yes, but more than that… she wanted to feel his hand somewhere that no one had ever touched. When she’d realized that of course sheer will alone wasn’t going to do the trick, she figured it wouldn’t hurt if she took matters into her own hands, literally. She’d done it painfully slowly, afraid that he’d wake up mid-move, but he hadn’t even stirred –- except when she’d carefully reached over to un-set the alarm, and the little bit of shifting he’d done then was to her benefit: his hand had settled around her breast, making itself comfortable.

She’d felt such a delicious little tingle. Not continuously, although she did feel warm and just… happy that it was there. She’d scooted back a little, her hips aligned with Joel’s, and pressed her ass against him, shifting until she had it lined up cozily with his… male region. Sometimes she could feel it more easily than others, she wasn’t sure why. She also wasn’t sure how she could think of such positioning as ‘cozy’ when it didn’t feel like snuggling up to a pillow… but that was Joel -- comfortable, just not in a soft’n’fuzzy way.

Ellie had this great fantasy about Joel waking up. He’d be a little surprised, sure, but she would purr at him all sexy-like (saying what? She’d skipped over that part to get to the good stuff), and he’d realize that Ellie liked having his hands on her, and she’d twist around, turning her face towards his, and then he’d kiss her…

Yeah, not likely to happen. But fun to think about (and of course, in her fantasy she didn’t have morning breath, either). She couldn’t bring herself to pull his hand out of her shirt. Then she’d thought that maybe she could at least do something to let him know he was welcome to touch her boobs whenever he wanted. More than welcome. Instead, he’d made it clear he hadn’t enjoyed it at all. First by freaking out, then by spelling it out. How many times did he have to tell her he would never ever touch her like that? Shit.

Based on that disastrous morning alone, Ellie would have thought things were pretty hopeless, that Joel would never see her as anything but a daughter. Then last night… she wasn’t sure how to describe what happened, but it restored her hope. She had been so sure that Joel wanted to kiss her, that he almost did kiss her… she could feel it. And she wanted him to -- sooooo badly! -- that there could be no doubt her feelings for him were more than daughterly. She certainly didn’t dislike being his pseudo-daughter; she just wanted more.

Should she have made the first move and kissed him? Maybe Annie was right -- she wasn’t doing enough to let him know she was attracted to him. Other than telling him he could ‘do whatever’ to her and she wouldn’t care… that probably just creeped him out. And not caring, not minding… that was different from liking, and wanting. She had to find a way to be bolder without passing some point of no return where he’d be too weirded out by her if she was reading him all wrong.

It was too bad she couldn’t talk to someone anonymously and get some good, practical advice. But… maybe there was something she could do. She’d come across books about relationships in the library, and there was a whole room full of magazines… yes! That was it! She could rummage through those for articles that applied to her situation, if there were any. How to Seduce the Man Who Thinks He’s Your Father: okay, maybe not… but How to Make Him Yours and the like? Fuck yes!

“Annie! I know what to do! There’s a ton of magazines at the library. Lots of teen magazines. And the people who wrote in magazines were experts. There has to be something useful in there. Will you come help me look? Maybe we could find stuff that would help you out, too!”

Annie nodded eagerly. “Okay! Do you still wanna go riding?”

“Yeah and then I wanna go home and clean up before going to the library, I have story hour today. Meet me over there in like an hour?”

“Sounds good. And... it’s good to see you happy again, Ellie. Whatever happens with this guy? I hope you stay that way. If you ever want to talk about that stuff that’s been bothering you, I’m always here.” She was sincere about it, too, Ellie knew. Ellie still felt like there were things Annie would never understand about her, but she was a good listener, and she cared.

“Thanks, Annie, I know you are,” Ellie said warmly. She leaned over and gave her friend a quick hug before sliding off the bed. She felt pretty optimistic. Joel already loved her, and she was pretty certain he felt some degree of attraction towards her… how fucking hard could it be to get him to fall madly in love with her?

~Continue to Chapter 19~

Tags: accretion, fic, tlou
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