Fandom: The Last of Us
Word Count: 4837
Rating (for fic as a whole): R
Chapter Summary: Ellie tries to employ what she's learned about the art of seduction.
Being in love with Joel wasn’t all sunshine and daisies, that was for sure. Ellie’s brain was a battlefield for two schools of thought: He’s mine/I’m so lucky/We have so much to look forward to versus I can’t fuck this up/I need him to love me/I can’t live without him. She tried to focus on the former… tried to remind herself that the latter was ridiculous –- that she did not, in fact, need Joel in order to draw breath. And even if Joel didn’t love her ~that~ way, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Yes, it would, the irrational voice in her head insisted. It felt very all-or-nothing to Ellie; either Joel loved her and they’d live happily ever after, or he would reject her, and the shame and humiliation of that would force her to... to do what? Leave? She could go live with Tommy and Maria if she had to. And Esther liked her. Maybe she could stay at the farm, and she and Annie could be like sisters. It was such a small town, though: would she need to leave Jackson altogether to escape Joel? Yet she couldn’t imagine leaving him, even if he broke her heart. She couldn’t give this any serious thought, because prevention was simple: don’t fuck up.
Over the next two weeks, Ellie attempted to let Joel know, subtly, that her feelings for him went beyond daughterly. She tried smiling more; that one was easy, because she was happier. Joel definitely noticed, and it seemed to make him happier, too, just seeing her happy. Alas, it did not somehow magically invite Joel to kiss her.
She tried the arm thing, wondering if it was some long lost secret code from the old world… to no avail. Joel didn’t act any differently towards her when she touched his arm, although he did thank her when she traced circles on it once with her fingertips. Joel had done that to hers before, and it felt nice, so she figured she’d give it a go. Joel thought she was merely reciprocating a nice gesture, not trying to declare everlasting love for him.
She tried touching him more in general, and he just seemed to take it in stride like he always did, as long as they weren’t in public. They’d never talked about it, but he’d given Ellie enough nonverbal cues in the past that she knew there was an unwritten rule in place, and she didn’t push it. She figured it had something to do with Joel maintaining his ‘tough guy’ appearance. Or maybe it was because he was a private person and didn’t feel comfortable showing affection around others. The rule was slightly more relaxed at Tommy and Maria’s, even at Annie’s… around familiar faces. At the library, affection was pretty much non-existent, and that was fine with Ellie. It made their time at home feel more special.
As for complimenting him… that one was hard. He wore the same old clothes over and over, his hair looked the same every day (except for when it was cut but that wouldn’t happen before July 4th)… she thought maybe he was wearing different socks one day, but she couldn’t tell Joel he looked good in his new socks, for fuck’s sake. The best she could do was exclaim over the little giraffe he whittled for her out of some scrap wood. She was touched that he’d made it for her. It just wasn’t very flirtatious telling him he was good at carving stuff. Later on, it occurred to her that she could have tried to compliment his hands. At least that would have been praise for a body part… but she still didn’t know what she could have said that would sound natural. ‘Your hands are so good on that wood, why don’t you put them on ME now?’ That made her giggle to herself… and imagining Joel’s reaction to such a statement was both amusing and horrifying.
Ellie also did a little ‘research’ –- in the form of movie-watching. A lot of romantic comedies featured flirting, and people trying to make others fall for them… but Ellie got mixed messages from that, because it often seemed it was the two who hated each other in the beginning that got together at the end, and the ‘flirty’ people in between got discarded. Annie would scoff at this and say they’re just silly movies.
Annie’s favorite movie of all time was Gone With the Wind, and she said Ellie needed to watch it because Scarlett O’Hara was the queen of making guys fall in love with her. Of course, the setting was around two hundred years ago, so it was a little outdated. Annie said it would still be worthwhile and besides, she wanted to share it with Ellie anyway. Ellie perfunctorily invited Joel to watch it with them, counting on him to turn her down due to the phrasing, if not the content: ‘You didn’t wanna watch this girly movie with us, did you?’ It worked. Of course it did: Ellie knew what to say to Joel in pretty much every other situation. She could see right away why Annie loved the movie –- all the costumes! –- and it wasn’t bad (except for the sucky ending…shouldn’t they be watching love stories with happy endings now?!). Ellie did have to admire Scarlett’s abilities, both with seducing men and with survival.
One thing Ellie thought would be fun, regardless of whether or not it helped enlighten Joel, was the dance lessons being offered to get everyone ready for the big 4th of July party. Joel hadn’t exactly been keen on that idea…
“Come on, Joel, it’ll be fun!”
“No. I don’t dance.”
“Not even square dancing? That’s supposed to be an easy one.”
“Look, I can’t dance either -- that’s the whole point of having lessons, so we can learn. We can do it together!”
“Ellie, I said no.”
“But… okay, fine. I’ll sign up by myself. You’ll just miss out on all the fun.”
“I’m sure I’ll survive.”
“I guess when I need a partner there’ll be at least one guy there who won’t mind helping me out…”
Ellie had paused a moment for that thought to sink in, hoping it would conjure images of boys, or even men, touching her. She didn’t have to wait long -- almost immediately he grudgingly agreed to go to the classes with her.
She signed them up for all three classes, and she learned about so many dances she wasn’t sure how she’d keep them all straight: square dancing, two-step, mambo, salsa, waltz, foxtrot, macarena, electric slide, wobble, and a completely silly one called the chicken dance (Joel would not do that one no matter how much Ellie pleaded). Ellie couldn’t help reminiscing a little about Riley, and how they’d danced together on the last day of her life. It still felt like this business with Joel made her disloyal to Riley’s memory… but at the same time, she could imagine Riley giving her a thumbs up and a ‘You go, girl!’.
The classes were indeed as fun as Ellie had hoped. Joel already knew how to square dance – he’d learned it in school when he was a kid. Ellie couldn’t imagine getting to do fun things like dance at any of the schools she’d attended. It seemed odd to her that something so frivolous would be taught like it’s some kind of life skill. She was glad to hear some talk of continuing to offer lessons even after the party. Surely there would be more parties, and it would be nice to have dances at weddings, like people used to in the old world.
Some of Ellie’s new friends attended the classes, too -- like Annie and Jacob. Ellie liked to imagine that these were double dates: two giddy teenage girls had dragged their reluctant boyfriends out, and the guys had to act like they were being tortured but secretly they kind of enjoyed it. Joel had been such a good sport through all of it that she was going to let him off the hook for the last night, but he declined the offer. There were plenty of guys at all of the classes, so maybe he was jealous of who she might dance with besides him… Ellie sure hoped he was. Or maybe he really did enjoy it more than he let on.
Ellie also needed to learn how to swim, and Joel had mentioned before that he would teach her. The weather was warm enough that people were going swimming regularly now. There would definitely be swimming at the party. Maria had found her a swimsuit, which she would unfortunately need to wear a long-sleeved T-shirt over to hide her bitten arm… but it wasn’t like she had any cleavage to tease Joel with anyhow. She thought swim lessons would be another good opportunity to have Joel’s hands on her, keeping her from drowning while she learned… maybe one thing would lead to another... The reality was a little disappointing. The water was fucking cold, so cold that her teeth were chattering and her flesh was goosepimpling. Even always-warm Joel got a little chilled. Instead of appreciating how close they were when his hands were holding her body steady, her arms wrapped around his neck as she practiced kicking, she was thinking about how unbearably, mind-numbingly cold she was. It could have been nice when they got out of the water if Joel had engulfed her in his arms to warm her up, but nope –- he tossed her a towel, then a sweatshirt. Maybe if she could get him to teach her at night, when no one was around... Joel didn’t want to do that, though, because the water would be even colder and it would be too dark (“Why the hell do you wanna swim at night when you’re freezin’ your ass off in the sunniest part of the day?”).
She would have to get used to how cold the water was; other people she talked to said they got cold in the beginning too but now they were more accustomed to it. Joel felt like she was doing okay at learning how to swim, but he made her promise she wouldn’t go in the water without him until he felt more confident in her proficiency. Just to test the waters, so to speak, Ellie asked if she could go in the lake with other teens who were good swimmers, and Joel said no. She half-heartedly whined about that a little, but secretly she liked that he was so concerned for her safety that he didn’t trust her life in anyone’s hands but his own. She wondered if she would ever truly become accustomed to that… to having another person be more concerned for her than she was for herself.
Ellie had to give Annie progress reports, naturally, and she hated to admit it, but with only a few days left before her self-imposed deadline, it was time to try things Annie’s way. Since both Ellie and Joel had Saturday and Sunday off that week, and Tuesday was the July 4th party, Monday was declared The Day: Ellie would work at the farm in the morning but had the afternoon free, Joel would work easily into late afternoon (the guys were trying to construct another covered wagon, and it was apparently not as easy as they’d thought it would be). She would have to make sure he came home instead of going to Tommy and Maria’s, and at the designated time, not before. Yeah. He won’t think that’s odd at all.
She and Annie had Friday afternoon together to plan at the farm. Ellie tried on the sundress Annie had picked out for her, but she refused to come out of the bathroom and model it for Annie. “You can see me wear it on Monday but not before,” Ellie promised through the door as she pulled on the dress. “Isn’t that a wedding thing… you’re not supposed to see the bride in her dress before the wedding?”
Annie giggled. “You’re already getting married to this guy? It’s only the groom who’s not supposed to see the bride before.”
“Whatever. My rule says no one can see. Not ‘til Monday anyway!” She looked in the mirror and felt utterly ridiculous. The dress fit okay. The elastic top part that Annie called the ‘bodice’ was forgiving of the fact that she had no boobs. It was a little loose at the waist, and apparently a little longer than it was meant to be, but Ellie refused to let Annie change that when Ellie only needed it for a few hours. Ellie twirled experimentally and the skirt flared out a little. It was so fucking girly!
The main reason Ellie didn’t want Annie to see her in it was that she didn’t want to worry about hiding her scarred arm from Annie any more than she absolutely had to. She’d thought about telling Annie the truth, but she’d promised Joel she wouldn’t tell anyone, and when she’d hinted that maybe it would be okay to tell certain people now, he’d adamantly said no way. She wasn’t sure how she’d hide it from her on Monday either, but Ellie hoped that she and Joel would have a fantastic weekend and Monday would be rendered unnecessary...
Yeah. Right. Because she’d had so much luck seducing Joel with arm-touching and smiling and awkward compliments.
Ellie changed back into her dirty old clothes as soon as she could and immediately felt like herself again. But Annie wasn’t done with her yet –- there was still her hair to torture into various styles, copying from a book she’d borrowed from the library. Up in a bun, partially pulled back with barrettes, all the way down… Ellie allowed Annie to curl it with a little wand that she had, just for fun, but no way was Ellie curling it on Monday. Annie didn’t know how to French braid (she lamented that if Will had only been a girl, she would have had someone to practice on), which was unfortunate, because that was the style Ellie liked best. Annie tried it a couple times with Ellie’s hair and gave up, saying it looked like the handiwork of a six-year-old.
“I think you should wear it down, though,” Annie said authoritatively. “That will make him want to touch it.”
Ellie thought of how Joel stroked her hair at night… it wasn’t like he hadn’t seen her hair down before (he’d seen it all messed up and tangly in the morning too, which wasn’t very romantic). Wearing it down was simple, though, and it was more in the realm of believability than some elaborate style.
All that was left to figure out was the food. Ellie had paged through some cookbooks at the library, and everything in those looked absolutely delicious… and absolutely impossible to make. The recipes called for ingredients that Ellie had either never heard of or that weren’t available, and many of them included procedures that were foreign to her as well. She would have to stick to something they’d already eaten before. Something Joel really liked. That was easy –- Esther’s shepherd’s pie, which Annie promised she knew how to make.
The weekend felt really long to Ellie. She was both dreading and looking forward to Monday, while at the same time trying to help Joel catch a clue prior to that so she could ditch the whole thing. Naturally, she failed at that. Her attempts at a ‘flirtatious giggle’ flopped (Joel looked at her strangely, but did seem to think it was cute. She didn’t want to be cute!). Any time she tried to steer the conversation towards anything sexual, Joel shut it down -- which was probably just as well because she didn’t know how to ‘pull the trigger’ there anyhow. Touching his arm yielded absolutely no further understanding on his part than it had before. Out of desperation, she even decided to flirt with a guy in the library on Sunday to see if it would make Joel jealous enough to take action.
Ellie saw an opportunity after playing video games, when she came out of the gaming room to find Joel playing chess with Craig. She noticed a guy browsing the shelves near the restrooms –- the son of one of those laundry skanks. From what she knew of him, though, he wasn’t anything like his mom. Nineteen-year-old Lucas was shy and awkward, which made him an appealing target for Ellie, who was also shy and awkward –- with flirting, if nothing else! Rumor had it that he had a thing for his cousin, who lived with him and his mom. Ellie hadn’t seen any reason to suspect the rumor was true, and she figured people just liked to invent gossip to suit their imaginations. Whether he was or not was irrelevant to her anyway; she only needed a sham, something that might just wake Joel up.
Joel had beckoned her over, but she gestured towards the restroom and said she’d be right back. He was even sitting on the side of the chess board that offered the optimal view of her and her… victim. Ha! She actually did go pee first, figuring that Joel wouldn’t even bother glancing in her direction for a few minutes. She had to force herself not to look towards Joel when she came out, in case that somehow made it obvious to him that she wanted him to watch her. She sidled up to Lucas’s side with all the grace of a… person who isn’t sexy.
“Hey, Lucas, whatcha lookin’ at?” she purred, putting her hand on his arm and leaning in to look at the book in his hands. It looked like a textbook, but skinnier.
“Oh, uh… it’s just… a book…” He was almost stammering, he was so nervous.
Maybe it’s just Joel who’s immune to the arm thing? “I can see it’s a book,” she teased, laughing a little, but not so much that he might think she was making fun of him. Or so she hoped. “What’s it about?”
He wasn’t giving her much to work with, but he also wasn’t making her feel intimidated or stupid. “Doesn’t look like nothing to me. Looks like... boats? Sailboats?”
Lucas was blushing. And staring at her hand on his arm like he wasn’t sure what it was. He wasn’t really Ellie’s type (that is, he wasn’t Joel), but she supposed he was kind of cute in a sweet, dorky way, with bangs that flopped over his eyes. He sort of grimaced… like he’d tried to smile but then swallowed it. He had a little gap between his front teeth. “Well… yeah.”
Come on, dude, give me SOMEthing! Ellie smiled at him, trying to make him feel more at ease. If she were Scarlett O’Hara, she would say something about how brilliant he was and how stupid she herself was in comparison, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. There was no way that guys bought that bullshit anymore… right? “Can you show me?” She leaned in closer.
He actually took a step away from her, breaking her hold on his arm. “Why?”
Ellie hoped Joel was taking note of this exchange by now because she was getting frustrated. “Boats are cool. I’ve been on one before.” Never mind that it was beached. She remembered how Joel had joked about having a yacht… how she’d actually believed it for a second. Did I love him even way back then?
Lucas seemed a tiny bit more relaxed now that she wasn’t touching him. “I’d like to build one. Nothin’ fancy. Just to row around the lake. Maybe people could fish from it. But… I dunno if I can.”
“Really? That’s awesome!” Ellie wasn’t even faking the enthusiasm. “Sure you can. People would help you. My… Joel could help you, I bet.” She still couldn’t seem to refer to Joel as a friend.
“Maybe, but… we might not have the right materials here.” Lucas frowned. “It’s prob’ly a dumb idea.”
Finally, in her peripheral vision, Ellie noticed Joel heading her way. In order to make Joel super jealous, if he wasn’t already, she laughed loudly, as if her companion had just said something hilarious. The surprised expression on Lucas’s face almost made her laugh for real. “Oh, don’t be silly! Of course it’s not. Have a little faith. You can do it.” Ellie pretended she only just now noticed Joel coming towards them. “Oh hey Joel! Lucas here wants to build a boat. You can help him with that, right?”
“Hey,” Lucas greeted Joel while staring at his shoes. He seemed more fidgety and embarrassed now than when Ellie was trying to flirt with him. Ellie was trying to keep the most innocent expression possible on her face. Lucas shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “It was just a… a thought.”
“A boat, huh?” Joel’s eyes were on Ellie at first, then shifted to Lucas. “You should draft somethin’ an’ show it to Craig. He was impressed with your wagon drawing, jus’ had to tweak it a little.”
“You guys know each other?” Now Ellie was the jealous one. For a moment, she imagined Joel hanging out at Lucas’s house with his slutty mom. But then she realized from context that it was more likely Joel knew him from work. That’s good! If Joel works with him, he’ll think of me every time he sees Lucas on the job now.
“Yeah. Ellie, we gotta go. Seeya around, kid,” he said to Lucas. Joel took a few steps back, slowly, like he was waiting for Ellie to say goodbye and join him.
Ellie was amused. Where the fuck do we ‘gotta go,’ Joel? She tried to think of the most fantastic flirtatious parting words… but of course, couldn’t think of a thing and would probably kick herself later when a brilliant remark struck her. She settled for a smile and a cheerful wave. “Bye!”
Joel walked at a brisk pace, not saying a word, then took Ellie by the arm and veered them to the right, between two rows of bookshelves with no people around. Ellie’s first thought was omigod he’s so jealous he’s gonna kiss me right here in the library! –- but reality immediately killed that fantasy. Joel was furious. He let go of her arm. “What the fuck was that, Ellie?” he demanded, keeping his voice low.
This reaction was exactly what Ellie wanted. If Joel had made some casual remarks, fishing for insight on Ellie’s feelings for the guy, it still would have been a good sign, but anger… that was passion! She couldn’t let on that she was excited, though. “What do you mean?” she asked demurely.
“You know what I mean. What were you doing with that kid?”
Ellie wished she’d rehearsed what to say. “I wasn’t doing anything, we were just talking!” She tried to sound wounded.
“Bullshit. That boy is way too old for you.”
Um… what?! Ellie stared at him for a second. “Too old for what? He’s nineteen.”
“Exactly. You’re fifteen.”
Maybe Ellie could turn this to her advantage… resolve the age difference thing… “That’s practically the same age! I don’t care how old people are, Joel. It makes no difference. It’s just a number. There’s no such thing as ‘too old.’ Not to me.” Now if Joel would just hear her.
“Is that so. So if a dirty old man -- a… a thirty-somethin’-year old man… forty… if some pervert hit on you, you’d be fine with it.”
Ellie wondered if his hesitation meant that he’d nearly inserted his own age into the example accidentally. She hoped it did. “Yep. I mean, if I liked him. Even if he was sixty. It doesn’t matter. I told you, I’m not a little kid.” She also hoped that her choice of ‘sixty’ made Joel feel young.
Joel scowled. “That’s fucked up.”
“Why is it fucked up?! You’re the one who has a problem with age.” Okay, Ellie, don’t be too critical, think of how you can HELP him with his age problem in a way he can understand.
“It ain’t a problem. It’s natural. People are more compatible with others their own age.”
“Maybe some people are. I have more in common with older people, though. People my age are immature.”
“And you’re so much more mature than they are? Is that it?”
“Well, yeah. Lots of people have told me that, y’know. I’m not making it up.”
“I don’ want you seein’ that boy.”
Skipping to the point meant that he’d already exhausted his arsenal of reasons. Ha! “I was just talking to him, Joel. Jesus.”
“I don’ want you talkin’ to him, either.”
“Why don’t you like him? He’s sweet.” Ellie didn’t even know if that was true. All she really knew was he was shy. Hopefully, labeling Lucas ‘sweet’ would make Joel wonder if she liked him, maybe scare him into making a move himself.
“I don’ like him or dislike him, he’s too old.”
Ellie snickered. “Too old to talk to? I talk to you all the time. We all speak English.”
Joel sighed and turned to leave. “Come on, smartass.”
Wait! We’re not done yet, I haven’t changed your mind! Ellie bit her lip and tried to think of what else she could say. “Joel…” she stalled, staying rooted to her spot.
He turned back toward her. “What,” he snapped irritably.
“Um…” Shit. Think…
“Come on,” Joel repeated, gentler this time.
Maybe she could get him focused on his jealousy rather than being pissed off at her. “Are you just… like… worried an older guy would, um… you know… do stuff?” She felt herself blushing. Don’t be such a baby, Ellie, God. No wonder he thinks you’re a child.
Joel stepped towards her again so they could converse in soft voices. “Of course I am. You’re… inexperienced. You have no idea what goes through boys' minds.”
In spite of not wanting to be a baby, Ellie did like his overprotectiveness. “I can handle myself. And I mean… it’s not like I don’t wanna do stuff too.” Ellie watched him closely, willing him to read her mind. See? I’m old enough.
But Joel winced like she’d said something painful. “You’re too young, Ellie.”
“No I’m not! You can’t tell me you were too young when you were fifteen.”
“It’s different for guys. –An’ don’ you say bullshit—“ he said, before she could even get the word out of her mouth--”It’s true. I ain’t bein’ sexist. It’s biological. An’ after all you been through, Ellie… you don’ need to be doin’ any of that yet.”
Ellie knew there was some truth to what he said… about her, at least. But she was positive she wouldn’t have these feelings for Joel if she wasn’t ready. Ready for him, because she trusted him completely. She knew he would never hurt her. “I think you’d say that no matter what age I am,” she challenged. “What’s the real reason you don’t want me to… to be with anyone?” “Because I want you with me, Ellie,” he would say, taking her in his arms…
“That is the real reason. Now come on, you can practice playin’ chess with Craig. He sucks only slightly less than I do so it’s a pretty even match, you’n’me against him.”
Ellie could tell Joel was done talking about this and there was no point in continuing to talk to his brick wall of a brain. Practicing chess would be fun, with her and Joel on the same side, huddled together, speaking conspiratorially over the pieces… okay, so not all that huddled or conspiratorial in a teaching game with Craig sitting right there in earshot. But still. And before she could even fantasize properly about her and Joel sharing a chair, he had pulled up a third one for himself to sit in, gesturing for her to take the empty one at the table in front of the white pieces.
“Oh shit, Joel, I’m in trouble now that you brought out the big guns,” teased Craig, with a wink at Ellie.
Ellie laughed. “Hey, I don’t even know if I remember what all the pieces are and how they move!”
So, unless by some miracle she could get Joel to revisit this and come to his senses at home that night, she would have to go ahead with the plan of making it glaringly, painfully obvious. In the meantime, she did enjoy Joel sitting close to her, his hand occasionally on top of hers if she reached for the wrong piece.
She wondered if Lucas would notice them playing and find it odd that ‘we gotta go’ meant that they had to go play chess.
~Continue to Chapter 21~