Fandom: The Last of Us
Characters: Ellie & Joel
Prompt: 6 of puzzleprompts's 8 prompts for July: dragon, spy ("peeping Tom"), moon, tunnel, metallic, timepiece
Word Count: 2551
Summary: Ellie wonders what Joel is really up to when he wanders off... and decides to spy on him. Set in late summer, after all summer events in game.
Author's Notes/Warnings: Suggestive but not smutty
Crossposted to AO3 and FFN.
Ellie was weary of traipsing through muddy puddles along the train tracks they were following, but she’d learned to count her blessings: at least the fucking rain had stopped.
Joel surveyed the area. “We can stay here tonight. In there, in case it rains again.” He gestured to where the tracks were leading them... into a dark, creepy-looking tunnel.
“Okay.” Ellie could handle dark and creepy, especially if it was dry. She was shivering, her feet were killing her, and she was grateful Joel wanted to call it a night (she’d also learned not to ask when it was time to stop, no matter how many millions of miles they’d covered that day). She and Joel illuminated the tunnel with their flashlights as they approached. Ellie’s light picked up a pile of… is that a skull? “Uhhh… what’s that?”
“Jus’ stay on this side of the tracks an’ don’ go in too far,” Joel advised. “Whatever killed ‘em ain’t here no more.”
“Awesome. They can just stare at us while we sleep,” Ellie grumbled.
“They’re way down at the other end. If you’d rather sleep in the mud with whatever critters are out there, an’ get rained on—“
Ellie sighed. “It’s fine, they can stare all they want. The only critter I wanna sleep with is a guard dragon who burps out fire all night long to keep me warm.”
“I’ll keep an eye out for one of those,” Joel said with a chuckle. “If you can train it not to belch on us.”
“Deal!” It was cool that Joel had started to play with her a little more now, rather than just giving her odd looks and telling her she was weird. She trudged off to go pick out a bed in Hotel Creepytunnel.
“Hey,” he called after her. “I’m gonna go rinse off a bit in that lake first. Will you be all right here?”
“Um… sure,” Ellie replied, puzzled at the deviation from their usual routine.
“I won’t be long. Stay awake ‘til I get back, yeah?”
“’kay.” Sleeping in a different place every night meant she didn’t fall asleep too quickly anyway. Now that she was entrusted to carry a gun, she had no reason to feel afraid of being alone. Still, the lake he referred to wasn’t extremely close, so she was a bit surprised he didn’t make her come with him. And whenever they camped near a body of water like this, they generally bathed in the light of morning, taking turns. It was like he didn’t want her to come with him for some reason.
It took a bit of contortion for Ellie to find a comfortable position on her chosen patch of dirt. Well, not comfortable, exactly… more like less-awful-enough-to-hopefully-fall-asle
Her curiosity was also aroused by Joel’s mysterious dip in the water, though. Joel’s blood seemed to run warmer than hers, so the chill in the air wouldn’t necessarily deter him… but maybe he wasn’t going in the water at all. Then where’s he going? If he had to take a shit, he would have just said so, he wasn’t modest about that… and besides, he’d already done so a few hours earlier. Considering what they’d eaten recently, he probably wouldn’t need to go again for at least another day and a half. I know the man’s elimination schedule… I deserve to know what he’s doing out there!
Yes, that logic was sound enough. And he'd told her not to go to sleep yet -- this way she wouldn't risk accidentally dozing off (it could happen!). Ignoring the protests of her feet, Ellie tucked her Beretta back into her jeans and trotted off towards the lake, slowing as she neared it. She left her flashlight clipped to her backpack back in the tunnel, but the clouds had parted and the moonlight was sufficient. Where is he? It was a friendly moon tonight, bright and full, and she should be able to see him easily in the silvery water… hear him splashing…
There he is! He was standing in the water, mid-thigh depth, facing away from her. Just standing there. …naked.
Well, of course he is, if he’s bathing… Ellie had never looked at him before. They had this honor code thing (which she was now violating), and besides, she was a lesbian, why would she want to check out an old man? She’d been too shy at first to even take off her clothes for her own baths, in case Joel was some kind of perv, but eventually she’d decided that he wasn’t.
She was the perv, apparently.
Ellie slinked up as close as she dared behind a tree large enough to hide her, then peeked around the shadowy side of it so the moon wouldn’t give her away. She thought maybe he was peeing, but if he was, it was an awfully long pee. He clearly wasn’t bathing. What else could he be… no, Joel doesn’t do THAT -- he’s too old! He had gray in his hair and beard, lines on his face, bags under his eyes: old.
The ass she was looking at didn’t look so old, though. In fact, it was… rather pleasing to the eye. It wasn’t covered in wiry gray hair or wrinkles or anything. It looked firm.
Joel stretched, lacing his fingers together and lifting his hands way above his head… so, he wasn’t doing that. She’d never noticed how muscular he was. DUH, Ellie, how do you think he kicks so much ass?! The moonlight danced across the shimmering metallic ripples of the water… the much smoother-looking rippling muscles in his back and shoulders as he flexed... there was beautiful poetry in what she was seeing. Ellie felt a bizarre, inexplicable, fluttery warmth in her stomach that was a little alarming. At least I’m not shivering anymore? Ugh, I’m a fucking PERVERT! Yet she unabashedly kept staring.
Her eye was drawn to his left wrist when the moonlight bounced off the cracked face of his watch. The banged-up old thing hadn’t worked since before this trip, but he never took it off, for some reason he wouldn’t share with Ellie. Maybe it was a superstition thing, like a good luck charm. Maybe it was a gift from an old girlfriend. A girlfriend who knew what that ass felt like… as well as whatever he had going on in the front… turn around, Joel, I wanna see…
And he did turn around -- but not until he’d stepped out further into the water, letting it swallow him up to his chin. Ellie yanked her head back behind the tree just as his head started turning.
“What’re you doin’, Ellie?” Joel asked wryly.
Omigod omigod omigod how could he have SEEN me?! He’d barely turned a fraction of an inch and I’m in the dark! Maybe he was bluffing. Ellie carefully twisted around to face away from him, as if that would somehow undo her peeping. She froze herself to the tree bark, not even daring to breathe. She waited. He said nothing more. Okay, yeah, he was bluffing, he got that creepy feeling like he was being watched, cuz, well, he WAS, and he assumed—
“Ellie, I know you’re there. Come on out.”
She didn’t move; surely she would die and dissolve into a little puddle of nothing that couldn’t feel embarrassment. When that didn’t happen, she felt a panicked need to defend herself. Something in his voice made Ellie suspect that he’d known she was there for longer than just that last second before he spoke, but it didn’t stop her from lying. “Oh, um, I just got here! I didn’t see anything… I didn’t wanna, like… disturb you…”
Shit, he doesn’t buy it! “No, really! Sorry, I’ll just… um…”
“Well, if you’ll kindly avert your eyes, I’ll get dressed.”
“I’m not looking!” That was the truth, at least. She slid down and landed on her ass with a soft thump, then hugged her knees to her chest and buried her face in them. No way would she try to sneak a peek now, knowing he was watching her. He must have freaky night vision or something, to be able to see her in the shadow of the tree like that. Or maybe he had another set of eyes in the back of his head. “See? Not looking, you’re safe!”
She listened to the rustling of clothes as he got dressed -- rather slowly, it seemed -- and told herself to calm down. The heat had jumped to her face now, but at least this dim light wouldn’t allow Joel to see how badly she was blushing. Be cool, Ellie… he doesn’t sound pissed off or anything… he probably just thinks you’re a disgusting creep, and he’s not wrong… uuugggghhhh! He was walking toward her now. Each footstep was louder than the last, increasing her dread incrementally.
“Thank you for makin’ me feel safe. You can get up now.”
He was making fun of her. That was worse than him being pissed! She stood up and started walking briskly back towards the tunnel, actively not looking at him at all.
Joel fell into step beside her. “You didn’ tell me what you were doin’ over there.”
Neither did you, Ellie retorted in her head. But no matter what she said, he’d tease and torment her. She would simply die, and thus, never have to talk to him again. Problem solved. Sorry, Fireflies… sorry, humanity without a cure…
“Didja get scared? I prob’ly shouldn’a left you alone in the dark with those… dead people.”
She hadn’t really been scared, but it sounded plausible. If he surmised that she was part wuss/part perv, that was preferable to total perv, right? It didn’t make it any easier to look at him, though. She stared straight ahead. “Um… yeah, a little. Sorry. I didn’t think I would be. Creeped out more than scared, really. And then I didn’t wanna bother you so I just thought I’d… you know, hang out nearby.”
“An’ then you got curious.”
“No! I didn’t look!” she insisted.
“It’s all right, it’s perfectly natural—“
“Joel, no! I’m telling you, I didn’t look!” She sounded sincere to her own ears. She would deny deny deny, and eventually convince even herself with her repeated protests. Lie enough and the lies become the truth…
“All right, all right, you didn’ look. But if you had looked… it’s normal to be curious. Ain’t nothin’ to be ashamed of. Jus’… don’ be in too much of a hurry to grow up. You’ll find out about all that stuff soon enough.”
“I am grown up. I already know that stuff. And I know what guys look like -- remember, in Bill’s magazine that you made me get rid of?” Ellie chanced a sidelong glance at him. That had been the first time she’d seen stoic Superhero Joel become embarrassed and uncomfortable. His turn now!
He wasn’t this time, though -- he was simply amused. “Right, you’re an expert now. I’ll tell ya somethin’ -- if you’re expectin’ guys to look like those models, you’re gonna be sorely disappointed.”
“I don’t care what they look like,” Ellie groaned. Joel didn’t know her sexual orientation (obviously), and if she told him, it should make him believe that she wasn’t trying to sneak a peek at him. Based on what she’d observed of his fucked-up friendship with Bill, he didn’t seem to have a problem with homosexuality. But… it felt like way too private a thing to share with this person she barely knew, even as a means to preserve some of her honor. Besides, Joel didn’t want to know stuff like that. “We can just keep our histories to ourselves,” he had said. She assumed that ‘histories’ also extended to anything personal. That suited Ellie just fine.
They reached their tunnel and Ellie plopped back down on her dirt ‘bed.’ Joel ventured in slightly further to pick a spot on the other side of her. “Now if those creepy fucks over there wanna stare at someone, they’ll see me, not you,” he said cheerfully.
“How noble of you,” Ellie muttered. At least he seemed to be done with the awkward crap.
“Here.” He chucked a flannel shirt at her right before he switched off his light, plunging the tunnel back into near-darkness. “Your shirts are both drenched. Lay ‘em out to dry some an’ put this on.”
The shirt was blissfully dry; she would sleep better in it than her own, for sure. “You’re drenched, too,” she pointed out.
“I’m fine. Only gonna half-sleep anyway,” he said, although that was punctuated by a big yawn. “G’night, Ellie.”
“Good night.” Ellie stripped off her wet garments -- even her bra -- and laid them out next to her. It crossed her mind that Joel could get even here by suddenly switching on his light… but somehow she knew he wouldn’t do that. He’s not a sicko like me.
Putting on the grungy-but-dry shirt felt like wrapping herself in a cozy blanket. It smelled of dirt, sweat… it smelled like Joel. Comforting, familiar scents. A dragon would have been awesome, but Joel wasn’t a poor substitute; she knew no harm would come to her while under his protection. It was strange, having someone look out for her (in a much more direct way than Marlene did), even if it was only his job -- she could tell he cared about her. It made her feel kind of warm’n’fuzzy inside.
As she laid her head on her backpack and settled into the least uncomfortable position possible, Ellie found that the image in her head was not the creepy one she’d feared earlier. This one wasn’t disturbing in and of itself, yet her morbid fascination with it would likely bother her more than the skeletons would have. She was exhausted, though… and the rain had started up again. The soothing soundtrack of pouring rain should lull her to sleep, if she could just ignore the strange new heat her unbidden thoughts were generating in her belly… and other places… I am my own fire breathing dragon! she thought, amused in spite of herself. It was nice to feel warm, she just needed to… not notice it so much.
Ellie forced her brain to think about the last Savage Starlight they’d found. It had been an earlier volume that filled in some missing pieces she’d been wondering about. Daniela Star to the rescue! Tomorrow, everything would go back to normal. Yes! Surely this was all her overtired brain's imagination, a dream that would fade in the light of the day, because she knew who she was -- and she was not some weirdo who got off on fantasies of old men. I didn’t see anything; I didn’t even look.