Fandom: The Last of Us
Word Count: 3132
Rating (for fic as a whole): R
Ellie waited a moment for Joel to say something; his eyebrows shot up, but he showed no emotion, and had apparently been rendered speechless. Typical Joel! Well, she could be excited enough for the both of them. “I knew it! I knew that’s what you were gonna announce –- ohhh I’m so happy for you guys! Congratulations!” She hopped up from the table and scurried over to Maria's chair to hug her neck from behind. “Eeeeee so cool!” she squealed.
“Thanks! Yeah, it is, huh?” Maria was all smiles as she patted Ellie’s arm. “And a bit scary.”
“It’ll be great! I’ll help you out.” Then she bounced over to give Tommy a hug, too. “So will Joel. Right, Joel?”
“Sure.” Joel crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair, regarding his brother with amusement. “My baby brother, a dad. Never thought I’d see the day.”
“Hey, you never thought I’d get married either, asshole,” Tommy said, laughing. “Things change.”
Ellie returned to her seat and started firing all kinds of questions at Maria: how did she know, how far along did she think she was, how did she break the news to Tommy, was she sick in the mornings, did she want a girl or a boy, what names did they like… and so forth. Maria answered them all happily. Tommy chimed in here and there. Joel was mostly quiet, as was his way. Ellie couldn’t get a solid sense of his mood. He seemed to be happy for them (why wouldn’t he be?!) but he also seemed… maybe a bit weirded out by it, or something.
It was family movie night, and Maria and Tommy had chosen that night to announce the news because they didn’t want the whole town to know yet –- not for another month or so, which apparently wasn’t an unusual practice for expectant parents. Ellie thought she might burst with yet another secret to keep, but of course she agreed to it. Maybe she could convince them to at least let her tell Annie. Annie could use some good news… although, all things considered, she was doing very well. Jacob and Christine were pretty much pariahs among their friends now. It was funny how Annie had never thought of herself as popular, or acted the way one might expect a popular person to act, but when shit hit the fan, there was more allegiance to her side than Jacob’s, at least among the other teens. People really respected her. The best part was that Jacob and Christine weren’t even happy… or so Ellie had heard.
Ellie felt too excited to watch a movie and asked if they could just keep talking instead. Surprisingly, Joel didn’t object. After a little while, he and Tommy went outside to leave the girls to their ‘girl talk.’ The visit ended earlier than usual; Maria was tired, and the time they’d spent talking was less than the time they would have spent watching the movie. It turned out that was exactly why Joel didn’t mind trading the movie for conversation.
“I should’ve guessed!” Ellie laughed at his confession as they walked home, hand in hand like they always did now. “Not because you really wanted to talk. To your own family, even. You’re the most antisocial person ever.”
Joel chuckled. “That may be so, but tonight I have an actual reason to wanna get home early. An' now I’m kinda pissed ‘cause I can’t really compete with Tommy’n’Maria. They stole the show.”
“What? What show?” Ellie chirped excitedly. Joel didn’t sound like he was actually pissed. Quite the opposite, in fact. “They didn’t steal anything. So what are you talking about? What’s at home? What are we doing?”
Joel laughed. “Patience, young grasshopper. Can’t you wait another five minutes ‘til we get home?”
“You walk too slow, it’ll be more like ten minutes –- and when are you gonna tell me how the fuck I’m a grasshopper? –- and no, I can’t wait! Let’s run!” Ellie promptly dropped his hand and took off like she was running for her life.
After a few moments, Joel followed suit. Even though he’d given her a decent head start, he caught up to her before they got home. She shrieked when he grabbed her and tackled her to the ground... well, sort of tackled her. That’s the action he was mimicking when he pulled her against him and eased them both to the ground, then rolled on top of her as she giggled madly (albeit rather breathlessly). She loved it when he was playful.
Joel grinned down at her. “Still think I’m slow?” He kissed her before she could make the excuse that her legs were shorter than his. It felt scandalous, kissing out there in the grass, where anyone could walk by… but it was almost completely dark now, and they’d already gone beyond the streetlamps into the forest –- no one would be around. Ellie hoped they never moved into the heart of the town.
Kissing him didn’t exactly help her catch her breath, either. They hadn't kissed in hours. She wrapped her arms and legs around him and enjoyed the feeling of his body on hers, both their hearts racing… We could totally have sex out here, just like this… someday! She kissed him hungrily until he groaned softly and rolled off of her. He failed to disentangle himself from all her appendages and she rolled with him, but she took his cue to ‘cease and desist,’ and simply smiled down at him while their breathing regulated. Ellie never initiated anything romantic when they were anywhere other than inside their own house. It was fine when Joel did it (though he rarely did) –- that was different. It probably would have been like anything else where she tested his limits: he could ‘Ellie’ her, or give her a Look, if he didn’t think it was a good idea. She just had this… thing about not wanting him to do that, or to have to do that. In spite of all that shit he’d said about how she should be herself and not some version of herself she thought he wanted, and that he wouldn’t change his mind and decide they couldn’t be this way anymore… she couldn’t help it -- she didn’t completely believe him, and she certainly wasn’t going to do anything that might add a stone to his maybe-we-shouldn’t-do-this pile.
“You wanna know somethin’?” he asked, knowing full well that she did… whatever it was. “The very first day we got here, after Salt Lake… we weren’t even Inside yet… remember you were quiet, an’… serious… somber-like. I never thought it would actually happen, but I had this fantasy about you runnin’ off, laughin’ like crazy, an’ me chasin’ you. Jus’ remembered that now.”
“You did? Aww!” She was surprised to hear it, and touched that he’d decided to share the memory with her. “Did it end like this?”
He laughed. “Not exactly, no.”
Ellie sprung to her feet. “Come on, you’re distracting me! We’re almost home!” She ran the rest of the way to the house, leaving him lying there in the grass. She let herself in and looked around the main room… in the bedroom… even the bathroom… nothing out of place. Maybe he just wanted them to be alone. For what reason?! The first one that popped in her head was that he was going to ask her to marry him. Completely out of the question… laughably ridiculous, really. He didn’t even want anyone to know they were a thing, why would he want… wait, it could be a secret engagement! So romantic! But still unrealistic. Joel would think she was way too young, and that they were way too new. So, what else… maybe he’s decided we can have sex now! That was certainly more plausible! Still a long shot; she expected them to have quite a few more awkward conversations about it first. Ellie was willing to go as slow as he wanted. She could dream about the day they finally had sex… or got married… or when she might be the one announcing a pregnancy…
She heard his footsteps outside and quickly pretended to be searching the premises, since she didn’t want him to think she was expecting either of those crazy ideas. She was peering into a cupboard when he walked through the door, and he laughed. “What are you doin’? Yep, you guessed it –- surprise, we got ourselves a new… loaf of bread!”
Ellie abandoned her fake mission and rushed over to Joel. “Okay, we’re home now, pleeeeease tell me why you wanted to get here so bad!” She took his arms and wrapped them around herself. He always seemed to find it cute when she posed him. She hadn't confessed to posing his hand in bed that one time, though; she felt she was entitled to some secrets, especially if they fit Joel's criteria of being too fucking embarrassing to share. She encircled his neck with her own arms and tugged him into a kiss. “Pleeeease?” she pleaded against his lips. “Pretty please?”
He squeezed her. “You don’ gotta beg. Go sit down over there an’ wait jus’ one more minute.”
“One whole minute? Ugh,” she mock pouted, but took a seat on the couch while he locked and barricaded the door and started checking all the windows, like he did at bedtime. “Can’t you do that later? It’s not like there’s anything ever messed up about the windows…”
“I might as well do it while I’m closin’ the curtains, yeah? An’ you never know. One day there might be.”
Ellie actually liked that he was overly concerned about their safety to a ridiculous extent, but she also liked giving him shit about it. “Yeah, maybe someone’ll happen to come in when the door’s not locked and prop a window open so they can come back later and murder us in our sleep. Just for fun.”
“You never know,” he repeated facetiously, dropping a kiss on top of her head as he walked by. Ellie thought it was more likely that, should someone be so inclined, they would stake out the place and figure out where the key was (although Joel changed its location so often they both got confused), or find it on their own. Most houses in Jackson didn’t even have a way to lock them from the outside and they had no problems, other than kids occasionally making mischief, perhaps.
Of course, most houses didn’t have their arsenal of weapons inside, either. Ellie felt like the town was safe enough that she didn’t need to tote a gun around anymore; Joel felt that her nonchalance was exactly why she did still need to –- especially if others would soon be afforded the privilege, which was a hot topic at the last town meeting. She’d agreed to it just to make him happy. Ellie would do just about anything to make him happy. The only real bone of contention they had now was Max.
Ellie didn’t expect Joel and Max to be best friends or anything, but she thought that after they’d helped each other in that Swan Valley fight, they would have bonded at least a little bit. At the very least, hadn’t Max proven he wasn’t the evil asshole Joel had assumed? Ellie wouldn’t agree to never talk to him at all, like if she saw him in the library or at the warehouse or wherever, but she did agree not to spend time alone with him, or seek him out. That wasn’t hard to do, since he wasn’t in her social circle anyway. It gave Joel more peace of mind, and Ellie felt it wasn’t an unreasonable request. Joel said it was a respect thing… that neither of them should spend time alone with members of the opposite sex, regardless of how unromantic their intentions were. Tommy and Maria were the only exception. Even Esther wasn’t exempt from the rule, much to Ellie’s relief.
Joel and Esther still had guard duty together sometimes, though, and Ellie couldn’t help worrying just a little that Joel might feel drawn to her. That’s where the trust came into play; she had to believe Joel wouldn’t betray her. It made her wish Joel was okay with them having sex, if not all-the-way sex then at least some form of it. If he did like Esther that way, they could fuck each other’s brains out with no hesitation. The laundry skanks, too. How could Ellie compete with that when Joel was such a prude with her? If Annie had slept with Jacob, he probably could have ignored Christine and her boobs. When she said as much to Joel, though, he just laughed and said she was cute, that she had nothing to worry about, and that it was definitely not a good reason for them to have sex.
For the most part, Ellie didn’t worry. She still hoped he’d change his mind about waiting until she was older, but, playful banter aside, she didn’t pressure him. She was willing to wait until he was ready, no matter how long it took. Joel was worth it. He was in the bedroom now… what is he doing in there? Making it all romantic-like for our first time, maybe?! Ellie tried not to think about that since logic told her it was unlikely. She heard some rustling, something latching… or maybe unlatching… and then Joel emerged from the bedroom –- sporting a guitar! Ellie gasped.
“I seem to recall that a while back, you were wantin’ to hear me sing,” he said with a knowing smile. He sat on the couch and angled himself towards her.
“Oh my God yes! You’re finally gonna sing for me?!” Ellie exclaimed. This was better than sex!
“I’m finally gonna sing for you.” He strummed a few notes experimentally, then fiddled with the knobs on the end.
“Where did that guitar come from? I looked in the bedroom, I didn't see it!”
“It’s been under the bed for a lil’ while. Got it from Tommy. Been practicin’ when I could, mostly on the mornings you went to the farm. I was hopin’ you wouldn’ find it before… before I was ready.”
Ellie squealed in delight. “You practiced and everything! Oh my God this is so fucking amazing.”
He strummed the strings again and nodded in satisfaction. “I’d like to teach you how to play, if you’re interested in learnin’.”
“Of course I’m interested! But not ‘til after you sing!”
Joel laughed. “I’ll sing, don’ worry. I’ve actually been workin’ on this since before you an’ me… were a thing.” They still didn’t have the perfect name for what they were. Ellie thought of them as a couple, as boyfriend/girlfriend, even if Joel didn’t use those words –- but in truth, they didn’t need a label, and Ellie kind of liked that they were undefinable. Boyfriends and girlfriends could be replaced; whatever she and Joel were to each other, it was unique, and therefore more special. Joel cleared his throat. “I know it’s only been a few weeks, but… they’ve been a pretty damn good few weeks, an’ I, uh… well, I... jus’ want you to know…”
“Me too,” Ellie cut in to rescue him. He was so fucking adorable when he tried to express his feelings (and he wasn’t nearly as bad at it as he seemed to think he was) but she couldn’t help feeling the discomfort it brought him… it made her feel awkward on his behalf. Awkward, yet gleeful.
“Right. Well, remember right after we got here, when you said there’d never be nothin’ new again, an’ it made you sad? I wanted to give you somethin’ new.” The smile that played about his lips now was a bit shy, uncertain… Ellie thought her heart might burst already.
When he began to sing, though, the shyness melted away completely, and his voice took on a rich, honeyed tone that was new to Ellie.
~If I ever were to lose you,
I’d surely lose myself
Everything I have found dear
I’ve not found by myself
Try and sometimes you succeed
To make this man of me
All my stolen missing parts
I’ve no need for anymore
And I believe ‘cause I can see
Our future days,
Days of you’n’me
Back when I was feeling broken
I focused on a prayer
You came deep as any ocean
Did something out there hear?
All the complexities and games
No one wins but somehow they’re still played
All the missing crooked hearts
They may die but in us they live on
And I believe ‘cause I can see
Our future days,
Days of you’n’me
When hurricanes and cyclones raged
When winds turned dirt to dust
When floods they came or tides they raised
Ever closer became us
All the promises at sundown
I’ve meant them like the rest
All the demons used to come ‘round
I’m grateful now they’ve left
So persistent in my ways
Hey, angel, I’m here to stay
No resistance, no alarms
Please, this is just too good to be gone
And I believe ‘cause I can see
Our future days,
Days of you’n’me…
You and me~
The last notes faded away and Joel rested his hand on the guitar, watching her, awaiting her judgment.
It was the most beautiful thing Ellie had ever heard in her life. She’d had no idea that Joel, sweet but awkward-with-feelings Joel, could have such poetry in his heart. This time she couldn’t find the words. She’d been fighting tears pretty much the whole time he was singing -- and a couple of them won. She swiped at her cheeks with her sleeve. “You fucking made me cry,” she said lamely.
“I reckon you liked it, then.”
She nodded and pushed the guitar aside so she could give him proper hugs and kisses. What an idiot she’d been to worry about Esther, or Joel breaking his promise, or anything else she could possibly fret over –- Joel was hers and he loved her with his whole heart. He’d done some really nice things for her before, but this was just… “That was… Jesus, Joel… I can’t believe that you… fuck…”
“You can believe it." His voice was thick with emotion, his eyes glazed with affection… his kiss a salve on wounds old and new… all of it like a dream -- the best fucking dream of Ellie’s life.
“If I’m dreaming, don’t wake me up, ‘kay?” she murmured into his neck.
He squeezed her so hard she could barely breathe. “Mm. I’m right there with you, baby girl.”
NOTE: Yes, the song (Pearl Jam’s “Future Days”) is from TLOU One Night Live. Much as I resent the existence of that so-called epilogue, I did like this bit, with some adaptation to suit my own story, of course. I was originally going to include it in an early chapter, but finding out about ONL messed that up, and when I finally decided I didn’t HAVE to work around ONL after all, it was too late. I think it works much better at the end of the fic though so that turned out to be a good thing.
This story evolved so much as I was writing it that I know I’ve left some loose ends, and I could edit the shit out of this somewhat disjointed thing… but there’s no real reason to bother. Joel and Ellie are the only important ‘end’ to tie up. You can just imagine they live happily ever after now if you want ;) Thank you for reading!