Lumy (luminations) wrote,

"Uncertainty" Chapter 1: "Forces of Nature" (1/45) ["Accretion" sequel]

Title: "Uncertainty" Chapter 1: "Forces of Nature" (1/45) ["Accretion" sequel]
Fandom: The Last of Us
Characters: Ellie, Joel, Tommy, Maria, OCs
Pairings: Joel/Ellie
Warnings: Underage [please see A/N of doom!]
Word Count for this chapter: 5255
Rating (for fic as a whole): R
Disclaimer: I own nothing! Not The Last of Us nor any brand name references used
Summary: With romance now mixed into the equation, Joel and Ellie face some new challenges. Keeping the secret isn't easy, and they begin to wonder if perhaps Jackson isn't the best place for them to live. Sequel to "Accretion" (although you don't have to read that first).

Crossposted to AO3 and FFN

A/N of doom!: Yes, I never thought I'd actually do a sequel to "Accretion," but the muse surprises me sometimes! "Uncertainty" is #4 [ugh, NO, LJ, that's not a hashtag!] in the Savage Starlight comic series in TLOU, and -- no joke -- I was playing the game... picked it up... and a light bulb went off in my head I COULD TOTALLY WORK WITH THIS FOR A SEQUEL *AND* keep with the S.S. title theme -- and suddenly I was writing.

Even though it's a sequel, I believe this story works well as a stand-alone, so no worries if you haven't read the first one, or if it's been a while and you don't remember much of it. I've thrown in references to the first story where background may be needed. This story begins a few weeks after the epilogue.

Like "Accretion," this will be a mix of drama, angst, and humor. However, this one is primarily a Joellie story, so if the pairing is not your cup of tea, you may want to skip it. And, general disclaimer: this is FICTION, so just know that if, in certain chapters, it looks like I'm justifying a sexual relationship between a middle-aged man and a teenage girl, it's for TLOU only, not real life. I say this because I was kinda like "damn, girl..." in my head when writing certain parts... lol. I think that the fantasy/real life line can get a little blurry sometimes. Also, unlike the first story, this one includes some smut. I do not attest to the quality (or quantity!) of said smut :) I haven't read much in recent years and this might be very vanilla compared to what's standard. My main focus is where it almost always is -- on emotions.

As for when you can expect updates... I don't like to commit to a particular day of the week or a rigid schedule, but I will be posting chapters regularly. Things seem to work best for me when I post about every 1.5 weeks. I'll try not to go longer than 2 weeks, and there may be times there's only 1 week in between chapters, because I AM eager to get things rolling! I've already done a TON of work on this story -- over 200,000 words. I don't anticipate any issues with updating and I promise it will get finished; right now it's set to be 45 chapters, but I may add one (I'm uncertain about that at the moment... ha!).

I'm not a big fan of A/Ns -- sorry this one's so long! I hope to limit most of them to giving credit for the chapter titles I steal from songs, as applicable :) -I didn't do that with "Accretion" because I didn't start titling chapters 'til somewhere around the end, whoops.

Thank you soooo much for reading, and I hope you enjoy the story!


Eight days. That was definitely a record.

Joel couldn't decide if Ellie was going to hug him or kill him, but either way, he couldn't wait to see her. He urged the horse to go a little faster as the trees started to give way to farmlands. There were more people than usual working at the farms today, mostly the middle one -- the fields with the most harvestable crops (for August, at least). Joel slowed the horse to a walk and headed towards the fields. Ellie usually worked more with the animals, but in the afternoons, they'd been pulling her to help with harvesting. So many people working out there... she's gotta be in there somewhere... why can't I pick her out?

That old familiar feeling niggled at him... the one he constantly had to quash whenever he expected to see Ellie and didn't, that made him jump to the worst possible conclusion, however illogical it was -- and then he heard her screaming his name. The scream didn't completely alleviate the worry, but the sight of her running towards him did. She's okay. Just excited to see me.

He realized why he couldn't pick her out of the masses: she was dressed even more boyishly than usual, in clothes that Joel was certain didn't belong to her... and holy shit, someone had actually convinced her to wear a hat?! It was a big straw hat, which flew off her head as she ran, the cord around her neck causing it to dangle down her back until she yanked it completely off her head -- running full speed all the while -- and flung it away.
Joel pulled up on the reins and dismounted the horse approximately five seconds before she reached him, so he had time to prepare for her launching herself at him with considerable force. He staggered backwards a bit, but he caught her, of course, both of them laughing as she wrapped her arms and legs around him and held on for dear life. Her heart was beating a mile a minute from the run, and she was panting, but even being breathless wasn't enough to keep that girl from talking when she had shit to say.

"You said you were gonna -- try to come back in like -- five days?!" she panted. "I was worried!"

That's my girl... first thing she's gotta do is yell at me, he thought with affection. Joel had expected her to be pissed. He crushed her against him, cradling her head on his shoulder. All of her limbs clasped him like a vise-grip... God, he'd missed that. "Sorry, kiddo, but the thing is... I ain't even really back yet. Only for a day or so."

She pulled back a little, and he started to put her down, until she protested. "No no no -- I just wanna look at you... you're really here..." He felt the same way. While he was surveying the new patches of sunburn on her face, she kissed him on the lips -- chastely, but still! -- so he put her down despite the protests.

"Ellie!" he scolded.

"That was totally nothing!" she pouted.

It might have been more than nothing if he hadn't set her down so quickly. He didn't want to fight with her. Before she could begin her tired old 'fathers and daughters can totally kiss each other' spiel, he stepped back far enough to take in her outfit. "What the hell are you wearin'? Those ain't your pants."

"They're overalls," she corrected him in her eyeroll tone. "Will gave them to me. They're getting a little short for him. You've been gone so long that people are outgrowing their fucking clothes, Joel!"

"Cute. Well, no wonder I didn' recognize you from far away. You are a sight for sore eyes, though, as they say," he added fondly.

"Your eyes hurt?"

He chuckled. "It's an expression." Sometimes he forgot how literal she was. " 'Til now, they did."

"Because... then you saw me..."

"An' you look so good they don' hurt no more."

She scoffed at that, but Joel could tell she was pleased. "Yeah, with like dirt all over me and straw in my hair... no pig shit today, though, at least?"

"Dirt an' all, yes. How've you been? Too busy down here to even miss me, right?"

"Wrong." She started to move toward him, but he stopped her by taking hold of her arms. "Just a hug, I swear!"

He pulled her close and kissed the top of her head. Yep, she had straw in her hair, all right. Some dirt, too, which suggested she hadn't been wearing that hat the entire day. It wouldn't stop him from kissing or touching her hair, though. "If you can manage to pull yourself away from this place, I'll cook you dinner." And give you a proper greeting...

She giggled, and her arms did the vise-grip thing again. "I dunno... Esther was gonna show me how to make spaghetti out of zucchini... maybe I'll do that instead."

He plucked some straw from her hair. "All right, well, maybe I'll jus' go back out a 'lil early then."

"No! Don't you dare! Why do you even have to go back?" she asked, and he could hear the pout, even if he couldn't see it with her cheek pressed against his chest.

"I told you -- there's a lot to do," he answered patiently. That was an understatement. Joel and a bunch of other people were helping their new 'sister farm' erect a wall similar to Jackson's, and they were hoping to complete it before the weather started to get nasty. "It's goin' a bit slower than we'd like. I wasn' even s'posed to come back yet... it was gonna be Craig, but I told him I'd take care of things here for him so he could stay... I gotta check the tickets, an' see about gettin' another wagon..."

Joel watched Ellie's friend Annie approach, and he gently -- reluctantly -- disentangled himself from Ellie's arms as he nodded her a hello. One year older than Ellie, she was a sweet girl, and the two had become fast friends.

"Hey, Joel!" she greeted him with a smile. "I'm sooooooo glad you're back -- Ellie's been moping around here like someone died."

"Have not!" Ellie protested, turning toward her friend. "The moping is from not getting to ride Spirit this week," she added, smirking at Joel.

Annie laughed. "Riiiiight. Lose something?" She dangled the hat by its strap in front of Ellie.

"I was in a hurry and it was just in the way!" Ellie laughed, taking the hat but not putting it back on.

"In the way... on your head? You're funny. Okay, well, I'll take Duke off your hands, Joel..." She started to reach for the horse, but Ellie stopped her.

"I'll do that if you'll finish my peas," Ellie offered sing-song-ingly. Joel knew she would rather do anything involving the animals, even mucking out stalls, than 'this harvesting crap,' as she put it. Annie wasn't immune to Ellie's charms either, it would seem, or maybe she really didn't mind the fieldwork, because she handed the reins over to Ellie.

"Yay!" Ellie squealed, but she sobered quickly as she turned to Joel. "Unless... are you going straight home?"

"No, go on, I got a few things to do first. Jus' wanted to let you know I'm back, for the time being."

"How long?"

"Depends on the tickets." An unmistakably mischievous gleam in her eye made him chuckle. "An' don' you go forgin' a bunch of 'em, or gettin' people to turn in fake ones, an' all that. Most of 'em are gonna sit for a while yet. Jus'... you know, if a border wall is damaged or somethin', I'll go look at it."

"You can come eat down here later if you want," Annie said to Joel. "Mom would love that."

A look was exchanged between the two girls. It was noticeable to Joel, but he didn't know how to interpret it. Those two had some kind of silent girl language that was foreign to him. He could see that Ellie was annoyed; did she really think he might want to spend what little time they would have together around other people? She was pretty damn adorable when she was annoyed, too; it was tempting to accept the dinner invitation -- or, rather, pretend to consider accepting -- just to get her more riled up. But he decided to be kind. "Thank you, but... maybe next time. Seeya back home, Ellie?"

Ellie brightened then. "Yes! I'm sure Esther'll let me go a little early if I bust my ass... so don't work too long, 'kay?"

He wanted to kiss her goodbye, but of course he couldn't, not with Annie right there and another few dozen people within eyeshot. He just gave her a little wave and started heading back to their little house in the woods; he hadn't mentioned that he'd be stopping by there first, knowing she'd be tempted to blow off her work and follow him. There was no need for that. After so many days apart, what was a couple more hours?

Now that he'd laid his 'sore' eyes on her, the niggling voice in his head was satisfied, and he could look forward to seeing her again soon. In the meantime, he had tickets to check... those should still be at the library, since the construction office, or what served as one, was unoccupied while everyone was off site, with no one to pick them up... he also had to go to the storehouse if he was going to make dinner (Ellie had been staying with Annie since he left, and he knew she wouldn't have left anything perishable behind)... and last but not least, he had laundry to drop off. Yes, they were so domesticated now that even though they'd gone weeks at a time without washing their clothes, having barely more than the garments on their backs, that no longer felt tolerable. Besides, Joel hadn't thought to do some before he left, and he didn't have that many shirts or boxers.

They'd been living in Jackson for almost four months now, and were well-accustomed to the town's rules, practices, and attitudes. For the first couple of months, Joel couldn't understand why Ellie kept trying to do their wash herself, by hand. Because she 'felt like doing it,' or something was 'too stained' to pass along -- bullshit excuses. If the stains had anything to do with, say, female hygiene, Joel could understand, but Ellie was always more concerned with his laundry than her own. He knew she didn't particularly like the laundry staff, but what did that matter? It wasn't like you had to be friends with people who were simply doing a job. Sometimes, people would stick around and chat, but it was perfectly acceptable to just hand over your shit and go. Joel thought it was pretty damn luxurious to live in a place where you don't even have to do your own laundry. It allowed the residents more leisure time, and it provided jobs for people who maybe didn't have utilizable skills.

On more than one occasion, Joel had tried to extract a real reason for the laundromat aversion from Ellie, and she'd refused to give him one. Now that they were... together, he understood it. It wasn't so much that she didn't like the staff -- she was just jealous, for no reason other than they were female.

Well... female and single. And one of them was somewhat... not ugly. And -- they could be shameless flirts. Ellie categorized them as skanks, but Joel thought they were mostly just... friendly. Perhaps especially friendly towards men... but it wasn't like they had any special attraction to him specifically. If he attempted to try to explain to Ellie that a suggestive comment or two didn't mean anything, she either got all weird and quiet, or accused him of taking their side (how they had a 'side' in the matter, Joel didn't know). It didn't matter that he never flirted with them... never gave them any indication he was into them... she still seemed to consider them threats, or competition.

Joel always tried to make Ellie feel secure. He thought she was, for the most part... more than most fifteen-year-old girls. Given her history, he knew it would take assurance upon reassurance upon shitloads of reassurance to make her realize he would never leave her -- and that was the case even without the complications of a romantic relationship magnifying everything. He'd never given Ellie any reason to think he wanted anyone but her.

But -- and to her, this was a huge 'but' -- he also wouldn't have sex with her. And Ellie had gotten it into her head that that made him vulnerable, somehow. More susceptible to the charms of the alleged skanks. Like his male needs were so pressing that he might magically find himself between the sheets with some woman before he even realized what he was doing -- with some woman he couldn't resist, the way he resisted Ellie. Some woman he could 'fuck the brains out of' because she wasn't too young, in his eyes.

So, it was better if he went and dropped off his laundry alone -- and if he was lucky, he'd also have enough time to go pick it up before Ellie even got home, to just stuff it back in his bag with Ellie none the wiser. Unnecessary drama avoided, as well as yet another argument about sex (stemming from the forces of nature Joel was resisting at the laundromat), and why they should or shouldn't be having it. How ready Ellie supposedly was.

Maybe she was ready, maybe she wasn't. But Joel knew for certain that he wasn't ready to take the virginity of a fifteen-year-old, so it was a moot point.

He flipped her logic back to her sometimes, in an effort to make her see that she was worrying for nothing: maybe she would get frustrated with not having sex, and fall prey to the charms of some smooth-talking pretty boy who would like nothing better than to give her what Joel wouldn't (not that Joel wouldn't kill anyone who tried, but it was just for argument's sake). Ellie would roll her eyes, or laugh. Tell him he's being ridiculous. He would quirk an eyebrow at her, and she would insist "It's different!" Because he was a man. He would counter by pointing out her age, and the proverbial raging teenage hormones, which he, of course, was not afflicted with.

Joel wondered how many more times they would have the same arguments about sex. Both of them were stubborn as hell... and they both loved each other fiercely. He would gladly endure the disagreements every hour of every day, as long as it meant he was with Ellie. Whatever reservations he had, whatever discomfort he felt in his psyche from being romantic with a teenage girl -- Ellie was worth it. She was the only true 'force of nature' he had to contend with, in that sense... the you-have-a-man's-needs thing Ellie was overly worried about... although he tended to think of that sweet torture as more chemical than biological -- and ultimately, as just one big fucking mystery. How could he excuse being attracted to a fifteen-year-old? He sure as hell couldn't explain it... other than he loved her.

They had yet to have a real fight, in Joel's opinion. Nothing like some of the fights they'd had right before Joel had finally crossed the line from father to... whatever he was now. They'd known each other for about a year, but Joel hadn't really started getting to know Ellie until last winter, after she'd single-handedly yanked him away from death's door. He felt like he was still 'learning' her, especially from this new angle... when to push her to talk and when to stop, when to give her space (the answer to that was 'next to never' -- he was the one who found space beneficial)... how to take an extra moment to think of a way to soften his words... how to avoid upsetting her so much in the first place.

Ellie was trying, too. It broke his heart a little that after any sort of disagreement, she half seemed to expect him to bail. He knew it would take time and patience for her to realize that he was in it for the long haul. That was her experience with people... people who had mattered to her, so it made sense. Maybe it was good that she had a healthy fear of fucking things up (if it indeed was healthy?), because a lot of the time, she was on the other end of the spectrum -- confident that nothing would ever split them up, that they were immune to the world's perils in this little bubble they were creating for themselves. She needed to be reminded that relationships required effort and compromise... and protection. To Joel, it seemed that they had the deck stacked against them from the get-go, but she didn't see it that way.

And... to be honest, her naïveté and enthusiasm were rather infectious. Joel also loved that despite how street-wise and smart she was, there was still this innocence about her. Eventually, they'd have to start playing the hand they were dealt... but for now, the bubble felt alluringly cozy.

Joel had dropped off all his gear (less the two guns he regularly carried on his person, of course) and other shit at home on the way to deliver the horse to the farm, so now he returned there to sort it out, and decided to tackle the laundry first. He checked the hamper and found none of Ellie's dirty clothes... which made sense, of course -- they would be part of the farm loads. That was the case with many of her clothes even when she was sleeping at home.

The laundry room was manned by... Skank #1, if Joel guessed right. He could never quite remember if Ellie had dubbed her that because she was 'number one' at being a big ol' skank, or if she was #2 because the skankiness was up to the next level. Whichever one she was, she was the attendant Ellie disliked more: the younger and more attractive of the two. The other one was around Joel's age, and actually more of an overt flirt, but not as easy on the eyes, so Ellie didn't seem to consider her a threat so much as this one.

This one's real name was Sophie. Joel wasn't that great with names, but he'd heard enough "Hi, Sophie!"s in the laundry room over the past few months that it stuck. He'd gotten into the habit of not using her name, though, because when he did, Ellie would either get all quiet, as if fretting over the possible significance of him calling her by name, or she'd get sulky and pissy. It took Joel a couple rounds of that to realize what the problem was, because she wouldn't tell him -- it was like deep down she knew it was too ridiculous to talk about and it shouldn't bother her, yet it did. Joel also pointed out to her that he knew Sophie's brother, Alex, from various construction jobs, and he'd mentioned his sister plenty of times, but that didn't seem to strike Ellie as a good enough reason for Joel to remember her name.

Sophie was folding a load when he walked in... and he was a little disappointed to find that no one else was there at the moment, making it next to impossible to just do a drive-by. If she'd been in the middle of a conversation with someone else, or even just really absorbed in whatever novel she was reading during down time (Ellie seemed to associate reading romance novels with skankiness, too, as both 'skanks' did that), he might have been able to get in and out with barely more than a grunted hello. No such luck today.

Sure enough, she turned and smiled at him... and looked a little too happy to see him, really. "Joel! Hey! When did you get back?" She let the shirt she'd been folding drop back into the pile, and walked over to him. He had taken an actual laundry basket in and not just a sack of clothes, as Ellie had trained him to do ("she stands TOO CLOSE to you -- you have to keep that basket in between you 'til the last second!"). She'd gone to a bit of trouble to procure the basket, too, as he recalled.

"I'm only here for a day or two, checkin' on things for Craig." He was glad Ellie wasn't there to wonder how Sophie knew he'd been out of town. After all, it wasn't like he brought laundry in every day, or even once a week, so why should she even notice? Worse than that, Joel had actually told her he was leaving for a few days, and Ellie would've made a ridiculously big deal out of that.

What Ellie didn't know -- and Joel saw nothing good coming out of telling her now -- was that one day when he and Alex were on a job together, Alex had asked Joel for a favor...

"Hey man, can I talk to you for a minute?"

"What's up?"

"I was just wondering... I was hoping you could help me out with something."

"All right. Shoot."

"Well... you know Soph is a bit... how do I put this... she doesn't have a boyfriend right now--"

"Sorry. Not interested. No offense."

"No no no -- haha! Shit, she'd kill me if she thought I was trying to meddle in her love life. Not that it don't need meddling with. It's usually a train wreck. Wish she'd quit going for younger guys. But that's not why I... actually, the fact that you're NOT interested is perfect."

"Perfect for what?"

"Well, if for some reason I'm not around... say, for a few months, maybe more... or if something happens to me..."

"You goin' somewhere?"

"No... no, just in general. Shit happens, know what I mean? She's not very... what's the word... pragmatic?... no... I don't know. She doesn't always deal with things the way she should... I don't think she'd take very well to being alone."

"You said she has a lot of friends, though..."

"She does. But they're not the best influences. Like that Kathy chick? She puts these bullshit fairy tale ideas in her head about men..."

"What are you gettin' at, if this ain't about fixin' us up--"

"It's not, I swear. I'd feel better knowing someone was looking out for her, if I couldn't. That's all. Fixing the front door when it gets stuck -- because she'd sooner climb out the window than fix it herself..."

"You know there's people who can do shit like that for her, right?"

"I know, but I don't like the thought of... well, she has a way of getting herself into trouble sometimes. It's like... with your Ellie. Wouldn't you feel better knowing someone -- someone decent, and capable... would keep an eye out for her if anything happened? Your brother could, sure, and Maria, but they're out of town so much, especially with that new farm now... I didn't want to ask them myself."

"I ain't my brother."

"Maybe not, but I've seen you with Ellie. And I know what you did for her... a girl you didn't even know at the time. You're one of the good guys."

Alex wasn't the only one who'd made such an assumption about him, based on him helping Ellie cross the country, then taking responsibility for her when her 'relatives' or whoever turned out to be dead. Joel would snicker to himself, wondering what they would think if they knew about the whole Salt Lake thing. How many would still think he was a good person after that? Anyway, even though it was a bizarre conversation to have, with Alex basically seeking a godparent -- godbrother? -- for his grown sister, Joel could understand his concern. He would want someone to keep an eye on Ellie for him in the event that he couldn't do it himself. He'd never discussed that with anyone, but Tommy and Maria considered Ellie their niece; he could safely assume they'd do more than look out for her -- they'd take her in.

Joel had assured Alex he'd check on Sophie from time to time if he wanted, and that if she needed anything, she could ask him... shit like that. But if she wanted to have an affair or something with a guy Alex deemed undesirable, that was her business, and Joel wouldn't interfere. If it were Ellie, though? He would expect Tommy to kick the ass of any guy who came near her. That was the difference twenty years made... although if he was honest with himself, he'd probably feel that way whether Ellie was an adult or not.

At any rate, Alex had seemed satisfied with the deal. Joel hadn't been surprised to learn a couple weeks later that he'd split... under mysterious circumstances. Sophie had said it was some kind of Jackson business, but he could tell she knew the real reason. He didn't push her to tell him, because he really didn't need to know what it was.

Joel didn't know how old she was, exactly, but ballpark, he would guess late thirties. She liked to wear shorts that, according to Ellie, were way too short (Joel did very much appreciate that Ellie was ass-backwards in her thinking there, compared to teenage girls from back in the day who set such store by slutty-looking clothes, the skimpier the better). Sophie was attractive enough, he supposed... just not his type. Basically because she wasn't Ellie. If that made him a sick fuck, then he was a sick fuck. The woman made no move to take the laundry from him, naturally. She just stood in front of him, her hand on her hip, tossing her long blond hair back over her shoulder -- a motion of hers that Ellie hated. "Oh yeah? Cool beans. Checking on things... meaning checking for jobs?"

"Right," he replied. Ellie also didn't like that she said things like 'cool beans'... 'yeppers'... 'neato'... Joel didn't see what there was to like or dislike about stupid shit like that. Sure, certain words or phrases could be irritating, but Ellie judged her for it as a person. For every little thing. As if saying 'cool beans' somehow increased her alleged skankiness. If anything, Joel reckoned it should be the opposite -- it was kind of goofy or nerdy, wasn't it? One part nerd should cancel out one part skank? Ellie would be happy to know that I'm standing here thinking only about how much she dislikes everything about this woman, Joel chuckled internally.

Sophie was all smiles. "Great! 'Cause remember the water damage... and the attic ceiling? The hole? It's--"

"Urgent things only," Joel interrupted her. Funny thing was, Alex had apparently never mentioned to Sophie that he'd recruited Joel to look out for her. Or if he had, she'd never said so. And it sure seemed like the sort of thing a person might mention, when the qualifying circumstances arose.

"It's worse now. And I can hear the mice up there... I barely got any sleep last night, imagining them crawling into bed with me..." She shuddered.

Joel chuckled. "I don' think your bed would be the thing they'd go for, unless you're eatin' meals there, gettin' crumbs in it." Not that he was a mice expert. It sounded plausibly reassuring, though.

"Doesn't matter -- it's in my head that the creepy little things... might, you know? And... what if the whole roof caves in or something? I don't feel safe." She looked at him, like... well, he didn't know what, exactly, but he got the sense she was appealing to his machismo. He could just imagine Ellie standing next to him, glaring daggers at the woman.

Since Alex hadn't told her anything, Joel wasn't going to offer to go outside the normal Jackson protocol, at least not for things more complex than adjusting a door handle or replacing a washer in a faucet. Joel wasn't part of the handyman or maintenance crew, per se, but those were the sorts of things he didn't mind helping out with off the record, especially since Alex had made it clear that he preferred for him to do it. This, however, was a legit construction job type thing. "Did you put in a ticket?" he asked, and the invisible Ellie beside him nodded her approval at his 'strictly business' manner.

Sophie hesitated a little. "Yes."

"All right then, I'm on my way over there now. I'll see what I can do."

"Um... I think I did. I'm not sure. You know me... ditzy blonde sometimes." She laughed, and -- no surprise -- it was a laugh that Ellie hated. She thought it was fake, or overly girly, or something. The daggers in her eyes would have been flying out of her eyeballs toward the poor woman by now, just for laughing. "If I didn't actually put one in, I'll do it right now if you bring me a blank one?" she asked beguilingly.

"S'alright. Let me see what's goin' on, an' I'll let you know when I come pick this up."

"Oh, thaaaaank you!" she gushed, as if he'd already told her he'd fix it. "You're a lifesaver, Joel. I really appreciate it."

She actually put her hand on his, and now invisible Ellie was dispensing with the whole eye-dagger thing and pulling her real blade out. Joel took a step back, letting the hand fall away, and cleared his throat. "Where do you want this?" He dumped the laundry where she indicated and got out of there as fast as he could, glad as hell that Ellie hadn't witnessed any of that.

All right, so she's a little flirty. So what? He never flirted back. Never tried to touch her, never reacted the way a person who's interested would react when she touched him. Ellie would have liked for him to say something to her along the lines of "Don't touch me, you filthy whore" -- or perhaps something even more colorful than that -- to get her to back off, but Joel wasn't inclined to be mean to Sophie. He didn't dislike her; she was a nice person, and she hadn't crossed any real boundaries. The hand-touching thing could have been merely an expression of gratitude.

"Yeah, RIGHT!" invisible Ellie screamed at him. Joel was itching to get home and spend time with the real Ellie. Real Ellie might get mad at him sometimes too, but unlike the invisible one, she was kissable, huggable, and Joel had missed the hell out of her for eight whole days. He couldn't wait to hold her in his arms again... to be back in the bubble with her, safe from scrutiny, the world reduced to just the two of them... where all problems could be solved, and all questions answered, with nothing more than a kiss.

~ Continue to Chapter 2 ~

Tags: fic, tlou, uncertainty
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