Lumy (luminations) wrote,

"Uncertainty" Chapter 2: "True Lies" (2/45)

Title: "Uncertainty" Chapter 2: "True Lies" (2/45)
Fandom: The Last of Us
Characters: Ellie, Joel, Tommy, Maria, OCs
Pairings: Joel/Ellie
Warnings: Underage [please see A/N of doom in Chapter 1!]
Word Count for this chapter: 6584
Rating (for fic as a whole): R
Author's Notes: Chapter title from the 1994 movie of the same name.

The steady stream of milk hitting the pail created some sort of rhythm that Ellie found soothing. One, two, one, two... milking the cows was a good way to wind down after a long day (although she was grateful she didn't also have to do the goats today). Annie had just finished milking Bertha, and now she lounged on the ground beside Ellie's little milking stool – on the ‘safer’ side, by the cow’s head -- waiting for her to finish. Ellie glanced at her. "You don't have to wait for me. You look beat."

"I'm okay," Annie said, leaning back on her hands. "I wanted to talk to you. Without all those people around."

"Okay... so talk."

"Well, I was thinking..." Annie had some kind of devilish gleam in her eye.

"Ohhhhh shit. I know that look. At least I think that's what it looks like when it's on my face... I'm a bad influence on you!" One, two, one, two, one, two... please don't let this have something to do with Joel...

"Ha! Maybe you are. Sooo... I know this came up before and we thought it was a bad idea, but... I dunno... maybe it's a better time now?"

"Better time for what?" Ellie asked warily.

"For... Mom to finally... for her and Joel, maybe..." Her awkwardness told Ellie what these words were leading up to.

Ellie groaned. This again! At least it was the lesser of two evils; she'd been afraid that her friend was going to call her out on being in love with Joel. Annie had tried to bring it up before -- both subjects, actually -- but Ellie always found a way to either brush Annie off or steer things in another direction. Doing so had at least bought her some time to come up with some logical arguments to defend her point on the Esther thing, because "he's mine!" wasn't going to cut it.

She turned to watch the milk zipping into the pail again. "No. No no no no. Joel would drive her crazy," she said matter-of-factly. "He's not a... a people person, like your mom is. They get along okay, sure, but it's not like... he's not good at relationships. He told me that himself." Not a lie -- he did actually say that to her! Before. When he was frantically conjuring up any excuse he could for them to not be together that way. Kind of like what Ellie was doing now... except she knew she was fucking right about this. It was so frustrating not being able to just tell the truth.

"Who says it has to be a relationship?" Annie replied. She had stretched out her legs in front of herself, rolling them back and forth a little to tap her toes together -- in rhythm with Ellie's milking, she noted. Nervous energy? Because she really did look tired…Ellie used to think it was weird how Annie would wear these long dresses -- pioneer dresses, she called them -- with mucky farm boots, but now she thought it would seem awfully out of character if she didn't. "Maybe they could just hang out more," Annie pondered, "and... you know... he's attracted to her ~ she's attracted to him ~ one thing leads--"

"Wait -- who says he's attracted to her?" Ellie glanced at her friend's face again and tried to gauge how serious she was about this... whether or not she had some good fucking reason to want to fix them up now. 'Good' isn't the right word... ugh, there's no such thing as a good reason for Joel to be with anyone but me!

"Does that bother you? Thinking he might be attracted to her?" Annie asked... in a fishing sort of way. Like she suspected something.

Be cool, Ellie. She'd talked her way out of similar spots with Annie before. Well... not really. Talking around things obviously hadn't done any good. She was going to have to talk through them if she wanted to retire the subject forever. "No, just... what makes you say that? Did you catch him checking her out or something?" She hoped that sounded casual enough... as if she wouldn't just die right there on the spot if Annie said yes.

Annie chuckled. "Um, no... but think about it -- don't you think they'd be a good match? They're almost always partners when they're on watch--"

"That doesn't mean anything! And anyways, Joel told me he just likes how your mom doesn't try to talk his ear off all the time. She leaves him alone. That's what he likes -- being alone." Alone with ME, if I can help it...

"Why do you want him to be alone?" Annie pressed.

"What? I don't! Didn't you hear what I said? He likes being alone. And he would hate it if he knew you were... trying to... whatever you're trying to do here." Actually, Joel would probably be amused. Infuriatingly amused when he realized how angry it made her.

"Uh-huh. He would hate it," Annie said knowingly.

Ellie stopped milking for a moment and glared at her. "Yes. He would. It's a terrible idea."

"Why? Just think -- if things go well, you and I could be sisters!"

Uuuuggghhhh! Ellie had always wanted a sibling, but that was so not the way she wanted to acquire one. She had to nip this in the bud. ...or, the thing that comes right after the bud, before full bloom; she'd kind of missed the bud phase by ignoring -- at times, even avoiding -- the hints for so long. Even Joel would've addressed this before now. But Ellie just... hated it So. Fucking. Much.

She tried to appear calm. Speak slooowwwly, she reminded herself. "And if things go bad -- which they would, I promise you -- no more dinners together... maybe I couldn't even come work here anymore, if like... the sight of me is too much for her, or..." Ellie was grasping a little there. She felt a blush start creeping up her neck when Annie laughed.

"Just admit that you don't want them together for your own reasons!" Annie urged her.

Ellie rolled her eyes to imply that that was just ridiculous. "Pfff. Think what you want. I'm just thinking about what's best for Joel -- which would be best for your mom, too, because Joel can be a real dick when he's not happy, and he'd make her miserable, believe me." Ellie wiped her hands on her pants. "Well! I think Abigail's all dried up now." She stood up and reached for the pail, but Annie scrambled to stand up with her, and put her hand on her arm.

"Wait," Annie said, gently turning Ellie towards her before letting go of her arm. "I know I've been... kinda teasing about it, and everything? But... you do like him, don't you. Will you please just tell me, and I'll stop torturing you?"

"You're not torturing me," she lied, setting the pail down and crossing her arms in front of her chest. "Of course I like him! He's like... I mean, not exactly a dad, but..." She hated to use the 'dad' defense, even though it was totally the most viable one. It was only a few months ago that I used to LIKE it when people thought he was my dad! she marveled.

"No, you like him in that way," Annie insisted. "In a... Leo sort of way."

In spite of her discomfort with the conversation, Ellie giggled a little. 'Leo' was the code name they'd used when Ellie confided that she was in love with someone and didn’t want to say who it was – so as not to jinx things, allegedly. "Good old Leo."

Now Annie looked more sympathetic. "Sorry, I didn't mean to... does it still hurt? Thinking about him?"

As if Ellie might still be nursing that broken heart. She definitely would have been, if Joel hadn't unbroken it a few days later. "Does it look like it hurts? I'm laughing, aren't I?"

"Yeah, but sometimes you sort of laugh through the pain..."

"I do? I'm not doing that. I'm good. Really truly."

"Good. I guess. I mean, unless it doesn't hurt because you've moved on to..." Annie worried at her lip. Apparently it wasn't easy for her to talk about this shit, either. "Ellie, if the biggest problem with Leo was him being a little older than you, well... if you have a thing for Joel... that's even..."

"I do not have a thing for Joel," Ellie lied exasperatedly. No, wait, that's not a lie... it's not just some stupid little THING -- it's fucking LOVE! Ha! She was becoming quite adept at using the truth in her lies... sometimes without even realizing it at first, like just then. It was a technique that worked for Joel, and he was such a good liar that even she couldn't always tell when he was lying -- she who knew him better than anyone. She crossed her arms over her chest and resumed the glaring (not that it had made Annie back off at all... fuck!). "You know I love him and want what's best for him. Why the fuck does that have to get twisted into... like..."

"So... the idea is absolutely repulsive to you," Annie suggested tentatively.

"No..." Ellie knew she was supposed to reply to that with a very convincing yes. "Ewwww, that's so gross, how could you even THINK that I'd want to be with an old man?" and so forth. She might have been able to pull it off, if she enhanced her performance by substituting someone else for Joel in her mind. Someone easy to find repulsive -- like that dickweed friend of Joel's, Bill. Yuck! ...but she couldn't do that to Joel. Even though he would probably want her to, in this situation, she still couldn't. "Not repulsive. That's mean," she said lamely.

Annie's eyes widened; she seemed abashed now. "Oh! I didn't mean it that way! Nothing personal--"

"How is that not personal?" At least SHE'S on the defensive now...

"It's only because he's so old. That's all."

"That's still personal. That's, like... part of who he is." Ellie often thought that she was supposed to wish that Joel were younger... but she really didn't. The only thing she didn't like about his age was how much closer it brought him to death, if it were to come to that. She couldn't remember ever knowing a person who had died of old age, but Joel definitely would. He'd live to be like a hundred and fifty. Unless she found a way to turn them both into vampires, or some other immortal creature (and she'd also have to convince Joel of that first, because that thought creeped him out).

Annie was quiet a moment. "Okay, look. Maybe I've got the wrong idea. But there's something about you and Joel... I just thought maybe you were kind of... latching on to him, after... like a rebound thing?"

"Rebound?" Ellie asked dumbly before she remembered that supposedly, she'd been in love with someone else only like a month ago.

"Yeah... you know. From Leo? Rebound is like when--"

"Oh. Right. Yeah, I know what it means. About that..." A crazy idea popped into her head: just tell the truth... or, at least shades of it. And Joel didn't need to know... once she explained, Annie would keep her secret. She was a good friend. And it would shut her the fuck up about what a great couple Joel and Esther would be! I better just do it before I think about it too much and talk myself out of it! She took a deep breath first. "Annie... Joel is Leo."

Annie furrowed her brow -- but her jaw did not drop, Ellie was pleased to note. "Joel is... what? No! I think I heard you wrong. Did you just say..."

"Yep." Ellie waited for it to register... waited for the shock, the 'what-the-fuck' expression... maybe disgust? Annie had made that 'repulsive' comment. And Joel had said that people would be revolted by the very idea of them. Is Annie 'people'? Ellie wondered.

"But... I thought..." If anything, Annie looked confused. "That didn't work out. Leo was a jerk... right? A jerk who didn't appreciate you?"

"Well... it just took him a little while to... um..." Ellie suddenly felt a little uncertain about her hasty decision to spill their dirty little secret, even if it was just to Annie. Joel would be furious if he did somehow find out. She grabbed her friend's arm for a moment, for emphasis. "Annie, you cannot tell anyone about this. I wasn't supposed to tell you. Promise you won't say a word!"

"Sure..." The look on Annie's face shifted from confusion to... pity, of all things. "Actually, it makes sense now. You and Joel had a fight -- and you started feeling better about the whole Leo thing when you two made up. And... wow, no wonder you didn't want me to help you get rid of Joel when I saw him coming to your house that night!"

Ellie smiled, remembering. Annie had been helping her cook a nice dinner for Leo, and when she'd left, she'd crossed paths with Joel coming home 'unexpectedly.' She'd freaked out on Ellie's behalf, thinking that Joel was going to ruin everything. Then Ellie had freaked out too, trying to get rid of Annie in time; she'd had a hard time convincing Annie that she didn't need her to help out by diverting Joel. It had messed things up, a little, but Ellie had recovered. "Yeah... and in the end, I didn't even have to tell you how I got rid of Joel, because I couldn't stand talking about it after Leo broke my heart and all. I didn't lie about that -- Joel wanted nothing to do with me, that way."

To Ellie's surprise, Annie gave her a hug. "Ellie, I'm so sorry."

Ellie hugged her back, chuckling. Did she forget that part about us making up a few days later? She just fucking mentioned it, even! "Ancient history, and it wasn't your fault."

Annie pulled back and studied her face. "But... you're not... you do still have feelings for him, right?"

"Well, yeah. Of course."

Annie sighed. "That must be so hard. Remember how I had a little crush on that guy who used to come work on the farm? It was sort of painful, seeing him every day. And you live with Joel."

Ellie didn't remember that first-hand because it had happened years ago, but Annie had mentioned the guy to her. Nothing had ever happened between them, and Annie had gotten over it when the guy left town. That was a weird comparison for her to make now... what the fuck? Ellie eyed her strangely. "Yeah. I live with him. So what?"

"So how do you stand it?" Then Annie gasped with sudden inspiration. "Maybe you can keep staying with us! That would help, right?"

"Help what? What the fuck are you talking about?"

"Well, how are you ever going to get over him if he's right there under your nose all the time? Think about it."

"What? Why would I..." Ellie let that question trail off as it dawned on her that Annie's train of thought was on the wrong track. I didn't explain what happened after that disastrous night -- she thinks it's completely one-sided!

Annie didn't seem to notice that Ellie was weirdly clueless to her logic -- logic that was perfectly sound in the realm of unrequited love. "How did I not see it before?" Her friend shook her head, like she was marveling at her own obliviousness. "God. I thought it was a more recent thing maybe, that you started to... but all the way back to Leo time?"

Ellie hesitated. Should I just let her think that? The decision to confess all had been impulsive, and probably reckless, and... she'd promised Joel that she wouldn't. But she'd never promised anything regarding simply sharing her own feelings... Joel couldn't be upset with her for that! It was perfect! "Yep, that's how pathetic I am," she said with a shrug and a chuckle.

"No! I didn't mean--"

"Yes you did. It's true. You saw us in the fields today, right? How I kissed him and he like... got all uncomfortable? Guess I was a little too excited to see him." Ellie had to give herself a mental pat on the back for damage control with that one, even though it came at her own expense.

"Oh, Ellie..."

"Oh my God -- do not feel sorry for me. I'm fine! I'm happy." And she might as well get something out of the situation for herself, if she had to play the fool here. "But yeah, I'd really fucking appreciate it if you didn't try to set him up with your mom, okay?" She kept her tone light and teasing, instinctively wanting to conceal the venom behind the words, for some reason.

"Of course!" Annie smirked a little. "Actually, to tell you the truth, I wasn't even serious about that. Mom's never said anything about liking Joel... like that... and she really doesn't want a boyfriend or anything. I was just trying to get you to admit you liked him."

Ellie gasped and gave her a playful little shove. "You little shit! I knew it! I knew there was something funny about the way you were asking me that crap. Like, this whole week."

"Sorry!" Annie said, looking a little sheepish now. "I just didn't want to come right out and ask you... not until I was sure, you know? In case I was wrong. That's such a... well, not something you'd want to assume, or..."

"I get it," she cut her friend off before she could say anything else that might offend Ellie on Joel's behalf. She suddenly wondered why she was standing around talking to Annie when the sooner she finished her chores, the sooner she could get home to Joel. She grabbed the milk pail again. "Let's go already! Subject closed. You're not going to tell anyone, right?"

"Of course not. I promise. And hey, if you ever need to talk about it or anything..." Annie was actually a total sweetheart, under the scheming and smirking.

"Okay, thanks." Ellie thought she might just take her up on that offer, if she could be careful about what she confided... to make sure any reference to Joel's affections came across as fatherly only. Which is almost true, really, Ellie snorted to herself. It wasn't like they'd done anything sexual. She was kind of longing to gush about Joel with someone who would care to hear it. And Annie hadn't seemed grossed out by Ellie's 'crush' at all. Maybe because she'd had a crush on someone older herself, and thought she could relate (though Ellie knew that nobody in the whole universe could truly understand the depth of her feelings for Joel!).

Maybe Joel was wrong about how people would react. Maybe there was no reason to keep their relationship a secret!

* * * * *

Ellie never used to bother showering at Annie's, and she didn't always bother now, but today, she wanted to be as appealing as possible when Joel greeted her. She'd changed into her regular, non-farmy clothes, and left her hair loose around her shoulders, the way he liked it. It was still damp from the shower, so not all soft and touchable yet, but Ellie had only ever bothered to blow-dry her hair that one night, for Leo-Joel – and actually, Annie had done it for her then. How ridiculously indulgent was it to waste time blowing hot air on your head?

Joel was waiting for her when she got home. He must have heard her approaching the door, because she'd barely started opening it when she felt herself being yanked inside, heard the door slamming behind her, and found herself being whirled around in an exuberant embrace that made her squeal with delight.

And then he kissed her -- all awkwardness gone, now that they were alone -- and it was her head that went spinning. He was being so passionate! "I guess you missed me a little," she murmured against his lips as he set her down.

"Mmhmm," he affirmed, kissing her again. She kissed him back eagerly, deeply... with an urgency not usually present in their embraces. Their kisses tended to be slow, sweet... fairly innocent, because that was what Joel was most comfortable with. But it had been forever since they'd shared a kiss! His hands roved all over her... grazing her ass, but only briefly, and possibly accidentally. Even through clothing, Joel felt a little gun-shy about touching her in certain places. Even though she always made it clear she wanted him to. As for her touching him? He made it just as clear that he didn't want her to. At least not with her hands; if it could sort of pass for a hug, it was allowed -- so she pressed herself firmly against him, happy to feel the stirring in his pants. By now, she knew better than to assume he'd want to do anything about that; they'd discussed it at length (...pun intended?). But she very much liked having that effect on him. It reminded her that his body wanted her, even if his brain wasn't quite there yet.

He was the one who ended the kissing session... like pretty much always. But she kept her arms around his neck, enjoying having him so near at last. She beamed up at him. "I missed you, too. Let's not ever be apart for that long again, 'kay?"

He squeezed her. "I'm sorry, baby girl. I'll do my best."

He knows better than to promise. But he was here now, and she had to live in the moment. She sighed contentedly. "Let's just stay like this forever."

He chuckled. "You always say that, an' we always have to move before too long."

As if on cue, a sizzling sort of sound made both of them turn their heads toward the kitchen; a pot was boiling over. Ellie extracted herself from his arms to scurry into the kitchen and take the lid off.

"See? You're runnin' away from me already," Joel teased.

"Am not!" Ellie protested, tossing him a grin over her shoulder. The pot only had water in it so far. She surveyed the dinner ingredients on the counter. "Oooo is that spaghetti? Real spaghetti? Meatballs, too?"

Joel came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist, nuzzling her neck. "Yep. But scooch -- I told you I'd cook you dinner, so you jus' go relax for a bit."

"Um... can't do that. Nope. I'd be too far away from you." Ellie smirked to herself a little when she realized Joel was leaning forward a bit, so as not to press his crotch against her. Like maybe she hadn’t noticed before? He was so funny about that. It was kind of adorable, really.

"Well, I can't very well cook with you right in front of me..." He kissed her neck, sending shivers racing through her by some kind of magic (a power that, Ellie was convinced, was unique to Joel).

"Okay." She slipped out of his arms and pivoted quickly to stand behind him and hug him from that angle, giggling a little. "Is that better?" she asked, her voice muffled as she pressed her face into his shirt.

"It'll do." And he did manage to do some of the meal preparations that way, Ellie sort of just hanging on him when he had to move to the sink or the counter... until he eventually hoisted her up onto the counter, where she tried to trap him with any and all of her limbs within reach of him any time he came near her. It was a fun little game; Joel really was more playful than his age or demeanor would suggest. He only stayed trapped for as long as he wanted to be, of course. But she got some decent kisses out of each encounter.

Somehow, dinner managed to make its way onto the table. Ellie did enjoy the lively dinners over at Tommy and Maria's (sometimes referred to as 'the house'), but now that she and Joel were... whatever they were, she preferred the intimacy of eating at home, just the two of them. Joel said they should mix it up some -- to keep up appearances, if nothing else -- so they still ate dinner elsewhere often enough. Ellie knew Joel liked being home alone with her too, but that he (stupidly) felt guilty about it -- as if he were taking Ellie away from other people she 'should' be with besides him.

It was a recurring argument they had. Even now, at this reunion dinner -- he felt guilty that she was giving up her plans for that night due to his sudden appearance... never mind the fact that she could spend a million other nights in Annie's room, listening to records, trying to figure out how to play some of the songs on the guitar. Joel had surprised her with the guitar only a couple weeks ago, so she hadn't had very many lessons yet... and progress was slow when the lessons kept morphing into make-out sessions. She'd been practicing a lot since taking the guitar down to the farm, where she suffered no such distraction, but she lacked Joel's instruction there. She wanted to write him a song for his birthday, but that was coming up next month already, and how could she think about writing songs when she couldn't even play worth shit? She'd taken a liking to a certain Simon and Garfunkel song she'd heard at Annie's, and its structure was simple and repetitive enough that she was sure she could figure it out and master it... but it was kind of sad, and not at all romantic, so she wasn't sure it would be appropriate. Joel considered his birthday a sad affair anyway, and in fact, didn't even want to celebrate it, so maybe that wouldn't be the worst thing in the world...

Anyway, she could certainly live without playing guitar that night, and she and Joel had so much catching up to do that it made more sense for them to stay home. Esther was cooking up a huge dinner for all the extra field help, so they wouldn't even miss Ellie down on the farm, and both Tommy and Maria were still at the sister farm that Joel had just left. Ellie asked Joel all about that, and she filled him in on the happenings in her life for the past week -- nothing major, but Joel liked hearing about the stupid shit too, not just the big stuff (of course, she conveniently omitted that afternoon's conversation with Annie in her run-down of events). If there were a way for her to convey every thought she'd had in the past eight days, she suspected he'd be all over it. No one had ever been so interested in her life before. It was just one of the many reasons Joel was so amazing.

After dinner was eaten and the dishes were done (in a joint effort), Ellie tugged Joel over to the couch and made him sit so she could plop herself in his lap. He liked it when she 'pushed him around,' as he put it. They exchanged a few more kisses, and then a few more... until Ellie finally worked up the nerve to ask the dreaded question hanging over their heads. "So... how long are you here? Were there lots of tickets? I hope?!"

Joel sighed a little and kissed her forehead. "Only one that warrants stayin' another day."
Ellie groaned. "Well, you better just take your sweet time doing that job, then. Can't you drag it out for a couple days, at least?"

"I don' really think that's... a good idea."

Something about the way he said it struck Ellie as... worrisome. Or odd, at the least. She leaned back a little to study his expression. Typical Joel: mostly unreadable. "Why not?"

"'Cause they're expectin' me back. There's still a lot of shit to do."

That was probably true. Joel did take pride in his work ethic. "What's the job?"

"Patchin' up an attic," he replied -- casually, and yet... was there something off about that, too?

"Oh." She hoped it wasn't something more dangerous than he let on. What could possibly be that dangerous about it? ...What else wouldn't he want me to know? "Whose attic?"

"No one's," he answered quickly. Then, like he'd just thought of a better answer, he added, "I mean no one you really know. It don' matter."

Ellie narrowed her eyes suspiciously. "Then why can't you just tell me? I probably know them. I know more people in town than you do."

"Ellie, like I said, it don' matter. You wanna talk about some boring job or you wanna kiss me?" he teased.

She kissed him, but only for like two seconds. "Uh-uh. That won't work on me, Joel. Why don't you want to tell me who it is? You know if you don't tell me it's gonna drive me crazy, and I'll like... have to follow you or something to find out," she threatened.

Joel sighed. "Don' do that. It's Sophie, all right?"

I should have known! She swatted his chest. "That fucking skank! She just wants to get you in her house! Don't fall for it. There's nothing wrong with her attic."

"No?" Joel chuckled. "In that case, I should jus' head back out of town in the mornin', hmm?"

"Uuuggghhh. No." She liked the way his arms felt around her... the way one arm held her and the other hand rubbed her arm, as she was sitting sideways over his lap. She'd missed just little things like that -- and she didn't want to start missing them again so soon. "What's so urgent about it? Can't you do some other job? Wasn't there anything else?"

"She says there's mice comin' through there an' she can't sleep, thinkin' they'll come get her or somethin'. Her attic hatch is shoddy... it's got a big enough hole in it they can--"

"So she can just make a mouse trap -- like Tommy showed us at the last meeting!" That's what had probably given the slut the idea to invent some mice for Joel to save her from in the first place. "I'll bring her the stuff myself!"

Joel snorted. "The thing with the ramp an' the bucket? Sure, it might catch some, but they could jus' stroll right on by it. It's in her head that they can jus' come--"

"Can't the princess go sleep somewhere else then? Like in some guy's bed?" She was pretty sure there were plenty of men in town who wouldn't mind.

That made him laugh. "You really think she'd--"

"Whatever! Isn't there anything else? Some other job you can do?" she asked again. It seemed that the topic of Sophie annoyed her so much she couldn't even let Joel answer her questions without interrupting him.

"Nothin' all that dire. Grounds crew thinks there's a short in the fence on the--"

"Well, that's important, isn't it?" Ellie interjected excitedly. "More important than fucking mice! If the electric fence doesn't zap people... or Infected, or whoever..."

"It's only one section, an' that fence is only secondary protection anyhow."

"Fiiiiiine," she said dramatically, "if you can live with the guilt when we get attacked because you'd rather go dick around in a skank's attic..."

Joel tweaked her nose. "If that happens, you can blame me all you want. I'd sooner blame the guards. No one's even attacked the dam in months, an' the town is even less of a--"

"Okay, okay -- but she might be lying, and the fence person prob'ly isn't."

"She ain't... Look. If she's lyin', then I won' be there very long, all right? Nothin' you need to worry yourself over."

"Maybe she's not lying, but she sabotaged the place herself," Ellie suggested meanly.

"What, like she took a sledgehammer up there an'...?"

"Yeah! I wouldn't put it past her."

"I think you're really overestimatin' her. Why would she go to all that trouble jus' to--"

"Because she likes you! Jesus, Joel -- how can you suck so bad at knowing when a person likes you?" He really did. Ellie had ended up having to straight up tell him she was in love with him before the possibility would even enter his brain, even though she'd made it painstakingly obvious.

Joel kissed her nose -- a step up from tweaking it, at least. "You're pretty cute when you're jealous."

"I'm not jealous!" A lie, of course, but she didn't want Joel to know that; she didn't even know why she felt that way. She knew Joel didn't love that slut, so...

"Yes you are," he said with amusement. "You're a little green-eyed monster."

"But I'm not even jealous! And how would that make me a monster?"

"That's what jealousy is."

"A monster?"

"With green eyes, specifically."

"You made that up."

Joel chuckled. "Ask anyone. Anyone old enough."

Ellie had heard the phrase 'green with envy' before. What's so jealousy-like about the color green? "Well, I'm not jealous, anyway." She could out-stubborn Joel when she wanted to.

"Fine. You ain't jealous. What do you think is gonna happen? Maybe she won't even be home."

"Pfff. Yeah, right. She'll be home. Wait... does she know you're coming? Did you go see her?" Ellie didn't even wait for Joel to answer that, because she could tell by the way he paused before answering that that was a yes. "You did. Yeah, she'll be home. She won't even have to switch her schedule around; she's off tomorrow."

Joel shook his head in wonder. "I don' know how you keep everyone's schedules straight. I can't even hardly remember everyone's names an' where they work, let alone when they work."

In truth, Ellie didn't know everyone's schedules; she just made it a point to know the laundry skanks', so that, if possible, she and Joel could go there when the other one, Kathy, was working. She was a skank, too, but kind of frumpy and plain... and although she was actually more of an over-the-top flirt than Sophie, there was something different, something less threatening, about it... like it was hard to take her seriously or something. The funny thing was that Kathy's son, Lucas, had the temperament of… like an anti-skank. Ellie had once tried to flirt with him to make Joel jealous, and that had totally bombed. Ellie sucked at flirting, sure, but the guy had given her like nothing to work with.

Now she felt herself blushing for some reason... because Joel doesn't know it's just HER schedule I bother to check? She tried to will her stupid face to cut it out. "When did you see her?"

"I had some laundry to drop off."

"You could've waited for me to get home!"

"I could have, but why would I wanna waste our time together doin' that, hmm? Much rather be doin' this..."

Ellie let him kiss her, but only briefly. She wasn't done being annoyed about this whole thing. "Maybe I should come with you. Then she can't try anything."

"She can try whatever she wants -- it don' mean it'll ever work. You have to trust me, kiddo."

"I do! It's her I don't trust."

"I ain't interested in her."

"I know!" ...but please keep telling me shit like that until I feel better!

"So, then you know that whatever she may try, it don' matter," he said in an almost sing-song sort of way. Like he was pointing out the obvious, though not unkindly.

"I don't want her even trying in the first place. Can't you just tell her you're gay or something?"

Joel snorted. "Let that rumor go 'round town, no one'll ever think you'n'me are together. Not a bad idea."

Ellie couldn't tell if he was joking or not. Seemed like he was. "Whatever. Just don't let her touch you, or--"

"She ain't gonna touch me."

"She might! Don't let her." Ellie had seen her in action, and the bitch must have read an article similar to the one Ellie had read back when she was trying to find a way to tell Joel her feelings had changed... an article about how to make a guy notice you like him -- finding excuses to touch him was one of the tactics mentioned. Especially on the arm. The arm must have some magical properties she was unaware of, because more than one source referred to it specifically.

"The only girl I want touchin' me is you," he said softly, turning her a little, pulling her closer to him so he could kiss her ear, her neck...

No fair! It was cheating to distract her like that -- and he did it all the time. He had one hand tangled in her hair (which had finally dried), the other rubbing circles on her back. It felt pretty fucking good, but she didn't want to be disarmed right now.

It was hard to focus on his words when he was like this... to try to ignore the pleasurable tingliness his ministrations produced, at least long enough so she could respond. The only GIRL, he'd said... Sophie was a woman. She had certain advantages over Ellie. "You don't even let me touch you," she blurted out.

It was the wrong thing to say. Joel sighed, and flopped back against the couch, his arms falling to his sides. "You're touchin' me right now. Physical contact. That's all I meant, an' you know it. Do you really wanna get into this again right now?"

"No," she said quickly. She pulled one of his arms around her to make him hold her again as she snuggled up to him, hiding her face in his neck. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Joel, don't be mad." Please don't be mad please don't be mad please don't be mad...

"I ain't mad. Just... be patient with me, all right? When the time is right, we'll do all that stuff."

He didn't sound mad, or even annoyed. Whew! "You promise?" He'd promised before, but she liked to keep making him renew it.

"I promise."

She believed him, and she felt a little better about things. She didn't really think he would let that cunt sink her claws into him just because he wasn't having sex with Ellie. And it was exciting, having things to look forward to. Things that involved getting naked together. I can wait for him, however long it takes, because I know he'll totally be worth the wait.

And she wasn't going to say any other stupid shit the rest of the night. Even if she had to keep her fucking mouth shut all night long. Wait, I don't wanna do that either... hehe! Kisses only. No talking... at least nothing that might make Joel mad at her. She would be the sweet perfect little Ellie that he loved.

~Continue to Chapter 3~

Tags: fic, tlou, uncertainty
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