Fandom: The Last of Us
Characters: Ellie, Joel, Tommy, Maria, OCs
Warnings: Underage [please see A/N of doom in Chapter 1!]
Word Count for this chapter: 5535
Rating (for fic as a whole): R
"Think he can see us?" Ellie whispered in the quietest of whisper voices. Thank God he doesn't have a flashlight!
She and Joel were sitting there on the picnic bench, frozen with their arms around each other, Ellie not only in his lap but straddling him. If Clicker could see them, it looked pretty bad. He wasn't within whisper-distance, but she was sure he'd heard them just moments before, when she was being loud as fuck.
Joel was sure, too: "Prob'ly not, but you can bet he heard somethin'."
"What should we do?" she whispered frantically.
Joel thought for a moment. "Act natural," he advised, so quietly Ellie could barely hear him. "We don' know how much he really heard, an' maybe he couldn' see that we... jus' go talk to him. Quick."
He leaned back and lifted her a little, helping her get off of him. "Oh hey -- Clicker!" she called to her friend, attempting to convey cheerful surprise. "I didn't see you coming! What're you doing out here?"
Ellie was immediately blinded by his-- flashlight! Fuck, he DID bring one! -and she was glad she'd vacated Joel's lap before calling out. Had he been using it the whole time and they hadn't even seen the fucking light? No, we're not THAT oblivious... he was probably trying to decide if he WANTED to see what the fuck we were doing...
The beam of light swung over to Joel. Ellie glanced back at him and saw him give the kid a little half-ass wave... a half-ass smile, too. He was just sitting at the table -- he'd been facing the right direction to look normal, at least -- leaning on his forearms now... and thankfully, the bulge in his pants wasn't obvious, from the side angle. His shirt was hanging in such a way that it obscured their view; that was probably the reason he was leaning forward. If Ellie hadn't been in a little bit of a panicked state, she might have found it amusing. He'll talk down that boner in record time, I bet... She kept meaning to ask Joel how he did that.
"Thanks for your help, kid," Joel said, in as normal a voice as Ellie had ever heard. "As you can see, I finally found her. Or... she found me, more like."
Ellie started walking toward the boy, a sudden breeze making her shiver. Maybe it wasn't so sudden... it had been a bit breezy on her way over here. She just hadn't felt it when she was all wrapped up with Joel. Maybe the wind carried my voice away, and he DIDN'T actually hear! It was weird he hadn't said anything yet, though. Usually he, like... would not shut up. "What's up? You okay?" she asked him.
Clicker shifted the beam over to her. "Got kicked out of the library... didn't wanna just stand there waiting..." He said it in a very un-Clicker-like monotone.
"Sorry about that," said Joel. "I was gonna let you know I found her. We were jus' catchin' up a little."
Ellie wondered if Joel even would've remembered that Clicker was waiting for him. He might have figured the boy would just go on home. But Ellie, at least, should have known better. How many times had he followed her somewhere? It's what he does! She had to do some damage control now. She wished she could see his face behind that bright beam he was whipping around. Was he freaked out? Totally chill? He'd sounded a little... dazed or something. But he could have just been tired. It was probably like 10:30 or 11pm by now. "Come on, I'll walk you home," she offered.
"No thanks," he muttered. He switched off the light, turned around, and started walking away. Ellie glanced back at Joel, although she couldn't see him anymore, thanks to the bright light fucking up her 'night vision.' Her eyes would have to readjust to the dim moonlight. Now what do we do?! she asked him silently.
Joel grabbed his stuff off the picnic table, and Ellie's gun off the ground. Her preoccupation with trying not to freak the fuck out had made her completely forget it was there; she would have just left it, and then had something else to freak out about when she got home and realized it was missing. Joel trotted over to them and handed off the gun to her. Then he fell in step beside Clicker, so Ellie followed suit and walked on the boy's other side, tucking the gun back in her pants. "How 'bout we both walk you home?" Joel asked Clicker.
"I said no thanks!"
Fuck, he's really pissed. She couldn't just... not acknowledge that. That would really make him think something was up. She tried not to sound nervous when she asked, "Dude, what's wrong?"
Joel didn't give him a chance to answer. "You're mad 'cause you thought we forgot about you, right? I really am sorry, son. Didn' realize it was gettin' to be so late. Did you send Ellie out here to find me? I owe you a--"
"She didn't tell you?" Clicker interrupted, annoyed. "I thought you guys were catching up."
Not catching up like THAT... with meaningless words... Ellie could feel herself blushing, and was grateful for the near-darkness.
"I forgot to ask her that," Joel said. And it was true -- or so she assumed. Either he'd forgotten or didn't care to ask.
Clicker glanced Ellie's way. "Your hair's all fucked up, you know."
Oh fuckity fuck! Ellie yanked the elastic all the way out of her hair. "Yeah, I um... was just taking it down."
"Cuz... it's nighttime?" Lame! "Well... it's kinda windy... yeah, the wind... it like--"
"It was my fault," Joel said gallantly. "Before we sat at the table there, we were sort of... horsin' around. You know, like playfightin'?"
"Like how I do with you," Ellie added, punching Clicker's arm. Except... SO not even close to the same thing!
"That's not what you were doing," he mumbled.
Joel put his hand on Clicker's shoulder, and all three of them stopped walking. "What do you mean?" he asked, sounding concerned. "What is it you think we were doin'?"
How can Joel sound so completely fucking innocent?! Like he had absolutely no idea what else it might've looked like they were doing. Like he was actually curious about Clicker's perception of it, eager to clear up the misunderstanding.
"I don't know! But it was-- it was--" Clicker spluttered.
All Ellie could think was, WHAT IF HE SAYS HE THOUGHT WE WERE FUCKING! But... that was probably what Joel wanted him to say. So he could easily deny it.
"You were... like... what were you doing?" Clicker was looking at Joel, and Ellie could hear the deathglare behind the accusatory tone.
"I told you--" Joel began.
"Don't lie, Mr. Joel." There was a pleading note there, too, Ellie thought... although mostly, he just sounded pissed. "You don't like it when I lie to you."
"I ain't lyin'," Joel lied. Well... maybe he wasn't all-the-way lying. They had sort of been horsing around...
"You so are. Whatever." He kicked at the dirt and started walking again -- and again, Joel stopped him.
"Hey. Clicker, look at me. You know I'd never do anythin' to hurt Ellie, right?" Clicker was facing Joel's direction, but it seemed to Ellie that he was still looking at the ground. She didn't see what hurting her had to do with anything; of course Clicker knew he wouldn't do that. Everyone fucking knew that.
"Right?" Joel repeated when he didn't answer. "We were jus' playin'."
"It wasn't playing!" Clicker said angrily.
"Yes it was," Joel insisted.
"Then why did Ellie say that--" Clicker cut himself off, and Ellie held her breath.
"What did she say?" Joel asked, and Ellie wondered how he could sound so fucking calm right now. How he could try to make Clicker repeat what she'd said!
"She said she'd have sex with you!"
"Yes she did! I heard her! And then you told her to shut up."
Omigod omigod he DID hear us! Of course he did. Omigod--
It took Joel a moment to respond. "Son, you're takin' this all out of context."
"I am not!"
"Maybe it... well, I reckon it did sound like that, but--"
"I heard her!" Clicker protested. "She said 'I knoooooow I'd have sex with you'!"
Jesus, he even remembers how long I held the 'o' on that word! Ellie was content to let Joel do all the fucking talking because she didn't know how to dispute that.
Joel chuckled. He fucking chuckled. "I was afraid you mighta heard somethin' like that," he said. "That was jus'... part of this game. I told her to keep her voice down 'cause I didn' want... this to happen -- for someone to hear, an' get the wrong idea."
"A game?" Clicker asked dubiously.
"Ellie can prob'ly explain it better than I can." Joel looked at her questioningly... a silent "you got this? or you want me to keep at it?" sort of look.
Freaked out though she was, she felt a little proud that Joel trusted her enough to try. She gave him a quick nod before the boy turned to look at her. Okay, so Clicker didn't just outright call BULLSHIT, maybe I can work with that... think fast, Ellie! "Yeah! Yeah, sure, I can explain. I think. Maybe. Um... it's kind of embarrassing, really... er, obviously, cuz what you just heard... that's not something I'd normally just, um... say, like that..." She cleared her throat as one final stall tactic while an idea took shape in her mind. "It's like a... a either/or game. Like would you rather do this, or do that, of two things that are like..." ...bad? She couldn't even pretend that the idea of sex with Joel was a bad thing.
"Right," Joel said, and she could tell he understood what she was trying to do. Enough that he could contribute. "You know. Stuff like 'would you rather... walk barefoot through hot lava, or... kiss a Bloater."
Good one, Joel! She had to resist the urge to smirk at him.
"Ellie said Bloaters rip your face off," Clicker pointed out. "How could you ever kiss one?"
Ellie felt encouraged. Maybe he didn't quite buy it yet, but she could sell this! "Yeah, you can't, really, so you'd better pick the lava, if you're smart!"
"Technically, you prob'ly could, though," Joel replied. "Assumin' they do that sorta... sleepin' thing the others do? Never seen one do that, but then, I've only seen a handful of the fuckers myself."
Ellie was grateful for the shift in subject matter. I can run with this! "Oh, you mean like... when they stand there with their heads down and you can sneak up on them real easy? I don't think Bloaters ever do that, Joel."
"Well, shit -- you're the expert," Joel teased. "Clicker. If you saw one sleepin', would you kiss it if your buddy dared you to?"
"Blech! Not if it's as ugly as Ellie says! I've never seen one before."
"Trust me, they are the fugliest things ever," Ellie affirmed. "The worst of all the different kinds."
"But what if it was a pretty one?" Joel continued. "A cute girl one."
Clicker laughed. "No such thing!"
"What if you had to?" Ellie snickered evilly. "You have to, 'cause... it's not a dare! If you don't do it, then Joel dies."
"Thanks a lot," Joel said with mock irritation.
"Like that would ever happen," Clicker said in his eye-roll-y tone.
"It might!" Ellie said excitedly. She was really getting into the spirit now. "Say the Bloater has the hots for you. And he's got-- she's got, cuz it's the cute girl -- she's holding Joel hostage. And she's all like... 'Clickerrrrrr...' " Ellie tried to make her voice sound sexy. "'Youuuu are the only one who can saaave this poooooor man's liiiife. One kiss from you, and I'll diiiiie... a happy woooman.' " Joel laughed at that while Clicker shrieked in disgust. Ellie continued doing the voice, which was decidedly more creepy than sexy, but whatever. "'And if you don't give me what I want... I'LL CHEW HIS FUCKING FACE OFF! Hahahaha!' "
Clicker scrunched up his face. "Dude, why wouldn't I just kill it then?"
"Duh! You can't -- the only weapon you have at your disposal... is your lips," she said dramatically.
Joel sighed. "I think I'm a goner, Ellie. He jus' won' do it."
"Man, come on!" Ellie gave Clicker a little shove. "It's like, one moment in your life. It would be over in two seconds. Unless you wanna slip her some tongue..."
"EEEYYYYEWWW!" Clicker whacked Ellie in the arm rather hard, and she retaliated by trying to tackle him.
'Trying' being the operative word there -- he was fast, and he dodged her. "Help me, Joel!" Help me show him that you can do play-fighting as just PLAY, not something sexual...
Joel didn't seem to need the telepathic hint. He was a little slow to join the fray, but when he did, he had both of them on the ground in like five seconds.
"I said help me, not tackle me! Let me go!" Ellie struggled for a few moments, but managed to extract herself from the pile easily enough. She wanted Clicker to get the idea of her and Joel 'playing together' out of his head, and Joel probably realized that was best, too, or he could have made it harder for her. Plus, she didn't think wrestling with Clicker would get him... excited, the way it did with her. She scooted on her butt to a safe distance away. "Clicker! Get him! Do the elbow thing I showed you!"
"What, you're switchin' teams now?" Joel called back to her. Actually, she was kind of rooting for Clicker to impress Joel; as her pupil of sorts, his combat skills were a reflection on her.
He didn't do half bad, really... or so Joel made it appear. She supposed a guy who could dole out brutal ass-beatings the way Joel could, even to men larger than himself, was unlikely to get bested by a twelve-year-old. She stood up and backed away farther... and now she could see why Joel hadn't jumped right in: he'd shed his gear, holsters and all.
And Clicker had dropped his flashlight. She picked it up, keeping an eye on the boys (and this was probably the only scenario in which she could think of Joel as a boy!) as she made her way over to Joel's stuff. Then she started strapping everything to herself... just because.
Joel and Clicker tussled for like a minute or so, until Clicker freed himself and stumbled over to Ellie... laughing! Yes! Now maybe he'll forget that stupid remark.
"Fuck! Dude, you coulda -- helped a brother out, a little!" he panted at her. "You totally bailed!"
"Did he hurt you?" she smirked as she offered him his flashlight.
"I'll find out tomorrow," he replied as he took it.
"When the bruises show up better!" he explained with a grin.
"Bruises? What?" She shot Joel an accusatory look as he got to his feet and started brushing himself off. "You'll bruise him, but not me? I'm bigger -- and older! Omigod you're so sexist."
Joel looked at her and chuckled. She wasn't sure what it was that amused him -- her comment, or the sight of her wearing all his shit. "I don' think I did anythin'... bruise-worthy," he said.
"Aww, that sucks," Clicker lamented.
"Want me to slug you in the arm -- like you did to mine, only harder?" Ellie offered. "I can bruise it up for you."
"No, Ellie," Joel said in his warning tone.
"He likes it, Joel!"
Clicker didn't join her in the protest, though. "Okay okay, so... Ellie, in this thing -- where are you? Why can't you just kiss the stupid Bloater?"
Ellie found it kind of hilarious that he hadn't just let that little joke die out. As long as he forgets the comment that started the whole thing... "Um... well, maybe I..."
"She's got her own," Joel supplied. "She met this... really smooth one who swooped in an' jus'... swept her off her feet."
"...swept her off her feet to eat her face, you mean?" Clicker said with a snort.
"No, she's a nice one! There are nice ones," Ellie said authoritatively. "Like one out of ten. They're always girls, though. Males are always assholes. This one loves me and wants to have my babies!"
Clicker giggled. "So... how does that work?"
Ellie donned her know-it-all voice. "Well, the Bloater reproductive system is... like... more evolved than ours... they can do it with males or females. Actually, I don't even think they need males for that at all. And females make better babies."
"Life finds a way," Joel said in a quietly dramatic tone.
"Haha! You saw that movie too?" Clicker exclaimed. "Awesome!"
Ellie didn't get it. And that annoyed her a little, but it wasn't important. "Yeah, um... males don't serve any real purpose in their... culture, or whatever, so the females can just kill them. Or eat them. So you'd better be nice to yours. At least until she lets Joel go!"
Joel sighed theatrically. "It's all right, son. Ellie ditched me to go have Bloater babies, you're my last hope of survival... but if you can't do it, you can't do it. I understand."
Clicker tried to sober up, but he couldn't keep the mirth out of his voice completely. "Well... hmmm. I don't know why you couldn't just somehow save yourself, cuz you're supposed to be like this bad-ass mofo killer guy..."
"Actually, it was me that killed everyone on the way here from Boston," Ellie told him in a stage whisper. "I just like to let people think it was Joel, cuz... you know. His delicate ego and everything."
Joel was trying to suppress a laugh, too. "Ellie! Come on, now, quit spillin' all my secrets. Dude don' need to know about that."
"Is it true?" Clicker asked him with a grin. "Are you a big chickenshit, Mr. Joel?"
"He is!" Ellie answered before Joel could defend himself. "Every time a hunter or Runner or anything would come along, he'd hide behind me, all like 'Save me, Ellie!' and I'd tell him don't worry, I got this, just stick close to me and you'll be fine..."
"She did," Joel played along. "I was real lucky to have her there to protect me. I don' know what I would've done. Died, I reckon."
Clicker laughed. "Yeah? How'd you even fit behind her? Even if you like kneel down you're prob'ly taller than she is--"
Ellie shoved him again. "I'm not that short! And you should talk!"
"Hey, I'm almost as tall as you!" Clicker was indeed nearly her height now. A few months from now he'd probably be taller than her, since she seemed to have stopped growing. Joel said he thought she'd grown at least an inch since he'd met her, but she figured he was bullshitting her because he knew she was sensitive about her size. "I'm gonna catch up to you soon and you're two years older than me," he added.
"Three," she corrected him.
"Two-and-three-quarters like. I'll be thirteen soon."
Hey, he does the same thing I do -- if Joel says we're thirty-five years apart, I tell him it's only thirty-four-and-a-half... "November isn't exactly soon," Ellie pointed out.
"It's soon if you're old like me," Joel said, and he continued before Ellie could debate his definition of old. "Come on, kid, let's get you home. Your parents are prob'ly wonderin' where the hell you are."
"You guys don't have to walk me home." The refusal wasn't angry this time, at least.
"Sure we do," said Joel. Then it was his turn to stage-whisper. "Just pretend you need Ellie's protection. She likes that. That's why I let her do all the killin'."
"Hey!" Ellie pretended to be offended by that. "Don't lie. You needed me. You, like... don't have it in you, to be a killer. It's okay. We can't all be bad-asses. -And no, you can't have your guns back yet -- I'm on the job here," she added when Joel motioned for her to 'gimme.'
They had a pleasant walk back to Clicker's house... well, to a block before it, under a street lamp. That was where Joel decided to take care of business, and Ellie held her breath again as he put his hands on Clicker's shoulder and looked him in the eye. "I'd appreciate it if you don' tell anyone about that little game, all right? You had the wrong idea at first, an'... I'd hate for anyone else to think the wrong thing, too."
Joel relaxed, Ellie exhaled, and they resumed their walk. "Good. Thank you."
"But..." Clicker began.
Oh shit! But what?!
"...You never said what the 'or' thing was. With... that one I heard. What was it?" he asked Joel curiously.
Ellie looked at Joel and willed him to answer with something brilliant... but his brilliance seemed to have run its course, because he said, "Huh. I don' remember now."
"Oh, um-- it was either him or..." Ellie tried to think of the oldest man in Jackson. Karen's grandfather! He was ancient: twenty-five years older than Joel. "Russ! So I chose him. Joel, I mean."
Clicker scrunched up his face again, not unlike the way he did when contemplating making out with the Bloater. "Russ? Can he even, like..."
Ellie grinned. "See? Easy choice."
"Except if you picked him, maybe you wouldn't have to do anything, in the end," Clicker smirked.
"He's married, you know." ...yeah, and? Ellie didn't know why she'd started to use that to make her case; it wasn't like being married was a guarantee that the equipment would work forever. And it wasn't like old ladies would divorce their husbands when the guy couldn't get it up anymore. ...at least, she didn't think they would. That's mean!
"So? Married people don't really do it anyway," Clicker reasoned.
"What?!" Ellie cried. "Says who?"
"Well, what does he know? Of course they-- I mean, how do you think they have kids?!"
"They still do it at first, it's just when they've been together a really long time, then they stop," Clicker said sagely.
Joel was amused, she could tell. "How long is a 'really long' time?" he asked.
"Um... I don't remember. Maybe a couple years?"
"Sounds about right," said Joel.
"Joel!" Ellie chided him. "That's bullshit! Don't tell him that. Whatever -- it doesn't matter, cuz I wouldn't pick Russ."
Clicker looked pensive. "Well... except he isn't like your dad, and Joel is."
Ugh! He just had to go there. "But Joel's not my dad--"
Joel coughed. Just to interrupt her, it seemed. "It was all jus' hypothetical anyhow."
Joel just HATES it whenever I point that out. So weird! "Yeah, and like... if the other choice was... um... Justin... yeah, Justin! Then Joel wouldn't stand a chance." Ellie hoped Joel felt jealous for a second, thinking of her with another guy.
"Oh, that's better, cuz he's the same age as you," Clicker said agreeably.
"No, not that Justin -- the other one!" Ellie scoffed. "I wouldn't do that to Tara. The older one. The one all the girls think is hot." Justin was a logical, believable choice. 'Manwhore' was the term Ellie had heard used to describe him, more than once. A male Sophie Skankypants!
"Isn't he like thirty or something?" Clicker asked.
"Twenty-eight, actually," Ellie said, smirking a little at Joel, who hadn't looked all that bothered -- until now. He still didn't look disturbed, really, but Ellie saw him twitch a little. "Like Joel said, it's just hypothetical. I don't like Justin that way. He's too..." Too not-Joel?
"Old," Joel supplied. "I'd never let Ellie date someone that old."
"See? He is your dad," Clicker said triumphantly.
Ellie groaned. "No he's not! He's just an asshole who--"
"--who thinks no one's good enough for his little girl," Joel interrupted. "Yes, Clicker, I am kinda like her dad, in some ways. She jus' don' like it. She don' like anyone tellin' her what to do."
"Well, that is one sucky thing about parents," Clicker commiserated with her.
Once they'd seen Clicker safely home and exchanged goodbyes, Joel didn't waste any time. "What was that... that thing about Justin?"
"Nothing! It was just an example," Ellie replied coolly. But, much as she enjoyed seeing Joel be the jealous one for a change, she also sort of couldn't stand him even thinking for one second that she might want anyone other than him. "Joel, you know I would never pick anyone over you. I just said that cuz he's someone a lot of girls like."
"How do you know how old he is?" Joel said irritably.
"I know how old everyone is. I mean, I just remember shit like that, once I hear it. You know that." She reached for his hand, but he pulled away.
"Wait 'til we get home," he muttered.
"Are you mad?" Because Joel was okay with holding hands. He'd deemed it innocent enough. And besides, her hands were freezing...
"No, I jus' don' want anyone else gettin' the wrong idea tonight. Once is plenty."
"Or the right idea," Ellie said quietly.
He was scowling now. "Right. I am takin' advantage of you."
"Whatever! You're so not. That's not what I meant." The scowl didn't worry her; she was confident that once they got home, she could coax him into a better mood.
But Justin wasn't the only thing irritating him. "How much roughhousin' are you doin' with Clicker? Maybe you should... watch that."
Ellie gasped in delight. "Are you finally jealous of him? Just a little?"
"No -- an' keep your voice down. Can I carry my shit now?"
"Nope!" Ellie side-stepped farther away from him when he reached out to take something from her. She hadn't adjusted anything to fit her, and one of the holster's shoulder straps kept sliding down her arm awkwardly. She tried to tuck it under a backpack strap, but it wouldn't stay in place. "I hurt your back, so."
"No you didn'," Joel scoffed. "That was nothin'."
"Did I hurt you worse than Clicker did, at least?" she asked hopefully. "Even though I didn't mean to?"
Joel gave her an odd look. "Uh... am I s'posed to say yes?"
"Yes! Er -- no, you're supposed to tell the truth."
Instead, he changed the subject. "You should've seen the way he looked at me. Though I'm sure some of that was on account of him bein' jealous."
"Whatever," Ellie said again. Joel liked to tease her about Clicker's crush. It didn't make him jealous, for some reason. The 'roughhousing' apparently did now, but the crush itself never seemed to bother him. Maybe because he knew it was hopeless. Does that mean he doesn't think JUSTIN is hopeless? she wondered.
"All I know is," Joel continued, "if you were the one he had to kiss the Bloater for... to save your life? Well, he'd do a hell of a lot more than kiss the thing, if he had to. I reckon he'd-- ow!"
Ellie had closed the gap between them and punched his arm -- totally not hard enough to hurt, so his cry of pain was obviously fake -- then grabbed his hand. "Hand-holding is fine," she reminded him.
He didn't protest this time. And he covered her hand with his other one, too, in an effort to warm it. The way he always did.
Ellie stuffed her other freezing hand in her pocket. "So do you think he bought it?" she asked quietly.
Joel thought for a moment. "I don' know... I think he wants to believe us. The idea of us... it's gotta be weird to him... Maybe he'll tell himself to believe an' jus' let it go. I don' think he'll tell anyone, at least."
"Me either," Ellie agreed. She didn't think the idea of her and Joel ~together~ was at all preposterous, but maybe it was a good thing others did? "I guess... it would be really weird for real parents and kids to play a game like that? With the sex part, at least. Like Clicker and his mom and dad would never... even hypothetically?"
"Real weird, yeah," Joel chuckled. "More than that -- it'd be sick."
Ellie didn't like that word. Not in the perverted sense that Joel meant. "They're not his bio parents, though. So really, Clicker could fall in love with his mom, and it wouldn't be--"
"Ugh -- no, Ellie. They adopted him. Years ago, right? They've been raisin' him as a son."
And Joel had wanted to adopt her. Only a few months ago. He would have, if Ellie hadn't turned him down. She didn't want Joel to think of that anymore... to think of her as a daughter, or as someone he'd recently wanted to be his daughter. But she supposed he probably couldn't help it. Subject change! "Okay, whatever. I'll be extra nice to him. I'll make sure he doesn't have any reason to think that... that we lied."
"Okay, good. No more about that, now... at least 'til we get home."
Ellie thought she might have to go down to the farm first, because they were expecting her and might worry if she never showed up, but then she remembered that Joel had gone down there looking for her earlier. They would assume she was with him now. And Ellie had told them before that they could lock the door when they went to bed. That if she missed 'curfew' (bedtime) she could just climb up through her bedroom window; she'd figured out where to go to get up to the second floor on the outside, and how to get in. When she made the mistake of telling Joel about that, she'd had to assure him she could lock the window from the inside. He had this thing about the windows. It was kind of cute sometimes, the things he worried about. Like someone in Jackson might actually go to all the trouble to break in that way! She supposed if all the windows were locked, and the person had to smash one to get inside, they wouldn't bother climbing up to the second floor with their smashing instrument. Ellie never even locked that window, because what if she forgot to unlock it the next day and couldn't get in? But of course, she didn't say as much to Joel. All he needed to know was that it did lock. She could lock it.
Joel wasn't at all concerned about retrieving whatever he'd left at the sister farm. He said he'd get Tommy to send his stuff back to him on the next trip or something. He truly had no intention of going back there, Ellie was pleased to see. So he didn't have his bathroom stuff... 'toiletries,' though Ellie refused to refer to them as such on the grounds that it was ridiculous to associate hygiene products with a toilet. She totally didn't mind the idea of sharing her toothbrush with him when she brought it home tomorrow. Joel seemed a little grossed out by the suggestion, though, and said he'd pick up a new one. The way Ellie saw it, it wasn't like they weren't already swapping spit all the time anyway, so what was the big deal?
She was torn on what to do with him when they got home: 'swap spit,' or beg him to tell her what had happened that day. She decided to let him take the lead on that... and after a few yay-we're-finally-alone kisses, they were sitting on the couch, Ellie draped over him (half in his lap), Joel so quiet that she thought he might be falling asleep. He said he wanted to sit in silence with her for a little bit, then he'd tell her what happened. They did have plenty of fun together, no doubt... but Joel could still get broody, and he'd clearly had a rough day. To her, this was way better than him going off somewhere to be alone, so she was grateful that he let her stay with him during these times -- although an unfortunate consequence was that sometimes she showed her support by accidentally falling asleep on him.
She wouldn't nod off tonight. She was so excited to have him home at last that she probably wouldn't sleep at all. And she really wanted to know what had happened today. She was glad for whatever it was... because it had brought Joel back to her early, and she was selfish like that. About Joel, at least.
Ellie snuggled up to him, tracing soothing circles on his arm, and waited patiently.
~Continue to Chapter 10~