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: 5319
Rating (for fic as a whole): R
Author's Notes: Chapter title comes from the Carly Simon song. -I suppose it's meant for you readers as much as for Ellie at this point!
Joel had heard Ellie sing in the shower before. Usually it was more like humming or whistling -- especially when she knew Joel was around. She wouldn't just belt out a real song, knowing he could hear her. But this time, she was already in the shower when he got home.
She was humming, at first, and Joel couldn't place the tune until she started to add words. And not even all the words -- or all the correct words, at that. She supplemented with non-words here and there.
"Sex is natural, sex is... mmnn!... everybody does it, and everybody-- shit! Um...
Sex is natural, sex is GOOD -- not everybody does it, but everybody SHOULD! Sex is nnh nnh, sex is fun, sex is... special... ah-- one on one... unnh! One on oooonnnne..."
It was adorable as hell, and Joel couldn't help grinning to himself. She would undoubtedly be mortified if she knew Joel was home. He should call to her through the door. Act like he'd just barely walked in and hadn't really heard anything...
Naaaahhhhhh. If he did that, she would stop! And, selfish bastard that he was, he wanted to keep enjoying this.
"I want your ~SEX... dut dut-dut da-dut da-dut dut doodooot -- I want your LOVE~"
Joel checked the fridge. Helped himself to some purple Kool-Aid that Ellie had made.
"What's your definition of dirty, bay-buh-- what do you... er... unh unh unh da-duh... don'tcha know I love ya 'til it hurts me, bay-buh-- don't you think it's time you had -sex! -with! -MEEEEE!"
Consuming a liquid was probably not the wisest thing to do while listening to Ellie sing this song; he managed not to spew Kool-Aid across the room, but he did splutter some onto his blue plaid shirt. Not like one more stain on this shirt will make a whole hell of a lot of difference... and hey, it's even kinda the same color.
Joel enjoyed the concert for another minute or so. Impressively, she even timed the end of the shower with the end of the song. He heard "C-c-c-c-c-c-come onnnnn!" as the water stopped.
And now he didn't want her to think she was in the house alone. It probably wouldn't be much longer 'til they saw each other naked, but he didn't want the first time -- especially the first time he saw her -- to be an accident. He quickly downed the rest of his drink, then rinsed out the glass. Loudly, with the faucet on full blast. Setting it down on the counter none too gingerly. With no fan or water running in the bathroom, he was sure Ellie could hear. Too bad I can't see the look on her face right now... he imagined her jaw dropping, eyes popping out of her head, and her face flushing redder than her sunburn.
Yep, she'd heard him. "Hey, kiddo!" he called back cheerfully.
Silence. Horrified silence, presumably.
He stayed in the kitchen, checking the homemade ant traps he'd made yesterday. Amazing what a little sugar, soap, and water could do. He would clean up the carnage another time. No further sound escaped the bathroom; he assumed Ellie was quietly getting dressed in there. When he heard the bathroom door open, he leaned against the back counter and tried to hold back the grin that kept threatening to burst forth. If he truly hadn't wanted Ellie to know he'd heard her, he could've done a bang-up job of playing dumb, but he wasn't nice enough to do that -- he would rather do a lousy job of pretending he couldn't quite contain his amusement.
She was indeed dressed, respecting their rule. And her wet hair was combed. Joel wasn't surprised when she didn't greet him with a hug and kiss like she normally would have. She took one look at him and his trying-not-to-laugh facial contortions, and scowled darkly. "You heard!" she accused him.
"Heard what?" he asked innocently.
"Don't even-- You were listening!"
"I... may have heard a lil' bit. But hey, singin's meant to be listened to." He allowed a full grin to emerge now.
She turned away from him. "Not shower singing! Uuuugggghhhh!" She ran over to the couch and threw herself on it face-down. Joel laughed at her theatrics, and tried to nudge her legs over a little so he could sit next to her. She resisted the movement. "Go away! You're such an asshole!" she shrieked into the couch cushion.
He shoved her over a bit anyway and sat down on the edge. "I'm an asshole for admirin' your... beautiful singin'?" He started rubbing her back soothingly with one hand.
Joel chuckled. At least she's staying put. "How long you gonna lie there like that?"
" 'Til you go away. Or 'til I die, maybe? Whichever comes first."
Ever the drama queen, when she wanted to be. Joel squeezed her shoulder and sighed. "Ellie, c'mon."
"No! You should've knocked on the door or something."
"I should have," he agreed.
"But you had to be a dick."
"...I did, yes. I'm sorry. C'mon, sit up now..."
She wouldn't budge, but she let him continue to idly rub her back. "That's a real song, you know," she said, sounding defensive. "I didn't make it up. This guy named George Michael sang it."
"I know you didn't. That song came out when I was real little." Joel didn't need to ask her how she had heard it; the title was enough to lure any curious teen.
"Oh. Okay, so you... good. When you were little? You were listening to sex songs?"
"It came out when I was little. I don' think I heard it for another few years. But yes, they'd play these songs on the radio an' kids would hear 'em..." Joel remembered fretting over some of the shit Sarah chose to listen to, let alone what she consumed by accident. It was strange to think that Ellie had had a sheltered childhood, by comparison, but it was true in some ways. He didn't know everything that had gone on in the schools -- or orphanages -- she'd lived in, but she'd told him enough to know that they had no music, no movies... at least, not anything like what she could access at the library in Jackson. Whatever she'd taken in had been at the discretion of the organization, pretty much... supplemented by occasional 'black market' acquisitions, like her Walkman, and that tape her friend had given her. No pop culture... and he figured Ellie didn't fully comprehended the concept of the internet. How could she? It all made her appear to be more innocent, in Joel's eyes. Like she beheld everything with the wonder and naïveté of a four-year-old.
Unfortunately, it was offset somewhat by the hardships she'd had to endure, growing up basically alone in the world, since that fucking bitch Marlene had remained a stranger to her for thirteen years. Marlene was still a painful subject for her, and not one that she wanted to talk about anymore. Joel reckoned she hadn't really forgiven him for killing her. They hadn't been all that close, from what he could gather, but Marlene had been the only connection Ellie had to her real mother -- and a shitty mother figure was still a mother figure to a lonely orphan. Whatever need of Ellie's that Marlene had fulfilled... he could only hope that his own love for her compensated for it. He certainly wasn't going to take Tommy's advice and start dating -- or whatever the fuck it was called these days -- with the hope that a successful match would provide her with a mother. Of course, that was out of the question now, since he was 'dating' Ellie, but even before that, he'd had no inclination to go there. Maybe it was arrogant to believe he could be everything she needed, but he didn't think he was doing half bad. She was happy; he knew that much. And in the mother department, she had Maria. Maria adored Ellie, and with this baby on the way... with Maria needing to stay in town, and Ellie's interest in her pregnancy... he thought it had the potential to bring them closer. I should encourage that. Especially if I'm now LESS of a parent to her... but if that's true, why do I still feel like she's my daughter? ...except for the sexual attraction, of course...
Pondering shit like that hurt his brain, and Joel had no desire to think about it now. He noticed she'd turned her face to the side. The wrong side -- facing the couch, so he couldn't see her that well -- but it was a step up from face-down. I ain't done giving her shit, though! "Some friendly advice. Next time you forget the lyrics? Don' say 'shit' an' start over. Jus' keep your cool an' keep goin'."
Ellie snorted. "Gee, thanks. I'll remember that the next time I sing in the shower. Oh, wait -- there won't be a next time. That's ruined forever now, thanks to you."
"Awww, Ellie, don' say that." He tried to pry her up off the couch, but she resisted that too, naturally. "It was cute as hell."
"Hell's not very cute," she muttered, smothering her face with the lumpy old cushion again.
"Why are you kissin' the couch 'stead of kissin' me?" he tried.
"I can't even look at you ever again, much less kiss you," was her muffled response.
"Ever? Don't you think that's--"
Joel sighed. "Then you leave me no choice." His hand wandered over to her side, nudging her shirt up a little and touching her lightly enough to trigger a defensive reflex: she had to twist her body to the side and curl in on herself in order to ward off a potential tickle attack. It was either that or try to kick him. The fact that she went on the defensive rather than the offensive was a good sign; she wasn't really pissed at him.
"No fair!" she laughed -- and still she tried to keep her face hidden. "Stop it! I mean it, Joel!"
At least he could grab her and pull her up a little more easily when she was on her side. He attempted to pull her up into his arms and kiss her, but she was having none of that -- even when he told her -- truthfully! -- that he wasn't trying to tickle her now. It took another minute of playfighting to finally overcome all the squirming and giggly protesting, but finally she didn't resist when he pressed his lips to hers. She kissed him back, even. Hopefully, she had stopped feeling super-embarrassed...
Nope -- after a few sweet kisses, she turned and buried her face in his shoulder. "I hate you, you know."
He chuckled. "I know. I'm awful."
He leaned back and got a little more comfortable, tucking her snugly against his side. "I'm lucky you put up with me."
"You are! Why are you even home so early?" she asked the pocket of his shirt. "I thought we were meeting at the house."
Meaning Tommy and Maria's. "I finished early. Was hopin' I'd catch you."
"You caught me, all right."
He mussed her wet hair. "Would you rather have me jus' leave instead? Stay away from here an' miss out on quality time with--"
"Yes! That would've been more considerate. Or you could've just yelled 'hi' to me -- like, let me know the second you got home, so I'd shut up."
What fun would THAT be? "But I love hearin' my baby girl sing," he argued, giving her a squeeze.
"That wasn't-- aarrrgggghhhh, you're impossible!"
"Am I? I do believe you told me recently that you've got nothin' to hide -- that I can watch your every move, an' you--"
"I said you can spy on me -- that doesn't mean you can listen to me sing!"
Joel loved how she said these things as if they actually made sense. "What do you reckon spyin' is? Observin' the other person doin' whatever embarrassin' thing they're gonna do 'cause they think--"
"Okay, fine -- I'm withdrawing the offer. No spying. Can I die in peace now?"
He chuckled. "Tell you what. Tomorrow mornin', I'll sing whatever you want when I'm showerin' an' you can listen to me. The stupidest song you can think of, I'll sing."
"I get up before you do," she said crossly.
That was true, most of the time. "Well, you get me up with you then. I'll get up early, jus' for you."
"It's not the same thing! You would know I'm listening. And I'd know that you didn't just decide to start singing it just cuz you... felt like it, or whatever. -Oh, and by the way, I was only singing that song cuz it got stuck in my head."
Suuuuuuure you were, baby girl. Not thinking about sex at ALL. "Uh-huh."
"I was! Hey, why does your shirt smell like... something fruity..."
She was trying to change the subject, but if he told her why his shirt smelled like Kool-Aid, she'd probably be even more embarrassed. He just ignored the question. "You really are cute, you know."
Ellie finally lifted her head, though she didn't quite look him in the eye. She groaned and pulled a face. "I don't wanna be cute."
"I know -- you wanna be sexy. The two ain't mutually exclusive."
"But... you don't think I'm sexy."
"You're plenty sexy." Something about her innocence and adorableness was sexy. It was the weirdest fucking thing. He kissed her lips, then started trailing little kisses down her neck, inhaling the fresh scent of her clean, damp hair. "An' you smell real good..."
"What parts of me are sexy?" she pressed.
"You can't say all, that's a cop out. And no fair doing the neck thing when I'm mad at you..."
Of course, that was precisely the reason he was doing it. Even if she was only fake-mad; if she were seriously pissed, she wouldn't let him touch her. He slowly kissed his way back up to her earlobe. "Your neck is sexy," he whispered. "An' your little ear..."
"Pffft. There's nothing sexy about either of those things."
"On me, maybe, but you..." He could feel her shiver when he sucked her earlobe into his mouth.
She squirmed a little. They'd cuddled and made out enough by now that Joel knew what she liked. "Oh man," she breathed, "if you do the tongue thing now..."
...all is forgiven? He did the tongue thing.
She slung her leg over him, and his hand roved over her thigh up to her ass... then he pulled her fully into his lap. He kissed along her jaw back to her mouth, and she parted her lips for him eagerly.
Ellie was a good kisser. Some of their kisses in those first few days had been a bit awkward. She'd asked him to give her kissing lessons. He'd told her to just relax... that she was doing just fine in that department. Even though she'd asked him for advice, he hadn't wanted to make her self-conscious, or to take suggestions as criticism, so he tried to keep her focused on what she liked. How long. How wet. How much tongue. Nibbling, sucking, licking, tugging... he paid attention to her preferences, even if she didn't verbalize all of them. If she happened to do something he especially liked, he made sure to let her know. She hadn't yet done anything that he most certainly didn't like. He hoped that by the time that happened, she wouldn't take it personally -- or if she did, that he would have a few things to remind her of that he'd done to her that hadn't quite hit the mark. Except she's so eager to please me that I ain't sure she'll speak up...
They seemed to end up like this a lot: Ellie straddling him, pressing her lithe young body -- particularly her crotch -- against his, and delighting in the result. She grinned at him when she felt it. "So... my neck and my ears, huh?"
He knew what she was implying -- that that's what made him hard; she seemed to be a little shy about saying it, most times. He didn't particularly want to stop kissing her to discuss her sexiness. "Yep." Back to kissing...
She laughed. "You're such a... mmmm... liar..."
He just kept kissing her. She did kiss him back, but she was the one who kept talking in between. "Joel..."
He made a little 'hmm' noise that didn't require his tongue and lips to redirect themselves to form words.
She humored him for another thirty seconds before trying to speak again. "If we have sex..."
Another 'hmm' as he kissed her. If he had his way, it would take her a couple minutes just to get this one thought out.
"... ...would we do it... ... ...mmm... like... ... ... ...like this? ... ... ...this position?"
"We could," he paused long enough to murmur.
"Like... ... ... ... for the first time?"
"............No." He couldn't imagine that going very well for her first time. Not that he couldn't make it work, but... not what he envisioned. They kissed for another half a minute before she responded.
"But... ... I know you... ... ... ... ...you like it... ... ... ...mmm... this way..."
He chuckled and finally pulled back enough to speak properly. "I reckon I'd like it any which way, with you... don' worry about it."
"You've thought about it, right? Like exactly how we would do it. The first time."
She'd asked him something similar before, and he was always vague. Perhaps frustratingly vague... but he did so like to torment her when he could. She seemed to like being teased, in more ways than one. The anticipation of the good things in store for them was... fun. For him as well as her. But he knew it was different for her... that all of it was completely foreign and exciting... and maybe scary, too, though she wouldn't admit it.
"Not exactly." He was sure their first time would be missionary style. But if she was asking him to be really specific, it wasn't a lie... all right, so I COULD actually tell her that basic thing with confidence... but I want her to have the pleasure of speculation. "It ain't like... a script you follow."
"Well... if it's not, then how come we have to take steps? Can't we just... you know. Go with the flow? I'm not just trying to talk you into anything, I swear... I'm just wondering."
It was a fair question. Joel regarded her for a moment. "Truth?"
"I can't make up my damn mind. What the best thing would be as far as... doin' right by you."
"That's a Texas thing, huh. 'Doing right by'?"
"...I don' think so?" Sometimes Ellie attributed things to Texas that were really just... ordinary things.
"I've never heard anyone else say it. Except maybe Tommy. So."
"Wherever it came from... it's what I gotta do. I prob'ly never shoulda kissed you in the first place--"
"Joel! You said--"
"I know, I know -- I ain't sayin' I'm sorry I did it," he clarified, smirking a little. "It jus' wasn' exactly... the most responsible thing for--"
"Joel!" she complained again, thumping him on the chest.
"Fine," he conceded, chuckling at her irritation. "Be that as it may, I can't jus' think, 'fuck it, we're doin' this now, so it's okay to have sex'..."
"That's exactly what you should be thinking!" She tried to hit him again, but he grabbed her arm and twisted her body over to the side, so that she was sitting next to him with one leg over his lap. It made her giggle. He never got tired of hearing that giggle; it had taken him nearly a year to earn one, and he didn't take them for granted.
He kissed her before explaining further. "You're still my baby girl. I'm s'posed to protect you from scum like me."
She rolled her eyes. "Oh my God. Except you're forgetting something: you're not scum!"
Ohhhh yes I am. "You're jus' biased."
"Well, duh! You are literally the last person I'd ever need to be protected from. And anyways, I can protect myself."
He nuzzled the other side of her neck. "So far you ain't doin' a very good job of that," he whispered huskily. He nipped her a little; he couldn't go so far as to give her a hickey, of course. At least, not in the usual places...
"Mmm... cuz you're not doing anything that I need to-- ahh! That tickles!"
His beard seemed to be able to tickle her sometimes. He loved making her get all squirmy and giggly and just... happy. She didn't push him away, so it couldn't have been all that ticklish. He kissed her chastely, then pulled back a little. "As for the steps... I jus' wanna take things slow an' see how it goes... dip my foot in the water before jumpin' all the way in. You understand?"
She smiled... that special smile she had that was just for him. At least, Joel had never seen her use it on anyone else, and he sure as hell hoped he never did. He thought of it as her 'I love you' smile. "I get it," she said. "And it's cool that you're looking out for me. No, not cool... more like fucking awesome. But you don't have to. Not with this. It doesn't make sense to protect me from... feeling good? I mean, seriously?"
It was hard to argue that. She wasn't wrong, but... shit, how can I make her understand when I don't fully understand it myself? Joel sighed. "It ain't like... ... ...I can't explain it."
"Yeah, because it's bullshit. Can't explain bullshit! Except with more bullshit."
He kissed her forehead. "You're still innocent. I know you don' think you are, but you are. That's what I'm protectin' -- your innocence."
"That's dumb. You know why? Because if... being a virgin -- if that's what makes me innocent, in your... delusional eyes... well, I can't stay one forever. You're gonna have to... I mean, time passing isn't going to change anything, right? I'm innocent until I have sex? It doesn't matter how much time passes if that's true. Either you're willing to fuck me-- sorry, have sex with me -- with that as a result, or you're not, and then... well, I guess I would be a virgin forever, cuz I don't want anyone else and I never will. Even if you're being ridiculous. I'll die a virgin if that's what you want."
Joel shook his head, chuckling a little. Even if they never had sex, he knew Ellie wouldn't die a virgin -- she'd have plenty of years left after he died, if he had any say in the matter. He didn't like to think about it, but it was true. She wasn't his first, but would be his last; he was her first, but wouldn't be her last. ...most likely. In the old world, definitely. In this one... finding someone special was even more difficult. Ellie was special, and other guys were bound to notice, but would anyone else spark her interest? Maybe at least enough to have sex... again, not something he cared to think about at the moment. Or ever. Back to the matter at hand... "Nice try. Guilt-trippin' me won' work."
"I'm not guilt-tripping, I swear!"
"All right, well... it does matter how much time passes... maybe I jus' want you to be innocent a little longer. Is that so horrible?"
He'd meant it to be a rhetorical question. "Why?"
"Cuz I'm not a baby!"
"To me, you'll always--"
"--be your baby girl -- okay, it's not horrible," she admitted. "It's sweet. I'm just..."
"Impatient?" he supplied -- although she wasn't, really.
"Trying not to be. As you like to say, I ain't going nowhere. So, no rush. I mean, I really really really want to... you know... do stuff. But -- whenever." She pulled herself up a little to give him a sweet kiss.
"Thank you, baby girl." I better just tell her now so I can't back out later... she'll make me promise, and then she won't stop giving me shit if I try to weasel my way out of it. And I DO want to move past the goddamn roadblocks in my head... He'd started down this path with Ellie, and he didn't want to jerk her around forever. He'd been home two days already... two days since agreeing to take a step. But yesterday, after the town meeting... after seeing Earl... after burying three fellow citizens, two of them children... he just hadn't been in the right frame of mind. And since Ellie hadn't pushed him at all, he didn't think she was, either. She'd cried, a little. Especially for the kids. He knew she would mourn them for a while... perhaps more than he did, as she'd known them better.
Hearing her singing today, though... Joel was grateful that she wasn't wallowing in the sad feelings. The Step was a good thing. Something she could look forward to, and feel hopeful about. A distraction from the bad shit in the world. ...how's THAT for justification? Well, justifiable or not, he'd made up his mind the other day, and in accordance with their no-going-backwards rule, he wasn't about to un-make it now. "I was thinkin'... maybe after we come home from dinner, we could... step a little."
"That is, if you still want to," he added with a knowing grin.
She play-slugged him. "Duh! Of course I want to!"
"That's hours from now... you might not feel like it later," he teased.
"We could always skip dinner?" she suggested hopefully.
"No, you wanted to help Maria, an' spend time with her, remember?"
"Well, that was before!"
Joel chuckled. "What happened to 'no rush'... 'whenever'... ?"
"Ha! You're a naughty girl. I think you can wait. I think we should go to the library tonight, too." He didn't really, but he knew Ellie wouldn't stand for that anyway.
"No fucking way! Dinner, okay, but then-- oh, shit. Isn't it family movie night?"
"Is it?" Now that she mentioned it, Joel did recall hearing that get hastily arranged last night. They'd wanted to squeeze that in before Tommy left town again.
"I'll just say I'm too tired," Ellie said breezily. "And when I get home, I'll catch a miraculous second wind!"
Joel chuckled. Amused as he was, he didn't want to cut Ellie's family time short for something that wasn't at all time-sensitive. "Jus' pick out a short movie. Maria gets tired early now, don' she?"
"Yeah, I guess... but I won't be able to concentrate at all!" she complained.
He kissed her softly. "Sure you will. We don' even have to cuddle, if it's too distractin' for you."
"Haha! Yeah, right. You wouldn't be able to sit next to me and not touch me at all."
"...Is that a challenge?"
"Good, 'cause you're prob'ly right." Of course, the cuddling they did at Tommy and Maria's was much more innocent than at home. He figured they both assumed it was for Ellie's benefit. She'd grown up so starved for physical affection that once she'd gotten a taste of it, she couldn't get enough. But Joel had found that he craved it himself now, too. Just another floodgate the girl had unwittingly opened for him.
Ellie re-straddled his lap... not to further arouse him, it seemed, but just to talk face-to-face more comfortably. "So, a short movie... or a TV show! We could start that one Maria mentioned the other day, that they finished over the winter... the one about the island..."
The series she and Tommy had finished but enjoyed so much that they were willing to watch it again with Ellie and Joel. Joel poked her on both sides playfully. "Even if we watched two episodes, that's about an hour an' a half. Think you'll live that long?"
Ellie sighed dramatically. "Okay. But we're not gonna hang around the dinner table talking and taking forever. We eat, we watch, we get outta there."
"You got it."
"Oh! And I'll go over there early!" cried Ellie excitedly. "I'll tell her I'm like starving so we have to eat a little earlier than usual."
"Maybe she'll jus' give you a snack," said Joel. It was fun to play devil's advocate.
"I'll tell her I've eaten nothing all day and that a stupid little snack won't even put a dent in my ginormous hunger."
Joel laughed. "Look at you, coverin' all your bases."
"Covering my... what?"
"Meanin'... you're prepared for anythin'."
"Oh, I thought you meant... but yeah, I so am! So what is it? What's the step?" she asked eagerly. Adorably.
Hopefully, I'll figure that out before we get home. It'll be fun for her to wonder about it all night, anyway. "You'll see," he said, his tone playfully mysterious to conceal his cluelessness.
"Aww, c'mon, tell me," she cooed, and she started to kiss him again. "Pleeease?"
"No can do, kiddo. But feel free to try to work it outta me anyhow." There were times he did allow her to kiss an answer out of him... she didn't need to know that this particular time, there was no answer to extract as of yet...
But she wasn't going for it anyway. "Maybe I'd better not. Gotta save some for later."
"Save some what? Work?"
"Yeah! If I use them all up... I mean, I assume the step involves kissing -- or, maybe not the step itself, but we'll be doing it anyway..."
"An' if you kiss me now, you can't later?" Is there some finite number of kisses allowed per day? he wondered, amused.
"You might say your mouth is worn out or something. Maybe you'll be too tired to do the step."
He wasn't sure if she was joking; she sounded fairly serious. "I promise you, I won't be. Unless..."
Her eyes widened. "Fuck. Unless what?!"
"Well, if a hundred Infected show up for dinner, I might get a little worn out fightin' 'em off." As soon as he said it, he regretted going there; what was he thinking, reminding her of what had just--
But she laughed, much to his relief. "If that happens, I will fight them off. You just sit back and rest your... lips, and stuff."
"And stuff?" he repeated, quirking an eyebrow.
"Yeah, whatever else you might need... like, um..." She looked down.
"Uh... no. I can assure you, I won' be needin' that. It ain't gonna be sex."
She grinned at him. "Doesn't have to be..."
"No." He pulled her into a hug. It would be so easy to take advantage of her excitement, her eagerness to please. Not for the first time, he felt a sense of justification for his... perversion, or whatever it was. He was protecting her from scum with filthy minds, like himself... odd as that seemed. Whatever normal teenage experiences he was depriving her of, he hoped he more than made up for it with the sincerity and intensity of his feelings for her. One thing he knew for certain: no one could love Ellie more than he did.
If he could just remember that when taking The Step that night, whatever it turned out to be, maybe he wouldn't feel like he was taking something important away from her... a piece of her that he could never give back.
~Continue to Chapter 12~