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"Uncertainty" Chapter 14: "Could I Have This Dance" (14/46)

Title: "Uncertainty" Chapter 14: "Could I Have This Dance" (14/46)
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: 6462
Rating (for fic as a whole): R

A/N: Chapter title from the Anne Murray song.


Ellie tried not to pester Joel constantly for sex... pseudo-sex?... sex stuff... whatever it was that they were doing... but, she pretty much did pester him constantly when they were at home -- especially in bed. When they were in bed together, suddenly it was all she could think about... at least until after he 'scratched that itch,' as he liked to say. And still, he wouldn't let her touch him that way. It didn't make sense to Ellie. He couldn't explain it in such a way that it did.

"But Joel, I WANT to. You're not forcing me."

"More like... manipulatin' you."

"Not even! I WANT TO."

"That's part of it, see. Makin' you think it's your idea."

"It IS my idea!"

"So you think."

"How the fuck is it NOT? I keep asking you if it's okay, and you keep saying no. It's not you AT ALL."

"Maybe I'm just... workin' things to my advantage so you think--"

"Oh my God. You're NOT."

"You're right... I'm not, because I ain't gonna let you do it. YET. Someday, sure. Jus' not yet."

"Because you feel too dirty."

"Right."

"And you don't feel dirty touching me. That's okay. Right?"

"...it's... a 'lil different... still dirty, but... yeah."

"Well, if I can't touch you, I shouldn't be letting you touch me. It's not fair."

"It's completely fair. I like makin' you feel good."

"Well I wanna make YOU--"

"I know, Ellie, but... that can wait."

"You've BEEN waiting. How are you not fucking MISERABLE?"

"What? I like the way--"

"No! No no no -- you know how you start to... you make me think you're gonna go there, and then you don't, and I get all..."

"...impatient?"

"Yeah. Like... I can't STAND it if you don't. How do you stand it? You must feel like that every day."

"It ain't the same thing. An' anyhow, I'm more used to it."

"Well, I think it sucks. I can't keep being selfish."

"You're not! It's my choice."

"And it should be MY choice, too. What would you do if I just sort of... started to..."

"Ellie, DON'T."

"I was only--"

"DON'T. I mean it."

"But I'm your girlfriend... type person."

"You know we ain't exactly--"

"I knoooowww. That's why I always add the 'type person.' I'm still supposed to... make you happy."

"You do."

"I don't. Not the way a girlfr-- the way I'm supposed to. The way I WANT to."

"...So now I'm deprivin' you?"

"Yes!"

"By not usin' you to get off. I don' think so."

"You wouldn't be USING me! Jesus, Joel! So I'm using YOU, if that's your definition. We should be using each other, then. That's how it works."

"Not when one of us is an innocent--"

"I'M NOT FUCKING INNOCENT! AAARRRGGGHHH!"


Any conversation about the topic ended this way -- with Ellie getting pissed off because Joel was the most stubborn fucking man on the planet. He would calm her down with kisses and... stuff. The 'stuff' only made her feel worse afterward. And yet, she always fucking let him.

Ellie didn't want to take a step backwards... he had promised they wouldn't have to do that... but how could she let him keep doing it? What kind of asshole would do that? Just take take take and no give. She knew it wasn't supposed to be like that. She wondered if maybe he didn't realize how much it bothered her. Maybe he thought she told him she felt guilty because she thought it was the right thing to feel, or something... make the perfunctory gesture in order to feel like less of a selfish prick, but secretly be 'whatever' about it?

Trying to have a heart-to-heart with him about it seemed to put him in 'serious Joel' mode, where he got all concerned about screwing up his baby girl, and she would end up feeling even more guilty, now for trying to talk him into something he was so clearly uncomfortable with. Then it didn't matter what she said -- because it was just the words of a little girl. Not his partner. And she would catch a whiff of regret off him (which he would deny, but she could fucking sense it), which would scare the shit out of her. Because there was always that horrible WHAT IF, lurking there... reminding her not to take anything for granted...

...because WHAT IF HE DECIDES WE CAN'T BE TOGETHER ANYMORE?

She would die. Simple as that. She had to hope he would keep his promise not to go backwards, but what if she pushed him too hard and he felt like he had to? She already knew that about him: he would break a promise if he felt it was for the best. Which kind of made it hard to believe his promises, no matter how sincere he seemed when he made them.

So she'd talk herself into thinking it was no big deal. That she was being silly... it had only been a few days, for fuck's sake. If he needed more time, was that so unreasonable? Was she blowing it all out of proportion? Maybe she should just be happy that she had such an amazing guy who loved her soooo much. Was that 'issue' really so bad compared to other possibilities?

No. Of course not. And overall, she was happy with Joel. She had to let him know he was making her happy, because if he thought he wasn't doing that...

Always back to the most awful of 'what if's.

She reminded herself it wasn't all about the sex. It never had been. She could make Joel happy in other ways. And she thought she did. He seemed happy, anyway. And now (at home, at least), she could tell him she loved him, whenever she felt like it. Which was more often than Joel told her, "love you too"s aside, but Ellie could have predicted that. He wasn't as verbal as she was, in general. She knew it pleased him to hear it: he always smiled when she said it, and Joel wasn't one to toss smiles around lightly.

She just couldn't make him come. Because she wasn't allowed. At least, not directly; once, when they weren't actually pretending that he never jerks off, he'd told her she was helping him out that way by giving him 'material.' He had told her that in an effort to make her feel better. It was better than nothing at all.... right? Even though she could tell that he felt like a perv for... using the material.

At least he no longer seemed to have any serious qualms about touching her. Or maybe he just hid them well. Last night, he even did something new. Ellie blushed, remembering. Man... I thought his fingers felt good on the OUTside... but whoa nelly! She was actually still a little bit... well, not exactly sore, but something like that? Like she'd stretched a muscle that never got used. In a good way. A look-what-I-did way. It had been a little awkward at first, and Joel seemed to think she didn't like it, but it wasn't that. She just had to sort of... get used to it. Not only had it ended up feeling fantastic, but it gave Ellie hope that maybe she wouldn't have any issues with having actual, all-the-way sex after all. Granted, his dick is gonna be a liiiiiittle bit bigger than a single finger... at least, I think it was one finger...

Ellie nearly jumped out of her skin as Joel came up behind her in the kitchen and wrapped his arms around her waist, his lips brushing her neck; he had to nudge her hair out of the way to reach it, since she was wearing it loose tonight.

"Where were you jus' now?" he asked, sounding amused. Normally she wasn't that easy to sneak up on.

She relaxed and leaned back into him. "Mmm... I was thinking about your dick, actually."

"...Ohhhh-kay, do I even wanna know?" Joel chuckled.

"Prob'ly not." She whirled around and stepped back to take a look at him. "Hey, you look really nice!"

"Don' sound so surprised, kiddo," he teased. He was wearing a red ("crimson," she could hear Annie correcting in her head) button-down shirt, the sleeves of which were barely even frayed at the ends, and dark gray pants that were made out of... some material that wasn't denim, or even corduroy. His boots were as scuffed-up as ever, but Ellie thought they looked a little bit cleaner than usual.

"You sure you don't wanna do the tie?" Ellie asked.

"Positive. This is as dressed up as I get."

Apparently he'd worn ties in the past, but... he resented it, or something. There used to be places you kind of had to wear them, if you were a guy. Places that weren't even military establishments (that would've been more understandable, since they liked to be dicks about stupid shit like that). She couldn't fathom how anyone could care so much about a piece of fabric being around a man's neck as to decree it mandatory, but there were lots of weird rules like that in Joel's time.

"At least you still look like yourself. Unlike me," Ellie lamented, frowning. "But Annie'll be happy to see me wear this again." After the debacle that had ensued the first time she'd worn this dress, Ellie thought surely she'd never wear it again. She'd tried to return it to Annie, but her friend wouldn't take it back. She said Ellie should keep it for special occasions -- for today, actually, as it was the first wedding Jackson had had since she and Joel had arrived in the spring. Some of the townspeople would still attend in worn-out jeans and T-shirts, but Annie had told her that most people used it as an excuse to get a bit dolled up; there wasn't much reason to do that in the world anymore, and what better occasion than a wedding? It reminded the older folks of their 'good old days,' before the world went to hell, and it gave the younger ones a pleasant taste of what they'd missed out on.

The dress fit a little better now than the first time she'd worn it, since she'd had Millie, the town's seamstress, make some alterations that Ellie had refused to even consider when she thought she was only borrowing the dress from Annie for one night. It was a sundress, white with a pattern of little yellow flowers -- rather 'country'-ish -- and what Annie called 'spaghetti straps.' The elastic material in the front helped hide the fact that she had no boobs to speak of (despite what Joel said)... and Joel said he wouldn't have let her wear anything that showed cleavage, anyway. Ha! That was a joke -- both the idea of her even having cleavage to show off, as well as him trying to dictate something as inconsequential as what clothing she could wear. Maybe the tie thing in the past made him think that was normal!

And, thanks to the scar on her arm, Ellie had to wear something over the dress: a blue cardigan sweater. That was fine with her, because they'd be outside, and nights could be rather cold, even in late summer. Joel was pleased with it too, as it would show less skin. Because of course people would have nothing better to look at than her skin? This time, she'd acquired some more appropriate shoes, too: a pair of pale gold 'ballet slippers' that Annie assured her were actually not just for ballerinas -- and they were a far cry from her fuzzy bunny slippers, too. It was weird to feel the shoes on her bare feet, no socks.

Joel pulled her back into his arms. "You do look like yourself -- very pretty," he said, making Ellie blush and roll her eyes. "I really did wanna kiss you bad the first time you wore it. An' touch your shoulders..." He rubbed her sweater-clad shoulders a little. "Prob'ly a good thing most of you is covered up now. It'll help me behave."

Ellie snorted. Joel always behaved in public. ...the Clicker incident notwithstanding. "Whatever. But we have to dance, or those lessons were for nothing! I can't believe we didn't practice at all this week."

Joel grinned. "I can."

"Yeah -- cuz it was all your fault!" She punched his chest lightly. Every time she'd tried to go over the steps to some of the dances they'd learned before the 4th of July party, Joel had successfully distracted her. They never did dance at that party because they'd been fighting at the time and ended up not even attending together... and then Ellie had gotten drunk with Max, in part to piss off Joel. That was before they were even a... thing. And now Ellie hoped that that was the last time they would ever actually try to be apart from one another. It was just so... unnatural.

"Uh-uh," he protested. "Your fault. I couldn' help myself."

"You were... powerless against my charms, huh?" Ellie smirked.

"Yep. It's gonna be a loooong night." He kissed her lightly. "Maybe we could skip this shindig..."

She giggled a little as she kissed him. "Oh yeah? To do what?" she asked innocently.

"I can think of a few things..." He dropped little kisses down her neck... the ones that never failed to make her swoon... "Not like we know the bride'n'groom that well or nothin'..."

"Mmmmmmm... Joel, stop, you're not getting out of this," Ellie declared, attempting to sound annoyed (which was nearly impossible to do any time Joel's lips made contact with her body). "I want to dance! You fucking promised!"

"I don' remember promisin' any such thing..." He continued exploring her neck with his mouth.

"Joooeeellllll, stoooop," she whined... or giggle-whined. "You promised like three times. Going back to before the last party." Somehow she managed to find the will power to push him away. "And besides, the two of them are like... inspirational. With the age difference thing."

Joel laughed. "You're really reachin' on that one. Ain't there only like ten years between 'em?"

"Sixteen!" Ellie corrected him. "Forty-seven to thirty-one."

Joel groaned. "You realize there's more than twice that many years between you'n'me?"

"Who cares? It's just a number."

"So much for inspiration then," Joel teased. "Do you have everyone's age differences memorized or what?"

"Well... I was hoping I'd find a bigger age difference than ours," she admitted. "Closest I got was twenty-three years. Nineteen and forty-two."

"Yeah, I know who you're talkin' about. Dude takes a fair amount of shit for it." Joel looked serious all of a sudden. "Ellie, you know it would be different... with us. If people jus' teased me about it... that's all well'n'good; I could handle that. But there's a lot of people who would look at it like... well, they'd see it for what it is -- a crime."

Not this shit again! "Joel, come on--"

He held up his hands in surrender. "I know -- I don' wanna fight about this again. I'm jus' sayin'... we gotta be careful. Goin' to a wedding... it'll prob'ly be all romantic an' shit... we jus' can't get careless."

"Okay, but... you're not gonna dance with Esther again, are you?" Ellie frowned.

"Nope."

"Good." But at least Esther wouldn't grope him... "What about Sophie?"

"Definitely nope."

The complete lack of hesitation there made Ellie smile. "Okay. Thank you. I won't dance with anybody else either."

"You can, if you want to," Joel offered. "With anybody except Max."

"Joel!" Ellie groaned. "You're not supposed to want me to dance with other people!"

"I don' especially want to see you do that, but it's all right, jus' dancin'. I don' want to... deprive you... of the opportunity to--"

And not THIS shit again! "I'm not depriiiiived of anything. Jesus." She was surprised he would even suggest it was okay, given the murderous looks he fired at any guy who got too close to her in the library. "Neither one of us should dance with anyone else and that's that."

"What about Clicker?" Joel asked, waggling his eyebrows at her.

"Um, no." But then she thought better of that answer, and had to grin. "Oh wait... yeah, he's okay... you can dance with him if you want!"

* * * * * *

Joel was right: the wedding was 'all romantic and shit.' Ellie had never been to one before. Just like the 4th of July party, it took place near the lake, and there were strands of clear lights hung everywhere (perhaps not as many of the twinkling kind)... but unlike that party, there were flowers here. So many flowers! They were woven through the light strands as well as the hair of all the girls in the wedding party... attached to the chairs that formed the aisle... arranged in the bowls that adorned every table. Yellow and white, mostly, with a splash of purple, all of them festive and pretty and... just perfect. Ellie wasn't really a flower person, but she was impressed. They must have been freshly picked that day, destined to wilt and die by tomorrow. ...Well, that's a depressing thought -- is Joel rubbing off on me or what? She was a little surprised that the wedding hadn't been postponed, what with three residents dying less than a week ago and all. Joel said life goes on. Maybe so... but Ellie noticed that the families of the deceased were mostly absent. Boo's little sister was there... with her dad, but not her mom.

She and Joel had sat in the back row for the ceremony, just like they did at the town meetings. Joel really didn't like people's eyes on them, for whatever reason. She thought his choice of seating might have been due to a little paranoia, too -- that he didn't like the idea of people behind them that he couldn't keep an eye on. Like someone might just decide to go on a murderous rampage for shits and giggles? He wasn't wearing his usual holsters, but he did have a gun tucked into his pants, like the way Ellie usually carried hers. She couldn't carry one now, in this fucking dress, but she was fine with that; nothing ever happened in Jackson. Even the dam didn't get raided these days like it used to. Besides, she knew she had nothing to worry about when she was with Joel.

He allowed her to hold his hand during the ceremony -- a ceremony that was surprisingly a little humorous, thanks to the guy who officiated it. But still romantic; Ellie couldn't help imagining what it would be like if she and Joel were the ones getting married. Everyone watching them with smiles on their faces, the occasional 'awwww'ing... the sort of shit that used to make her want to puke. Because the old me wasn't in love! Not that she'd turned into a complete sap now and skipped about farting rainbows or anything, but... the old Ellie would've scoffed at things like wedding vows, declaring them utter bullshit, whereas now, she actually believed in them. She would gladly stand up there before every single person in Jackson and promise to love Joel forever. Oh, she knew it was just a fantasy... that if she were to ask Joel how he imagined their wedding, he'd probably tell her that either no one would show up, or they'd show up only to make nasty remarks and ruin everything. But it was her fantasy, damnit, and he couldn't ruin it for her if she didn't share it.

She would have Annie and Maria as her bridesmaids, and they would wear... blue, she decided. Annie looked good in blue. And Joel would probably like that better than the light purple color ("lilac," Annie corrected in her head) that Bryan and Trinity had chosen for the bridesmaid dresses. Maybe they'd had a limited selection of fabrics. She knew that Millie had sewn them all -- they were all brand new, never worn before. The bride's dress actually wasn't new, but it might as well have been -- Ellie had never seen white look so white before. Millie had made some alterations, to make it fit better, and to change the sleeves somehow... Annie had told her all about it in full detail, but a lot of those details were a little over Ellie's head. The bride even had a veil, just like in the movies! For her wedding, Ellie would wear something pretty, just not so girly, if she could help it. Maybe some kind of pants suit thing... if Annie would let her get away with that. In her fantasy, Annie was perfectly okay with the idea of Joel and Ellie getting married, of course. Everyone was. They were all envious of them, even. Jealous of how we love each other so much, more than any other couple ever...

Even though she hadn't shared one word of this little fantasy of hers, Joel managed to ruin it for her anyway by nudging her and whispering, "Don't you go gettin' any ideas now." She just glared at him.

The ceremony didn't last very long, and then all the guests grabbed their chairs and took them to the next area, where the reception was. Of course, back in the day, no one had to do that. And all the chairs and tables used to match -- they weren't borrowed from a bunch of different places. Ellie allowed Joel to carry her chair. He liked doing little things like that for her, and she was learning to stifle the I-can-do-it-myself attitude that automatically bubbled up on such occasions. She and Joel sat at a small table with Tommy and Maria. She would have liked for all of them to sit with Annie and her family, too, but Farm 3 got there first, and the tables were too small to seat everyone. In the olden days (and the movies), people sat at these huge round tables where you could fit a bunch of people, and Joel told her that the seating was arranged ahead of time, so people who knew each other could be grouped together -- also, if Uncle John didn't get along with Cousin Tim, and so forth, you could separate them. Anyway, Ellie was glad to see that Annie's lying, cheating ex, Jacob, was not sitting anywhere near them. Lately, Annie had been softening towards him, saying things like maybe they could be ~friends~. It made Ellie sick.

The reception was, of course, way more fun than the ceremony. That's where all the eating and dancing happened. There was even a fucking cake. Ellie couldn't remember the last time she'd had cake. This one was rumored to be really fancy -- Ellie couldn't see it since it was hiding under a crate, to ward off insects. The crate itself was kind of fancy (though Joel seemed unimpressed), adorned in purple fabric -- the same one that the bridesmaid dresses were made from, Ellie would guess -- and more flowers, naturally. When she'd casually remarked that they'd have to cut the pieces really tiny to serve the whole fucking town, Joel had smiled as if she'd said something funny, and said she could have his piece, too.

But before cake, there was dinner -- a buffet that featured a shitload of food, with no rationing. There was nothing elaborate about the spread, though; it was a bunch of mismatched pots and bowls and casserole dishes, all lidded for insect protection. Ellie just had to try a little bit of everything: beef, pork, chicken, duck, fish, and vegetable dishes. There was some more common meat available, too -- deer, squirrel, rabbit -- but she'd heard that most of that was meant to be a supplement, in case they ran out of the other stuff. She was surprised to find that there was enough for seconds, even after feeding practically the whole town. Some of the pots and dishes were empty when she went back for more, and the common meat had been added to the spread in abundance, but there was still plenty of the duck'n'rice thing that Ellie liked the best, and she loaded up on that. Joel reminded her to save room for cake -- as if she could ever be full enough to refuse a treat like that!

While they were eating, people would start randomly clinking their silverware against their glasses, which would make all the guests stop what they were doing to join in, and this signaled the bride and groom to kiss. Ellie thought that was ridiculous, but kind of cool, and again, she tried to imagine it with herself and Joel as the happy couple. Actually kissing in front of people, like it was no big deal. The thought actually stung a little. She hadn't realized how much she wanted that. To not have to hide their love, like it was something shameful. She wished that Joel himself didn't also feel like it was shameful.

When most people were about done with dinner, the dancing started. Bryan and Trinity made their way to the dance floor, such as it was (a large stretch of grass near a gigantic stereo, not the pavilion of dirt where the 4th of July's dancing had taken place), for the traditional 'first dance.' Ellie didn't recognize the song, but it had a country twang to it, and Joel said he knew it -- it was from some classic Texas movie called Urban Cowboy, from before he was even born. She got excited when she recognized the way that the couple began to dance.

"Joel! It's a waltz! We learned that one!" she said eagerly. "Can we go dance, too?"

It was Maria who answered. "Just wait one verse, until Dustin gives the okay," she told Ellie with a smile. Dustin had switched from officiating to DJ'ing. He had a microphone and everything. As soon as they were invited to join, less than a whole verse in, Ellie hopped up and tugged on Joel's hand until he got up, too, resisting her a little -- just for the sake of being contrary, it seemed. Tommy and Maria made their way out there, along with plenty of other people -- and not exclusively couples, so Joel had no reason to object.

Ellie practically dragged him out to the dance floor. But for all his reluctance (which Ellie presumed was fake, just to annoy her -- cuz how could he not want to dance with her, really?!), he did remember how to do the dance, and they fell in step nicely with each other. He held her at arm's length, a bit stiffly. Ellie noticed that Bryan and Trinity were pretty much hugging instead of dancing. Joel wouldn't dare dance with her like that. Maybe Ellie could get him to do it at home, so she could close her eyes and pretend they were like everyone else...

And the song lyrics were perfect, with the lady singer asking the guy if she could have this dance for the rest of her life, if he'd be her partner every night... Ellie could see why they'd chosen it for a first dance. "If I ever get married, I'd use this song, too," Ellie decided. She knew that Joel understood the first 'I' was really code for 'we.' "Wouldn't you?"

"It ain't bad," he replied. "I s'pose if my bride liked it, I'd have no objections."

Ellie smiled. "Does everyone in that movie talk with accents like yours?"

He chuckled, even though it wasn't a funny question. "Yes, I think so."

"I wanna watch it. Can we watch it some time, maybe at Tommy'n'Maria's? If the library has it?"

"Sure. This was the song for the movie wedding's first dance, too."

"Aww. What song did you use for yours?" Ellie asked, and immediately felt like kicking herself for it. As much as she loved hearing about Joel's life pre-Cordyceps, her interest kind of didn't apply to his brief marriage... not anymore. Not when she wished that she was the only person Joel had ever been with or would ever be with, and couldn't stand to think of him with another woman.

"Didn' have one," he replied. "Didn' have a real wedding. No reception."

"Oh." Good, she stopped herself from adding, because she knew it wasn't nice of her to think that. But, because apparently she loved to kick herself, she did just have to ask, "Why not?"

"Well... it was a shotgun wedding, so..."

"Was that a Texas thing?" Ellie wondered. "But I thought you said people couldn't really carry guns around everywhere? What, did they like... fire them in the air at the end of the ceremony?"

He had that you're-so-cute look on his face; if they were at home, he probably would have kissed her. "It's got nothin' to do with shotguns, actually. It's when you get married 'cause the girl is pregnant."

That explanation of the term made no fucking sense whatsoever to Ellie. "Oh. Weird. I like my idea better."

"Me too."

The next dance was supposed to be father-daughter/mother-son, but since neither Bryan nor Trinity had parents, they invited the guests to participate in that instead. Ellie couldn't help smirking at Joel a little on that one. It was the perfect cover for them to dance with each other. Not that they needed one, but still. Ellie didn't mind pretending to be his daughter in this instance. The song was a little bit faster, and she got Joel to do some fun stuff -- like twirling her! The first couple times, she did it just fine; the third time, she twirled a little too... enthusiastically, causing her to lose her balance and nearly knock over the couple closest to them -- the only reason she didn't fall over completely was that Joel kept hold of her hand. That was slightly embarrassing... she heard Annie's brother, Will, snickering a "way to go, Ellie!" -- but before she could so much as shoot him a dirty look, she found herself more enclosed by Joel's arms than she had been all evening. I should fall more often!

He was laughing a little, but, much to Ellie's surprise, he had the decency not to make fun of her. Unfortunately, he only held her close for like, three seconds -- long enough to make sure she was steady on her feet. Then he returned to arm's length distance, and let go of her completely. "You had enough dancin' yet?"

"What? No way! This is only the second song." She grabbed his hands, posing him with one hand on her waist again, the other holding hers. Joel finished out the song with her, and she did one last easy twirl, to sort of undo the clumsiness of the last one and end on a good note.

For the next song, Dustin announced that now they'd want to be sure to grab someone who wasn't family... it took him a few moments to change the CD, and the crowd of dancers started to murmur amongst themselves. There was a collective shriek from the females as the next song began to play, and Ellie watched Will run off the floor like something had bit him.

She was confused, and looked to Joel for an answer, but he just shrugged. Annie must have noticed her bewildered look, because she hurried over to grab Ellie's arm, looking... excited, or was it more like scandalized? She was totally blushing. "I heard they might do this! Trin's a huge Dirty Dancing fan... it's this movie, I've seen it before... you missed it when they showed it the other night, huh?"

"Dirty dancing?" I was probably getting dirty with Joel that night instead! "How is it dirty?" She watched the dancers assemble and start to dance... and she quickly got the gist of it. She looked at Joel again; he looked like he wanted to follow Will's lead.

"Oh hell no," he said, as if his horrified expression hadn't already made that abundantly clear.

Ellie couldn't blame him; it might be juuuust a bit awkward for them to be out there grinding against each other like that in front of everyone. But the song was perky and fun -- in all her life, she'd never heard of mashed potatoes being incorporated into the lyrics before! It made no sense in this song either, but Ellie admired the originality. She really wanted to try out the dancing. Even if it was allegedly 'dirty' and she wouldn't be dancing with Joel, it looked fun...

As if Annie had read her mind, she exclaimed, "C'mon, Ellie, let's do it!"

Ellie glanced at Joel, and he motioned for her to go ahead. Dancing with Annie didn't count as dancing with 'other people,' she decided. And there were other girls dancing together... and two guys, Nate and Daniel -- the only Jacksonites that Ellie knew for sure were gay. For some bizarre reason, any girl would dance with another girl if she wanted to, but guys would only dance with other guys if both parties were gay. It was another silly rule from Joel's time, so Ellie thought it shouldn't be a thing anymore, but apparently it was.

They did more laughing than dancing through what remained of the first song, but Ellie felt like she was starting to get the hang of it by the end of the second. It was basically just gyrating your hips a lot -- and you could do it without being all up in your partner's crotch. Like, there was a 'clean' way to do it. You could just hold hands and kind of do your own thing without any other body parts touching. Clicker was cracking her up, trying to do it with Alyssa (a nice enough girl who had the misfortune of being Jacob’s little sister)… or, maybe not trying so much as just flailing around like a goofball; Annie confirmed that his ‘moves,’ if one could call them such, did not come from the movie. Joel totally could have stayed out there and danced with her if he wasn't such a pussy about it. Although... to be fair, it would've been hard for her to keep her hands off of him -- in observing some of the couples, she noted that ass-groping was a popular move.

Anyway, she did enjoy dancing with Annie, who wasn't half bad at it. They twirled each other, dipped each other... they did this thing where you lower yourself and then come back up and try to look down your partner's shirt (except they only pretended the last bit, amidst much giggling). They did a little bit of close-dancing, but no groping or anything naughty like that. Ellie couldn't help but think of Riley a little... about dancing with her friend on that last day they'd shared together, forever ago. Annie could never replace Riley... but she didn't have to. Just like Ellie couldn't replace Sarah for Joel. It didn't work like that; each new person carved out their own special place. Ellie was thrilled to see Annie laugh again. To see a certain light return to her eyes. She knew her friend was strong, and that she'd be okay, but to see her actually look happy...! If Joel had done to her what Jacob did to Annie, Ellie would never recover. She knew it. I'm so lucky to have him as my boyfriend! she realized for the zillionth time.

Ellie caught that asshole Jacob watching them, and she pulled Annie close just so she could flip him off behind her back. He didn't seem particularly upset by that -- in fact, he might have even rolled his eyes? -- but it gave Ellie satisfaction to do it. And every time she looked in Joel's direction, he was watching her as well. She motioned for him to come back out to the floor a couple times, but his only response was to give her a withering look.

A few other girls that Ellie knew were dancing, too, and all of them sort of ended up partnering up with everyone else in turns -- but no guys tried to worm their way in there when that happened. Ellie wondered if it was because they were afraid of Joel... except it wasn't just her -- they steered clear of her friends, too. Too much girl power for them! she figured. Lisa ditched Justin to dance with the girls, and she informed Ellie -- and anyone nearby -- that her blue sweater and dress made her look like the girl in the movie (it was the wrong shade of blue, but still?), deducing from this that Ellie must be a natural. Everyone familiar with the movie was like "Oh yeah!", and Ellie found all eyes on her for a few moments -- in which she very much proved she was not a natural, and yet, suddenly everyone wanted to dance with her! Wow, this is... it feels like I have a real group of friends! She usually just didn't... click that way, with most people. Certainly not several at the same time.

After a few songs, the so-called 'dirty' dance stuff was over. Somehow, Ellie and the other girls had spun their way over to the far end -- far from her own table, anyway -- and as she exited the floor, all flushed and giddy, she noticed someone she hadn't seen earlier, sitting at one of the little tables -- Max! She hadn't talked to him in ages. She almost went over there to greet him, but thought better of it.

It wasn't that she didn't intend to talk to him -- she just had to go tell Joel first. She only wanted to say hi to Max for a minute, not to dance with him or anything... no reason for Joel to get all bent out of shape over it. Joel could come with her for all she cared. Ellie loved him for feeling so protective of her, to the point of overreacting, even. But there were times it was completely unwarranted, and she wished he would ease up a little... maybe trust her and her judgment a little more. Tonight, she would settle for him just not going apeshit for no good reason. It was too happy a night to be tainted by any of that stupid macho guy bullshit!

~Continue to Chapter 15~

Tags: fic, tlou, uncertainty
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