Lumy (luminations) wrote,
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"Uncertainty" Chapter 15: "Smoke and Mirrors" (15/47)

Title: "Uncertainty" Chapter 15: "Smoke and Mirrors" (15/47)
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: 6160
Rating (for fic as a whole): R

~


Ellie could feel Joel's eyes on her as she hurried over to Max's table. If he was watching her like a hawk before, now he was watching her like a... starving hawk, or something. But she wouldn't stay long.

Max was about as dressed up as Joel -- button-down shirt, nicer-than-usual pants... and a black cowboy hat, an accessory that made Joel call him a poser. That was probably the nicest thing Joel had ever called him. Max was alone at a small table that she assumed he shared with his parents, and from the looks of it, one or two other people... maybe they were all dancing or something. She plopped down into the chair next to his -- sideways, so as to face him instead of the table. "Hi!"

"Hey, Sunshine." He'd dubbed her that after some sunshine-up-the-ass remark... back when she'd first realized she was in love with Joel, and was all sickeningly happy about it.

"I thought this wasn't your thing," she teased.

"I could say the same for you -- I almost didn't recognize you. Never seen you wear a dress before... and your hair... ?"

"It's crazy, right? Sometimes I'm actually a girl," she said dryly. "I bet half the people here don't recognize me. But seriously, why are you here and not just... doing your far-away-people-watch thing?"

"It ain't so bad. Bryan's a good guy. I'm happy for him."

So Max DOES have friends, Ellie mused to herself. Or at least people he knew a little bit. Ellie couldn't remember if Bryan ever went on the supply runs with him or not... "That was cool of you to delay your trip for this."

He seemed a little surprised that she remembered how the date determined their expected departure day. It was just simple math. "That was Tommy's doing, but it worked out fine. No reason we can't go tomorrow instead." He chuckled a little. "You got that wanderlust out of your system for good now?"

"Yep, Joel's being nice now. So don't worry, I won't try to tag along."

"You can come anytime you want as far as I'm concerned. Your friend, too. Hell, we'd prob'ly only need half the people if you two came along."

'Your friend' was the way Max referred to Joel. Ellie much preferred it to 'your dad,' which was what most people would say. She knew she shouldn't be so quick to correct them, as that assumption only reinforced that they weren't lovers, but... that was exactly why Ellie didn't like it! "You mean for like... bodyguard value? Only I'd have to protect you from him, too. Ha!"

Max glanced in Joel's direction. "I'm surprised he ain't here yelling at me for talking to you. He noticed, you know... he's looking this way."

Ellie scoffed. "Please. I can talk to whoever I want. But... yeah, I did tell him I wanted to say hi to you, so he couldn't get pissy about it and come over here and be a dick."

He turned back to her. "You said he's being nice to you now?"

"Yeah!" Ellie was quick to assure him. "He's always been nice. I mean... well, he was an asshole before and everything, but still nice."

Max quirked an eyebrow. "A nice asshole?"

"He's not an asshole. Not now. And... he didn't mean to be. Before." Ellie had a very distinct Before and After in her mind -- before they kissed, and after, because that was when everything had changed. But since 'before' was also a way of saying 'in the past,' she could get away with saying it in casual conversation with people.

"Don't matter if he means to. If he--"

"Max, no -- he wasn't -- I think I've given you the wrong impression of him. The whole thing was my fault. And just because we look at things differently sometimes... I shouldn't have said he was an asshole. I just didn't get where he was coming from." I also provoked the shit out of him...

"Okay. Does he get where you're coming from?"

"Yes," she answered automatically, even though it wasn't entirely true. "He's really good to me. Doesn't even yell at me. I'm the one who yells." She chuckled at herself. "You've seen him since the trip, haven't you?"

"Yeah, and he always looks pissed off."

Ellie snickered a little. "I'm sure that's only cuz of you. No offense."

Max laughed. "That's fair. I just thought after we helped each other out, him and I... thought he might chill a little."

"I don't think Joel knows how to chill. He's not bothering you anymore, is he?"

"Naw. But I'd hate to see what he does to any boy who tries to date you."

Ellie rolled her eyes. "Pfffff. That won't be a problem."

Both of Max's eyebrows shot up now. "No? Do you even know how he's looking at me right now?"

Ellie turned around to see Joel's deathglare. It certainly would scare off some twerpy little boy. Good thing I'll never have to deal with that! She grinned at him and waved; he didn't smile back. She knew Max was a decent person. It was Joel's problem if he thought otherwise. He always thought the worst of people. But she did respect his wishes as far as hanging out with the guy. Even when Joel was out of town, she hadn't gone to find Max. Their paths didn't cross often, and it was just as well. She turned back to Max. "Whatever. It's all for show," she lied.

"I don't think so. But... if you're okay with it..." He shrugged, but Ellie thought he was looking at her a little bit... well... seriously? Like he was really asking something else.

"Of course! Dude, he's not as bad as you think."

"Okay. Sure. He just seems very..."

"Very what?" she prompted, even though she knew she wouldn't like the answer.

"...Controlling."

Ellie sighed. "Look, I can do whatever I want and talk to whoever I want. I know you don't get it, but I like hanging out with him all the time. There's a side to him that... no one else ever sees. Just me." Ellie hoped the dim lighting hid the fact that her face had just caught fire, as she couldn't help thinking of the 'side' of him she'd been seeing this week...

Max chuckled. "Okay, hon, all right... I believe you. And I gotta say, you do seem a hell of a lot happier since... whenever that was. Couple months ago?"

"Yeah... things are good!" she beamed at him. ...Too much? "I mean, like... all around. Everything here. Life is good."

As if Joel wasn't already irked enough, another guy was approaching the table. It was that new person... the eighteen-year-old. Colton. "Hi. Ellie, right?" he said tentatively, glancing at Max.

"Yeah, hi!" She introduced Max and Colton to each other, then looked at Colton. "You have good timing -- you've only been here like a week and already there's a party!"

Colton made a little noise (which Ellie decided belonged in the 'laugh' category). Then he ran his hand through his wavy hair, looking nervous as fuck. But he did make eye contact when he spoke to her. "Less than a week, yeah." He scratched the back of his neck in a way that made Ellie wonder if he was trying to look casual -- and failing. "Yeah, so, um... I was wondering... do you wanna dance?" He sort of blurted out that last in a rush.

Shit! It must've taken some balls for him to come over to her and ask that. She wondered if he'd been waiting for the opportunity to approach her -- if so, it was smart of him to wait until she wasn't with Joel... although Joel had been surprisingly civil when they'd met the new people. Maybe Colton didn't even know. Max had a fairly neutral expression on his face... possibly leaning towards amusement, since they had just been talking about this. I have to say something! she realized. "Oh, um... I would, except... er..." Fuck! How do I not hurt his feelings? She couldn't even use Joel as an excuse, like saying she wasn't allowed or something, because then Max might not believe her when she explained that it was just bullshit she'd used to let Colton down easy. Maybe it was the kindest way, though... so what if Max didn't believe it? Still, she just... didn't want to go that route. Besides, it's not fair to make Joel the bad guy...

She must have hesitated long enough that Colton got the picture anyway. "Okay, I -- that's okay," he all but stammered. "Um, have a good night?"

Ellie winced as he left, and Max chortled. "Does that boy even know you just saved his life?"

"Shut up," said Ellie, rolling her eyes again. "I could've danced with him. Joel doesn't care. I just didn't want to!"

"How come? Good-lookin' kid, seems nice..."

"He's not my type," Ellie said sagely. "I'm not into blonds."

"His hair is brown."

"It's dark blond! He'll find somebody else to dance with. No biggie. Funny how he came over here and... I mean, why didn't he think maybe I was like... with you? You know?"

"Uh, let's see -- maybe 'cause I'm twice as old as you are?"

"You're only twenty-seven!" He was like a baby compared to Joel, age-wise.

"And you're fourteen."

"Fifteen!" she corrected indignantly.

"Fifteen, sorry. Some other kid prob'ly gave him the lowdown."

She hadn't been hanging out with the other teens much since Joel had come home. She imagined that someone had given Colton and his family a tour, explained how things worked and who was who... maybe he'd asked about her. Asked if she had a boyfriend. YES! I DO! But of course, they would've told him she didn't. Was that the sort of thing people would just straight up ask, though? That was just inviting people to give you shit. Maybe he'd been smart about it and asked about everyone in general, not just her.

Oh, wait -- DUH! She suddenly remembered how Tommy had been talking about him on family movie night. "Tommy prob'ly told him when they first got here. So why aren't you out there dancing? Not like people get to dance very often in this town."

"Yeah... no, I'm kind of a shit dancer."

Truly, Max didn't strike her as the dance-y type, and she'd only been trying to steer him away from any more Colton talk with her comment, but now she wanted to see him go and enjoy himself. "So are at least half the people out there, though, right?" she said encouragingly.

"You may have a point. You see my parents?" He pointed them out to Ellie amidst the throng of dancers. "I have more pride, I guess."

"Awww, look how cute they are! Fuck pride." Ellie watched Ben and Sue -- who weren't really bad, just... not good? -- for half a minute, until the current song ended, and a slow song began. No one could really fuck up slow-dancing too badly. She avoided looking over at Joel; she was sure he'd seen Colton come talk to her, although he wouldn't have known he was asking her to dance... she wasn't sure why she didn't want to make eye contact with him now. Like she felt... guilty, or something. She did want to get back to him, though. "Okay, well, I'm gonna go..." But before she could turn away from the dance floor, an unwelcome sight commanded her attention. What the fuck?! She stood up abruptly and grabbed Max's hand. "Come on!"

"C'mon where?" But he did get up and let her jerk him along.

She stopped just as abruptly, nearly causing him to run into her, and turned around to tell him, "You're not a shit dancer, you just need practice! Just follow my lead here, okay?" Then she marched right up to Jacob and Annie... who were dancing. Together. To a slow song, even. Annie saw her approaching. She had that look on her face that Ellie imagined she herself wore at times -- when she was bracing herself for another lecture from Joel. But Ellie could save the lecturing for later; she had something else in mind.

"Sorry to interrupt," she said sweetly, with a pointed look at Jacob. "But Max really wants to dance with you, Annie!" With that, she sort of shoved Max and Annie together, grabbed Jacob by the arm, and dragged him away.

Jacob wrenched free of her grip. He didn't try to run away like a pussy, so she didn't fight it. "What's your problem?" he snarled at her.

Ellie turned her icy glare on him when they were off the floor, on the opposite side of all the tables and the DJ/stereo set up, relatively alone. Out of earshot, but not completely out of sight... she was sure they would draw some attention. She didn't care. "Are you serious?! You know what my fucking problem is!"

"So... what, you gonna threaten me again?" he said with a derisive snort. "You bring your knife?"

Ellie wished she had. Not that she could even pull it on him in front of all these people... man, would Joel be pissed! But Jacob had been so scared of her that night. And she'd enjoyed his fear. Yeah, she wasn't quite as sweet'n'innocent as Joel liked to believe... "I don't need that to talk some sense into you. What the fuck are you doing? If you have any decency in you at all--"

"You know Christine and I broke up," he interrupted her. "And Annie's okay with being friends. You don't have to go all..." He made a vague sweeping gesture with his hand.

"What, I don't have to look out for my friend? My friend who's too nice to tell you to fuck off? She's not interested, asshole."

"I just said we're--"

"Friends -- yeah, right, I know. Except you don't know how to be friends with girls. See, how it works is, you don't go around fucking them all with that pencil-dick of yours."

The outrage on his face was beautiful. "What? I don't--"

"Liar!" She cut him off before she could find out if he was protesting the fucking-them-all part or the pencil-dick part. "Anyways, Annie doesn't need you and she doesn't want you -- she has Max now," Ellie blurted out. She hadn't intended to say that last bit -- an obvious lie -- but... hey, they really are dancing together! she was happy to see. I can run with this! "Just look at them! Look!"

Jacob did turn around to look. It was perfect! They weren't even looking at Ellie and Jacob, so it didn't appear that they were merely playing roles under Ellie's direction -- and Annie was actually laughing. Ha! Take THAT, motherfucker! Annie looked so pretty today in a rosy pink dress (one she never wore down at the farm), with soft curls cascading over her shoulders and down her back, courtesy of Esther... and she had learned the same tip Ellie had in the library that one day, when Ellie was trying to learn how to make Joel fall in love with her: laugh with another guy if you want to make your guy jealous. Apparently, jealousy triggered something associated with love in the male brain, so look like you're having a fucking blast without him. Only, in Annie’s case, she hoped Annie wanted him to be jealous more as a ‘fuck you’ than as a means of making him love her. He doesn’t even know the meaning of the word! Anyway, it hadn't worked very well with Joel; he just got pissed off at her. Jacob's reaction would probably be more normal. And Annie's laughter didn't even seem fake or forced, like Ellie's had been. How much better it would be if it was genuine, and she wasn't even TRYING to make Jacob jealous -- because she doesn't give a flying fuck! It did look pretty real to Ellie. She'd have to thank Max later for 'following her lead' so well.

She moved a little so she could see Jacob's face better. It appeared he was trying to look like he didn't give a shit, but the way the muscles in his jaw were twitching... she suspected he very much gave a shit. Multiple shits.

"What's goin' on here?"

So predictable. Joel had been watching her, of course. She was a little surprised it had taken him this long to come over. "Oh, nothing," she said airily. "I was just telling this douchebag to stay the fuck away from my friend."

Joel didn't seem to know what to say to that. She figured he didn't want to get involved in what he considered 'teen drama.' Jacob's eyes widened a little as he regarded Joel, and it looked like he was holding his breath or something... he took a step backwards... the motherfucker's afraid of Joel! That was annoying -- insulting, even -- because Ellie was the one he should be scared of!

After an awkward pause, Joel just said, "Well, come on, they're gonna do the cake soon." They left Jacob standing there. Ellie looked back to make sure that he didn't immediately go break up Max and Annie's dance, and was pleased to see that he was just watching them. Hopefully thinking exactly what Ellie wanted him to think.

"Ellie--" Joel began.

She turned back to Joel and cut him off immediately. "Don't lecture me! I didn't do anything wrong. I was just talking to the dickwad, for fuck's sake."

Joel sighed. "It's nice that you wanna protect your friend. But maybe you should let them work out their issues them--"

"No way!" She stopped walking, which forced him to stop and turn around to look at her. "Don't you get it? She's confused. He'll take advantage of that."

Joel calmly took her by the arm and steered her over near the park restrooms a short distance away. Not exactly a private area, but at least now they had a wall blocking most people's view of them. "So your solution is to sic Max on the poor girl?"

Ellie couldn't help feeling a little smug about that. "Yeah. That was brilliant of me, actually. You may not like him--"

"Understatement of the year," Joel muttered.

"--but did you see them? Annie was laughing! They're just dancing, Joel. And Jacob's all jealous now, thinking maybe it's more than that. It's perfect!"

Joel chuckled. "Perfect... except maybe now he'll try harder to win her back? Rise up to the challenge... the competition? Competition that ain't even real?"

Fuck! She'd been so thrilled at the idea of Jacob being jealous that she hadn't really wanted to consider the point of that tip in the first place. "Or he'll just... back off," she said defensively. "Figure he's lost. Right? That could happen, don't you think?"

"I don' know. It's really none of your business. You've said your piece... to both of them, now... they know how you feel. They can take your opinion into consideration, or not. You don' gotta threaten--"

"I wasn't threatening him!" Ellie cut in, annoyed. At least not yet, I wasn't...

"Well, whatever you were doin'... you shouldn't be... provokin' people..." He seemed to be weighing his words, like he didn't quite know how to say what he wanted.

Ellie snorted. "Is that what this is about? Don't tell me you're worried about that little shit, like..."

"I know you can handle yourself," Joel conceded. "Don' mean I like seein' you... makin' enemies, or..."

Ellie laughed. "Jacob's already an enemy. I'm not 'making' anything."

"He's just a kid."

"That doesn't excuse what he did!"

"No... but he's a kid. Kids fuck up. Maybe he's learned his lesson."

"What? Fuck that!" Ellie said angrily. "So he should get another chance with Annie because maybe he's learned from it?!"

"I didn' say that."

"You implied it!"

"No I didn't," Joel said placidly. Whenever Ellie started yelling, he was maddeningly calm. "I'm jus' sayin'... makin' mistakes don' necessarily make him a bad person."

"Well, what if he made those so-called mistakes with me?" Ellie challenged. "How would you feel if he'd cheated on me with some fugly cunt bitch with big tits, cuz I wouldn't put out? You'd be okay with that?"

He actually laughed at that, annoying Ellie even further. Not even a little chuckle -- it was a hearty fucking laugh.

"What the fuck is so funny?!" she fumed.

"I'm sorry, baby girl... " Only he didn't seem the least bit sorry. "Jus'... the way you say things sometimes..."

Ellie wasn't amused. "Answer the question. What if it had been me?"

"So, not with jus' some plain ol’ bitch. A fugly..."

"Yes!" Ellie didn't know what a 'cunt bitch' was either, but it sounded like an apt description of Christine. "What would you do?!"

"Don' be ridiculous."

"It's not ridiculous! Just think about it. Think about it with that fucking stubborn-ass brain of yours. What would you do? Not that I'd ever-- I don't know what Annie sees in the dickweed. But let's pretend. He cheats on me, lies about it, then tries to play nice after a little time goes by. Not because he cares about me -- he's just fucking with me. Fucking with me because he's not done trying to fuck me. It's that thing you were talking about!" And that she'd read about... "He fucks Christine, then dumps her. Even though she gave him what he wanted. He'd rather try to get it from someone who won't. Fuck, guys are stupid."

"I could've told you that."

"So? If it was me, you'd think it was okay to give him another chance?" she prodded. Joel was always turning things back around on her to make a point; she was just utilizing a skill he'd inadvertently taught her. And he doesn't like it any more than I do when he does it to me!

Joel sighed. "Ellie, it ain't a fair question."

"Why not?!"

"...There'd be no second chance 'cause I prob'ly would've killed him the first time around."

"Ha! I knew it!" she smirked. She was pleased he hadn't even bothered to supply a more-appropriate-but-clearly-bullshit answer first. Okay, I won't be mad at him, she decided. "But -- then you'd get thrown out of town!" Or so he'd indicated when she was the murderer and Skankypants the victim.

"Maybe they'd jus' throw me in quarantine forever," he amended.

"Oh, that's okay," she said agreeably. "I'd come visit you. No -- I'd come live with you in there."

"They prob'ly wouldn' let you. An' that'd be a worse punishment than killin' me."

"Aww." Ellie really wanted to kiss him, or at least hug him, but she kept a respectful distance between them. She didn't feel like fighting about Jacob anymore. She could have told Joel that he'd just proven her point -- or that he was a big fat hypocrite, if nothing else -- but then he would just go on to try to explain how it was different, and it would just go on and on and on. "Hey, are they really doing the cake soon or did you make that up?"

Joel chuckled. "I don' know... I reckon they gotta do it before too much longer, right?"

"Ha! So you lied," Ellie snickered. "Well, since we're right here, I'm gonna go pee."

"All right. Me too."

She grinned. "Wanna come in with--"

"NO," he said quickly. "Jus'... go on."

"Fine. You're no fun." She pretended to pout. He just shook his head, chuckling to himself (hopefully imagining the fun he was missing out on), and headed for the men's restroom around the corner. Ellie entered the ladies'. The restrooms were a stand-alone structure, kind of in the middle of the park. They didn't have doors, just little mini-hallways leading into each one.

Ellie went into a stall with a door that wouldn't lock right... not that she'd be in there long enough to care. She yanked her panties down; one advantage she had to give to the dress versus her jeans was the easy access! She realized someone else was in the restroom, a couple stalls over. Good thing I didn't try to sneak Joel in here with me! She hated to admit it, but he was right sometimes. Once in a while.

Whoever was over there... it sounded like she was crying. Not all-out bawling or anything, but... sniffling. Breathing more audibly than a non-crying person would. It was such a happy night, everyone seemed to be in good spirits, so why would... maybe it's Boo's mom? Or maybe it wasn't as tragic as that, and someone was just having a shitty day. Ellie wasn't sure what she should do. If she was the one in there crying, she would hope that the other person would just ignore her. But was that weird? Maybe the other person was desperately hoping someone would come in that she could talk to...

Ellie finished her business in the stall and washed her hands at the sink. It's none of my business, she told herself. That's what Joel's been trying to tell me. Just butt out of things. She started to walk out... but she couldn't. She crept over toward the back stall... silently, in case she changed her mind again... maybe the girl wasn't even crying, exactly... but whatever it was, she decided that it at least warranted acknowledgment. "Hey. Are you okay in there?" she asked tentatively.

Silence.

Great, maybe now I've embarrassed her. "Just, um... if you want someone to talk to, or... I could just leave you alone... whatever. Whatever's wrong, I'm sure it's..." What -- it's gonna be fine? Like I even know? Sometimes Ellie just couldn't seem to stop herself from babbling nonsense. She sighed. "Well, I don't know what's wrong, but... if you wanna talk..."

"Is that you, Ellie?" said a shaky voice. It sounded familiar, but Ellie couldn't place it. Clearly it was someone she knew, if the person knew her.

"Yeah, it's me. Um... sorry, but who are you?"

She heard the lock click on the stall, and she backed away to give the person room to come out. She couldn't believe who it was -- Skankypants! "You?!" Ellie stared at her. What the fuck could this bitch have to cry about?

Even with red eyes and a splotchy face, she was kind of pretty. Sophie smiled a little. "Yeah. Shocker, huh? I'm okay." She walked over to the sink and leaned over it to splash some water on her face.

Ellie felt awkward now. She kind of wanted to bolt -- especially before Joel found out the skank was in there (though... why should she care about that? Would Joel give a fuck she was crying? ...he wouldn't, would he?!). But that seemed rude, and for some reason, the thought of being rude froze her in place, even though she shouldn't care about that, either. Not with this twat. She could have maybe handed the woman a towel from the rack to dry off with or something, but she didn't. She just stood there, waiting, not knowing what to say.

The slut grabbed a towel herself. "You're really sweet, you know that?" she said as she patted her face with it. She sounded annoyingly sincere.

"Um... I'm not, really," Ellie mumbled, feeling another blush coming on. If I had known it was YOU in there, I wouldn't have said a word. ...Ellie might have voiced such thoughts, at another time. For some reason, she didn't want to now. It couldn't be that she felt sorry for the cunt. Tears or not.

Skanky's dress was more conservative than Ellie would have guessed. It was navy blue, which didn't seem like the right color for her. Red would've been more appropriate, as that color was considered sexy, for some reason. The skirt was almost as long as Ellie's, and the neckline showed only a hint of cleavage. Maybe there weren't any trampier dresses available in her size? Maybe that's why she's crying! Skankzilla brought the towel down from her face and gave Ellie an odd little half-smile. "If you're wondering what my deal is..."

"I wasn't," Ellie lied. Okay, so I was, but now I kinda just want to leave...

Skankypants seemed to want to offer an explanation anyway. "It's the reception. It made me think of... well..." The thought drifted away.

"Oh. It made you think of... er... I don't think I know his name..." Ellie remembered hearing of a boyfriend who had died on their trek to Jackson.

"Alex."

Ellie blinked. "Alex? The same name as your brother? That must've been weird."

The other woman chuckled softly. "No, my brother's the one I'm thinking about."

And that was even weirder. What would her brother have to do with the wedding, or wedding feelings in general? "Oh. ...okay, so... ?"

"I'm just worried. I thought maybe... I was hoping he might come back, after he... found what he was looking for... actually, it's a who he was looking for. But... I think maybe that was stupid. Stupid of me to think that. It hasn't been long enough for him to come back anyway... all I can do about it is worry." She sighed and looked down at the towel in her hands. Started wringing it absently. "The wedding just... made it hit home. That he's... gone. He's always been there. My whole life, always there. And now he's gone. The only family I have left." Her voice broke.

Ellie was still a little confused, but she didn't really need to hear the full explanation. It was strange to think that happy, sexy Skankytwat had all these... feelings. And that she would expose them to Ellie for no good reason. Much as she didn't like to think about it, Ellie knew that Sophie was a human being, and part of being human was having feelings. That she wasn't just this... thing that existed to try to seduce Joel and make Ellie mad -- a skank, as Ellie liked to categorize her. Maybe the skank thing was just a persona. Or... maybe it wasn't like a total illusion, just that there were also other sides to her. Like serious Joel versus sweet Joel versus killer Joel... but, whatever -- why is this chick even telling me THIS much? Has she had a little too much to drink, maybe?!

It seemed like it was Ellie's turn to say something. "Okay," she said dumbly.

Not exactly a comforting response, or a please-tell-me-more, but the woman continued emoting. "And I'm pissed that he left. I know why... and why he didn't ask me to-- didn't give me the choice, but it still, just..." She dabbed at her eyes again with the towel, then resumed talking -- to the ceiling now, rather than the towel. "That's not even important. Like... what if I never see him again? Right? Because that's what happens. Someone leaves, they could be alive or dead, and you just... never really know, you know? And you have to live with that, day in and day out. And not let it drive you bonkers."

Ellie could relate to that. Much as she didn't like the thought of... well, relating to the bitch in any way... she knew what that felt like. And it was one of the crappiest feelings in the world. Come to think of it, Ellie hadn't seen her dancing at all. Not even the dirty-dancing -- and wouldn't that totally be her thing, as a skank? Maybe she really was feeling sad as fuck. And she couldn't have known Ellie would choose to go to the bathroom at that time, if she was just trying to play some kind of mind game with her... and why would she even want to do that? But -- she had friends, so why didn't she go talk to them? Why go sit on a toilet by yourself and cry? Ellie thought she'd seen her with her skanky counterpart before... maybe that just wasn't a thing that was done in the skank circle. Or maybe she couldn't pull the other woman away from her son and her niece. Maybe it was just plain hard to do when everyone else was having such a good time.

Ellie was trying to think of something decent to say that wasn't horseshit when Joel's voice outside spared her the effort.

"Ellie? You okay?"

Sophie seemed amused by that. "He comes looking for you in the ladies' room?" she marveled quietly, finally looking at Ellie.

Before she could think to stifle it, Ellie smiled a little. "He does if he thinks I'm taking too long. What's that saying... old habits die slow?" Like she might get fucking kidnapped from the bathroom or something? Fall in a toilet and drown? It was sort of adorable, though, that he just had to check. She called out to Joel, "Yeah, I'm fine! I'll be out in a minute!"

The other woman made a shooing motion with her hand, then folded up the towel to hang it back on the rack. "Go ahead. I'm okay now... thanks, Ellie."

Ellie stared at her shoes, surprised for a second when she didn't see her usual sneakers. "I didn't do anything," she said honestly.

"You could've just left," she pointed out.

I wanted to!
"Whatever. No biggie."

"Go," she repeated. "I'll hang back a minute."

Huh? Ellie looked up from her golden toes. "Why would you do that?"

"Well... you know. So you and Joel can go... and I'll just..."

"Do you, like... not want to see him or something?" ...why am I questioning that? That's fucking GREAT. Ugh, Ellie, just shut up!

"No, it's... whatever. I just thought you would rather... it would be a little uncomfortable, I guess is what I'm saying. Awkward. You know."

"Like us running into each other in here, you mean?" Ellie said mildly.

"Yeppers," Sophie replied, chuckling. "I hope it's... less awkward now."

If that was supposed to be some kind of peace offering... Ellie wasn't going for it. But she wouldn't be mean. -And 'yeppers'? Seriously? Why can't she just say 'yep' or 'yeah' or 'yes' like everyone else does? "You don't wanna stay in here, though, do you?" was all she asked her aloud.

"No..."

"So come on. I won't say anything about... this." Especially not if it would make Joel feel sorry for the woman! But she kept that thought to herself.

As far as she knew, Sophie hadn't said anything to anyone about the... incident in her bedroom. If she had blabbed, surely Ellie or Joel would have taken some shit for it by now. Either Joel was hiding it from Ellie -- and she couldn't exactly rule that out, but she really didn't think that was the case -- or Sophie had kept her mouth shut, for reasons unknown. Maybe she had an end game in mind. Like maybe she wasn't done trying to get Joel to love her... or maybe she was embarrassed by her own role in it? ...But couldn't she have made herself look good by embellishing it a bit? Like... make it sound like Joel was passionately ripping her clothes off or something, until I RUINED everything? Ellie knew how the rumor mill worked in Jackson. She had even fed it herself; she wouldn't be surprised if there were still people in town who believed that Joel had kidnapped her -- that they had met that way. Ellie liked that one.

Anyway, she really wasn't in the mood to ponder Sophie's schemes at the moment. It kind of didn't matter, because Joel belonged to Ellie -- a fact that he proved every single day. Even if no one else knew, Ellie knew. She could afford to be charitable to this... skank. Or whatever she was. "Come on. It's okay. You should go out there and... dance or something."

Whatever-she-was had apparently grown tired of trying to get Ellie to leave her behind. And she seemed to like Ellie's suggestion. "Cool beans," she said, sounding a little more cheerful. "You're right -- just gimme a sec." Sophie turned back to the mirror and started fluffing her hair.

Ellie rolled her eyes. "Like you even need to do that." Certainly not if it's for Joel's sake! And what's so cool about BEANS, anyway? Ellie tugged on Sophie's arm, pulling her away from the sink... and then with sudden inspiration, she linked arms with the woman and flashed her a wicked smile. "Come on. I wanna see the look on Joel's face when we walk out together like this. Smile!"

~Continue to Chapter 16~

Tags: fic, tlou, uncertainty
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