Lumy (luminations) wrote,

"Uncertainty" Chapter 17: "Beauty and the Beast" (17/47)

Title: "Uncertainty" Chapter 17: "Beauty and the Beast" (17/47)
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: 7750
Rating (for fic as a whole): R


Joel was indeed waiting for her on the bed, sitting up with his back against the wall... wearing too much clothing -- and not his dress clothes. I should have made him keep those on so I could undress him! He was already clad in his sleep attire of tank top and pajama pants. Ellie pouted. "Joel, why are you wearing all that?"

"This? It's hardly 'all that.' Did you drink some water?"

"Uh-huh." She kicked her shoes off, sending them skidding across the floor.

"Two glasses?"

"Yep." More like one and a half.

"Good. C'mere, I got your nightgown..."

She crawled across the bed to him and gave him a kiss. "So you are gonna undress me, right?"

"If you want me to."

"Of course I do." As if she ever wouldn't! She climbed into his lap, straddling him and posing his arms the way she wanted them -- namely, around her body. "I'm gonna sleep naked," she announced.

"Oh no you ain't." He tugged on one of the dress straps and kissed her shoulder. "You're gonna let me put your nightgown on like a good girl."

That made her giggle. Only bad girls sleep naked? "I'm not a good girl, Daddy, I'm--"

He cut her off with a groan. "Don' call me that."

"What? You sounded like a dad right there!" She couldn't help feeling defensive. Not like she'd ever had a dad or anything, but she'd observed a fair amount of them...

Joel sighed and leaned back, dropping his arms to his sides. Looking away... at something she couldn't see. "Ellie..."

"Sorry sorry sorry -- I didn't mean it. Sorry!" Fuck, why am I such an idiot?! Joel had said her age was the main reason he wouldn't have sex with her, but she knew the dad thing was a big issue for him, too, and she was just making it worse. "Don't listen to me, I'm just a stupid drunk asshole." She didn't feel as buzzy as she had a little while ago, but if alcohol made people say stupid things, she would happily blame it for any mistakes she made (and wasn't that part of the fun of drinking it in the first place?). She tried to turn his face towards hers and give him a kiss... but he wouldn't let her.

Which kind of made her want to cry. She knew that Joel would only be momentarily annoyed... she knew this, logically. Even so, something inside her was screaming,"You stupid bitch, you just fucked up for the last time and you've lost him -- he's all grossed out by you now!"

"I'm sorry, Joel, don't be mad, please," she pleaded, planting desperate little kisses along his jaw since he wouldn't look at her. He didn't push her away when she kissed her way over to his lips, at least. "I'm sorry," she repeated yet again, knowing that she risked overdoing it and being annoying -- she was annoying herself, for fuck's sake -- but she couldn't seem to just... stop. "Okay? Please be okay... I love you..."

He sighed again. Turned and cupped her cheek in one hand. "It's all right, baby girl. I love you, too."

She leaned into his hand and closed her eyes, feeling the relief wash over her. "Oh thank God. I thought I just ruined everything." Fuck -- her voice was even trembling. SO not-sexy, Ellie...

She felt his other hand start to caress her hair. "You could never do that. Not jus' by sayin' somethin' I don' like. You worry too much." His lips brushed hers.

"Okay," she breathed. She opened her eyes... and saw that he looked a little worried himself.

"Don' cry, baby girl."

Why do I have tears in my eyes? She was not going to cry over something so stupid. "I'm not crying." She kissed him again... not the big sloppy kiss she'd planted on him when they first got home, but a slower, sweeter, more loving kind. "Joel... I reeeeally love you," she informed him between kisses.

He smiled a little. "I know you do."

"No, but really. Like, a lot." She pulled back a little so she could see him better. "I don't think you even get it... how much."

"I get it," he assured her. The expression on his face now was so much nicer than it had been a minute ago.

"All I wanna do is say and do things that make you happy."

"Mm. It's good to have goals," he teased, nudging the other strap off her shoulder with kisses.

She smiled. "Yep! That is my purpose in life. It's not--" This time she caught herself before saying another dumb thing, like bringing up the way he'd forced her to abandon her crusade to save humanity. Man, what a mood-killer I am! "... it's not anything except making sure you're... loved, and... um... happy..." His lips on her skin were a little distracting.

"You're doin' a good job of... meetin' those goals, then." He trailed little kisses over her collarbone and up her neck, and ran his hands all over her back, both the bare upper part and the lower part still covered by the dress. "But all I'm doin' tonight is puttin' you to bed. Does this thing..." He felt the middle of her back where the dress met her skin. There was no zipper, no buttons or anything... but Ellie wasn't about to give him any hints on the best way to get the thing off of her. If they were just going to go to sleep, she wanted it to take as long as possible to get there.

"We're already in bed," she pointed out, "and I told you before -- I'm not tired!"

"Thought you might've got tired by now," he said, gathering up her skirt in his hands.

"In like five minutes? Nope." He wasn't really acting like he was only interested in 'putting her to bed.' For one giddy moment, she thought he might have been snaking his hand down to her underwear, but then she realized he was just trying to lift the dress. She obligingly raised her arms to help him as he pulled it up over her head. The light was on, and she still felt a little shy about being topless with him since they were usually in the dark, or near-dark. Even on that morning she didn't have the farm and they could wake up together, she'd been wearing her nightshirt, and she hadn't gotten dressed in front of him. Don't blush don't blush don't blush...

"Hmm. Wondered if you had a bra on under there or not," he mumbled as he tossed the dress aside.

"Really? Like, were you looking and trying to see if you could tell?"


She wondered if that was a little white lie. "Maybe I would've worn one if I didn't have to stick the straps somewhere. Or if I had one of those... ones without straps." Of the two bras she had, she preferred the one she used at the farm -- which was supposed to be for athletes or something, judging by its name? -- but it wasn't sexy. Not a 'Joel' bra. She snorted. "Not like I really need one at all, ever."

He brought his hands around her sides and up a little to cup her breasts, making her shiver. "Sure you do. You kiddin' me? These'd be floppin' all over the place in a normal shirt."

"As if!" she scoffed (and hanging around the other teens tended to bring out her Clueless vocabulary) -- "But... you like them, and that's all that matters. Right?"

"Absolutely." His hands returned to her back and he pulled her closer for a kiss. "It ain't jus' my opinion, you know. You are beautiful, exactly the way you are. Don' forget it."

She ducked her head, embarrassed. Joel may not have been the most romantic, mushy guy out there... or, like, not even in the top hundred on the scale of mushiness... but one thing he was really good at was making her feel pretty. He never said anything that made her feel like there was anything wrong with her body... like it was anything less than the most beautiful one he'd ever seen. She sometimes tried to return the favor, but Joel was even less graceful with compliments than she was, and he would deflect with humor, saying things like he was like the beast to her beauty. He didn't seem to be shy or self-conscious about anything, though. Even when she was scrutinizing his dick that first night. She hadn't even considered how unnerving that must have been for him (until it occurred to her the next day). If he'd just been staring at her like that, like what he was seeing was so completely bizarre that he couldn't help himself, she didn't think she could stand it.

She'd wondered if maybe that had somehow put him off the idea of her touching him there, that maybe she hadn't acted the way she was supposed to act -- and no matter how many times Joel tried to tell her there was no 'supposed' to, she fucking knew there was a right and a wrong way to do things. Like jokingly calling him 'daddy,' for example. Clearly the wrong thing to say!

He had her nightgown in his hands now -- the long, flannel one. "Noooooo, it's your turn to go topless," she cooed as she tried to lift up his tank top.

He chuckled -- and didn't cooperate with her lifting. "I'm sleepin' in this."

"Why?? You haven't for like, days."

"Jus' for tonight."

"Why?" she repeated, eying him suspiciously.

"Jus' 'cause."

"That's not a reason!"

"Sure it is."

She studied his face, as if that might give her some indication of which way the wheels in his brain were spinning. He just looked mildly amused. "You think I'm going to rape you," she decided.

"What? Ha! No."

"Well, I'm not going to."

"I know that, thank you."

Then why can't you sleep almost-naked like you've been doing for days? Ellie kept staring. "I don't think so. I think you're sorta scared of me."

"Baby girl, you wouldn' even know how," Joel said... sounding quite smug.

She grinned. "Is that a challenge? Cuz... I mean... I get the concept. I could figure it out. Part A goes into Slot B..."

Joel laughed. "You readin' an instruction manual? We still got those layin' around somewhere?"

"The library has papers with diagrams and stuff, yeah... not sex books," she clarified -- although she didn't really know that for sure. She'd never seen any, but like the sex articles in the magazines she'd read, she suspected that was because people had stolen them long ago.

"Good. I don' want you readin' those." His arms were around her again, holding her snugly, one hand playing with her hair. The nightgown hadn't yet been abandoned, though; she felt it draped over his arm. "I wanna teach you myself," Joel added. "Someday."

She liked it when he said stuff like that. When he sounded like he wasn't disgusted by the idea, like there was something wrong with the way they loved each other. "My slot is ready for your part whenever you are," she said, and she'd meant to say it sexily, but she barely even got the last word out before she had to laugh, and Joel laughed with her.

He also gave her a kiss. "You're really cute."

"Cute -- and sexy," she added hopefully. "Right?"

"Yep. Too sexy for the old man. Now c'mon, let's get your gown on."

"What's the rush? You like looking at me, right? You think I'm pretty?"


"So... I'm good. Like this." She shifted around a little, making it look like she was trying to get more comfortable, but the whole time she'd been straddling him, she hadn't felt anything stiff down there, and she was a little concerned. She had to just have the wrong angle or something... yet still, she couldn't feel anything.

"You sure you're good?" He chuckled at the way she was moving around.

"Yeah, just..." She feigned having an itch on the back of her thigh. She scratched a little and then tried to get settled again. Joel started running his fingers all over her back, her butt, her legs, not scratching but letting her feel his nails.

She giggled. "Thanks for that." I'm fucking sitting in your lap in my underwear, with no shirt on! If I'm so sexy, why the fuck aren't you hard, Joel??? She couldn't ask him that, because maybe she didn't want to know the answer. She just had to remedy the situation. Like, just shut the fuck up and kiss the man already.

And she did, without further preamble. Enough with the sweet little tender ones. She opened her mouth wider, pressing her tongue through his lips when he parted them, sliding her hands up beneath his shirt. "Just the top?" she asked as she tugged it up. "So we're both topless?"

"All right..." He started to lift it up himself, but she swatted his hands away so she could do it. She loved feeling his skin against hers, warm and... well, she didn't really know why she preferred it that way, other than the comforting warmth. It just felt better. Like they were somehow closer, even though they really weren't.

She resumed kissing him, pressing her torso to his. Joel had said that he loved hearing the noises she made when she was aroused... that it turned him on. She made some 'mmmm' sounds, kissing him deeper. "Joel... mmm... want you..."

"...Want me to what?" he whispered huskily. He was starting to respond to her now. Hopefully he'd abandoned that putting-her-to-bed bullshit.

"Just want you," she replied, kissing him passionately, thoroughly... totally chickening out of saying what she really wanted. Not that what she'd said was a lie, of course! She was definitely feeling that yearning... the desire for his touch in her naughty places. But she couldn't say what it was that she wanted even more than that, as it sometimes led to an argument, or killed the mood: I want you to let me touch you... make YOU feel good for once... It wasn't so much a physical need as an emotional one. After that, she'd totally let him touch her, if he wanted to. According to that one article, she'd have about five minutes before he fell asleep, but that would be enough time if he skipped all the teasing. Then I wouldn't feel guilty after, like I'm taking advantage of him... we'd be like any other two people who love each other: equals!

Ellie didn't have the same instincts Joel did about all the sex stuff, but he seemed to be pretty into the kissing, and he had let her take off his top... had given up the idea of just going right to sleep... it felt like a good time to test the waters a little. Maybe this time he wouldn't freak out if she--

Nope. He flinched, and pulled her hand up when it barely even grazed his pants. "No, baby girl," he said, as if she hadn't already deduced as much from his reaction. But at least he kissed her; before she could even apologize, he was kissing her again.

She was sure she'd felt a budding erection when suddenly he flipped them around, pushing her down crosswise on the bed -- probably so he wouldn't be slamming her head into the wall (so kind of him!) -- and climbing on top of her, hovering over her like he was about to start a set of push-ups or something. She tried to pull him more squarely on top of her. He kept kissing her... hard, dizzying kisses... so his face is good, but the rest of him is so far away--

He slid down a little, kissing and sucking on her neck, massaging a breast with his hand, and then he eased himself down to lay fully on top of her. Oh, I get it... he was avoiding crotch alignment, although they weren't even naked. He didn't usually bother to do that when he had his pants on, even just his pajama pants. He could be so fucking cute sometimes. She coiled her legs around him. "Joel, it's okay... you're wearing your pants and everything..." And she was still wearing her underwear, although Joel considered that a rather flimsy barrier.

"I know..." He kissed down to her other breast.

Ellie arched her back a little, essentially pushing her nipple into his mouth. A tingle of pleasure rippled down to her toes; the things he made her feel were even better than the champagne. Better than the best part of the champagne buzz, hours earlier. "Mmmmm... I mean... it's not like you're gonna accidentally sneak it in..."

He lifted his head to smile at her, and fuck, was that ever a wicked-sexy smile right there... her stomach did a little somersault (and he wasn't even doing anything just then!).
"I know!" he repeated with a little chuckle.

"Not that I'd mind if you did," she couldn't resist adding.

"Maybe I would mind," he murmured, moving back up to kiss her on the mouth again. She noticed that he was squishing her up in such a way that he wasn't pressing his groin against her, that her legs were too high up. He always seemed to be more comfortable that way.

It was all a bit mystifying to Ellie. She didn't know what he was so afraid of. In general, really, but here specifically... she already knew that he was getting hard -- that that's what happened when they messed around -- so it wasn't like he was sparing her innocence or whatever. He knew she liked feeling it, that she liked having that effect on him, yet it didn't seem to matter. It seemed more like... like he was scared that if he got too excited, he was just going to forget everything and fuck her, because he couldn't help himself? She'd gotten that impression from things he'd said before. But he never 'forgot everything' -- she wished he would, sometimes. It seemed to be a combination of those things, the innocence and the forgetting, and no matter what she said or did, Ellie couldn't seem to get through to him that it was okay to be aroused in her presence. She was his fucking girlfriend... or, girlfriend-equivalent, anyway.

She tried to cheat a little by sliding her hips down as she kissed him... and when she managed to line up her crotch with his, she pressed her body as close to his as she could, hugging him with every appendage. Joel groaned -- well, more like grunted -- and buried his face in her neck. He was absolutely still for a moment. "What?" she said innocently, as if she didn't know that that particular vocalization meant he was near his breaking point.

"You. That's what." He kept his face there.

She giggled softly, and squirmed a little, but he was like dead weight now. "What do you mean, me?"

"You're too goddamn sexy," he mumbled, lifting his head a little so that his breath and beard tickled her ear.

"Am not," she said happily. "Mmm..." He was making it hard for her to keep grinding into him. "Joel... it's okay... you can, um..." She let her hand drift down to his ass. He didn't seem to mind if she touched it briefly, as long as she didn't let her hand wander around front. She didn't know if he liked it when she touched him there (and she was afraid to ask), but he didn't stop her. And she wasn't trying to molest him now; she was just trying to... do something to make him push against her. Like they were having make-believe sex. That was so fun! "Kiss me," she tried.

And he did, a little slower than before, but still deeply... and he moved a little... then he did start to grind against her. Yes! She moaned encouragement into his mouth, and kept her hand on his ass to help push him against her until he groaned again.

"Ellie... you're drivin' me crazy, girl."

Ellie grinned, always pleased to hear that. "So let's just do it," she suggested.

"No," he said immediately.

Damn! Not that she was surprised. "So... let me touch you," she whispered. "Please, Joel..."

He may have hesitated a moment longer there, but the answer was still, "No."

She bit back the 'why not?' that bubbled up to her tongue. "Joel... I want to... I love you." Isn't that reason enough?

But the man could be so fucking stubborn when he wanted to be. His lips were warm on her throat, her chest... he slid down too far, and she couldn't reach his ass anymore. His hand slithered down to her thigh as his lips reached her nipple. "Hey... don't distract me," she warned, moaning softly. She felt his fingers brush over her panties... he always starts by teasing...

"Stop," she protested weakly. "It's not fair!"

He glanced up at her. "Life ain't fair. You know that."

"Fuck you... mmm..."

He chuckled, and resumed kissing her body... her stomach, now. His teasing fingers plucked at her underwear... and then he actually sat up on his knees, pulling her legs up so they were sticking straight up in the air, his head nestled between her ankles. She was about to ask what he was doing when he hooked his thumbs in her panties and asked her, "Mind if I take these off? Is that okay?"

Progress! He was the one who always wanted that flimsy barrier in place. Trying to stifle a self-conscious giggle, she smiled. "Of course!" But when he started slowly sliding them down -- or, actually, up, since her legs were in the air -- she stopped him. "Wait... can you turn the light off? It's... really bright in here..." She'd really liked the candlelight, that first night, but she understood they couldn't waste candles all the time. What they needed (and kept forgetting to try to obtain) was a night light. Or an alarm with digits a little brighter than the dull red that they had.

They were close enough to the lamp that he could lean over and reach it without squishing her up too much... just enough to make her giggle a little. It was pitch black as soon as he switched it off. Her eyes would adjust, but with the curtains drawn, even the moonlight wouldn't illuminate much. He slowly slid her underwear all the way off, and Ellie didn't know what became of them after that since it was so fucking dark. She let her legs fall back to rest on either side of him -- on the bed, not in the air. He leaned down and kissed a path up to her mouth... probably because he couldn't see anything either, and had to find it by feel. "You okay?" he murmured against her lips.

She was more than okay -- she was ecstatic that he was okay with her being all-the-way naked with him, finally. "Uh-huh... but, I still wish you'd let me--"

"Sssshhh..." He shut her up with another kiss, and she wrapped herself around him again. His hand came to rest on her inner thigh.

I really shouldn't let him... but... it feels SO fucking amazing... it's like I can't NOT... guhhh! He trailed kisses down her neck and throat, her chest, lingering over each breast... his fingers still weren't exactly touching her sex yet, just all around the area. He kissed her stomach, her belly button...

...then even lower than her belly button....

...and it dawned on her where he was headed. She couldn't let him do that! She wasn't that selfish. "Joel! No! You can't!" she cried.

He'd gotten as far as her pubic hair. "What? 'Course I can..." He sounded amused... and like he was about to ignore her 'no.' She knew his lips and tongue worked magic every place they touched, and she could only imagine how amazing they'd feel there, but she just... couldn't.

"No! Don't!" She scrambled to sit up, forgetting that she was so close to the edge. Nearly fell off the bed in her effort to move away from him.

"Ellie... what... ?" Joel crawled toward her.

She backed up to the head of the bed -- the wall -- and curled her legs beneath her, turning her back to him. "I don't want you to do that!"

"Okay... Okay. Jus'... lemme turn the..."

"No -- don't turn the light back on. Please?"

"I jus' wanna talk to you."

"So talk. We don't need light."

He didn't argue. Ellie wasn't sure why she didn't want him to see her face. She wasn't going to cry, for fuck's sake. ...was she? Fucking champagne! It had to be the champagne. If it intensified the happy emotions, the flip side of that was that it would intensify the shitty ones, too.

"What's wrong, baby girl?"

"You know what's wrong."

He was sitting right beside her now. "C'mere..."


"I jus' wanna hold you..."

She was mad at him, and being in his arms would make it hard to stay mad. She knew she shouldn't be angry, but... she just was. "No," she repeated. "No... even though I'm so fucking tired of that word." She didn't move away from his hand on her back, though. She supposed she could allow at least that much contact. Joel started rubbing it in the soothing circles that she liked. Which was almost as bad as letting him hold her... fuck...

"What did you think I was gonna do?" he asked.

"I know what you were gonna do."

Joel seemed to decide that she'd guessed correctly. "And you... didn' think you'd like it?"

"Maybe I would. But I didn't want you to do it."

"Why not? ...did you think it would be... uncomfortable, or..."


He was silent for a moment, then tried again. "Did you think... that I wouldn' like it?"

Maybe a little. But that wasn't her main objection. She didn't say anything, and he seemed to interpret that as agreement. "I would," he said. "You... taste good. Remember?"

She remembered the way he'd licked his fingers afterward... last time. How he'd made some ridiculous comment about it being 'finger-licking good', which had achieved the desired effect of turning her disgust into amusement. It was funny, even though she hadn't realized it was from some commercial back in his time that had nothing to do with sex. "You were just doing that to gross me out," she pointed out.

"I wasn't. Maybe I wanted you to react, yeah, but I don' think it's gross. I swear. I was only... I jus' wanted to make you feel good, tonight. I'm sorry. I didn' think it would freak you out."

"I'm not freaked out!"

"Well... whatever you are." He rested his chin on her shoulder.

Again, she didn't object to his touch. But I should! I WANT to be mad at him. fucked up is that, though?! Who would want that? It would be so easy to slide back a little, right into his arms... she knew that was what he wanted her to do.

"I wanted to do it," he said. "Still want to..."

"What about what I want?" she asked quietly. "Doesn't that matter?"

"Of course it does."

"Then why won't you let me make you feel good? That's what I want. You wouldn't be forcing me, or... coercing, or whatever the fuck you like to call it. It's not bad. You're not bad, for letting me. If you would just let me try..."

"It ain't the same thing."

She felt the tears coming -- stupid fucking (alcohol-induced?) tears! -- and started fighting them, hard. Don't cry don't cry don't cry don't fucking cry!

He kissed her shoulder. "I'm sorry. I will let you... someday..."

She swallowed against that choking feeling in her throat. DON'T. CRY.

Her silence seemed to trouble Joel. "Ellie? Talk to me."

She remained quiet for a few moments. "I can't," she finally grumbled.

"Please try." He was playing with her hair now. Being sweet. That only made it worse.
"Remember, if I'm bein' an' asshole, you're s'posed to tell me. Don' stay quiet."

"It's not that." ...not exactly? She knew he couldn't help how he felt, and that made it not-asshole-ish. If anyone was an asshole here, it was her, for pressuring him to let her do things he wasn't comfortable with.

While she contemplated her own assholeness, Joel fetched her nightgown and started trying to get it over her head. She pushed him away. "No, I don't... want that." She wasn't sure why, because she'd obviously just ruined the night anyway. She was quiet for another few beats, then decided to try talking. And not just talking -- but being open and honest. It was hard sometimes, but it always brought them closer. "I know I'm not-- that I'm supposed to be okay, with... with whatever you decide... and I am, Joel, I swear I am!" Her voice was shaky, and a couple tears escaped. She kept going anyway. "Maybe it doesn't seem like it now, but I am -- I will be, I can talk myself out of... I can make it be okay. I know we have to do things your way. And I don't want to make you do anything you don't want to! God, that's the last thing I want. I'm trying... real hard, to... respect that you don't..." She took a breath. "You don't want me to touch you. You don't want my hands on you, cuz the thought of me... it makes you sick..."

"You don' make me sick."

Maybe she didn't all the time. She did make him hard... but in some ways, he doesn't LIKE when that happens. Maybe it's not just the innocence thing... It was strange how he could be so sincere when he told her how pretty she was, and in those moments, she would totally believe him, but the way he physically reacted to her when she touched him through his clothes, or sometimes even just attempted to touch him, said otherwise. It really had made him nauseous, at least once. And one thing she knew about Joel: if his words contradicted his actions, it was his words that were false. "Right. Cuz I'm soooo beautiful," she sneered.

"You are! That has--"

"Then why do I make you feel sick to your--"

"No! It ain't like that. It's not you!"

" 'It's not you, it's me' ," she recited for him. "Right?"

"It really is."

"That's bullshit!" She'd learned that from watching a movie recently. People had said it to her all her life, and as she got older, it had begun to strike her as a lie. A cop-out. That bit in the movie really rang true to her (and she'd been quite glad to learn that the bullshit wasn't exclusive to her).


"I just want to... why is it so wrong? For me to want that? Why is it okay for you to do whatever you want, but it's not for me?" she lamented, more sadly than angrily, but... it really was infuriating, when she thought about it.

It seemed like he was trying to pull her into his arms, and she still didn't want to give him that... or to feel comforted physically when it didn't fix anything... and suddenly, something snapped and she didn't want him to touch her at all.

"Stop it!" She twisted away from him and off of the bed. Sat on the floor under the window, hugging her knees to her chest, leaning her side into the wall. He followed her... knelt in front of her -- more beside her, really. Essentially boxing her in, unless she wanted to slide backward into the narrow space between the bed and the wall. He didn't try to touch her again, though, which was a good thing, because with nowhere to escape to, she didn't know what she would've done if he had. Probably scoot backwards... then go up and over the bed... into the other room... for some reason, thinking about escape had a strange calming effect on her. Even though it was Joel -- and she knew she didn't want to 'escape' from him. What the motherfucking FUCK is wrong with me?!

Joel seemed to have gotten the message, though. "Do you mind if I turn on the light, so we can--"

"No! Leave it dark." I'm a revolting creature... I'M the beast here... and we like it in the dark, she mused to herself -- and this thought, too, was oddly calming. Neither the dim clock light nor the sliver of moonlight she was sitting in were bright enough to expose her face... or anything else. We belong in the dark. The darkness hides our ugliness.

Joel was quiet. Mulling over his words, perhaps thinking up new lies... or maybe debating whether he should go ahead and turn the light on anyway. What HE wants is more important than what I want. Every time. ...and isn't that how it SHOULD be? His rules, not mine. That was the agreement from the start.

But he left the light off, and it was only a few moments before he spoke. "Ellie... it ain't... okay, for me to... do whatever I want, as you put it... if you don' want me to do any of that stuff, I'll stop. I didn' know it was botherin' you so much."

"It's not!" She should let him back off. To make things fair. But in a way, that thought was terrifying, because once he started backing away from things... "I just have to-- I am okay with it, Joel, really--"

"No, you're not. Or you wouldn' be sittin' on the floor, tryin' to... do you want me to leave you alone?"

Yes. Alone in the dark where I belong, yes. ...but no. Her first instinct was to say yes, but she knew she didn't really want that, and if she said it, he might believe her... might actually go away, instead of... she didn't even know what she wanted him to do, really. It wasn't like he could say, "Wow, you're right, Ellie. You've just completely changed the way I feel about the sex stuff and I know you won't make me lose my lunch anymore. Let's do it!" She couldn't imagine Joel ever saying that. No way in hell.

She just ignored the question. "I'm okay with the way things are. I swear. I don't wanna go backwards. That's the rule. Only steps forward."

"Well, then... don' think of it as backwards. Sideways, maybe? Or... hittin' the pause button... waitin' for me to catch up?"

She buried her face in her knees. "I don't want that either. I just want... for you to not be... disgusted by me."

"I'm not. I told you--"

"I know what you told me. All lies." That was a bit of an exaggeration... but Ellie didn't care to admit that.

"What do you think I'm lyin' about?" he asked gently.

What DON'T you lie about? she thought meanly, but that wasn't really how she felt, either, and she managed to hold her tongue. It was just something she could say that would hurt him. Part of her wanted to do just that... the other part of her knew she would regret it.

"The it's-not-you-it's-me thing," she answered. "Whenever you tell me I'm pretty." She knew it was a little more complicated for him than she made it sound, but basically... didn't it come down to that in the end? Because how could he honestly find her attractive, yet be grossed out at the same time? He tried to protest now, but she kept talking, and her voice was soft enough that he wouldn't hear her unless he shut up -- which he did. Immediately. "Maybe you don't even realize it's a lie. But that doesn't make it true. If you really... it just doesn't make sense. I'm not your daughter, and you know it -- cuz if you didn't, you wouldn't kiss me, or..." She stumbled over that thought. Obviously, if I truly repulsed him, he couldn't KISS me like that... right?! "I don't get it." A generic statement which encompassed so many things... he was listening to her now, though. Really listening. She had to try to make some sense of it, and to convey how it made her feel when he acted the way he did. "I make you-- it makes you sick. Maybe not me, exactly, but me doing stuff... it's still me. I can't separate myself from... my hand, or whatever... it's all me. Making you feel bad when I just want you to feel good. And you're lying whenever you pretend that... it's fun for you, to be with me, like... like when you... -but any time I try to-- or you think I might... touch you... it's like torture for you."

"No! It ain't like that." He tried to lay a hand on her shoulder, but she shrugged it off. "Ellie, listen. None of that--"

"Stop lying!" She stopped mumbling into her knees and lifted her head. "Words don't mean shit, Joel. You, like... cringe... and you should see your face, any time my hand goes... God, even on the outside of your clothes, you can't stand it. You say I'm not doing anything wrong..."

"You're not! It's my--"

"Don't you get it?! That makes it worse! If it was something I was doing, maybe I could fix it. You could just tell me how. But you can't, because the problem is me. No matter what I do, it's wrong, cuz you don't... you don't..." Her anger couldn't withstand the overwhelming power of this simple truth that had just smacked her in the face, and her voice faltered. I have to tell him. "I know you love me. I do. But it's... different. It's not the same way that I love you. It's not as much, or as deep, or as... I dunno... it's a different kind of love. If it was the same way that I love you, then the idea of me... you would love it. I wouldn't gross you out. I wouldn't make you want to puke."

"Oh, baby girl..." It almost sounded like Joel was getting teary now. Almost... because it couldn't be true. Joel never cried. "You don't," he continued. "I swear you don't. You could never. Ellie... please..."

His hand was on her shoulder again. She let it stay there. The warmth of it made her realize she was cold, sitting there naked on the floor like that. He moved it slowly to her back, and his other hand groped at her other arm... she knew she shouldn't, but she let him gently tug her close to him. She didn't hug him. She was basically sitting the same way she had been on the floor, only his arms were around her, invitingly warm... and loving... he rearranged himself to provide a lap for her, his back against the bed. She didn't resist, exactly, but she sat very stiffly in his lap -- which was much warmer and softer and nicer than the cold, dirty, threadbare carpet had been. And then he squeezed her so hard... maybe I went too far, she began to wonder. He does love me. I know he does. Maybe my feelings about this are wrong... maybe I'm going to make him think we shouldn't be together if I keep--

"I wish I could make you understand," he said sadly. "Nothin' about you disgusts me. It's me who--"

"Okay," she cut him off. I can't let him get to the part where he says it's better if we go back to not being in love! "It's okay, Joel. I didn't mean all that stuff I said. I'm just drunk."

"...I don' think so." He held her close, kissed her head, rocked her a little... it felt good. Too fucking good. "I'm so sorry. I keep fuckin' things up."

Too fucking good... because good things can't be trusted. They never last. And now he's apologizing... Even though she was the one who had ruined the evening. She knew he hated 'fucking up,' where she was concerned. The Joel in her head continued with, "The last thing I want to do is let my issues affect you. You'd be better off without me."

Suddenly feeling panicked, she lifted her head and looked at him. It was dark, but she could sort of see him... "You don't fuck things up! Joel, you don't. I told you, I'm okay with it -- with whatever you want. I'm just being stupid. You can touch me wherever you want, kiss me wherever you want... I don't care. I don't care! I get it -- I know why it's hard for you -- you feel like a perv -- you're not, but you feel like one -- especially if you let me touch you -- it's going to take a while to get over that feeling -- like, years. Yeah! Years would be totally understandable -- you haven't done anything wrong, it's just way too soon! And I can totally wait -- as long as it takes -- it prob'ly doesn't seem like it right now, but I'm very patient -- at least about stuff like this -- and I shouldn't be trying to force you--"

"Ellie Ellie Ellie--" He had to shake her a little to snap her out of her frantic babbling. "Stop! I ain't mad at you, an' I ain't leavin' you. I love you. Take a deep breath, all right?"

She did stop, surprised that he'd heard things she hadn't even said. He'd cut right to the heart of her words... right to the desperation. "Sorry..."

He sighed. Tucked her head against his neck and squeezed her again. "You don' have to apologize, an' you don' have to worry about me leavin'. Or maybe not leavin'-leavin', but... breakin' your heart. I won't do that. I wish I could make you believe me."

"I do," she said quietly. Usually. And when he held her like this... it was like she could feel it, physically. Isn't that what 'making love' is supposed to be about? Why is it considered such a horrible and disgusting thing if he does that with me?

He kissed her temple. "I'm glad you told me how you're feelin'. I had no idea that you would... that the way I've been actin' would make you actually think--"

"I told you -- it's okay."

"No, it ain't. I'm sorry, baby girl."

He was being so sweet that now she felt bad for making him feel bad. I'm supposed to make him happy! When she was angry, she didn't care about that. It was like she forgot. Joel would just calmly absorb the shouting, the thoughtless words... and then, usually, she'd feel a little silly afterwards. It was impossible to fight with someone who wouldn't fight back. That wasn't fighting, that was... bullying. He didn't just completely take her shit... he would 'stand up' to her, the way she used to stand up to her bullies in Boston... but where she would escalate a situation into a fight, Joel would answer with love. Okay, so it's not like I could just HUG IT OUT against the Martinez brothers, or that nasty Gretchen bitch... But Joel wasn't like them -- and he wasn't like her, when their roles were flipped. He was... mature about things. No wonder he thinks I'm just a dumb kid sometimes. God! If I could just not freak out over every little thing...

"I'll try harder, all right?" he whispered into her hair.


"I'll try. I don' want you to feel like... like there's somethin' wrong with you, or that I don' really love you... or that anythin' about you disgusts me."

She realized what he was referring to, and lifted her head again. "Oh, Joel... no, I wasn't trying to make you--"

"I know you weren't. But maybe you're right. Maybe I jus' need to... get over that."
Now she sat up a little so she could drape her arms around his neck. "Joel! You don't have to. It's not important. This is what's important. Just... being close, and... I can wait for you! You're not ready. It's okay. Really! I shouldn't have said all that stuff."

He chuckled and gave her a little kiss. "I already told you I ain't leavin'."

"That's not why I'm saying this! I'm saying it because... I love that you're willing to do that for me. I know it's not easy, but you love me, so... well, I love you and I don't want you to feel, like... uncomfortable, or... pressured. That sort of defeats the purpose of trying to make you feel good in the first place, right?" He was petting her hair, her face... Ellie felt happy again. Secure. Loved. And maybe they hadn't resolved this issue, but he'd definitely heard her this time. She kissed him gently, stroking his beard with her thumb.

"You're amazing," he said softly, his voice thick with emotion.

"Pfff. I'm so not. But you can think that if you want to." She laid her head on his shoulder, sinking more comfortably into his lap again. It was silly to sit on the floor like that, and they probably wouldn't stay there much longer, but she didn't want to let him up just yet. Didn't want to risk the slightest change ruining a perfect moment.

"You are," he insisted. "But I am gonna try. I want to. Not tonight... I think tonight we should prob'ly jus' go to sleep, but... next time. All right?"

Ellie couldn't be certain that he wasn't just reacting to her emotional outburst. It was what she wanted, sure, but did he really want it? She would be a huge dick to hold him to that! Time to borrow a Joel-ism... "We'll see."

~Continue to Chapter 18~

Tags: fic, tlou, uncertainty
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