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"Uncertainty" Chapter 45: "The First Time - Part 1: 'And I have loved you dearly...' " (45/47)

Title: "Uncertainty" Chapter 45: "The First Time - Part 1: 'And I have loved you dearly...' " (45/47)
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: 8500
Rating (for fic as a whole): R

A/N: Chapter title contains a lyric from "The Last Farewell" by Roger Whittaker -- and, to kill two birds A/Ns with one stone, Part 2 contains the lyric that follows this one.

You'll see I tried something different with the POV, in both parts/chapters. It still feels weird to me, but I hope you guys like it :)


~

"Where are we going?" asked Ellie, swinging Joel's hand merrily. It was kind of a dumb question, as there was only one place they could be going, in this direction... well, two, but she was pretty sure Joel wasn't going to drag her into the freezing-ass ocean while fully clothed. Although walking into the rocks doesn't seem much more appealing...

"You'll find out in a minute," Joel replied mysteriously, enjoying the eagerness in her voice. Trust me, baby girl... I did my homework...

The fire was still going strong, far behind them now. Ellie thought it was a shame she was going to miss out on Keith's ghost stories -- allegedly legendary ghost stories, at that -- but guitar time was about all she was willing to sit through tonight. Because it's not just tonight... it's TONIGHT!!! Joel and Ellie had slipped away during the short break between the two activities. Ellie figured she could probably persuade Keith to repeat the good ones for her another time... and if anyone asked her tomorrow why they hadn't stuck around, she totally planned on telling them -- with a straight face, if she could manage it -- that Joel would've gotten too scared. "Did anyone see us go this way, you think?" she wondered.

"Maybe, but they sure can't see us now." The moon was somewhere between new and first-quarter, so it was pretty dark out. Joel wondered how furious Ellie would've been if he'd suggested they wait until the moon was full. "For the full romantic effect," he would proclaim -- and then she'd probably accuse him of coming up with yet another ~excuse~ to postpone their first time. They had their flashlights, but using them would surely catch the eye of someone by the fire. "Anyhow, Sophie's gonna be our look-out," he assured her.

"Really? You told her where we're going?" Ellie wasn't sure how she felt about that. She wasn't entirely convinced that Sophie hadn't spied on them a little already... as a little friendly payback for that time in her bedroom, maybe?! She's nicer than me, but she does have a mischievous streak...

"For reinforcement... to make sure no one interrupts us," Joel explained.

"No one except her, maybe." Ellie giggled softly. She decided it would be hilarious if Sophie came after them. So hilarious that she had to share. "Wouldn't it be funny if she came and spied on us the way I spied on you and her?"

Joel slowed their pace as they neared their destination. "Except she won't be able to see shit unless she climbs over this, an' I'm sure I'd hear that. Or see her flashlight beam first." He surveyed the rock jetty in front of them... or, tried to. The solar lamps lit the pathways all over the grounds, but there weren't any on the beach whatsoever. The fire served as adequate lighting for a large enough portion of the beach, especially given that most people didn't go swimming at night. At least not this time of year. I hope Ellie doesn't get too cold out here...

"So we're climbing over this rock?" Ellie asked, clearly dubious.

It couldn't have been more than ten feet high, and they weren't close enough to the water for it to get slippery. Even when the waves were at their tallest, they didn't break this far up the beach (he'd checked on that, too). He'd just have to go more by feel than by sight. "It's easy. Did it this afternoon. Might be a little trickier now. Jus' let me go first an' I'll help you."

When did he do that?! She thought he'd been on the boardwalk all afternoon, except for the brief time when he'd helped her and the kids with the sand sculpting. Maybe right after that... when he said he was going to the bathroom... ha! Ellie watched him start to climb. It was approximately one second before she reached out to grab him -- by the leg, since that's what she could reach. "Wait! Joel, what if you fall and break your neck? Maybe we should go down and... climb over it in the water there, where it's lower."

"Ain't it cold enough out here without gettin' in the water?" Joel protested. But he obligingly dropped back down to the ground.

It was a bit breezy. Not bad with her clothes on, but... "Then let me turn on my flashlight," Ellie suggested.

"Don' need it. I'll turn mine on when I go over, all right? The rock will hide most of the light on the other side." They might need to keep it on, since it was so damn dark. The last thing he wanted was for Ellie to have a panic attack while in the throes of passion.

"I don't know..."

He pulled her close and kissed the top of her head. "Ellie. It's a goddamn rock. It ain't even steep. You think after everythin' we've been through, a fall is gonna do me in?" Before she could state the obvious, he added, "There's no rebar on the other side. I checked. Nothin' but sand."

Did you have to remind me of THAT time?! "Okay, but... things go wrong for us. We shouldn't take any chances," Ellie insisted stubbornly.

"More things go right than go wrong, don'tcha think?" he said softly, rubbing circles on her back and kissing down the side of her face to her neck.

"Mm... I guess."

I thought I was the worrywart here, Joel mused to himself. At least when it came to tangible shit, like physical dangers; Ellie seemed to have the market cornered on the psychological stuff. And now, he couldn't resist: "You said you wanted your first time to be on the beach. Maybe we should wait a couple weeks 'til the moon--"

"No fucking way!" She'd been waiting for months already! She glared daggers at Joel, even though she knew he couldn't see them.

He only smirked a little at the profusion of outrage packed into those three words. "Or we could go back to our room," he suggested.

"No! No, I do want to be on the beach." She sighed. "And I don't want any snoops coming over to investigate if we use a flashlight. Just do it."

Ideally, Sophie would run interference there, but she couldn't have eyes on every resident at once. Someone could slip by her. Or head over after the fire went out. Well, no use dwelling on that. No peeping Tom is gonna stop us from being together now, no matter what. Joel gave Ellie a quick kiss and turned back to the wall of rock. With plenty of places for his hands and feet to find purchase, he scaled it by feel in just a few seconds. He dropped to the ground on the other side and wiped his hands off on his pants; he preferred to touch Ellie in her more intimate places when his hands were clean, but there wasn't much they could do about that while outside. At least it won't be my fingers going inside her this time...

"Are you okay?" Ellie called after him with quiet urgency. She knew he was when she heard the click of his flashlight. Fuck, even from right here I can't really see much light from it!

"I'm fine, kiddo. Come on over an' I'll catch you." It was sweet, how worried she was that something would go wrong; her concern must've equaled (or even exceeded) that from an actual battle. His flashlight was clipped somewhat haphazardly to his shirt, as he wasn't wearing either a backpack or shoulder holster to affix it to (the hip holster he was wearing was too low).

She scaled the rock wall almost as quickly as Joel had; it wasn't all that sharp of an incline. On the other side, either. "I got it," she said, but Joel was right there with his arms open... waiting for her...

...Whoa! She froze in place. "I just got the weirdest feeling... oh! I know what it is -- déjà vu!"

Joel was surprised she knew that term. "You've... been here in another life?"

"No... I think... oh! it's like that one time... like six months ago now." Time DOES fly... kind of... just not when TONIGHT is on the horizon! "When I found out about the Fireflies. And you came looking for me."

She slid down the rock right into his arms, much like she'd done then. Joel squeezed her. "I remember. Figured you couldn't hate me too bad since you let me hold you."

Ellie smiled up at him. "Of course I didn't hate you. And... I never would've been able to leave, you know."

Joel remembered how angry she'd been; there was no of course about it, if memory served, but it was fine with him if she didn't remember that part (or chose not to remember it now). "Damn straight you wouldn't've. I wouldn't've let you."

She giggled as he kissed her. "Besides that. I couldn't do it. And I didn't even know that we'd be... like this. Here. About to... make love." The words still tasted a little funny in her mouth, but she tried not to show it.

Joel quirked an eyebrow, amused. She'd used that term once or twice before, but never with ease, whereas any variation of the f word came quite naturally to her. "What happened to fuckin'?"

"Fine -- about to fuck," she corrected cheekily.

He sighed good-naturedly. "Don' know if I can do that for your first time."

"You can't fuck me?"

"Nope."

"But you can... make love to me," she tried it out again.

"Yep."

"It's the same basic thing, silly." She liked to tease him, but secretly, she loved that he disagreed with her on that point. Loved that Big Bad Joel was a closet romantic.

Joel smirked. "Tab A into Slot B?"

He remembers that! "Yes! If you wanna kiss and stuff for a while first though I'm cool with that," she graciously allowed. "But... not 'til you put it in, cuz... otherwise that defeats the purpose of doing it soft, right?" ...yay I didn't giggle!

"...Right. About that..." Damn, I still don't want to burst her bubble...

"About what?" Then she gasped. "Wait -- you're not hard already, are you?!" She hadn't felt anything going on yet, but she thrust her hand down there to make sure.

He smirked again. "No, but if you keep your hand there..."

She ducked away before he could kiss her again. "Noooo! You're right -- no fooling around until... it's time. So how much farther are we going?"

Joel took her hand and started leading her across the beach again, slightly inland. "Not far."

Ellie had to laugh at the way he was furtively glancing around. Like the piddly light from the flashlight might draw attention to them even beyond that big rock? "~There's no one here~" she sing-songed.

"Jus' makin' sure. Right here..." Joel made a sweeping voilà! type gesture...

...to a blanket in the sand, tucked into a little cliff like a bed in a tiny -- cozy -- room. The outside corners of the blanket were pinned in place by rocks. She saw a towel and comforter, too, stacked neatly by the inside wall. Aww... when did he have time to do this?? "Wow... so this is where..."...I'm going to lose my virginity! She probably could have said that out loud, but for some reason, Ellie still had this tiny fear that Joel would suddenly decide that he wasn't ready. Like he might be struck by the magnitude of it in a new way.

"This is where," Joel agreed. "If it's all right. I know it ain't much."

"It's awesome!" Ellie assured him. "Is this... that rock before -- it's the one you walk through up top that goes to the golf course?" The place was fucking ginormous.

"Yes. You can't even see the ocean from up there, an' the cliff is steep enough that I don' think anyone will come sneak up on us that way. At least not at night."

"But we're still inside."

"Right. Jus' nosy neighbors to look out for." He'd still brought a gun, of course; strapping on a weapon was just part of getting dressed.

Ellie looked around and nodded approval. "I like it."

He'd thought about scattering flower petals over the blanket, but even to him, that seemed a bit over the top. "Technically, it is the beach, you can see the waves... but it feels a little more... private. An' a little more protected from the wind. There's another comforter under there, too, in case it's... I don' know how comfy it'll be, on the ground. It's a bit dark, too... in my head, I was thinkin' starlight'n'moonlight would be enough, but... now I don' think so. We can leave the flash--"

Ellie cut him off with a kiss. "It's perfect! And you don't have to worry about the lights, cuz..." She unzipped her hoodie, lifted her sweatshirt a little, and pulled out the two tapered candles she'd been hiding there against her belly. She was glad to be rid of them -- every time they shifted a little, she had to fight the urge to fidget with her clothes. She grinned at the surprised look on his face. "I've got matches too, in my back pocket here..."

"Where did you find these?"

"The warehouse."

Now Joel was even more surprised; he hadn't heard of any such thing here. "They have a--" he started to ask.

"In Jackson," she clarified with a proud grin.

"You... really? These have been with us the whole time?" Damn, she still surprises me sometimes...

"Yep. Not in the main part of my backpack so they were kinda hidden. That first night that we... when you used the candle... remember? It was so nice. Romantic, like. I wanted it to be like that again." He still looks shocked! Maybe it was a dumb idea. "Is it really that weird?"

"No... no, not at all. But with your... we could've used those, for..."

Ellie shrugged. "Didn't need them. I mean, obviously, if I'd had them at the time, I would've used them." She probably would've set everything on fire -- and either drawn Joel's attention much faster, or burned to death. "But after that... I had the flashlight. And you. Joel, seriously, if you'd been in there with me, I wouldn't've been freaked out at all, even in the pitch black."

Joel found that hard to believe, but it was a nice thought. He put his hands over hers, holding the candles with her. "I wish I'd been there. Except I don' think Sophie could've pulled us both out," he said lightly.

"Pfff. We wouldn't've needed her. You could've got us out somehow."

Joel looked at her sweet, earnest face and felt a fist squeezing his heart... not in a good way. She honestly believes that. How can she believe that after I let her down? ...because she doesn't KNOW. She didn't know the mistakes he'd made that had caused her to suffer so much, in both trapping her there and not finding her quickly. He leaned down and brushed his lips across hers. "I love you."

"Aww. I love you, too!" He looks like he's gonna cry! She knew he wouldn't, but she turned and looked around the little cove anyway, in case he needed a moment. "Where should I put these..."

Joel took them from her. "How 'bout... one here, an' one over here..."

Ellie knelt in front of the first one he'd plunged into the sand. She worked it back and forth, driving it into the ground the same way Adam had taught her to do with a beach umbrella yesterday. That was easy enough -- way easier than the umbrella -- but getting the fucking thing to light was something else...

Joel watched as she fumbled with the matches and cussed under her breath. "Can I help?" he offered.

"I think maybe these got wet. Fuck! I didn't think my pocket got wet but I guess it must have. Great." Of all the things she'd worried that she might fuck up on this night, this one hadn't occurred to her. She shooed Joel's hand away, determined to get it herself... and she did, on like the twentieth try. "Yes!"

As soon as she moved away to light the other one, the candle blew out.

"Too windy," Joel remarked. "Maybe if we try it over here..."

"Ow! Fuck, this one won't stay lit either, and now I have to get another match to light. Ugh!"

They tried a few more sheltered spots... the only places that worked were the actual corners of the little 'room,' where the two tallest sections of rock met. Joel pulled the corners of the blanket away from the rock to drive the candles into the sand.

"Okay, cool," said Ellie with satisfaction, kneeling in the center of the blanket.

Joel stared at one of them, frowning. "I don' like 'em there, Ellie. It might be all right, but it's gonna be in my head that one of 'em might tip over an' catch the blanket on fire or somethin'." And maybe we'd be too distracted to notice until one of us gets singed!

Ellie giggled. "We should've kept that burned blanket! Then it wouldn't matter!"

Joel snorted. They'd replaced that one even before the scavenger's paradise of Sacramento. "I should've made little candle holder... things... in the wall there." Out of what, though...

"Well, you didn't know," Ellie said sensibly, turning to kiss his cheek. She could have brought actual candle holders, but with their awkward shape, she was pretty sure Joel would have felt those under her clothes -- or maybe seen a tell-tale bulge -- and ruined the surprise. But the candles would still be on the ground, and it didn't seem like Joel would trust that they wouldn't get knocked over somehow. "It's okay. They're far enough into the ground, see?" She poked at one to demonstrate.

Joel was kneeling beside her, still studying the scene. "Is that... are we too close to the wall?"

...no? Ellie thought that was a strange question, but only for a moment -- then she realized he was clearly trying to be considerate of her newly-manifested claustrophobia. She kissed him sweetly. "No. But thanks for thinking of that."

"I still don' like these here, so close to us..." It was probably fine, but even if they wouldn't tip over, he didn't want to worry about Ellie accidentally flinging her hand into it or something -- and she didn't need one more thing to worry about, either. Joel plucked a candle out of the sand. Without the wall's protection, the damn thing didn't want to stay lit, naturally. They could try to protect it with a mound of their clothes as they shed them, maybe... no, I'd be thinking it might catch those on fire, too. The flashlight wouldn't be nearly as romantic, but it was better than nothing. Joel sighed in resignation when he picked up the other one and watched it go out as well.

Ellie could have tried to argue that the candles were fine where they were, but she didn't think she'd be able to convince Joel of that -- and it would suck pretty bad to get interrupted by something catching fire. "Was it this windy before? It wasn't that bad by the fire..."

There'd been a little bit of wind... not enough to affect the fire, but that was obviously a lot bigger than the small candles. And the smoke had chased everyone away from one side of it. "Sorry... so much for makin' it perfect."

"It's okay. We don't have strawberries or champagne, so it already wasn't perfect, right?" she said with a grin.

He leaned over and kissed her softly. "Right... not sure how we'll manage without that..." They could have had strawberries, but Ellie had charitably suggested that they donate the rest of them to the community. She's just too sweet sometimes -- but it was the right thing to do.

"I do like your first idea... of starlight," said Ellie, stroking his arm soothingly. "We don't need to have any other light at all. Not after... um... well, I wanted you to..." You're not supposed to TELL him, she scolded herself.

"Wanted me to what? Anythin' you want me to do, I'll do."

"Aww!" She kissed him for that. Does that mean you'll let me suck your dick, Joel? "No, it's not something you do... just... Can we take our clothes off now? While the light's still on?"

Joel chuckled. Usually Ellie preferred to be naked in the dark. Maybe she wants to SEE everything for her first time? He was leaning toward leaving the flashlight on. The light was harsh, but they'd still pretty much be in the dark if he directed it away from them. "Yes ma'am. I don' want you to get cold, though... I'll try to keep the top blanket... up... or maybe we should keep our tops on so we don' get--"

"No! We have to be naked!" Ellie exclaimed. It would be hard to get out of her sexy thingie with her top still on, anyway, but worse than that -- he wouldn't even see it. And it was his skin that she wanted to feel against hers, not the fabric of his shirt. She pivoted around and quickly yanked at her shoelaces enough to kick off her shoes with ease, then nudged Joel to sit with his legs outstretched so she could tug his boots off while he unstrapped his holster. "Somehow this doesn't seem as sexy as like... taking off your pants," she observed.

"Sure it is." Joel returned the favor by starting to gently tug her hair out of its braid as soon as he could pull her up close to him again; it looked pretty in that style, but tonight, he wanted it loose. "I ain't picky... it's all sexy. Takin' off clothes is still takin' off clothes."

"That's very... insightful," she teased. Then she started to unbutton his shirt while he went to work on her jeans, kissing her sweetly... slowly... they were in no hurry, and she already knew Joel wanted to go slow, but even so, he had her jeans off before she'd even undone the last shirt button. She could feel the goosebumps forming on her legs. "Uh-oh, you're ahead of me..."

"Is it a race?"

She giggled softly. "How come you don't get distracted by the kissing like I do?"

"Jus' better at multi-taskin', I guess. But you're gonna have to help me out with your shirt here... -hey, what's..." Joel felt something silky where he'd expected to feel skin. He'd felt it before, when tugging on her jeans, but thought it was just one of her better pairs of panties... he shifted a little to try to get a better look, and Ellie yanked the sweatshirt up and over her head as quickly as she could, removing her hoodie along with it.

Goosebumps now dotted pretty much all her exposed flesh below the neck. She pulled Joel down on top of her, hugging him close. How he could still feel warm, she had no idea. He was only covering her torso, but he'd managed to pull the blanket up over her legs before she hugged him. "Brrrrr! Man, I really wanted to show you... but it's fucking freezing out here!"

"I'll just have to warm you up then. I can see what you're wearin' up close..." Joel kissed her neck, since that was where her deathgrip had placed his head, and he tried to caress her arm, but Ellie didn't seem to like that.

"My arm's all gross," she explained.

He wasn't anywhere near the bite mark, and that had never bothered her before... then he realized she was referring to her goosepimpled flesh. "No it ain't. That's just--"

"I know what it is -- it's still -- ugh, my whole body is gross!" she wailed dramatically. It's supposed to be all soft and smooth to make you want to touch it more!

"Your whole body is... cold," he corrected, but he rubbed her side instead, grazing her breast. He lifted himself a little to try to see what the hell it was that she was wearing. It was silky... dark... its neckline plunged practically to her navel... "Where did you get this? I like it."

"I have my ways," she said mysteriously, pleased that he seemed to like the feel of it.

"You do, hmm?" he murmured, nuzzling her cleavage.

"Wait -- Joel, you can't get hard yet, remember?"

"I'm not."

"But you will be... even if my skin's all gross, my... this thing... isn't..."

"None of you is gross." And he'd be hard soon enough... I'll have to tell her... maybe not quite yet, though... or maybe it was like telling a kid there's no Santa Claus: Better to just let them work it out on their own when the time is right. He wanted to take his time, and kiss her in places she wasn't used to being kissed... get her all relaxed before getting her all aroused... he was starting to have some serious misgivings about doing this outside. She gets cold so easily... I'll need to keep us both covered up so she doesn't freeze when I move around... She was already shivering a little. He shifted up and kissed her deeply, hoping to generate some heat that way. She responded to it... didn't seem to mind his hand roving over her chest and then back to her 'gross' arm now, until--

Something's crawling over my legs! Ellie broke the kiss to squeal (like a fucking girl, to her dismay), and she started kicking her feet like crazy.

"What? What's wrong?" He couldn't help being a little alarmed at her antics.

"Something just ran over me! I felt it!"

Joel rolled off of her to retrieve the flashlight and survey the area surrounding her legs. He had vetted the place for critters. Twice -- both daytime and nighttime. He'd even had to let Ellie out of his sight to do it -- for all of the preparation, naturally -- but he'd wanted the spot to be a surprise for her, so he'd had no choice. Just because there were no signs of life before didn't mean there couldn't possibly be something there now, however. He searched through the layers of blankets... and found nothing. "You sure it wasn' jus' the blanket? This here top blanket. I was movin' it a bit to try to keep you all covered up..."

She would feel pretty dumb if she'd just freaked out over a fucking blanket. It was girly enough to freak out over a creepy-crawly as it was. "No, it wasn't. It was a... thing," she insisted. "Something. I don't know what. I guess it ran off."

Joel didn't believe that, but she obviously did, and there was no sense in arguing it. "All right, well... it's gone now. See? Jus' the blanket."

Ellie tried to convince herself of that. "Just the blanket... just the blanket... or... maybe Sammy..."

"Who?" It sounded like she'd said Sammy...

"He's a friend -- it's okay, he's my friend... yeah..."

Joel had no idea what the hell she was talking about, but the way she was talking now was... clearly some form of self-soothing. She's cold... she should come back inside this cave thing... He scooted toward her and laid a hand on her shoulder. "Ellie--"

"I'm not scared," she told him, in case that needed clarifying. "I'm only trembling cuz it's cold out."

"I know." Except... it looked to Joel like she was on the verge of a panic attack. Her breathing had quickened, her gaze was darting around... and it wasn't like her to get so upset about a bug. But ever since... since those two days... "You know what? This ain't workin' so well. I think we should jus' chalk it up to a good idea turned bad an' save it for another time."

--WHAT?! Ellie's heart plunged to her toes. Nonononononono-- "No! No, I'm sorry! I can do it! I'll be bett--"

"Ellie, stop! It ain't your fault." He tried to tuck her hair behind her ears, but the wind kept untucking it. He settled for trying to caress her cheek instead. "Besides that, you're cold and miserable. Your first time shouldn' be--"

She clutched his arm. "My first time should be right here, right now!" she pleaded desperately.

"That's jus' your stubbornness talkin'."

Nononononooooooooooo ”Joel-- no-- really--" Her grip on his arm tightened.

"Take a breath, kiddo..." Joel knew she was fighting it -- knew that of all the times to be overtaken with panic, now was most definitely not the time she would've chosen -- but he'd seen enough of them now to know that it was too late to prevent it. Actually, he'd probably made it worse. Why couldn't I have calmed her down a little and THEN called this off? he berated himself.

Ellie let go of him and tried to take deep breaths, but could only manage short, panicky ones. Her thoughts raced through her head in rapid little bursts that mimicked her breathing. Fuck! Why does this have to happen NOW? -- Joel's totally going to think -- he'll assume this means -- he'll think I'm not ready! -- Like I'm scared to do it or something! -- And he already-- fuck -- he wanted to give up! -- Before! -- Now he'll REALLY-- omigod I HATE this -- Fuck fuck fuckity FUCK-- I'm going to die -- I can't fucking BREATHE and I'm going to die--

Joel managed to get her sweatshirt on her before the panic attack hit her full force. She pulled her bare legs up to her chest and started rocking back and forth, gasping for air as if she wasn't actually taking any into her lungs. He desperately wanted to pull her into his arms and calm her down; he always wanted to when it happened, but he'd learned that it was better to just sit beside her, perhaps with a hand on her shoulder or her back (nothing that restricted her movement). So she'd know he was right there with her -- even if she went away, somewhere in her head where he couldn't follow, part of her would know. But if he tried to hold her, she would freak out even more -- as if having his arms around her cut off her already-meager air supply? -- and she'd push him away. It was perplexing, because just about any other time she was upset (including when she had a nightmare, which... wasn't so different from this?), she did want him to hold her. As long as it wasn't him that she was upset with, anyway. ...and she ain't upset with me... it's a panic attack, nothing personal... I think...

She didn't usually cry, even during these debilitating attacks, so he was surprised to notice that tears were now streaming down her cheeks. ...Maybe it's from being all revved up for tonight?

Ellie was staring straight ahead, into the darkness. Her voice sounded robotic: "Joel -- I really want -- to do this --”

"I know. We will, when the time is right. I promise." He started gently rubbing her back, and she allowed it, though he wasn't sure how helpful it was.

"I'm sorry -- I fucked it up -- I still--"

"Ssshh sshh sshh, you didn't fuck anything up, baby girl." It broke his heart to hear her talk like that. After all this time, it's still there... The insecurity. The if-I'm-not-perfect-I'm-fucked mentality he'd been working so hard to eradicate from her psyche. "Don' try to talk, jus' ride it out like--”

"No -- I did -- it was me -- just gimme another chance -- please -- please, Joel?" If I don't die first--

"It ain't about... chances. If it ain't workin', it ain't workin'. Not your fault." He kissed her temple. "If it's anyone's fault, it's mine. I should've anticipated--"

"Noooo-- shut up -- you didn't -- it's me -- it's always me --" she moaned miserably, burying her head in her knees.

"Ellie, stop -- you know it'll pass faster if you don' try to talk. We'll talk when it's over, all right? Jus' breathe for me... big, deep breaths." The gasping sounded suspiciously more like sobbing now -- and Joel figured having her face in her knees wasn't going to help her catch her breath. "Ellie... can you look at me? Please?"

She did lift her head, but looked away from him, ashamed. Her body and her mind were having a showdown. She knew it would pass, she knew intellectually that she wasn't dying... but her stupid body never seemed to realize it, and it always managed to trick her mind. Her heartbeat accelerated, and she couldn't breathe; that seemed to be all it took to convince her brain she was about to die -- that even though she'd survived all the other attacks, maybe this time was different. Since she'd identified a trigger that one day with Maria, Ellie felt like she had a better grasp on this shit, like she could control it more easily -- even when it was something else that triggered it... something unknown. But then she'd gotten herself stuck in that fucking tunnel, and her brain had gone all wonky in there -- and now she had more triggers than ever before. When that... whatever... had crawled over her skin earlier... -she didn't even know if there had been any rodents or bugs in that tunnel with her; it might have all just been in her mind. But that was the thing: it didn't really matter. The only thing that mattered was what her stupid fucked up brain wanted to think at the moment. Joel is right about one thing -- I need to concentrate on my breathing and make it go away faster -- you're safe, you're good -- and Joel's right here -- hey, listen up, stupid brain: -- just quit freaking the fuck out already!

Joel sat there helplessly, just waiting. He wrapped a comforter around her, though not too snugly. He was just trying to keep her warm. He knew the physical contact helped her... like a touchstone, or an anchor. But it didn't feel like it was enough. He wished he could do more.

Neither of them knew how much time had passed when it was over, but it probably felt longer than it really was. Even when she'd stopped gasping for breath, Joel waited for her to show some sign that she was okay. He knew it was done when she turned and climbed into his lap. She put her arms around his neck, burying -- hiding -- her face, and Joel could tell she was still crying softly. At least now he could squeeze her. He pulled the comforter snug around her. "Hey... why the tears, hmm? You're okay, baby girl... that was a really bad one."

STOP CRYING ALREADY, Ellie commanded herself. GOD! How do you expect him to believe you're ready for-- "I really want to do this still," she blurted out. "Please?"

Joel sighed. She's so damn stubborn! "Ellie--"

"I'll do better this time, I swear!" She hated how whiny and pathetic she sounded, but she couldn't seem to help it.

"It ain't about you... doin' better."

"Yes it is! And I can, I know I can!" she insisted.

"You're gonna make yourself... magically not feel cold?"

"No, but I'm not cold right now -- as long as we're smushed together, it'll be fine!"

He started gently stroking her hair. "We can't be... like that the whole time." Well, they could, he supposed, but he really didn't want to just lay there on top of her like a blanket.

"If I get cold, I can ignore it!" Ellie tried. "Like going in the ocean -- other stuff takes over so you... kind of forget, like..."

Joel sighed again. "I don' want-- you should be comfortable. Look, obviously it jus' wasn' meant to be tonight. We can try it another time, maybe when it ain't so windy an' cold out."

"That could be ages from now!" Fuck, why don't we just wait 'til spring? ... ...Oh my God... is he using this as an excuse because he just changed his mind? FUCK, Ellie, why do you have to ruin everything?! But-- she needed to calm the fuck down. Yelling at Joel wasn't going to solve anything. Keep breathing... it's okay if you don't have sex tonight, even after all the waiting... the anticipation... it's okay... at least you're together, bitch, can't you just be happy about that? Think back to that first night in Jackson, when you were happy just to HAVE DINNER with him, like you would never want anything more than what you had because you had SO MUCH. You still have it... AND more. So much more...

It was no use. The fucking tears had a mind of their own, and they wanted to keep wetting her face (and Joel's neck), to keep embarrassing her -- and to make Joel think she was just a big baby after all. But she wanted this so badly.

Joel coaxed her head away from his neck so he could look her in the eye. The flashlight was still hanging on his open shirt, shining toward the ground, so he couldn't see her that well, but he wasn't about to shine it harshly on her face now. "Why is it so important to you that we do it out here tonight?"

Ellie thought that was an odd thing to ask her. "Why? Because -- cuz I love you -- I've been wanting to do this with you forever, and we were finally going to! How could I not be disappointed?" ...Duh?!

"The beach thing wasn' 'til more recently though, right? The trip? Before that, you were fine with doin' it in the bed."

"Yeah, but that's not..." Ellie looked at him quizzically. "Wait... what are you saying?"

"Uh... that you didn't think about the beach 'til--"

"But like... before, when you said it's not working... you just meant on the beach?"

"Yeah. Nothin's goin' right."

A sliver of hope sparked in her heart. "So you think we should wait to do it on the beach. Not wait to do it... like at all. Right?"

"That's up to you. Maybe you ain't in the mood, after... clearly, this ain't perfect." Joel was a little worried that she'd set the bar a lot higher than she should have -- past the realm of reality and way up into the clouds. And he knew those panic attacks took a lot out of her. "I jus' want our first time -- your first time to be... you know. Magical an' shit."

He said "OUR first time"... sometimes Ellie forgot this was a first of sorts for Joel, too. "So if we go back to the room, you'd still want to...?"

"Sure. If you still want to."

Ellie squealed in delight and kissed him. "Oh thank God! I thought you meant..."

Joel chuckled as he realized she'd misunderstood. Wiped away a tear with his thumb. "No wonder you were so upset! Christ. I'm so sorry, baby girl -- I should've been more clear. If you don' mind givin' up the stars... an' the ocean..."

She laughed and hugged him again, joyfully this time. "I soooooooooo don't care about all that! The stars are just big balls of gas anyway."

Ha! "Yes they are. Not romantic at all."

Ellie smiled. "I just want to be with you. Fuck all that other stuff." She was convinced that Joel was all the ~magic~ she needed anyway.

Joel was relieved to see her return to being happy again so quickly. He could kick himself for doing that to her. And he'd been rather nonchalant about the whole thing, which must've just made her feel worse. Doesn't she know... "Hey, I've been lookin' forward to this too, you know."

"Really?" She believed him... well, mostly?... but she wanted to hear him try to convince her anyway.

"Of course. Did you think I was jus' doin' it as a favor or somethin'?"

She giggled. "Kinda, maybe... yeah."

"The things I do for you," he said with a mock sigh. Although his tone was teasing, Joel did actually feel a little bad that she seemed genuinely surprised to find that he wanted to be with her that way. "I know I don' say it as much as I should, but I do love you," he said soberly.

"I know that," she said. He couldn't quite see it, but he could hear the I-love-you smile that he so adored. "You do say it enough. It's not that. It's everything else. The sex stuff. I know it hasn't been easy for you to... be okay with it."

He kissed her sweetly. If she had been a decade or so older, they probably would've made love within a week of the beginning of their romance. Her age was the only thing that gave him pause; he certainly wanted her bad enough. "Thank you for bein' so patient with me."

Ellie didn't feel like she'd been all that patient. What other choice did she have, really? Leave him and go find someone else to sleep with? Anyone who did that didn't really love the other person. But if Joel wanted to think she was patient, she wasn't going to argue. "Okay, well, not to be impatient now, but can we go back to our room and try this again? Like... now? Before we freeze to death!"

Joel squeezed her. "You cold again?"

She wasn't, really. She just wanted to get things rolling. "You're not under the blanket so you're gonna freeze to death."

"It ain't nearly cold enough for that," said Joel, but there really wasn't any reason to linger out here, so he started to shift her off his lap and get up.

Ellie stood up with him. "Thanks for finding this place, though. Maybe we can try it in the daytime." She turned his flashlight to the cave. "We could hang a blanket over this open part -- like a door!"

"That wouldn't be too closed in for you?" Joel worried.

"Not in the daytime, I don't think? Or we could just stay under the blanket so the spies don't see anything."

"So... we'd be doin' it on the beach, but hidin' so much that you can't see the ocean or nothin'?"
She giggled and stepped into her jeans as Joel held them for her. "Yeah, I guess. But we could still hear it... and smell the salty air..."

Joel much preferred the thought of doing it in a nice warm bed, where he wouldn't have to battle that goddamn pervasive sand. The blankets were already covered in it. It shouldn't have been much of a problem since they were dry, but Joel reckoned it was only a matter of time before Ellie would want to try out having sex in the ocean, or maybe after they'd just come out of it. And he was still a sucker for those big green eyes. How could I say no?

Ellie let go of the blanket to stick her arms and head through the sweatshirt/hoodie combo Joel was working over her head. Once she'd wriggled her arms through the sleeves, she started buttoning up his shirt. It wasn't nearly as sexy as removing clothing, but dressing each other was... sweet. She liked sweet. "Joel..."

"Hmm?"

"I know I don't act like it, but I'm glad we waited. It's more special this way. Not just..." Jumping into the backseat of a car to fuck, and before we even know each other? But she didn't want to betray Sophie's confidence... not that the woman had seemed embarrassed or ashamed or anything, but still. It wasn't Ellie's place to tell the tale. "I think we're doing it the right way."

Joel wrapped his arms around her again and smiled. "I think so, too. We didn' even wait all that long, you know..."

She thumped his chest. "Yes we did! We waited forever! And you're not getting out of this, Joel -- you promised --"

Joel laughed. "Didn' you jus' say you're glad we waited?"

"That doesn't mean I want to keep on waiting! Fuck -- it's been over a year!"

"What? No, it's only been--"

"Going by when we met."

"When we met... you wanted to stab me, as I recall," Joel said with amusement.

"Well, you were a jerk at first!"

"I hadn' even laid eyes on you yet, let alone--"

"Whatever! You were a jerk," Ellie insisted. "But that's where the clock started."

"I thought it started July 6th."

"Aww! You remembered!"

"Of course I remember." She mentions it often enough...

"But I wanted to fuck you before that."

"Uh, not the day we met, you didn't. I know you didn't." No innocent fourteen-year-old girl would entertain thoughts like that about a stranger old enough to be her father -- not right off the bat, at least.

Ellie couldn't disagree. "Welllllll... okay, so... when did it start? Like, for you. When was the first time you looked at me and thought... 'Man, I really wanna tap that...' "

Joel laughed. "I never thought that." He was surprised Ellie even knew the term, but she had watched a lot of movies since coming to Jackson -- and she'd already picked up plenty of things like that back in Boston, he had to admit.

Ellie had figured he'd laugh at that. "You know what I mean. When did you first... you know. Want me like that? The truth!"

It wasn't the first time she'd asked him that. Joel always skated around it by pretending it was the first time they'd kissed, which she knew wasn't true. "I don' know... a while ago? C'mon, let's do our feet..."

Ellie wasn't surprised that he chose that moment to let go of her and get back to business. "Please, Joel? You can tell me." She sat next to him and started putting on her socks and shoes, happy they'd be heading back to their room shortly.

"I told you, there wasn't one particular time. It snuck up on me... gradual-like." There was a memory that stood out in Joel's mind which he considered to be the true answer to her question, but he was ashamed of it. Ashamed that it had happened when Ellie was still his daughter and not the daughter/lover hybrid she'd become. Maybe he should still be ashamed, today... but somehow, that hybrid distinction made a difference to his fucked-up brain. And he'd made peace with the fact that this lovely young woman beside him was meant to be something other than a daughter to him. "What about you? You never told me when exactly -- an' I know it was before that... dinner date that I didn' realize was a date." Not that anyone dated anymore, per se...

"Yes I did! Remember? When we were playing on the bed and you almost kissed me but instead you started apologizing like crazy -- like you'd done something wrong!" That was the memory Ellie had decided on, anyway.

"Oh... right..." Joel wasn't sure he believed her, but then, why would she lie? She had nothing to be ashamed of. "When I thought I scared you..."

"...but I wasn't scared -- my heart was racing cuz I wanted you to kiss me." In truth, she could go back farther than that day... even before the groping accident-that-wasn't... but that first one seemed way too early, and she didn't want Joel to know how long ago it was. She probably should have used the groping one, to ease Joel's misplaced guilt... except if he thinks THAT started it all, he might feel guilty... like his touch put ideas in my head rather than me feeling stuff for him on my own first. Ha! Yep, I'm really good at coming up with reasons not to tell him the truth about that morning.

Joel remembered how badly he'd wanted to kiss her that day. He smiled and pulled her close. "I'll kiss you now..." It was a giggly little kiss; Ellie seemed to be amused by the memory.

"You were so clueless back then," she said fondly. "It took you forever to catch on, even though I was being obvious as fuck -- and you never did catch on, actually, cuz I had to fucking tell you!"

Joel chuckled. "Thank you for not givin' up on me."

"I knew I could make you love me," Ellie said with a grin. Although she certainly hadn't with her behavior right after telling him... she wasn't proud of the way she'd acted then. Usually when she pulled shit like that on people, they bolted -- and rightfully so. Not Joel... he really loves me...

He kissed her nose. "You didn' even have to try." He certainly could've handled things better, after she told him. He'd just been so... deer-in-the-headlights, at first... and then he'd convinced himself she needed space. The coward's way out.

"Kind of amazing we ended up here, isn't it?" Ellie mused. "We've been through so much together."

"Mm. It all worked out exactly the way it was supposed to." Even those two days... he hadn't decided it was time for them to make love until that happened. The fear of losing her becoming more than just an abstract thing niggling at the back of his brain, coupled with her un-Ellie-like behavior for a while afterwards... somehow it had given him the push he needed to feel like it would be good for them. That loving her that way wouldn't hurt her. Right or wrong, the reasons he had for waiting just didn't make sense to him anymore. If it had never happened, he probably would've kept her waiting at least another few months, maybe longer. Now, he had no second thoughts, no doubts. Just a guy who loves a girl... Although, if he had it to do over again, he never would've let that happen to her, and she could just keep on waiting. I'm sorry that's the price you had to pay to get your way, baby girl... I'll try to make it up to you... He gave her another quick kiss, then smirked at her. "C'mon. I'm tired of waitin' to have my way with you. Let's get a move on!"


~Continue to Chapter 46~

Tags: fic, tlou, uncertainty
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