Title: Little Miss Perfect
Summary: You don't have to like someone to know where they're coming from. An "Eris Quod Sum" Missing Moment story where Elle and Claire prepare for their trip to Pinehearst.
Characters: Claire, Elle
Genre: Drama, Gen
Word Count: 2,735
Disclaimer/Notes: For heroes1000. All things related to "Heroes" are not my property, sadly. Many thanks to missbreese for the handholding throughout. You rock.
“Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I'm not the same, the next question is 'Who in the world am I?'”
The bedroom was perfect. Cozy but not too small, clean but not too neat, personalized but not too busy. It had the exact details of a façade; something a set decorator would create to give the illusion of a teenage girl’s room. That was what first came to Elle’s mind when she surveyed the space: the Company couldn’t have fabricated it any better.
Only this wasn’t a front or the settings of a trap. These walls weren’t collapsible, the furniture not straight from storage, the purpose of its existence nothing grander than providing safe haven and personal space for its owner. Claire.
“Isn’t this precious?” Elle picked up a stuffed bear from the bed. Looking it solemnly in the eye before holding it out to Claire, she added with mocking severity, “I think he wants a tea party.”
Claire snatched it away. “I think you’re the one who came crawling to me for help,” she replied, raising an eyebrow to convey, ‘you shouldn’t mock the hand that you can’t hurt.’
Elle could feel the blue currents sparking at her fingertips, and wished Claire would focus on them rather than the frustrated impotence Elle’s facial expression was doubtlessly conveying over them both knowing her power would have no effect. A smug smile turned up the corners of Claire’s mouth, but it didn’t last for long. It didn’t seem to be an entirely satisfying one-upmanship, and Elle recalled Claire’s fears over how she couldn’t feel pain at all. There was no way for Elle, even if she wasn’t in her current state, to understand that deadening.
Left with nothing else at the moment, Elle quirked a cheeky grin, holding up her hands in the traditional surrender pose. “Easy there. I thought cheerleaders were supposed to be perky?”
“Cheerleaders are a lot of things,” Claire said, with a look that made it clear she had no intention of elaborating. “Do you want a change of clothes or not?”
There was nothing about this Elle wanted. Forcibly she refused to think on the past few days, remaining silent until the painful currents running over her subsided slightly. Without realizing it she’d hunched her shoulders from the agony, a bending over that was slight but clearly not lost on Claire. Straightening up, Elle threw the focus off herself. “You must be loving this.”
A moment of silence, followed by another one. Claire didn’t outwardly affirm or deny Elle’s accusation, finally merely turning to her closet. She pulled out an old shirt and pants, handing them over to Elle. “Here.” When Elle didn’t immediately reach for them she added, “You’re going to want to wash your stuff before getting on the plane. Especially if I’m going to have to sit next to you.”
“I’d like to see how perfect you’d look if this was you,” Elle snapped, grabbing the clothes and looking at them to avoid having to look Claire in the eye. She wouldn’t grovel in gratitude. There had only been one person Elle prostrated herself before, and he was now gone. Everything was gone, except for herself, and Elle would rather suffocate from a pom-pom rammed down her throat than let someone mock all she had left.
“I’m not perfect.” The retort was flat, insistent, with an edge that threatened Elle not to push it.
No,” Elle agreed. “But just close enough to be annoying.” She chocked back a laugh, feeling more unhinged the more Claire was determined to be unmovable. “Not that the whole Superhero Barbie Dream House deal you have going on here isn’t boring.” Elle stopped pacing; she hadn’t even realized she had been. Grounding herself, she raked a hand through her hair and looked steadily at Claire. “I mean, look at you.”
Look at you,” Claire snapped. “Are you trying to make me not help you?” After that she paused and looked at Elle closer, repeating as though she already knew the answer. “Are you?”
Elle answered the only way she could. “You’re doing this to help yourself.”
They both knew that didn’t answer the question. However, Claire didn’t call her on it, and that meant more than Elle would care to admit.
After a moment Claire nodded. “Not entirely. But mostly.” The answer was honest, and one Elle could latch onto. She was used to being around those where self-preservation was the primary motivation. There was no deception there, no worrying over whether she would later be indebted to Claire at a price too costly to bear, no confusion over why Claire would help her for no other reason than Elle being too pitiable to cast away.
Elle moved silently past her to the bathroom to change, pausing at the door. Without looking back she said, “Thanks. At least it’s not pink.” She said it without malice; the only way she could offer thanks sincerely was with a chaser of sarcasm.
She waited, and heard Claire reply in a manner that mirrored her own. “You’re welcome. I’m glad I managed to find something you’d fit into.”
Quirking a grin that faded the moment Elle thought on long it’d been since she’d actually smiled, she entered the bathroom and shut the door. The face that looked back at her in the mirror over the sink was one she rarely cared to see; one haggard and drawn.
But not defeated.
She could hear Claire on the phone, perhaps checking on flight times. Hurriedly she changed, bringing out her old outfit to clean or at least dry. Entering the other girl’s room, Elle took the chance to wander the room, eyes tripping once more over the edging on the comforter, the books on the shelves, the window and frames. She could feel Claire’s eyes watching her, but as she was still making travel arrangements, she didn’t chastise Elle’s curiosity. Although curiosity wasn’t exactly what Elle would call it. She wouldn’t be curious when looking at animal exhibits in a zoo. Not that she’d ever been to the zoo. She told herself she wasn’t missing anything. What was a better way to spend a birthday growing up, seeing monkeys in a cage or seeing Adam in a cell? The monkeys wouldn’t be nearly as much fun to have played with – or at least wouldn’t have been as durable.
Fingers snapped behind her, the way one might signal a dog to attention. Clearly Claire was mistaking her for Peter. Elle turned and saw Claire holding out her hand. She pointed at the clothes in Elle’s hands, indicating she wanted the wet ones. “Multitasking. Very efficient,” Elle said, but handed them over.
Claire snapped her phone shut and took the clothes. She ignored the remark, already focused on what lay ahead. “We’re set to go in two hours.” She was on top of it, a plan laid out and expecting Elle to just fall in line. If Claire added something emotionally manipulative to her statement, she could easily pass for her father. Bennet’s claims against Elle’s dad swam in her mind, hitting as hard now as they had then. They shouldn’t. They weren’t true. They weren’t.
Without thinking electricity shot out of her hand, aiming at nothing and everything in the Bennet bedroom. Had she realized what she was doing, Elle likely wouldn’t have stopped. However, it was a moot point as before she knew it Claire’d stepped in front of the sparks, absorbing the attack, preserving everything around her just by herself and acting as though she’d expect nothing less. As though nobody should expect anything less. The back of her hand met Elle’s cheek in a cool, clean slap; it did the trick. For days now all the pain Elle had felt was because of herself; her failures and her power’s deterioration. It coming from another source brought Elle back to the present. Finding herself on the ground, she looked up to see Claire offering her a hand up.
Like hell. Elle pushed herself to her feet. Claire had to know she wouldn’t accept her hand. Had their positions been reversed, Claire wouldn’t have accepted Elle’s hand, either.
The difference was Claire still offered hers; Elle wasn’t sure she would have.
She wasn’t sure of a lot of things now. Coolly she looked at Claire. “It wasn’t on purpose.” Coming from some people that might have sounded like an apology. Elle wasn’t one of them. It was, however, an explanation. While Elle rarely bothered to examine things enough to understand why they were a certain way – as long as you knew enough to gain control of a situation she didn’t much see the point – right now she took a measure of comfort in having anything grounded.
“That doesn’t give you a free pass.” The words were rebuking, as if implying, ‘why would you deserve one?’
Elle laughed, because really, would it even matter? “Does anything?”
Claire shrugged. “Luck, sometimes.”
“Not love?” The word unrolled over Elle’s tongue, sweet and scathingly mocking.
Tilting her head, Claire didn’t have to consider for long before replying. “Maybe sometimes that, too.” She didn’t sound as though she thought either were necessarily a good enough reason. Snorting she added, “Love and luck. Sounds like a lame course you’d order for two on a date.”
Elle wouldn’t know. She’d never been on a date. The closest she’d come was bringing baked goods to a killer she was tracking. She imagined Claire had a far loftier dating record. Despite that, Elle couldn’t find a single fault with the sarcasm Claire infused in the tooth-decaying date image she’d proposed. “With you there.”
And people said romance was dead. Clearly they didn’t know some could find common ground in the distaste of it.
Elle had heard people say not to knock things until you tried them, but she also doubted she’d ever get the chance for anything in the vicinity of normal romance. When you knew you wouldn’t have the opportunity try something, you might as well dislike it. Or, at the very least, not miss it.
Did Claire miss it? Or, like Elle, had she never had it? If Elle had any interest in the actual answer, she might have bothered to continue thinking on it. As it was, the musing fled as quickly as it came. She wasn’t interested in what she and Claire had in common, no more than she was in what Claire had that she didn’t.
Neither of them was normal. They both knew it, and for the moment, that was enough.
Elle headed for the door. “Clothes drying, right? Didn’t think I’d be the one making reminders. Don’t tell me I’m turning into you.”
“Would that mean I’d then get to just sit back and drink Slushies between psychotic breakdowns?” Claire asked as she followed, in a tone so sweetly innocent, and therefore perfectly catty, Elle was almost compelled to offer golf claps. That was one thing Elle could give Claire; she might not start things, but she wasn’t above giving back as good as she got.
They passed through the hallway, past the wary eyes of Claire’s mother and brother, as Elle replied, “Sitting back? I’m not the one in hiding.” She smiled at Claire’s family, one they didn’t return. Elle saw both their eyes flick to Claire, as though they were judging how to act based on how Claire was. As though Claire was in control.
‘One of us, one of them.’ Claire belonged to both. Instead of wallowing over that, Elle took comfort in knowing Claire herself didn’t see it the same way. A petty reaction, perhaps, but far more pleasurable than the alternative. Also, of course, it meant Claire now had far more to lose than her.
While true, that last part didn’t make Elle feel nearly as good as she’d hoped it would.
Claire tossed the clothes into the wash, eyes locking on Elle. “And where has that gotten you?”
“What?” Elle raised an eyebrow. “Where has not hiding gotten me?”
“Yes,” Claire nodded.
Elle realized the answer, even before Claire’s slowly unveiled smile gave it away.
“Casa de Bennet,” Elle answered breezily, brushing over Claire’s point and with it it's impact. She’d learned long ago one shouldn't let direct hits of any kind show. That appearances matter, and that if you didn’t decide what should be made relevant someone else would. She leaned against the wall, arms folded and mock tsked. “Gotta say, the service here is really lacking. But, at least it’s not burned down, right?”
Claire shot back, “And it’s big, you’d be amazed how much room in a home is freed up when you don’t have to worry about keeping cells to lock people in.” After that she paused, looking at Elle intently as if uncertain.
“Come on, out with it Barbie,” Elle said baitingly, daring Claire to even though Elle was certain it would be something she didn’t want to hear.
After a moment Claire slowly asked, “Did it really feel like home? Where you grew up?” She said it with no other apparent motive than genuine curiosity. She hadn’t asked it to hurt. Unintentionally, that made it worse.
Elle shrugged, then looked challengingly at Claire. “Why wouldn’t it?”
Nothing. Claire said nothing, and as the moments stretched out one after another Elle finally added defensively, “It wasn’t bad.” And really, it wasn’t. It hadn’t been perfect, but there were moments Elle recalled being happy, and she wouldn’t let anyone judge the memories as sick or twisted or, worst of all, fake, just because they were different.
At that Claire met her gaze straight on. “I guess we have different ideas of what’s bad.”
Elle hadn’t said anything about her childhood to Claire, and even had Claire been right in her assumptions, Elle bristled that she’d make them without knowing what had really happened in the past.
Even if Elle herself couldn’t recall.
Elle pushed herself upright and snitted, “Says the girl who kills herself for fun.”
“I haven’t done that in a long time,” Claire retorted, as though it had been a phase she’d since outgrown. Realizing how that sounded she added, “Besides, I didn’t do that for fun.”
“Why then? Nothing better to do? You know, if you want to pass yourself off as a normal teenager, even I’ve heard of these things called drugs and alcohol,” Elle offered with false helpfulness.
“I did it to know,” Claire said, before taking a deep breath. Quieter she added, “Could you stand not knowing?” After a beat she rolled her eyes. “Forget it. You wouldn’t understand.”
Wouldn’t, or didn’t want to?
Finally Elle inquired, more to herself than anything, “Did it help?” At that Claire looked back at her. She had to know it was the question of someone who did, in fact, understand.
Given the choice between doing nothing and trying something, it didn’t matter how stupid the action was. How dangerous, threatening, destructive, joyful, proud, defiant, lonely, successful, lucky; how anything it was. It was, at least, better than nothing.
The alternative to taking things into one's own hands would be to leave them in someone else's.
Both wanted to be right, but didn't know what to do when they both were at the same time. The dryer stopped humming, a welcome break. Claire left to let her change, and Elle slid her clothing back on, dry and warm and fitting right. Through the door she could hear Claire speaking to her family. Elle wasn’t able to make out the words, and she didn’t try to. The moment of silent understanding was dissipating, and while not entirely gone, at least lessening a comfortable amount. She imagined Claire felt much the same. Opening the door, she tossed Claire’s clothes to her.
Claire caught them easily and handed them off to her mother. “We should go.”
Rather than risk witnessing a touching goodbye as if she wasn't even there, Elle placed her hands on her hips, voice hoarse but loud enough to pull off a decent, “Ready? Okay!”
Based on the look she received, perhaps attempted murder by pom-poms shouldn’t be discounted from the table just yet.