One of the most important lessons Elle learned from her father was the craft of being underestimated. He'd liked to use phrases she didn't really understand, the greatest trick the devil ever pulled and things like that. But it became easy enough to see that even among those who knew what she could do, many couldn't see past the girl with blonde hair and limbs that could be snapped like a sapling tree. In another life, it may had been a problem, but here, like anywhere, Elle moves with it. Sometime in what she thinks is her second week, she digs out a crimson, hooded sweatshirt far too large for her, so much so that it hangs far past her waist, but she takes the habit of wearing it constantly, as she springs through the halls, slips her way around the building. Some of the others begin to call her some variation on Little Red Riding Hood, when she darts past with the hood pulled up and her head down, little girl all alone in the woods.
Sylar and Petrelli don't call her that. They're more difficult.
But they're not that different.
Sylar is easier. She knows exactly what he wants. And though it had given her stage fright at first, uncertain she could maintain her control balancing so many pieces she didn't understand, the detachment became easier the longer it went on. In another time, she might have liked it, dangling what she had like a string in front of cat. (Even better, one that couldn't pounce.) But she didn't enjoy it. She didn't like it. She just did it, each motion of it like a different mechanism performing its task. Occasionally he tried to bait her, mostly with comments about her father. In one particular flare up of frustration, he'd snatched away a glass she'd been using and turned it into gold. But Elle was beginning to lose track of when she was acting, and when feeling empty of any reaction came as naturally as taking a breath. When he was about to turn, or when he'd just looked down, she'd let it all go, so that he'd only sense something was incomplete like noticing a quick movement in the corner of his eye.
Elle's lucky he's more patient than she. Or maybe just more willing to be curious. Even with the consequences, she knows he won't stand it forever. But it's Petrelli she's more worried about – she can only guess what he wants, and even if she's right, he's much better than Sylar at hiding his thoughts. Sometimes it's almost like being stuck with her own father again.
Really, she's the one who's different now.
But however Sylar couldn't pretend in front of her, he could do it in front of Petrelli, with far more ease than she felt capable of. Maybe it was for the same reasons – he knew what Petrelli wanted from him. Regardless, it made their charade effective, and shielded her when she doubted she would have been able to carry it on her own. Even if she could feel Petrelli's glances lingering on her, she knew they were making progress, maintaining at least an outward appearance of civility, and a reality of cooperation. (And no one being killed.) Her hair had barely lengthened to just past her shoulders when their work apparently paid off – they were given the opportunity to leave.
Petrelli wanted the Company torn apart, starting with Hartsdale. He said he wanted people he knew could do it. Elle didn't even feel the jab anymore. But she did understand that not only had he chosen two people who could do it, but two who would want it the most.
One day later, Elle is back in one of the medical exam rooms, but this time sitting at the edge of the table, barely seeming to notice as a doctor looked into her eyes and touched the remaining abrasion on her skin. The bandages she'd worn are long gone, bruises mostly faded, though a couple remain on her arms and marks linger on her hands. She hadn't tried to hide it in here, it hadn't been necessary, but she'll have to before she leaves.
The door of the room opens before the doctor is finished; Petrelli leaves it open as he enters, and tells the woman to leave. Rather than watching the doctor's retreating back, Elle meets Petrelli's eyes, without so much as a flicker when the door shuts once more.
"You look better."
She blinks, but doesn't answer. No reply seems necessary. He doesn't stop moving toward her, not until they are inches apart, closer than the doctor had been, but Elle's gaze stays still. Unmoving, as though she were just a statue, nothing underneath.
And his hands are under hers, scooping them up, so that his thumbs press into her palms. Not even the slightest quiver runs through her, no change in pulse – she considers allowing it to happen, some flash behind her eyes to keep him uncertain. But by now she's not entirely sure when it is she's putting on a show.
It's like this for a long moment – his eyes stay on hers, and she has no trouble maintaining his gaze, though nothing in her expression suggests it's really him she's looking back at. But she can tell the pressure in her hands is meant to keep her there, to pull her in – to imprison her. Make her feel like she couldn't move even if she wanted to. She'd felt it before, though she'd never really perceived it the way she can now. But it's a knowledge that doesn't ring above a whisper in her mind – there is nowhere else she wants to go.
Finally, he asks once more:
"What do you want, Elle?"
And again, her answer is a blank look. It's not too long before she starts to feel the pressure increase on her right hand – she's supposed to give some answer, he won't let her go without one –
"I want –"
Well - who do you want to be instead?
She glances away, over his shoulder and to the door.
Don't you want family?
I am no one of importance.
"I want –"
It doesn't have to be that way. I really believe that, Elle, okay?
Her eyes snap back to his.
You will get it. I will help.
Slowly, but with no sign of hesitation, Elle curls her fingers, gently entwining his hands with her own. There is only one thing he has to believe. As for her, it doesn't matter now. She knows what she's doing.
She could trust herself.
"This," she murmurs.
The gesture has reversed; he releases her hands and takes a step back, as though this whole time he'd been peering straight over the edge of a high cliff. He surveys her again, and she watches with still unflinching eyes. There's almost a note of sincerity in his voice when he tells her, "Then I'm sorry."
Stings like a bitch, doesn't it?
This was to fix you.
And you were - how you were, then
wanted to know
they've got her on a leash
you poor girl
Elle's on the floor. She must have fallen from the table – her head aches like it had hit the floor first, and then it's the immediate disorientation, like she'll topple sideways if she tries to stand up. There's pressure at her shoulder, and she opens her eyes, though it takes her a moment to see anything in focus. The shadow on the floor in front of her is enough to tell her it's not Petrelli who's touched her arm. She doesn't try to look up as she curves her other arm to push herself up, moving with his touch, but she hears Sylar's voice above her.
"What did you do to her?"
You really could believe he cared. Petrelli's silent until she's on her feet again, Sylar's hand still on her arm.
"Nothing she didn't want." She can feel his eyes on her, but this time, she doesn't look back. She doesn't look at Sylar, either, but back to the door, and starts to walk away. For a moment, it appears Sylar means to walk with her; he doesn't let go of her, but before she can step so far that he'd need to move, Petrelli speaks again.
"I wanted to talk to you."
Elle glances back now, but at the space between them, her eyes on the wall over Sylar's shoulder so that it looks as though she's glancing to him, even if she's not looking at anything at all. Sylar even makes it seem reluctant as he takes his hand from her shoulder, but she shows no interest as she turns back, and makes her way to the door.