It's dusk when Elle arrives in Costa Verde; she'd picked up a rental car in Los Angeles, and is considering pulling into one of the hotels. She hasn't slept in the last few days, going from bus to bus in almost thoughtless motions, her mind absent like she's taking steps toward a ledge she knows she'll have to jump. But Elle decides against stopping now. She's not sure she'll have the stomach for it.
She does stop at a gas station, however, long enough to pick up another slushy (cherry) and one more postcard. It's left blank as she slips it into her bag. If a door shows up, maybe she'll get the chance to fill it out.
But she makes her way back to her car with no such intervention. The illuminated clock on the dashboard reads 8:32 as she pulls up across the street from the house, a house she feels too familiar with already. Normally, she might have parked farther away and walked, but at the moment, she feels being upfront might be the better policy. There are lights on through the house's windows, but the driveway is bare.
Upfront, and with a gun at her waist, under her jacket. Elle makes no attempt to be quiet as she climbs out of the car and slams the door, then crosses the street up to the house. No dog runs up to her in the yard; she walks right to the front door, and presses on the doorbell.
It's the cheerleader's brother who answers. It's not very difficult to block the door, and shove him inside. She doesn't even use her ability, let alone pull out her gun. One demonstration on a clock on the wall keeps him at bay – she leads him into the living room and sits him down on the couch, taking a seat herself on the floor across from him.
After twenty minutes of waiting, and occasionally glancing around the room, Elle asks if he wants to play Jenga.
Lyle doesn't seem to appreciate this.
It took over an hour for her quarry to return. What followed was quite a bit of yelling and threatening and some momentary chaos. It ended with Claire Bennet reluctantly standing next to Elle's rental car across the street, her mother and brother safely inside their home. For her part, Elle had perched onto the trunk, making no effort to hide the fact that she is constantly glancing around the street. She doesn't like being so exposed, but Claire's mother wouldn't have her in the house. Elle can see her shadow in one of the upstairs windows, but tries not to make this obvious.
"What do you need my blood for, anyway?" Claire snaps, as Elle's attention is distracted by someone down the street taking out their trash. "You're not hurt."
"Not that you can see, anyway," Elle replies, her voice even.
"I'm not just giving it to you."
"I'm not making you." She shrugs, focusing her attention back on Claire. "Name what you want and I'll do it."
Claire hardly looks reassured by this, but in the silence between them, Elle notices her fidget with something in her pocket.
"What can you give me?"
"What do you want?"
She fidgets again. It's obvious whatever it is, she's not in a hurry to share, but Elle doesn't provide any distraction or change of subject. Another long moment of silence passes, and Claire finally pulls out what she had stashed in her pocket – a small, bent-up business card, with a familiar symbol printed across it.
"I know," Elle cuts across her. Claire briefly looks annoyed at being interrupted, but can't entirely hide her relief at not having to explain this.
"Since then – there's been something wrong with me."
There's a pause, and Elle tilts her head, as though trying to get a better look at Claire. "There's nothing wrong with you."
"Not that you can see, anyway." The imitation is uncanny, and works in shutting Elle up. Still, it's another moment before she continues, "I don't feel pain – at all. Not anymore."
With great effort, Elle bites back asking how this is a problem. Instead, her eyes flicker to the card in Claire's hand, and the other girl seems to notice this. She holds it out.
"Someone said these people could help me."
Elle takes the card. Pinehearst. New Jersey. And the symbol, again.
"So what do you want me to do?"
"Help me get in there."
She hands the card back to Claire. "I think that's a bad idea."
"You said you'd give me something."
"I know. I'm just saying this thing's a bad idea."
Even in the little light from the street lamps, she can see Claire's expression darken, and throws her head back in frustration.
"Fine. Okay. I just – met someone from this place a while ago. I don't think they'd want to help you."
"Then that's why I want to bring you."
It was such a bad idea. But it was hardly her first, and bad ideas didn't always lead to bad results. She'd had to learn that by now. Elle straightens, and pushes herself down from the trunk of the car.
"Look," she says, glancing around the street once more. "I'll do this, but – this happens to people like us sometimes. I've seen it, and – it's just something in their heads. Something just goes wrong for a while until they can fix it."
Claire's expression becomes remarkably impassive, and her tone is cool when she asks, "What do you think's in my head?"
Elle shrugs, honestly oblivious to any discomfort discussing something like this may cause. "I'm not very good at that. Maybe it was just so much pain that you don't want to feel it anymore."
A much more pronounced silence follows this.
At last: "I want to go."
"Fine." Elle clicks the button to unlock her car again, and moves around to the driver's door. "I'll pick you up tomorrow morning. At seven."
She watches Claire nod, but doesn't actually climb into her car until the other girl closes her own front door.
Elle would have preferred to drive back, but Claire didn't like the idea of driving all the way to New Jersey with her, and used the word "insane" to describe Elle's pattern of taking disconnected bus routes. In the end, Elle agreed to travel by plane, though she was quickly reminded of why she hated them: more security, easy to track, nowhere to escape once on them, and the reality of being in a tiny metal tube thousands of feet up that she could probably make fall out of the sky in an especially strong fit of nerves. Somehow, that last part never comes into her mind until about five minutes after take-off. Elle usually deals with this by distracting herself somehow.
This time, it's by reading the in-flight catalogue.
It's just after Elle has asked Claire if she has an at-home giant cupcake baking appliance (the fourth time she's asked something like this), when Claire hisses, "Isn't there something else we should be doing?"
Elle reluctantly looks away from the huge yellow cupcake topped in thick, bright pink frosting, and glances past Claire. The woman in the aisle seat beyond her is leaned as far back as possible, and obviously asleep.
"Did you have something in mind?" she mumbles, turning back to the catalogue.
"I don't know, plan something?"
Elle doesn't look up. "In case you haven't noticed, this isn't exactly a great place for a private conversation." She turns a page. "Maybe next time we should drive."
There's a pause. And then, Claire snatches the catalogue out of her hands, so fast Elle doesn't even have time to react. Elle throws back her head in frustration and leans into her blue seat, facing Claire. "What?"
It takes a moment, as Claire herself doesn't seem to know what she wants. Finally she settles on, "How do I know you're not just lying about this?"
"Lying about what?" It's exasperated, but Elle keeps her voice down. "In case you forgot, this whole part of the deal was your idea. And I told you not to do it."
There's no weighty counterargument, but still Claire presses on, "I still think you're hiding something."
"I'm hiding a lot," Elle answers, without hesitation. "But none of it's about you or this."
There's another pause, and then, maybe just to have something to ask – "Do you know where my Dad is?"
Dropping her voice lower still, "Not since Hartsdale."
"You mean when you let all those prisoners escape?"
The pause that follows this is much longer. In fact, it's long enough that it seems Elle may have no answer. But what's initially an obviously annoyed expression fades, and she leans over, right into Claire's shoulder, apparently ignoring the her obvious discomfort.
It lasts long enough for Elle to whisper, "And how did it feel when he sawed into your head?"
Claire drops the catalogue back in Elle's lap, and turns on her side, away from her. Elle shifts back into her seat, and three minutes later, she's admiring an at-home cotton candy maker.
"Look, the plan is you're just going to shut up and do what I say, all right?"
If Elle was becoming agitated on the plane, she's fully reached it as their drive to the Pinehurst facility is approaching its end. Claire sits in the passenger seat, leaning into the door (Elle hasn't exactly made it the smoothest drive ever), her mood not much better.
"What do you think is going to happen?"
"Well, the last time I went into some place to help me, I didn't leave for eighteen years." The building's become visible, a stylized square of granite on the horizon, and Elle pulls into the exit that will take her to its parking lot. "So I wasn't really in a hurry to do it again."
Claire, however, seems to take this seriously, and doesn't speak at all until Elle has finally turned into the lot, and pulled up in an empty parking space near its edge. It's then that she notices the silence, probably the longest they've gone without a sharp comment or at least palpable tension, and she looks back to see Claire watching her, with no expression Elle can discern.
After a beat, she shakes her head. "I just –"
"– I don't have anywhere else to go."
Elle sighs, and pulls the keys out of the ignition. "I know."
They both step out of the rented car, Elle stuffing the keys into her jacket pocket as they approach the building. She'd parked as far as possible from it in case they needed a getaway, but there are only a few other cars in the whole lot. As they're coming to ten feet away from the entrance, she's beginning to think it looks rather empty, with no lights on in the lobby and no visible means of security. Still, someone had wanted her here only a few months before, and it seemed unlikely that whoever they were, they wouldn't still be around.
It's just when she's considering this that something smashes through the window from what must be the tenth floor of the building. Instinctively, Elle steps back, grabbing Claire's arm and forcing her to do the same. Four stories down, she make out the form of the object – or rather, person – that's falling toward the small patch of grass just along the building's edge. And ten feet from the ground –
"Peter!" Claire wrenches herself from Elle's grasp, and runs forward, leaving Elle little choice but to follow her. But even after what must have been bone-shattering impact, Peter is already pulling himself up before Claire has reached him. It's when Elle sees the cuts across his face that she stops dead.
The other woman doesn't seem to hear her at all – she's at Peter's side, trying to help him get to his feet, but he's struggling to stand, and the slice across his face stays fixed in place. Exactly as it should.
"Claire – he's not healing –"
And as Claire looks to Peter, her ability suddenly gone from him, Elle's eyes peer up to the shattered window above them.
It's very rare that Elle remembers to be afraid. But this – this fear was tangled in her mind for as long as she can remember, much worse than a fear of any childhood fear of monsters under the bed or in the closet because this was the kind her father told her about. Clear as anything could be – there were no such things as monsters, there were just other people, and people far more powerful than she could hope to be. There were times when without any doubt at all, she would lose.
When she Elle looks up, she knows she might as well be dead right now.
(I do not want you to die.)
So, really, fuck that.
Still, Elle doesn't run. In fact, she does the least for her self-protection possible – pulls the keys from her jacket, and throws them to Claire.
"Get out!" Elle lifts her hand, and throws a bright white arc of lightning up toward the shattered window. She doesn't watch to see what it hits, but looks back down to see Claire hesitating, pulling Peter along at her shoulder, and Elle is nearly screaming at her when she urges a second time, "Just go, get out, now!"
Elle barely sees Claire start to comply before she's knocked to the side, slammed into the concrete walkway that leads up to the building. She can already taste blood in her mouth, but she forces herself up, and throws another arc toward the window. And another. It's all she can do to aim straight, and lift herself enough to see that in the distance, Claire and Peter have reached their car.
The second time she's slammed down, Elle doesn't get up.