Coming Home

By TheLostMaximoff

Disclaimer: I don't own these characters. R/R.

Elle doesn't really understand it when people talk about home. To her, home is mostly a word and nothing more. It's something people use as an anchor to make themselves feel more human. The idea of home, the concept of always having a place of stability and security, is an idea completely foreign to her. Elle thinks that home is whatever place you happen to be sleeping in at the moment. Home isn't her parents' house where she spent a brief fraction of her childhood nor is it the Hartsdale facility where she spent all her teenage years and part of her adult life. Home isn't anywhere for Elle and it certainly isn't "where the heart is" or any of that other greeting card garbage.

Elle thinks the concept of home is stupid. Home is where you feel safe, where things are stable and secure. Home is constant, never fading away or even changing at all. Elle thinks all these things are lies. She doesn't believe in security and, for her, constancy is just a fancy word for boredom. Safety and stability don't exist when you're a walking lightning rod who's spent the best years of her life being poked, prodded, and studied like a bug in a jar. Safety and stability don't exist when you discover your own father aided in this violation and willingly helped turn you into a broken, miserable shell of a person. Elle stopped believing in safety a long time ago. The shrinks called it "paranoia" but she calls it "being careful" and, really, no one could blame her after what she's been through.

Home is nothing but a distant memory for Elle. She vaguely remembers her house. She remembers her parents. Things were good back then until she started that fire at her grandmother's. Mommy and Daddy weren't the same after that. They kept arguing about what to do with her and eventually Mommy left for good. The day her father explained this to her, explained that Mommy was never coming back, Elle cried her eyes out and screamed her head off. It was the natural reaction of most children in the face of divorce. That was also the day the blackout happened, the one that spanned four counties and probably killed a few people. Elle's not sure since she never got an accurate report. The day after the blackout, Elle and her father moved away. That's the truth Elle knows about home. Home is never stable and home is never so happy. It only seems that way because that's the way everyone wants to see it.

Peter makes everything seem like a good idea. He's the reason Elle is standing in front of this house, this house that looks so much like home but can't be because Elle doesn't have a home. She hates Peter right now. She hates him for being the best thing that ever happened to her. She hates how he's so eternally optimistic and sentimental. She hates it that he had the nerve to track down this house and convince her to come with him. She got a good enough look last time she saw it when she was eight and staring out of the car window with tears in her eyes. Elle hates Peter for rubbing off on her so much that she actually misses this place that was all a lie to begin with.

"I can't go in there," says Elle flatly as she looks at Peter, "I just can't." Peter just nods and walks up to the front door. Elle runs and hides in the car. She squeezes her eyes shut to stop the tears. She tells herself it's just a house. It's just brick and wood. Elle doesn't have a home. She can't go back to that house. If she does then the enormity of how monumentally screwed up she is will hit her in the face. It will pummel her and crush her until she's just that little, eight-year-old girl again who's stuck in between Mommy and Daddy's war. Elle doesn't think about home. She just quietly sobs in the car while Peter does what she should be doing but doesn't have the courage to.

"We're lucky they're the only ones who have lived here since you moved away," says Peter as he finally gets back in the car, "They think they found something that might be yours."

"I don't want it," says Elle, her eyes still shut as she tries to contain herself.

"I think you might," assures Peter, "Just see what it is and then decide." Elle opens her eyes and instantly wants to cry all over again. Peter sits there holding what appears to be a very vintage and very weathered member of the Care Bear family that long, long ago answered to the name "Grumpy Bear". Elle's eyes widen in utter amazement and she swears all the electricity in her brain has finally shorted it out. There are no words in the English language to describe how utterly and completely overcome she is at this point.

"Grumpy Bear," says Elle longingly, her voice taking on a whimpering quality that sounds more like that of a little girl. She snatches the bear from Peter, hugs it to her chest as tightly as humanly possible, and cries. Elle remembers her third birthday when her father gave her Grumpy Bear because it was blue and she adored blue. Elle remembers carrying Grumpy Bear everywhere with her. She remembers how she ran out of her grandmother's blazing inferno of a house and Grumpy Bear was clutched in her tiny, little hands. When Mommy and Daddy argued, Elle went into her room and talked to Grumpy Bear. She thought, and still does, that she and Grumpy Bear were made for one another.

"The people who live here had a daughter," explains Peter, "She made sure they took good care of it." Elle knows Peter's saying more but it's all white noise to her. She remembers so many things about this house and about her parents. The happy times bleed together with the terrible ones to form a complete picture of who she was and how she became who she is now. Elle remembers the day she left her home behind. Daddy swore up and down that Grumpy Bear was safe and sound in a box with her other toys and the moving truck would deliver them to her new home. Elle doesn't get mad about this now, about how her father lied to her so blatantly. She just cuddles the stuffed animal and remembers everything about the home she swore she'd forget.

Home isn't a lie for Elle anymore. It's not just a house with two floors, four walls, and a roof. It's not just some obnoxiously cute stuffed animal. Home isn't a foreign concept and maybe, just maybe, there's still some sort of stability and security in the world. Elle thinks maybe, just maybe, she's found that with Peter because cuddling Grumpy Bear gives her that warm, fuzzy feeling in her stomach just like when Peter cuddles her.

"Thank you," whispers Elle tearfully, "Thank you so, so much." She doesn't say anything for the rest of the two-hour drive back to their apartment. Peter doesn't need her to say anything. He just watches her smile as she remembers when the world was young and things were brighter and happier. Home is real for Elle because even though she doesn't have a complete one she at least has a piece of it in her arms that she can hang on to when the world turns violent and ugly. She thinks maybe, just maybe, it's as good a start as any.