Disclaimer: I do not own Degrassi. The title of this fic belongs to one of the best bands in the world, The Hold Steady. None of the lyrics in this one-shot belong to me.
Author's note: What the fuck was Nowhere to Run? So pissed off at that excuse of an episode. Okay, I wrote this for entirely selfish purposes, so… sorry if it sucks. It is more of a musical and Eclare-centric exegesis, if I have to define it. But Eclare nonetheless.
+Heaven is whenever we can get together, sit down on your floor and listen to your records+
"No problem… really."
Eli smiles at Clare as the latter goes through boxes and boxes of CDs and vinyls, her eyes widening in delight every time she finds something she likes. Eli tries not to focus too much in the way Clare is smiling, how she mutters to herself as she examines the cover of some obscure album.
He just wants her to be happy.
"You're invited, of course," says Clare quickly, giving him a quick smile. "I am borrowing your stuff, so I'm eternally indebted to you."
"Aw, a pity invite," jokes Eli. "Makes me feel special. Clare Edwards in charge of providing music to a party. This is an astounding event."
"I can't believe Jake put me in charge of the music," says Clare, rolling her eyes and sighing deeply. "He's so annoying sometimes! He planned this party out of nowhere, without asking our parents, and I-"
Clare stops ranting, blushing immediately as she avoids Eli's eyes. She seems embarrassed about something, although Eli can't pinpoint what it is. Now there is only awkward silence between them, and Clare continues to browse through Eli's music collection.
"So, how's that going?" asks Eli uncomfortably. "You know, living with Jake and dating him. Are your parents fine with it?"
He really doesn't want to know the answer, but he really wants to be friends with Clare. Eli stands there, waiting for Clare to answer, but she isn't saying a word.
"Never mind," mumbles Eli as Clare goes through yet another box.
"It's… okay," says Clare quietly. "We're not really dating, dating… Just… all right. It's tiresome at times, you know? It's as if we have to try so hard to make it work, and keep it hidden from our parents, and I'm tired of it… sometimes."
"Just sometimes," echoes Eli.
"Rarely," says Clare defiantly, holding her head up high, as if asking Eli to say something against her relationship with Jake.
He thinks of many things he could say, and he knows that he would win the argument. But Eli is tired of drama, he just wants to move on and be happy with what he has.
Even if it's just Clare's friendship.
Friends, ha. What a joke.
"What is this?" asks Clare curiously, holding what looks like a blank copy of a CD.
"It's called a CD," teases Eli. "You play it and this strange sound called music comes out from it…"
"You're an idiot," chuckles Clare, and then she looks at the back of the cover. "Oh."
"What?" starts Eli, but his heart sinks when he realizes which CD Clare is holding.
"Um…" Clare hands it back to him, but Eli won't take it. He had completely forgotten about it, and maybe that was a good thing. Because all the memories are now coming back and he is starting to feel a little anxious.
"Keep it," blurts Eli. "I don't want it. You can throw it away if you want to. You don't even have to listen to it."
"But it has my name on it," whispers Clare, running her fingers over the plastic case. "You made this for me."
"I made it for my ex-girlfriend," says Eli calmly. "Not for the girl standing in front of me."
"What is that supposed to mean?" frowns Clare.
"You've changed," shrugs Eli. "I've changed. The songs that are in there, they're irrelevant right now."
"I've changed?" asks Clare, and she sounds genuinely confused. "How so?"
"You're more… confident now," says Eli delicately. "You seem to want other things. I've seen how you act around Jake, and you're not the girl I fell in love with anymore."
Eli notices a tear run down Clare's cheek, and he feels immediately guilty.
"I'm not saying it as a bad thing…" offers Eli, although he would give everything to have the old Clare back. But maybe bringing the old Clare back would also mean bringing back his former self, and Eli doesn't want that.
Maybe they're both better off this way.
Clare looks sadly at the cover and places it on top of the box. "I'm sorry."
"For what?" asks Eli confusedly.
"I broke your heart," says Clare.
"You're flattering yourself," chuckles Eli, trying to lighten the mood. "I'm okay now, Clare. I'm a survivor, after all. A scarred, messed-up one, but I'm still here. So that's fine."
Clare smiles weakly, and grabs the CD again. She stares at it for one long second and then shows the cover to Eli, tentativeness in her voice.
"I want to listen to it," she says.
"I told you you could keep it," says Eli carelessly.
Clare shakes her head, opening the case and handing the CD to Eli, her hands shaking.
"I want to listen to it with you… right now," she mumbles. "I want to know how you saw me back then. And how I've changed."
Eli takes the CD from her, not sure if it's a good idea.
But he walks over to his CD player anyway, and pops the CD in. He presses play, and when he turns around, Clare is already sitting on his bed. Eli walks over to her and sits down next to Clare, awkwardly placing his hands on his own lap.
Hunter eyes, I'm lost and hardly noticed, slight goodbye…I want to rip your lips off in my mouth.
"When we met," explains Eli as the notes invade the room. "I was so scared of my feelings for you. They were so powerful, and I knew how love could destroy me. I fell for you anyway."
"You pushed me away because of Julia," reminisces Clare, her eyes closed.
"Yes, but mostly because of my own issues," confesses Eli. "But you stayed anyway. You gave me space… and that was more than I could have ever bargained for."
They smile at each other and continue listening to the song, every line making Eli's heart ache a little. He remembers sitting on this very same bed, looking at all the chaos surrounding him, and wondering how he would be able to stop liking Clare.
And here he is, wondering the exact same thing. The chaos is mostly gone, his hoarding almost under control. But yeah, his feelings for Clare haven't changed that much.
The next song starts playing; a happier tone to it, and Clare starts humming along.
Fragile, handle with care… you fall in love, then you lose your head.
"I knew you would like this one," grins Eli. "I remember playing it to you once, you absolutely loved it."
"Our first official date," blushes Clare. "I will never forget the way you kissed me that night."
"I think that's when I realized how much in love I was with you," admits Eli.
"Me too," says Clare rather softly, and Eli feels his face feeling hot. "Contraband kissing."
"The best kind of kissing, obviously," says Eli sarcastically, and Clare tugs playfully on a strand of his hair.
"I don't know if making out with Jake counts as contraband kissing," muses Clare suddenly.
"I think that's incestuous kissing," says Eli, mockingly venomous.
"Hey!" protests Clare. "We're not blood-related."
"Still gross," laughs Eli. "Besides, I would like to think of that term as our term, thank you very much. Don't stain my good memories."
"Sorry," says Clare, a little more serious now.
Light a roman candle with me, just a roman candle, you can wear your sandals…
"Oh, I've never heard this one before," says Clare, listening attentively. Eli just lets her listen, hoping that she can finally understand why he was so hesitant to let her go.
And Clare isn't commenting on the songs anymore. She listens, and cries a little, at some point holding Eli's hands between hers. It's as if she's rediscovering herself by listening to the songs that, in Eli's opinion, define everything they were.
But then the last song starts playing, and the atmosphere changes at once.
Broken heart again today, the flowers that I gave to you have withered all away.
Just when I opened up my heart, the one you used to love came and ripped it right apart.
Clare is still holding his hand, but there is anger in her eyes now. Eli looks at her in silence, wiping Clare's tears away with his sleeve. She is plainly glaring at him, but not moving at all when he touches her.
"You hate me," says Clare simply, and Eli realizes that she's not mad at him.
She's mad at herself.
"I could never hate you, Clare," says Eli tenderly. "I could never… That's a ridiculous thought."
"I've been so selfish," sobs Clare, letting go of his hand and covering her face with her own, shaking as she cries inconsolably. The song keeps playing, the lyrics stabbing Eli's heart, and something inside of him breaks again.
Eli hugs Clare, a reflex he had almost forgotten, and Clare quickly wraps her arms around him. She holds on to him, and he waits.
He doesn't know what he's waiting for, but that's okay.
I lie in bed awake at night, and wonder what went wrong or even more just what went right.
The song ends in that final, heartbreaking line, and then… silence. The only sounds in the room are Clare's sobs, and Eli feels confused. He should feel vindicated somehow, he should feel relieved that Clare finally knows how he really felt during their relationship, but he just feels sick.
Because she's hurting, and despite everything, that's the last thing he wants.
"Clare, stop crying," he says humorlessly. "I'm not worth it."
"I'm so stupid," sniffles Clare, controlling herself. "I have been such an idiot."
"So have I," says Eli happily. "We're even!"
"When did I lose myself?" wonders Clare, and looks up at him. Her eyes are red and puffy, and tear tracks are all over her cheeks, but fuck, she looks beautiful.
"Maybe this is who you're supposed to be," says Eli. "Maybe the Clare I knew was just a phase."
"I don't like who I am," says Clare bitterly. "I hate who I am!"
"Don't say that," says Eli, his heart breaking.
"But it's true." Clare doesn't let go of him, quite the opposite; she clings on to him even tighter.
"If it helps, I love who you are," says Eli at last, trying not to look at her. "Even if you've changed. Because part of me will always love you, regardless of the decisions you make."
"I don't deserve that," retorts Clare.
"Ha, how the tables have turned," says Eli dryly, remembering a conversation they had months, ages ago. Back when they were just getting to know each other, when everything was a shocking surprise.
And maybe now they know too much.
"Look at me," says Clare, a hint of authority in her voice. Eli reluctantly glances back, and Clare's blue eyes make him lose every ounce of willpower he had left. He leans in and kisses her, hating himself for doing so. Clare briefly responds to the kiss, and it sends jolts down Eli's spine.
Eli pulls away, the contact with Clare's lips burning his own, and Clare is looking at him with eyes wide open.
"I always manage to fuck up, don't I," snaps Eli, and disentangles himself from Clare's grasp. He stands up and walks over to the CD player, pressing the power button as he removes the disk.
He doesn't turn around, but he listens to the springs of his bed creak, signaling that Clare is also standing up now. He listens to her quiet footsteps approach him, dread filling him up.
"We've both messed up, many times," she says, her melodic voice sounding like music to Eli. "And we both need to stop doing that."
"Agreed," responds Eli. "I'll stay away from you. I need to get rid of these feelings if I ever want us to be friends. I'm sorry."
"I don't want you to stay away," states Clare.
"You don't?" asks Eli, trying to not sound too hopeful.
"No," nods Clare shyly, her face very red, and it's as if they're back to square one. Eli smirks at her and her blush is even deeper, both of them acting like the awkward, flirty teens they used to be.
"Where do we go from here?" asks Eli pragmatically. "We can't just… pretend this didn't happen."
"I know, but… I need to fix some things first," says Clare, nervously glancing at her hands. "Many things."
They're both not saying it, but Eli knows Clare is mostly referring to Jake.
"Yes, you need to," nods Eli. "And I think we need to rebuild our friendship first, before anything happens. "
"I know… I know," says Clare, her voice full of understanding. "I'm aware I'm asking too much from you, but… are you willing to take that chance with me? Even though I'm not the same girl you fell for?"
Eli doesn't reply right away, because part of him wants to torture Clare at least a little. But she looks desolated, so he decides to give her an answer.
"I'm willing to take that chance," grins Eli. "But I need a favor."
"Okay…" starts Clare cautiously.
"There is this party I was invited to, but I don't really want to go," smirks Eli. "I want to go to the comic book instead. Want to join me? I promise extreme geeking –out over mint graphic novels."
They make eye contact, and yes, maybe they're not perfect and maybe they won't solve all their issues in a day. And maybe they'll end up messing up again, and maybe it won't work out. But Eli is tired of the maybes and what ifs, so he merely smiles when Clare replies to him.
"I would love to."