Title: Never Been, Never Will
: Elmer
: PG/K+ for one instance of mild cursing
: Only the words, not the characters.
: Sometimes it's harder to say "Hello" than it is to say "Goodbye."
: My October entry for the PpG Monthly Drabble Contest on Livejournal. Prompt was R.E.M.'s "The Wrong Child." Un-beta'd.

Never Been, Never Will

The radioactivity takes time to wear off, even with Professor Utonium's help. By the time Elmer's normal again, the damage is done. Not that he expected it to fix anything. Before he was just some dork that sat alone, eating paste. Afterwards he was that dork who turned into a giant monster and tried to destroy the city. Great. As if he didn't have it bad enough when he just ate sticky stuff that smelled like popcorn out of a jar.

While his status in the school hierarchy never really elevates past that of Awkward Quiet Kid, the teasing stops altogether, giving him enough time to figure out how to fade into the background, just under everyone's radar. He likes it there. Sometimes he doesn't. But most times he does.

He owes that to Buttercup. He was over at her and her sisters' place, and her dad had worked out how to get him back to kid-size but not quite worked out how to get him to stop leaving glue tracks wherever he stepped. Buttercup had been floating around watching. Her presence had made him nervous; even though she'd apologized and they'd kinda patched things up he couldn't quite forget the sting of her pasteball.

"I hope I don't get teased anymore," he'd said, his tongue sticking in his mouth. He hadn't really felt like sharing that, but he felt weird not saying anything with her just there.

"If anyone does I'll make them regret it," she'd said immediately.

Years later when Elmer thinks about it, he figures she probably just didn't want to risk him turning into another monster and going postal on the city again. Sometimes he likes to pretend that isn't the case, though.

Buttercup's definitely high up in the school hierarchy by the time they enter middle school. Well, of course she is. She's a Powerpuff Girl, and athletic, and a bit of a rebel, so she's got a lot of fans. Elmer doesn't hang with her crowd; Elmer doesn't have a crowd. There's kids he sits with at lunch, but they're not friends. They're just other kids who don't have a real table to sit at.

She's got the same lunch as him. Mitch and the Floydjoydsen twins are always near her. They talk really loud, laugh even louder. It makes Elmer uncomfortable.

She's also one of the few people who actually acknowledges his existence. When she passes him in the cafeteria, she always says, "Hey Elmer." Her friends laugh and Elmer's throat goes tight, every time. He's pretty sure they're making fun of him. He just wants to fade into the background, fly under everyone's radar.

She does it every day. Most times he doesn't like it.

Most times.

"Sometimes I think you're a lost cause," she tells him in Science.

"H-huh?" he says. They're paired up, working on a model of what type of alien would live on Saturn. Usually Elmer isn't paired with anyone. Usually he's by himself, and that's okay. But today Mitch was out sick, so Buttercup passed three people saving a spot for her and dumped her stuff by Elmer's desk.

It's terrifying. He thought he was flying under everyone's radar.

"Well. I say Hi to you, and you never say Hi back." She dabs paste on a googly eye and sticks it to a Styrofoam ball. "It's weird."

"I-I don't know what to say when you say Hi to me."

"Try, 'Hi.' It isn't hard."

"It's. I don't. I thought you were making fun of me."

She looks at him like he's slow, the way a lot of kids look at him. "Why the hell would I do that?"

The cursing—in class, no less—throws him off more. He fiddles with some pipe cleaners, embarrassed.

"Don't be stupid," she scoffs, and pastes on another googly eye. "I wouldn't make fun of you. How many eyes do you think he should have?"

He mumbles something, but then her phone buzzes. The Mayor. She bullets off through the window. Elmer finishes up their alien by himself, grateful for the reprieve but feeling oddly lonelier.

The smell of the paste reminds him of Kindergarten and makes him hungry. He doesn't eat it.

The next time Buttercup says "Hi" to him he manages to mumble it back. It makes her grin, which makes him look away. He doesn't dare look up from his lunch again, not even to glance over and see if they're laughing at him.

He remains undetected until school's end, when he exits and finds the group outside, doing whatever it is that cooler kids do.

"Hey Elmer!" she says. He freezes.

"Uh... hi."

"We're going to see a movie. You should come with."

Elmer's floored.

"I should?"

"He should?" Mitch echoes. Buttercup smacks him.

"Yeah. Come on. You like action stuff, right?"

"I, uh... like it okay."

"You should come with," she says again.

Elmer turns his eyes downward and starts walking, not turning when she calls after him, cries Wait, come back. He doesn't know what to say to her. He doesn't know what to do.

Of all the people whose radars he wanted to fly under, of all the people in his life he wished he could keep at arm's length so they'd never notice, never give him a reason to want something more than to just sit back and watch as life rolled past him...

Because most days that's enough for him. Most days...

"Elmer! Where're you going? Wait!"

She's too cool, too much better, so much better. What's he supposed to do when a girl like that, a girl like Buttercup, comes up to a wallflower like him, a paste-eater like him, and says Hi?

Say 'Hi' back, he hears her voice in his head, but no, he can't do that.

He keeps walking and doesn't look up, not even after he can't hear her anymore, and tries not to regret it.