A/N: I do not own Degrassi. Also, there's a Life With Derek quote hidden in here. Brownie points to whomever can spot it!
"Hey. So I just got back in town, and I kind of need someone to help me unpack. Wanna come over?"
Clare furrowed her brow, and Eli could practically hear the wheels in her head turning before she said, "I thought you were going to be out of town for awhile."
"Yeah, but we're back in town now. Besides, we have a lot to talk about and I don't want to waste any time. Do you want to come over or not?"
Clare gripped her lower lip between her teeth as she thought his request over, "Um, sure. I can be over in about ten minutes, if that's alright?"
"Yeah," Eli grinned, "I'll see you soon."
Clare hung up her cellphone (she had gotten a new one for Christmas) and tossed it to the bed. Eli had just invited her over to help him unpack and to talk about what had happened before Christmas break. Clare's stomach churned as she recalled kissing him.
She hadn't been able to stop thinking about what she had done throughout the break. She had lost sleep over it even. At the time, she thought it was a good idea. Now, she realized it was stupid and immature and lacking in all logic and discretion. They had just started talking again. How could she think grabbing him and kissing him would even be okay?
They had been doing so well, and Clare was terrified she had gone and ruined that. She always messed everything up. She sighed and turned to look herself over in the mirror. She had lost some weight, and her hair was finally growing out of its awkward stage. She ran her fingers through the curls before throwing on her red pea coat and purple scarf. As terrified as she was, Clare knew she would have to face this at some point.
Eli paced around his bedroom as he waited for the doorbell to ring. He had been dreading this conversation all winter break. But he couldn't hide from it forever; he and Clare needed to have this talk. They needed to sort everything out and figure out where they stood with one another. Eli glanced around his messy room. It wasn't bad – better than it had been a few months ago. His scuffed old suitcase was thrown onto the bed, with a mound of wadded clothes heaped on top.
He shook his head, hoping Clare would overlook the clothes and see that he had been able to keep his room picked up – mostly – over these past few months. He grabbed a pair of underwear off the floor and shoved them under the bed just as the doorbell rang.
He ran downstairs, taking the steps two at a time. When he got to the door, Eli paused and allowed himself enough time to run a hand through his hair and regain his suave exterior. He gathered a breath, and swung the door open.
"Hey," he smiled.
"Hey," Clare returned the smile.
"Come on in."
Clare didn't have to be told twice. It was freezing outside, and snowflakes peppered her coat and hair. Eli didn't really know what to say at first, so they just stood there for a moment. Clare stared down at the flooring, and Eli stared intently at the door behind her. Finally, it was as if a light bulb went off, and he remembered why she was there.
"So, let's start unpacking," he suggested, "Right now, I have this mountain of clothes lurking in my suitcase and I'm afraid if I mess with them, they'll try and eat me," he smirked.
"Let's go tame the wild beast!" Clare grinned.
As Eli turned to lead her upstairs, she slapped her hand to her forehead. Had she really just said that? And just when she was starting to wonder if she couldn't be even more of an idiot.
Eli swung open the bedroom door, and allowed Clare to go inside. She had to admit, she was impressed. He had done a good job at trying to keep it picked up – with an exception of the mound of clothes on the bed.
"You were only gone for a week and a half," Clare rolled her eyes, "I swear, you packed more than a girl!"
"Just help me."
"I would, but I don't know where to begin…"
"The folded clothes are clean. If they're crumpled up, they're dirty."
"They're all crumpled up," Clare raised an apprehensive eyebrow.
"Okay. How about this – if they stink, they're dirty."
Clare laughed and rolled her eyes, "Wonderful. Remind me again why I am doing this?"
"Because you're awesome?" Eli shrugged and tried to pull off his best irresistible-smile.
"Flattery?" Clare took off her coat and placed it on the bed, "You play dirty, Goldsworthy."
"I always get my way," Eli grinned and picked up a t-shirt, "Does this smell funky to you?"
"Well, I can't tell."
"Just put it in the hamper anyways," Clare shook her head, "So tell me, how was your trip?"
Eli folded a pair of black jeans, "Well, it was okay. We visited my grandparents for the holidays."
"Well, it was kind of boring to be honest," Eli shrugged, "It was nice to see them and all…but…I wanted to be back here."
"Yeah," Clare nodded.
"I'd have much rather been hanging out with Adam and…well…you."
Clare almost dropped the t-shirt she was holding on to, "Is that so?"
"Yeah," Eli shrugged again before picking up another t-shirt and sniffing it. He didn't really know what else to say to Clare at the moment, so he tossed the shirt right at her face.
"What?" Eli smirked, "It smelled particularly funky."
"Impossible, irresistible; tomato, tomoto."
Clare shook her head, "You drive me crazy."
"At least it's not a far drive," Eli smirked again, "So tell me, how was your Christmas?"
Clare folded a turtleneck, "It was alright. Kind of awkward."
"You try exchanging presents with your ex who now happens to be your new brother and tell me it's totally not awkward at all."
"Got it," Eli nodded, understandingly, "So did you get anything super special?"
"A new phone."
"Nice. I got Dead Hand's new collectors' edition CD."
"Nice," Clare nodded, "Speaking of…we should put on some music. Music makes laundry a lot more fun."
"You know where the stereo is," Eli reminded her, "Pick out any CD from over there and put it in."
Clare abandoned the suitcase and walked over to the dresser where Eli kept his stereo and his CD collection. She skimmed through the stack of CDs before landing on a 10 Years CD. She popped it in the player.
"Good choice," Eli nodded, clearly impressed, "I like this song."
"What is it?"
"Fix Me," Eli grabbed another shirt, "Speaking of that…I've been doing really good with my Bipolar stuff lately. I meet with a therapist every two weeks and my parents essentially have me on lockdown. Everything I do is scheduled – when I eat, when I sleep, when I take my meds. I think I really scared them," he winced as if the memory pained him.
"You scared a lot of people," Clare sat down the shirt she had been holding, "But I am really glad you're getting help."
"Yeah," Eli said, "I even have reduced the number of pills I have to take – which is a good sign. It means I can control myself better and that I'm not quite so dependent on meds."
"I'm so proud of you," Clare reached over and placed a hand on his arm. As quickly as she had done so, she realized what she had done, and withdrew her hand. Blushing, she said, "I am so sorry."
"It's fine," Eli tossed a shirt on the bed before sitting down, "Sit." Clare did as she was told, and Eli said, "Clare, we are trying so hard to pick up where we left off…before everything. But maybe…maybe that's not where we're supposed to pick up."
"What do you mean?" She asked; her heart was thumping so loudly, she was terrified Eli could hear it.
"Look at us. It's your instinct to touch my arm. It's just what feels natural. Kissing me…that felt natural too."
Clare blushed, "I am so sorry about that kiss…I don't know what I was thinking…"
"Don't apologize," Eli shook his head, "What I'm trying to say is…as hard as we try to just be friends…there's too much there. We can't just be friends, Clare. This whole time you've been here, I've wanted to kiss you and you just don't grab your friends and start kissing them," Eli smirked.
"I'm sure some friends do," Clare smiled a shy smile before blushing again and asking, "So…you've wanted to kiss me this whole time?"
"Possibly," Eli smirked smugly, "Except for when I tossed my dirty shirt at you. Now that you smell like shirt-funk, I don't think I want to…"
Clare smacked him, "Eli!"
"But I'm not going to," he picked at a thread on the hem of her sweater, "I'm not going to kiss you Clare, until I am absolutely certain that you want to be my girlfriend and give us another shot."
"Tell me what you want, Clare. It's not that complicated. What do you want?"
"I want…" Clare tried to say, but the words wouldn't come. She wanted so much, and yet so little. She had no idea where to begin, and had no idea how to put her feelings into sentences. The words caught in her throat, and her head spun.
"What do you want?" Eli pressed.
"I want…I want everything to be okay."
Eli raised an eyebrow, "Okay?"
"I want to be your girlfriend," Clare continued, "I want to be your girlfriend and I want you to be okay and I want to not be scared of setting you off. I want you to be happy and full of life and I want to have that back. I want all those old, good times back. But I know that's impossible. Too much has happened to damage those memories…those moments are in the past. We can't just…"
"Why not?" Eli asked impatiently, "I am getting help, Clare. Tell me, why can't we have those good times again? Why can't we have even greater times?"
"I-I don't know…" Clare shook her head, "I've been thinking about us all during the break, Eli. I want to be your girlfriend again…but…"
"But…?" Eli raised an apprehensive eyebrow.
"But I'm scared. Not so much of you, but of what will happen. If something happens and we lose this again – whatever this is – I don't know if I can handle that. I want a guarantee and I know that's just not possible."
"Clare," Eli placed his hand on her knee, "I wish I could guarantee that this would be easy and a perfect little fairytale, but I can't. I can't guarantee that I'll be fine and that we'll be fine and that we'll be happy all the time. But I can guarantee that I care about you, and always will. I can guarantee that I don't want to ever lose you again, and I can guarantee that I am going to work as hard as I can every day. I can guarantee that you are my whole world, and I can guarantee that we will have good times and bad. I just hope that you'll find those good times to be worth living through the bad."
"Because to me, it'll be worth it."
"It'll be worth it to me too," Clare admitted, "It's not going to be easy, but I'm not asking for easy. I'm asking for you."
"And Lord knows I am not easy to deal with," Eli smirked.
Clare chuckled, "That's an understatement. Half the time you make me want to smack you…"
"And the other half?" Eli raised a bemused eyebrow.
"I want to madly devour you in kisses," Clare smiled in spite of the blush on her cheeks.
"Ooh," Eli grinned, "I like that option better than the smacking option. When do I get to experience one of these mad, devouring kisses?"
Clare smirked, "If you agree to take me out for coffee after we finish the unpacking, then maybe you will get to."
"I think I can agree to that," Eli looked at her with those puppy-dog eyes of his, "Now do I get that kiss?"
"Patience, Eli, is a vir…"
"Screw virtue," Eli grabbed her and threw her down on top of the laundry, "Shirt funk, or no shirt funk – I'm kissing you, here and now."