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The Many Ways

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Claire sneaks into the dorms under the cover of darkness, scaling a ridiculously high fence in an isolated corner of campus - snapping her ankle back into place absentmindedly after she lands - to avoid being seen, and peering around every corner at length before rounding it. Once she reaches her own room, she backs through the door silently, keeping each step measured and soft and only letting the door slide back into its frame by the tiniest of inaudible increments.

Then she very nearly ruins all her hard work by yelling when arms wrap themselves around her shoulders.

"Hey, you," Gretchen murmurs sleepily into her hair, and tightens her hold. "It's only me."

Claire breathes in and out deeply, just once, to try and calm her racing heart, and then turns in the circle of Gretchen's arms and tips her head forward to nestle in the crease of her neck. Gretchen's arms slip clumsily down to her waist, and Claire lets herself go limp, just resting against her.

"I saw you on the news," Gretchen continues talking, half to herself, her voice thick and clumsy. Claire smiles against Gretchen's skin as the sound of her voice slowly fills the room, half-heartedly pursing her lips into something of a kiss as they stand there, leaning against each other. "I was so proud of you, Claire. So very proud."

They're cocooned in Gretchen's sheets not long after, Claire still dressed except for her jacket dropped by the door and her shoes toed off as they stumbled towards the nearest bed.

"It's only been a few hours and I already hate dodging reporters," Claire confesses, whispering, her head pillowed on her arm.

"Do you regret it?" Gretchen asks, her eyes wider now, more awake.

"No," Claire says after a long pause. "No, I don't think I could."

 

*

"I can't believe you did that!"

Claire opens her mouth to ask what the hell she's doing here, just inside the doorway of Claire's father's apartment, but then thinks better of it. The television is blaring in the background, playing the footage of Claire's jump over and over, and there's blue electricity crackling around Elle's hands.

"I thought you were dead," she settles for asking instead.

"I thought we were a secret," Elle snarls in response.

"Yeah, well," Claire shrugs and tosses her bag into a corner, out of the way, and shuts the door behind her. "Nothing ever seemed to change while everyone was hiding."

"Who says it needed to?" Elle asks, her voice rising into a shriek.

Claire just cocks her head to the side and looks her up and down. "The fact that you didn't bother to tell anyone you survived Sylar's attack, did."

Elle's jaw works for a moment, but apparently she can't find anything to say to that because it snaps shut again without a word. She sniffs daintily and raises her chin, and the blue around her hands settles down into small sparks. Claire waits a beat, then shrugs and brushes past her.

"Are you hungry?" She asks over her shoulder when she reaches the refrigerator.

*

 

"Still no regrets?" Gretchen asks again a week later, a smile on her lips and caution in her voice. They're huddled together in the backseat of a car staffed by Petrelli bodyguards, following the 'suggestion' that Claire temporarily vacate campus; "to avoid disturbing other students during this period of media attention, you understand."

"No," Claire replies through gritted teeth.

"Good, me neither."

Claire glances at Gretchen out of the corner of her eye, lips twitching when she sees the cheery, determined expression fixed on her face.

"Are you sure?"

The smile widens, becoming more easy, and more genuine. Even the girlfriend of the Amazing Healing Girl! didn't attract as much attention as Claire herself; Gretchen had been more than welcome to remain at college.

"Of course," she says. Claire bumps their shoulders together and Gretchen responds by leaning over and kissing her enthusiastically.

She catches the drivers eyes glancing away in the rearview mirror as they break apart, and reaches over to the control for the privacy partition with a smirk.

"You know I'd always rather be with you," Gretchen whispers in her ear as they wait for the partition to hum its way up to the ceiling.

 

*

Claire's phone rings while they're eating. Gretchen flashes across the screen, but Claire hits the ignore button after only a second's hesitation. She notices Elle is watching her, blatant curiosity on her face, but she pretends not to see. Peter and her father had ushered her away from the circus after only a brief talk with the reporters, and then everything had gone kind of crazy. By the time she'd been able to get through to Gretchen, she'd already gotten a message from college, asking her to please keep the media frenzy away from the other students.

Gretchen had sounded so happy for her on the phone. She'd kept repeating how proud she was, and Claire believed her. She really did. But Gretchen didn't deserve to get caught up in this particular whirlwind, and somehow, Claire talked to her less and less.

"Are you going to eat that?" Elle asks, breaking into her thoughts. Her fork was pointed at the untouched bread roll beside Claire's plate.

"Go nuts," she says, wearily, and nudges it in Elle's direction.

Elle's fork clatters to the table and she quickly grabs the roll. "What?" she asks indignantly, when she notices Claire still watching her. "It's a little hard to make ends meet when you're pretending to be dead."

Claire tries hard to hide her surprise, and motions casually towards the kitchen, saying "feel free to help yourself to whatever" and pretending not to see the gratitude on Elle's face.

*

 

"Your grandmother is really nice, but she still kind of freaks me out," Gretchen says for the fourth day running after they hole up in one of Angela's city apartments, the sixth Petrelli property in their tour of expensive and heavily fortified lodgings.

Claire just laughs and pulls her back into bed. "I'm fairly sure that's the impression she intends to give."

"Is this some sort of 'you corrupted my granddaughter' thing?" Gretchen asks, pulling faces and pitching her voice low, making Claire laugh harder.

"I doubt it, I've never been especially easy to control. I think she's resigned herself to that by now."

"I suppose going on Larry King against her advice rates higher on the corruption scale than taking a lesbian lover these days." Gretchen sighs heavily, adopting an expression of abject woe until Claire hits her in the face with a pillow. "How can I compete with Larry King?" she asks, her voice plaintive and muffled.

 

*

"Heard something interesting today," Claire says loudly from the lounge room in her best innocent voice when she hears Elle come in.

"Oh yeah?" Elle calls from the front hall. There's a few crashing sounds and Claire rolls her eyes before Elle sticks her head into room, hanging off the doorframe with one hand and grinning like a lunatic.

"Yeah," Claire says, calmly continuing to fold laundry from where she's sitting cross-legged by the coffee table. "Apparently you might have super powers, too."

Elle abruptly pulls herself upright again, grin only slightly lessened, and watches Claire cautiously. When all she does is tilt her head towards the couch cushions, where a gossip rag is thrown open to a full page picture of the two of them, Elle just shrugs. Like she couldn't help herself.

"What? I got sick of the old headlines. Does Claire Bennet have a live-in girlfriend? Please." Elle flips her hair back over her shoulder with a pout. "As if that's the only interesting thing about me!"

"A little warning would have been nice, that's all." Claire keeps folding, struggling to keep the grin off her face. "My dad brought that around in a rage, and I've already had three calls from Angela to complain about shoddy public relations work."

Elle drops onto her stomach next to the magazine, limbs sprawled and hair hiding her face.

"You're not the only one who can be impulsive," she mutters, the edge of a whine in her voice.

Claire pushes to her feet and steps around the coffee table, nudging at Elle's hips with her knee until she rolls onto her side, making room for Claire to sit. Claire props herself up, leaning over her, and brushes Elle's hair out of her eyes.

"You're beautiful," she says, and kisses Elle, hard. She can feel Elle smiling again, into the kiss, and then suddenly she flips them off the couch and Claire's head hits the corner of the coffee table. Then they're just laughing - Elle straddling her stomach, and Claire healing - and making out like teenagers.

*

 

"It's a good thing we made that agreement with the Dean that we'd live off campus this semester," Gretchen says conversationally with her fingers twisting inside Claire, her other hand tangled with Claire's, pressing it into the mattress beside her head. Claire groans inarticulately, pulling helplessly at Gretchen's leg hitched up across her own and arching her hips.

The sun streaming through the curtains is warm against Claire's breast, and Gretchen is also warm, stretched along her body with her lips at Claire's throat.

"Because you've been getting rather loud lately."

She can feel the muscles in Gretchen's back shifting and then the angle of her fingers change, and her thumb brushes against her clit, and Claire arches again, practically screaming on command.

 

*

Claire wakes quickly and stays perfectly still, listening, her vision blocked by the usual disarray of pillows about her head. She carefully tugs down with her hands and hears the clink of metal on metal.

"Good morning," Elle practically purrs from behind her, and hands slide up her spine. Claire shivers.

"Handcuffs? Really?" Claire shifts awkwardly, trying to find enough leverage with her elbows against the pillows to take the weight off her wrists. She tries to rise to her knees as well, and to twist so she can look Elle in the eye, but the hands against her back press down when she moves, keeping her flat against the mattress.

"Happy coming-out-as-a-freak anniversary," Elle says with a giggle. "I thought today deserved something special."

"Is that what I can feel, something special?" Claire asks wryly, and Elle laughs again and thrusts her hips, nudging something long and solid against the back of Claire's thigh. "I don't remember that particular shopping trip making the headlines."

"That's my secret to keep," Elle singsongs and settles in more firmly against Claire's back. Claire groans and drops her head back down in acceptance at the feel of Elle's breasts against her skin, and her hands slowly making their way to her legs, holding her down and wide.

"I want to see it," she mumbles, turning her head to the side to breathe deeply and gasp out the words.

"Mm," Elle hums. "Maybe later, if you're good." She eases Claire's legs apart and runs a finger along her vulva, making her buck against the mattress. "But only if you're very good," she promises.