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the greatest good

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Helen is three when they realize that she's different. She pitches a fit in the middle of the grocery store, just throws herself to the floor and howls with all the tortured indignation of a toddler who's been denied a box of Choco-Puffs. Eventually her mother gives up on calming Helen down and tries to tug her up and along by the arm. She's half way down the aisle before she realizes Helen's not right behind her.

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She’s six the first time she uses it to help someone. A couple of bullies have Bobby Miller cornered in the school playground, over by the low red wall where Helen and her friends like to bounce tennis balls off the building. He’s crying, and they’re laughing at him, and they’re throwing his stuff all over the place, and before she even knows what’s happened, she’s punched the biggest one in the face from fifteen feet away.

The bullies don’t figure it out, of course - he never sees it coming, and by the time he’s recovered, her arms are right back where they should be. Bobby Miller runs away, and Helen feels fierce and proud and powerful.

She tells her mother after school and hates her for being panicked instead of proud, resents having her triumph overshadowed by lectures about secrecy and control and appearing unremarkable. Helen is special, and she’s not about to forget about it.

She’s careful never to get caught by anyone other than her parents, of course, but that only makes it more exciting. She steals things when her mother takes her shopping, arms snaking out in all directions to pick up candies and trinkets. She writes messages on the chalkboard during tests, while everyone’s got their head bent low over their desks. She rearranges things on her teacher’s desk, and Mrs. Whitt knows it’s her, can tell from the satisfied look on her face, but she can never, ever prove it.

It’s not all mischief, of course. She gets cats down from trees and pulls her little neighbor out of the path of a car and helps her mother get things down from shelves, and while she’s not picky about what she does so long as she gets to stretch, she can’t deny that the rush that comes with helping when nobody else could is incredible.

With every attempt her mother makes to dissuade her, to make her ignore her ability, Helen finds some new way to make use of it.

God must have one hell of a sense of humor, her mother says, to give the gift of elasticity to someone so stubborn.

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She’s sixteen the first time someone sees her.

It’s a sloppy mistake on her part, being spotted. She’s downtown, and two men are sprinting down the street - one carrying something, the other, who’s slower and losing ground, yelling “stop, thief!” She snakes out a foot almost without thinking about it, trips the robber, and keeps walking.

She doesn’t even notice the policeman behind her, but he sees her. “Wow,” he says, “I’ve never met a super before.”

He’s one step ahead of her, because she’s never even heard of a super.

She’s obsessed now that she knows there’s a name for what she is, because if there’s a name, then there must be others like her. Her research doesn’t turn up much. She reads the paper every morning and spends every spare minute she’s got at the library, poring over textbooks and microfilm, but there’s no mention of supers anywhere, only a steady pattern of local criminals being foiled by freak accidents. Patches of ice, freak electrical storms, the sudden appearance of a hostile flock of geese...the more she reads, the more she can pick out the telltale signs that someone like her intervened. It seems like there are five, maybe six of them actively working in the city, but there’s nothing that points to another power like hers.

She could do this. She could be a super.

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By eighteen she’s...well, not established, but she has a routine. She sneaks out after her parents go to sleep, dressed all in black, and stretches from rooftop to rooftop, looking for muggers, thieves, and vandals to stop. It’s a rush like nothing she’s ever known, and even though she yawns through most of her classes, she’s never felt more alive. She feels right all the way down to her bones. This is what she was made for.

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The next ten years are a blur. She meets Edna while trying to protect her from a mugger who, in the end, needed more protecting from Edna. Edna gets her into a real suit, gets her a name (“it’s terribly unprofessional not to have a name, dahling, how can anyone properly idolize you without one?”), introduces her to other supers.

Bob she meets on her own, though for years she only knows him as Mister Incredible. They’re both tailing the same henchman, trying to use him to track down a criminal super who’s been melting his way into bank vaults, and they get so caught up in bickering over who saw him first that they almost blow the job entirely. They hate each other on sight but walk away smiling.

One night, they find themselves tied up and dangling over a pit of lava in Doctor Eternity’s lair, scorching in the heat while the idiot monologues endlessly. Bob’s impressed and grateful when she stretches over to the controls and pulls them to safety; when she follows that up by punching Eternity in the head mid-monologue, Bob asks her to marry him.

She’s never been happier, never felt more at home. She can see their future stretching out ahead of them, all the things they’re going to do together.

So of course it all goes to hell.

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Bob acts like he's the only one who had to give it up. She feels sometimes like they fell into this trap, the way the timing worked. They got married, and almost immediately, all the excitement of hero work, the rush of foiling a plot or escaping an exploding lair, disappeared from their lives. They didn't even get a honeymoon, not really, with the trials. Helen had been upset at the time, had wanted a week to be a normal couple, but, well. Be careful what you wish for.

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She's forced into the role of the cautious one, of the strict one, because Bob misses the life too much and can't be counted on to preach restraint. Give him an inch and he'll take a mile, telling Dash he'll race him to the car after a day at the zoo, playing superpowered hide and seek with Violet. There's no end to the delight he takes in encouraging them.

And she understands it, really she does. She remembers being twelve and feeling like she'd burst if she couldn't tell someone, the restless energy that was constantly thrumming under her skin, the work it took to make sure she moved "normally" when the natural thing was to stretch. Getting her powers under control was torture, and she hated every minute of it - she knows she lived to break the exact same rules she’s making now. But with the world they're living in, it's clear that mastering that skill was a necessity, because it's the only reason she adapted as well as she did when relocation went into place.

Sometimes, when she's called in to meet Dash's principal to discuss his behavior, she wishes she had the freedom to ruffle his hair and laugh about it with him, to let him know she understands why sometimes he just can't contain himself. She wants to tell him about the time she stacked all the desks in her classroom in a pyramid in the thirty seconds the room was unattended, about the look on her teacher’s face when he saw it. She wants Dash to understand that she knows exactly how it feels, to have this secret bursting forth from every cell in your body.

But someone has to make sure they stay under the radar; someone has to think about how hard it is for Violet to make friends and the look on her face when she has to leave them, about the weeks Dash spends smacking into walls every time they move into a new house, before he adjusts and his muscle memory figures out how exactly to take the corners. Someone has to remember that Dash’s clothes shred to pieces when he runs and that they can’t afford to keep replacing them. Someone has to be practical.

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She loves Bob, she always has, she always will, but she hates him a little bit too, sometimes, the way he hardly ever had to hide himself, the way he gets to carry his strength so obviously. It's obviously not normal to be able to bench press a train, but it's not like he's constantly getting the chance to do that. He's always had to be careful not to break things, true, but it's not like it is for her, there's no itch under his skin to work his muscles in the same way that Helen and Dash are constantly itching to move in ways and at speeds that only they can.

It's the mundanity that gets to Bob, not the restraint. It was sacrificing his glory, answering to small men who don't know who he is or what he's done and would only hate him even more if they did. And he sees Helen and Jack-Jack and Dash and Violet living their lives and finding ways to enjoy themselves and thrive in normal lives, and he doesn't understand it, doesn't understand that they're just like him, that every single one of them is carefully contained.

She just wishes he’d try to understand that they’re all doing the best they can. All he thinks about is what he’s lost, without a thought to what he still has, or everything he could have. He could have the glory again, is the thing; if not as Mister Incredible, than as Bob Parr, champion for super rights. If he took a step back and looked at the whole board, Helen really thinks he'd choose fighting for legitimacy as his path, bringing the whole community back together and proving that they're needed, that there's a better way to handle supers than by spending millions of dollars to keep them from helping anyone. He'd be great at it. People always flocked to Bob, followed that grin and improbable grace. He could make it happen.

But he'd rather rail against the system than work within it, and that means tense mornings and tenser nights, means "bowling leagues" that don't really exist, means police scanners hidden halfheartedly under the passenger seat because even in this, Bob can't be bothered to hide who he is.

She just wishes he'd see there was a way to be constructive about it. He could save the world without ever suiting up if only he'd try.

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Watching Violet grow up is the most thrilling thing Helen’s ever done. There were years, long, tense years, after she and Bob were married, where they were constantly moving and miserable and it was hard to see a way out of it, hard to see how Helen could ever survive in the normal life she’d spent her whole existence avoiding.

And then came Violet. Beautiful, perfect Violet Anne Parr, with black hair and blue eyes, and looking at her for the first time, Helen felt right in the same way she’d always associated with stretching. Watching her grow up, watching her become a spectacular young woman, it’s the best adventure Helen’s ever had.

Helen doesn't always have a read on Violet. As a mother, she looks at Violet and she knows her, inside and out, feels like she's looking right through to her daughter's heart, and she's so full of love that she feels sometimes like she'll burst. But Elastigirl...well. Elastigirl doesn't know what to think of a power that makes you disappear, that makes you less, doesn't know how to talk her baby girl out of vanishing whenever she gets uncomfortable when her own biggest problem was always reminding herself not to be seen.

It's almost more like a curse, for someone so shy, the way it tempts Violet into retreating and hiding herself. Helen wonders sometimes which comes first, the power or the personality, whether Dash's energy comes from his speed or if something, somewhere gave him his speed to match his heart; whether Bob wants to save the world because of his strength or if he's strong because he's supposed to save the world, whether, like her mother said, God has a sense of humor about it. Is Helen stubborn because her body's elastic? Or does she have limbs like rubber to balance her out?

These are the things she wonders about when Violet has nightmares, when she wakes up to the sound of her little girl screaming only to find a bed that looks empty, when she holds a crying daughter that she can't see and strokes her hair and wonders how to help her find her balance. Violet’s a child, and Helen doesn’t wish that her daughter were sneaking out at night to catch criminals, but she wishes Violet had the freedom to choose. She always promised herself growing up that she’d never stifle her kids the way she felt her mother was stifling her, but now she understands her mother better than ever and can finally appreciate how hard it must have been on her parents to ask her to lock part of herself away. Violet is beautiful and spectacular and perfect, and all Helen wants is to help her embrace that so she can become whoever she’s meant to be.

Helen thinks about how it felt, putting on Elastigirl’s suit for the first time, and she wishes she could pass that rush on to her daughter..

That’s when Helen agrees with Bob and hates the world for forcing them underground. She imagines what would happen if the ban on supers were lifted. There are so many things she wants to teach them, so many pieces of wisdom she wants to pass on that have no place in their lives right now. Her children were born for more than they’ve been allowed to have, and she wishes with all her heart than one day they’ll be able to live as their whole selves.

She thinks they’ve all earned that much.