Je Ne Sais Quoi
by for Pith.

There are times when her eyes linger too long on Meredith's long, dark eyelashes, and Elena realizes she's been staring. It's usually in the quiet moments, when they're studying late into the evening, or when the gang gets together to research whatever evil thing has recently been drawn to Fells Church, taunting them in increasingly bizzare and nonsensical ways. Those nights, Meredith curls her legs under her as she sits, as though she were making herself small, contracting the whole of herself, distilling it into a single point of pure concentration.

Elena watches as Meredith absently taps her pen to her lips as she reads. She knows that she always sighs 'mmmhm' when she's found something useful, and that she always forgets to drink her coffee until it's gone cold. It's like the whole world falls away for her.

Which is, of course, convenient for Elena, as it means Meredith never suddenly looks up and catches her staring.

Or maybe she's slipping free of this world and entering into another one-- the world of academia always seems so much less complicated and scary than the real one, with its monsters and omens and ominous prophecies. That might explain why she always looks so peaceful.

Elena's eyes fell back to her paper, where she'd been quietly sketching her friend instead of conjugating French verbs, as she ought to have been. Warm, opaque brown eyes framed by full eyebrows knit together in study, smooth and clear olive skin, and an aquiline nose, all shaded as best as she could manage in the imperfect charcoal grey of her #2 pencil. The smooth curve of her lower lip, just slightly parted. The firm line of her jaw. The soft hollow at her throat, and the long, graceful line of her neck. Elena had always sketched her friends in her diaries-- little portraits, moments captured in time. But something about her recent sketches-- particularly the ones of Meredith-- seemed different somehow. The features were familiar, but something... something had changed. She couldn't put her finger on it, and she sighed in frustration.

Growing up, Elena always had found Meredith's serious nature a bit inscrutable. Of course, that was long before anyone knew about her grandfather. But where Bonnie was always the type to tell you everything that passed through her head (including plenty of things she'd rather not know), Meredith was never much for talking about herself. Talking about others, sure-- she wasn't a girl who missed much, and always seemed to catch things that others did not. Except in these moments, when she was so wrapped up in herself and her books that she didn't notice the tables had turned, and she was the one being observed.

Recently, though, Elena mused that that inscrutablity had taken on a bit of a mystery. Studying Meredith, who was absently brushing back a long, dark lock of hair that had fallen across her face, she realized that she envied her friend's reserve. Self-possessed, she needed nor sought none of the kind of open validation that Elena had long craved as Robert E. Lee's "queen." In a certain way, Meredith reminded her of Stefan, calmly competent, and quiet in the way that made you sure that what you saw on the surface was just the tip of the iceberg. Meredith had hidden depths, for sure.

Elena paused, realizing for the first time that while she'd often studied boys this way, she'd never before thought about the deep inner lives of any other girls.

Before she could consider that any further, a loud yawn broke the silence. With an exaggerated stretch, Bonnie announced, in her typically dramatic fashion, that she had studied all she could possibly study, and could study no more. Elena caught Meredith's eye, and they both smirked, knowing full well that Bonnie had probably been more intently studying this month's Cosmo Quiz than the causes of the Civil War for tomorrow's history quiz.

With another yawn and a swish of curly red hair, Bonnie excused herself and bounced out the door.

"How's the reading coming?" Elena asked, grateful for the distraction.

"Dry," Meredith answered, rubbing at her eyes. "This guy never seems to want to use five or six words when fifty or sixty would suffice. I think my brain started to scramble around the four thousand word mark in his fascinating etymology of loup-garou."

She took a sip from her long-ignored mug. "It's getting late. Do you want me to head out soon? I know it's a school night but, um," she waggled her eyebrows suggestively, "your boyfriend is a creature of the night."

Elena laughed. "Nah. He's out of town until next week. Something about researching old tombs in Germany. So you can stay as long as you want. Unless you have some pressing smutty reading to attend to."

Meredith grinned. "Subtlety is NOT one of Bonnie's finer qualities, is it?"

"Not at all." The girls giggled conspiratorially.

"So what have you been doing?" Meredith asked as she stood, stretching. "You've been awfully quiet. Haven't even heard you mutter 'merde' even once."

"You know, you'd think summers on the Riviera would have helped, but I still keep mixing up all of these verb tenses."

"Oh?" Meredith looked interested. "Lemme take a look, maybe I can help. I took that class last semester."

And then she yanked at Elena's notebook before Elena could stop her.

A look of surprise crossed her face. "Oh." Quickly recovering, as she was so apt to do, she quirked an eyebrow. "Well, I think I found your problem. No words, let alone French ones."

Elena blushed furiously. "Yeah. I-- that's just something I do sometimes. You remember, I was always drawing us when we were younger. You, Caroline, Bonnie. I never really stopped. It's embarrassing, I know." Ugh, she hated how her voice sounded, just a little too high-pitched. Her words came out too fast.

"I remember you drawing Matt about a hundred times, but I figured that was just because he was your boyfriend."

Elena didn't know what to say to that, so she didn't say anything. She certainly didn't want to think too much about what that might imply. She shrugged wordlessly, not daring to look up.

Meredith looked back down at the sketch. 'Mmmhm,' she hummed. "So, do I really look like that?"

"Like what?" Elena asked, surprised. "You think it's a bad likeness?"

"No, it's not that. I mean, it resembles me." Meredith chewed at her lip for a second as she sorted her thoughts. "It's that I look so... I don't know. It's kind of the way I wish I looked, but not how I think I look. Does that make any sense?"

"Not even a little bit."

"I think you made me prettier than I am. Or sexier. Or I don't know what. There's just a certain je ne sais quoi."

Elena scoffed affectionately, willing her face to be less pink. "How modest of you."

"Seriously!" Meredith swatted at her gently. "It looks like I'm begging you to--" she threw her wrist to her forehead in mock drama --"'paint me like one of your French girls!' You know, only less naked."

The idea of sketching Meredith naked immediately made Elena flush about two shades darker. "You know, this little nightmare I'm having can end any time now."

"Oh my god, Elena! You're serious!" Meredith exclaimed as her hand flew to her mouth. "I'm sorry! I shouldn't have grabbed this from you. I didn't realize you'd be really embarrassed."

"Well," Elena answered, struggling to retain her composure, "You have uncovered my secret shame. Sketching. Just don't tell the yearbook staff."

"Your secret is safe with me," Meredith replied wryly. "Anyway, I think it's a lovely sketch."

"You should keep it, then."

"I couldn't. Not when I shouldn't have seen it in the first place!"

"But now you have, so you have to keep it. It's a gift, so there." Elena crossed her arms in feigned defiance, taking on an air of Elena Gilbert, Queen of Robert E. Lee High. Flustered though she may be, nobody ever questioned that Elena.

Meredith grinned at her. "You know that Queen Bee crap doesn't work on me, right?" But something about the joke fell flat, and an awkward silence fell between the two girls. Another strange first for Elena.

After a moment, Elena broke it. Screwing up her courage, she said, "Well, to answer your question, yeah. That's how you look to me. And probably to a lot of other people, too. You're gorgeous, Mere."

For once, Meredith Sulez-- cool, composed, and always ready with a witty rejoinder Meredith Sulez-- was at a loss for words. She studied her friend. Finally she answered.

"Thanks, Elena. That means a lot to me. Well, I'm not sure quite what that means exactly, but it really does feel good to hear it. I guess I never think of myself as... you know..." her voice trailed off, unsure of how to end the sentence.

Meredith turned to tuck the sketch gently between the pages of her reference book. "Anyway, it is getting kind of late. I probably should get home before nine or my mom'll flip."

"Yeah, sure," said Elena, glad for the break in tension. "I'll see you tomorrow."

Gathering her books in her arms, Meredith paused. Elena wondered what was going on in her head, but the dark haired girl seemed as unreadable as ever.

She leaned over quickly to kiss Elena on the forehead. It happened so fast that Elena wasn't entirely sure it had happened at all.

"Yeah," Meredith said, an awkward smile on her face. "See you tomorrow." And with that, she was gone. Elena listened to her footsteps padding down the stairs, and then the heavy, solid closing of the front door.

Elena sank onto her bed, and stared at her hands. She wasn't sure what had just happened or what it meant. Any of it, really. But after a moment, she decided that that was okay. She could think about it tomorrow, and that was quite enough for her.


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