Word Count: 3,477
He wasn't sure why he was here. He hadn't wanted to come, certain this was another dead end. Her father had sent him on so many trips now he'd lost count. Three years. He couldn't imagine what was left of the girl if she was still alive.
This lead did sound somewhat promising. A girl who could not scar or get hurt. Her birth father could fly, her birth mother could create fire without a source. Therefore, it made sense she would have a power, too. It helped, too, that Molly Walker had pinpointed that a special was, indeed, here.
Convinced she was out there, her father scrounged like a man obsessed to this day through personal ads, chat rooms, and message boards. Always hopeful that he'd see a picture or spot a clue. This was the closest he'd come. Her father did not have unlimited funds for him to grease palms with, but her birth family had quite a lot of disposable income. So, between the two families he had more than enough monetary backing to garner information.
Tonight, he wanted to see the girl. He wasn't going to waste his time if it wasn't her. He'd been on too many wild goose chases, encountered one too many dead ends for him to do anything but get right to the point.
They'd requested an obscene amount of money for the girl who could not be hurt. He'd showed the money but refused to actually turn it over until he saw proof that she could not be hurt. Evidently, they took him to be interested in hurting her real good, or were just thrilled he was willing to pay the dollar amount. Because no sooner had he asked for her he was shown to a private room.
There were things in the room he had no idea what they would possibly be used for. Some he was very aware of their uses and purposes, and he hoped her father never asked him where she'd been found. The Haitian wasn't sure she would want anyone to know. So, in that it was probably better an anonymous person she did not know found her.
He ran a fingertip along the edge of a pair of handcuffs, perversely curious about what type of man required women that could be bought and sold for a night to get off. It wasn't the actual equipment that was abhorrent to him. If a couple enjoyed handcuffs or the various other toys and devices in the room that was up to them. No one should be forced to be subjected to such activities. It was beyond degrading.
He was facing the wall, taking in the mounted restraints when the door opened again. He turned, expecting to leave empty handed. Well, with only the money in his hands not the girl. So, when he actually saw it was her he could not hide his surprise. It was fleeting, only those who knew him would have caught it.
When he saw it was actually her, he felt a fleeting moment of embarrassment that she had caught him examining the items. Even if it was just looking at them.
She didn't look like her photographs, but there was enough resemblance to know it was her. The years had not been kind to her. The look of defeat in her eyes spoke volumes, but it was more than that. She was undernourished, her hair hung around her face looking like it hadn't seen a brush yet today. She was dressed in little more than a bra and panties. There was something sheer covering her but it hid and disguised nothing. He imagined it was supposed to be appealing, but the vacant look in her eyes and the way she looked through him, not at him, squelched any appeal it might hold.
At least for him.
He imagined, particularly judging by this place being not just in business but successful, that men liked their women defeated and pliant to their wishes and will.
He walked toward her, needing to get around her to get to the men who brought her to him. He paused when he saw her flinch. It was subtle, instinctual and probably something she'd tried to program herself not to do. He wished he could tell her that he was not there to cause her further degradation or harm. If she was truly indestructible, he imagined some men got off merely on seeing just how much damage she could take. There was equipment in the room to cause a good deal of pain and harm. The idea of someone branding her made him want to kill her captors.
He took care of not just the memories of the two men by the door but planted some of his own in their minds so they thought he was another employee. He had keys now and sent them off before returning to the room.
He did not make a habit of talking; he'd learned it was to his benefit those around him believed him to be mute. They knew he could hear, but people tended to forget about you if you did not speak and he used that to his advantage. He had no need for an advantage tonight, not with Claire.
"Claire," he whispered. "You must stay here. I will come back for you."
She said nothing, merely stood there, and as if she hadn't heard a word he said, proceeded to fall to her knees and reach for him. For his pants. Christ! He took hold of her wrist, dislodging her hand from its target as quickly and gently as he could.
"Claire, I am a friend of your father's." He thought he saw a reaction from her, however fleeting. "I am here to save you. Please stay here so I can prepare to get you out of here."
She did not respond. She did not move. She remained kneeling in front of him, looking at him as if she was waiting for some sort of command. He noticed a collar around her neck. Just what had she been through? What had they done to her? And what shape would she be in to go home to her father? He'd seen enough of the club to have an answer to the first two questions. He had no idea if she'd ever be in good enough shape to return home.
That was one thing her father had not counted on. That she would be so emotionally damaged and gone that she wouldn't fit in again. He hoped she wasn't to that point. He unhooked the collar and slid it out from around her neck. He slid a thumb along the side of her neck. There were marks there, probably from the constant chafing from the collar. She apparently could not heal if the culprit was still doing damage. Either that, or this was healed and it looked worse before.
He slid a finger to her chin, lifting her head so he could see her eyes. Even with that prompting she would not meet his gaze.
"I will be back for you, Claire Bennet. I promise you this."
He walked to the door then.
"You don't want me to…"
She spoke so softly he almost missed it.
"No!" he said quickly, his back to her.
She sniffled then and he turned to face her. She was crying? Why?
"Please don't tell them."
She bit her lower lip, hard enough that it started to bleed and he cursed under his breath.
"I am not here for that. I am here to rescue you. Your father sent me."
She said nothing, stayed kneeling on the floor biting her lip so hard he thought it was going to come off. He did not know what more to say to her so he left the room then, locking the door behind him. There was nothing else he could do for her. She wasn't in the frame of mind to understand it seemed. He had to wipe enough memories to safely get her out without detection or setting off any alarms.
It took him a while, but he was nothing if not thorough. Her father would never forgive him if he were anything but that in this task. Back at the room, he unlocked the door once again and stepped inside. She hadn't moved from her spot on the floor. He'd been gone for close to two hours and she was still kneeling. Her lip was completely healed. There was no sign that she'd bloodied it. It was amazing and he could understand why she might be a popular - and costly - commodity.
"You can move now," he said simply, not sure if she was waiting for a word or command to allow her movement. "You are safe now, Claire."
She stood but said nothing and avoided looking at him directly. He shed his coat and held it open for her. "Put this on," he said, helping her slide first one arm and then the other into the coat. "I have nothing else to offer you. For that, I am sorry. We don't have time, however, someone whose mind I have not touched might come onto the premises. So, we need to leave quickly."
Still nothing. He was beginning to understand how people felt being around him. Except he knew she could talk! He led her to the door then, tossing the keys onto the bar once they were near the door.
She clutched to him once they got outside, gave a soft whimper as she tripped and stumbled. He wondered when the last time she'd actually felt fresh air was. Had she even been able to walk? To say she looked pale was an understatement. He'd seen monsters in horror movies look better than she did at the moment. Where had she been housed? He didn't need to guess at her living conditions, her appearance gave the answers.
He had to concentrate on avoiding her mind. The temptation to walk through her memories was strong, but it was not his place to do that. Certainly not tonight. She'd been victim enough. His doing that without her understanding what he did and could do would be no different than those who hurt her physically.
He grabbed onto her arm when she stumbled a second time over something on the sidewalk he couldn't even see and she cried out. Whether it was from fear of his touch or that his touch was painful to her, he did not know.
"My car isn't far, Claire."
She didn't say anything.
"Do you need me to carry you?"
She shook her head. Finally! A response.
He had no idea what to do with her now that he had her. Calls needed to be made to Texas and New York where family she knew - and one she did not know - awaited information from him. The family in New York would stay out of the way, wanting only to know that she was safe and that the money invested was well spent. For once. Her father, on the other hand, would want to be on the next available flight. He wasn't sure Claire was ready for that.
He helped her into the car, fastening the seatbelt around her. His coat had fallen open and she'd made no effort to close it. He wasn't sure it had even registered with her yet that she was out of the room he'd left her in. He took a minute to tuck that around her, too. His hotel wasn't far. He had almost not booked one, assuming this was yet another wild goose chase. He was happy now that he had.
He put off calling her father, deciding if nothing else she deserved at least one night to realize she was free before being bombarded by family. A family she very well could no longer remember. He realized that was a possibility, was again tempted to touch her mind to find out if that was the case. He led her to his room, closing and locking the door behind them.
"Would you like a bath?"
She stared at him, her eyes widening ever so slightly at the question.
"Is that a yes?"
She gave the slightest of nods. If he wasn't watching her intently he would have missed it.
"All right. I'll call down to the front desk and see if they can send up some shampoo. I don't have any," he said, gesturing to his lack of hair. He didn't have much need for shampoo. He walked to the phone, wondering if she'd bolt as soon as he was out of her sight. He wouldn't blame her.
"Are you hungry?"
No response, not even from her eyes this time.
"Have you eaten today?"
She gave a barely perceptible shrug.
"You don't know?"
"Well, I'll order us something to eat while I'm at it." He knew that while she'd most likely be hungry she probably wouldn’t be able to eat much. So, he ordered some soup and a fruit plate for her plus something for himself. Looking at her here in the light of his hotel room, he noticed she was barely more than skin and bones. It made him sick. Not to look at her, but the idea that she was treated that way. Her hair needed more than a shampooing. He wondered if it had been cut the entire time she'd been gone.
The bathroom supplies came first. If the gentleman bringing them up wondered why he required hair supplies nothing was said. She hadn't moved from the spot she'd been standing since they got to the room. And she didn't move when he answered the door. Did people really like this? Like a woman - or man - who did and said nothing unless they were given permission to? He couldn't quite fathom it.
"Are you ready for a bath then?"
"Do you want me to help you?"
Her eyes widened.
"Is that a no or a yes?"
She shook her head a little.
"All right, but leave the door open please so I can hear you're all right."
She took the little bottles the hotel staff had brought for him and stepped into the bathroom. He went back to sit at the desk. A few minutes later, his coat landed on the floor this side of the bathroom. The other items she wore did not follow. He wondered if she'd put them in the garbage or had plans on burning them. Both would be viable options. He hoped for the throwing away part. He would ensure they were gone before she woke in the morning either way.
He stood then and walked to his luggage. He always brought an extra day or two of clothes with him. A curse of traveling so much, he was prepared for delays or his plans to change at the drop of a hat. He pulled an extra shirt out of his bag; it was all he had to offer her. It certainly covered more than what she'd been wearing when he'd found her.
He cleared his throat as he made his way to the bathroom door, which she had left open as he'd requested she do.
"Claire," he said simply, rapping lightly on the door so she'd know he was close. "I have a shirt you can put on whenever you've finished with your bath."
There was a knock at the room's door.
"And that would be your dinner, so if you're hungry you might want to finish the bath now."
He set the shirt on the counter by the sink without so much as a glance in her direction. He closed the door enough so room service wouldn't get a show.
He wasn't particularly hungry, wasn't sure he could stomach food after what he'd seen tonight. She was barely even eighteen. That was the part that disgusted him the most about her situation. But he didn't want her to feel like she was eating alone, so he would at least try.
"Others," she said softly, toweling off her hair as she walked into the room. She wore his shirt, which fell about to her knees. He was relieved to see that. And to see even as something as simple as a bath did help a little with regard to her appearance.
"There are other girls."
"I assumed. I do not know what you want me to do about them."
She shrugged, still unable to meet his gaze.
"Some of them don't have fathers to send someone to look for them. Some, their father sold them."
He swallowed. He knew it happened, of course. It didn't make it any less horrific.
"Do you know how to find them?"
She nodded simply and told him. He placed a call from his cell phone to the police, passing on the information. He wasn't sure what would happen with it, where the girls would end up, but it had to be better than where they were now. And if he waited until the morning to call it in, they might be gone after it was discovered Claire was missing.
She'd sat in the chair opposite him, but did nothing while he was on the phone.
"Eat now, please."
She began to do just that.
"Slowly," he added.
"This is…" Tears formed in her eyes.
"I know, Claire. It is all right. Please eat."
She wanted to watch television when she had finished her meal, leaving a good amount of the fruit behind. He'd been afraid of that, but most of the soup was gone. There were so many things she was going to need to get back to normal.
She did not say another word. She opened her mouth a couple of times as if she wanted to ask something when she saw this or that on the television, but she remained quiet. She fell asleep that way, watching TV. Eventually, he fell asleep in his chair as well.
He woke to someone touching him. It took him a minute not only to remember where he was but also whom he was with. And then he had to focus on the fact that she should not be working the zipper on his pants. He took hold of her hand, almost violently and backed the chair up enough so he could stand.
"What in the hell are you doing?"
Tears formed in her eyes and she cowered on the floor at his feet on her knees, hands outstretched in front of her as if she was waiting for something. He swallowed bile, realizing she was probably waiting for some sort of punishment. She clearly thought she'd upset him. Of course, he wasn't upset but she didn't seem to know that. And his reaction to her didn't give any indication that he wasn't.
"What did they do to you?"
Her eyes widened.
"Don't answer that. Whatever they did, you don’t need to do that. Ever again. Do you understand?"
She didn't say anything.
"Claire, I'm going to bring you home to your father. Really. You are free. I don't want anything from you, other than for you to be safe at home with your family as soon as possible."
Three years she'd been God knows where, doing and having done God knows what. She should have been going to school, worrying about boys, homework, which class to skip, and which outfit to wear the next day. She should not be worrying about whether he expected some sexual favor as repayment for saving her.
She trembled slightly, whether it was from being weak, cold, or upset he didn't know. Perhaps a combination of them all.
"Go back to bed, Claire."
She stood then, slowly, eyes watchful and careful as she backed the few steps to the bed. As if she was waiting for him to strike her or change his mind. He would do neither.
"Good night," he said once she'd gotten back into bed.
He resumed his position in the chair, thankful he'd woken up in time. A little further along and he would have had something to be embarrassed about. Or at least answer about if her father found out she'd had her hands on him, particularly since he hadn't called her father yet to tell him he'd found her.
Why hadn't he?
He was waiting to be sure she was coherent enough for him to do that. She was little more than a thing at the moment, behaving based on whatever had been taught her the past couple of years. He'd have to call tomorrow, he knew that. That didn't mean he couldn't give her one night to get used to the fact she was really free.
Info. on icons used for background:
The non-illustrated icon is courtesy of lay-of-luthien @ LJ. She's got some nice work, and did this and 4 others very quickly! The illustrated icon is courtesy of: julietbunny who gave me this in addition to some other great goodies for the Heroes_Holidays Spring Hiatus project.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com