Word Count: 1,928
She did not want him to call her father. She did not want to fly home either, so he'd driven the rental car to Odessa. She'd also refused his offer of a doctor, saying she didn't need one. Physically, that was probably true. Mentally, he imagined, was an entirely different story.
What should have taken a couple of hours instead took days. Days of riding in a car not knowing what to say to her. Nights of sitting watch, sleeping in chairs that just weren't made for that. She would not let him leave her sight. So, by the time they'd arrived in Odessa he was ready for a night's sleep in an actual bed and not a chair.
She did not sleep well. Several times during the night, she would wake up. Sometimes there were sobs, sometimes there were screams, and sometimes there was just the startled awareness that she was somewhere new. And, if he wasn't mistaken, when her eyes fell on him - the realization that she was finally somewhere safe. He had no idea what to do for her beyond continue to reassure her that she was safe again.
No one seemed to question what he was doing with her. He obviously wasn't her father and she appeared too young and unhealthy to be his wife or girlfriend. At least, he hoped she did. The police were never called, complaints were never raised. That was all that mattered to him.
Her appetite had gotten better. She'd also taken the time this morning to comb her hair without him having to prompt her. The clothes he had bought the morning after he'd found her weren't the most stylish, but they kept her warm and dry. Certainly, they covered more than what he'd found her in. He didn't think her father would appreciate her coming home like that. He wasn't sure her father would appreciate him seeing her like that. Or knowing anyone else had.
The fact she trusted him seeming without question was a puzzlement. How could she have gone through what she had, been exposed to the things she had and trust anyone? Certainly a man? She had no tangible proof he was a friend of her father's. She had only his word.
He'd asked her that a few minutes ago. She didn't respond. She rarely did. She'd speak every once in a while, mostly to state she needed him to stop. Otherwise, the trip was a very silent one. It was odd, him missing, desiring conversation.
"Because if you were one of them you wouldn't mention my father. You certainly wouldn't tell me my father wanted me back home. And you wouldn't have stopped me."
She glanced at him and she actually blushed. That was good, at least he thought it was.
"Well, I'm glad that my actions point to my telling the truth. Did you think your father?"
"I didn't know what to think. For a while I hoped he'd find me, but when that didn't happen. And everyone seemed to think he didn't care I was gone."
"And you believed that?"
"I didn't know what to believe. I wasn't even sure where I was. I lost track of how long I'd even been there."
"Do you want to know how long you've been missing?"
"Probably not," she said softly.
This was the most in depth conversation they'd had yet. He tried not to push, but was sure there were questions she wanted answers to. It was the most animated she'd been for sure. It was almost as if her body knew they were closing in on her home, that she would be safe again. Of course, she'd been taken from the place she thought she was safe.
"So, I'm eighteen now."
"Were you fifteen when you went missing?"
"I think so," she said, obviously struggling to remember.
That surprised him, he thought she was younger than that. Not that it mattered. Perhaps it was the way her father talked about her that gave him the impression she was younger. His little girl. He wondered if her father still pictured her as the fifteen year old who had gone missing. He'd be in for a rude awakening if that was the case. Despite the malnourishment and general disheveled state she was in, she was attractive. And very obviously not fifteen.
"How do you know him?"
"We work together."
"And he sent someone he works with to find me?"
"We work with people like you, special people who can do things. I can do something, too."
"Yes," he said simply.
She didn't ask what and he was glad she didn't. He imagined it would be very tempting to ask him to take away the memories she had of the past three years. He would do it eventually if she asked, but not right away. She needed them in order to heal properly, taking them before she'd done that would be wrong. He had mentally been preparing himself for saying no to her father when he was asked to do so.
They stopped for dinner outside of Odessa, so she was surprised when they stopped again. And this time in a residential area. He'd done it intentionally, done what he could so that her homecoming would not be more uncomfortable than it needed to be.
"Is my dad?"
"No," he said simply.
"But he knows I am?"
"How? It didn't start until after…"
He stopped the car down the block from her parents' home and turned to face her.
"Do you want to hear this?"
"I want to know how you found me after so long."
"All right. Your father suspected you were taken for such purposes. You're close enough to the border that a blonde-haired girl your age could fetch a decent price on the other side of that border."
"I was in Mexico?"
"No," he said simply.
"Your father never gave up hope you were alive and well. He searched the Internet relentlessly for any sign or clue that might point to you being alive. He saw an advertisement for a club that boasted of a young woman who could take the most severe discipline without retaining a mark or blemish after all was said and done."
"They were advertising me?"
"And men paid a hefty price for you as well."
He saw her swallow, blink her eyes rapidly in an effort to push the tears away. He saw them, though, swimming in her eyes.
"Where did my dad get the money?"
"We have a tracking system, a girl who can find specials like us. She could not tell us if it was you for certain, but she could tell us a special was where you were. So, I didn't even need the money as it turned out. I knew I'd recognize you right away. I just needed them to see I had the money so they knew I could pay."
"Why didn't he come?"
"Because my powers enabled me to get you out of there unharmed."
"I apologize, that was thoughtless of me. I meant, of course, any more than you already were. I am sorry we did not find you sooner."
"Me, too," she whispered. "Why are we stopping here?"
He took that as a queue she was done discussing things so he put the car back in gear and drove the rest of the way to her parents' house. She recognized it, that much was clear.
"I don't know if I'm ready…"
"Your family wants to see you, Claire. They've been waiting for years to see you. Your parents were not pleased when I told them we were driving back."
"They do not care what you look like anymore than I did."
"Can you stay?"
"I'm not sure…"
"I don't even know them anymore. I have a brother. He'll probably think I'm some sort of freak. I have no friends left I'm sure, and even if I did if they found out where I've been," she shrugged.
How could he say no to such a request? She was right. People tried to be understanding in situations like this, but if people her age found out any of the things that could have been done to her. Well, people could be thoughtless and cruel. Her brother he was pretty sure would be all right. He'd been around enough during her absence and observed enough to know he was concerned for his sister's well being, too.
She reached for the door handle, it took her a couple of tries to get it open her hand was shaking that badly. He got out and walked to her side, holding the door open for her. She was stronger than the night he'd found her, but still unsteady on her feet at times. As if she'd been deprived of activity for far too long.
He knew her father would join him. But he swore there and then, as he had a hundred times since finding her, that if it took every breath in his body the people who had done this to her would pay. With their lives.
He rang the doorbell. Noah knew to expect them at some point this evening. He'd called ahead from dinner to ensure they would all be home. So, he wasn't surprised when the door was opened quickly.
He stood by the door as Claire's mother and father huddled around her. He hoped she could see the emotions they were displaying were sincere and real. This was not an act. They weren't even supposed to have Claire, so to have her taken from them in such a fashion The Haitian knew had torn them up something fierce.
Her brother hugged her last. She started crying then, muttering something about how big he'd gotten.
"I can't thank you enough," Noah said.
"I am glad she is finally safe."
"I don't know about safe. If they got to her once they'll guess this is where she's coming back."
"Perhaps. If they even remember where they got her."
"Wouldn't you remember?"
The Haitian shrugged. He was not most people. "I altered their memories."
"We can assume you did not get them all."
He was right.
"You will move then?"
"I think it's best for everyone if we do, but especially Claire. A fresh start for her."
The Haitian merely nodded. Her father was right. A new home would probably do Claire the most good. She would not have to wonder what her friends were thinking or saying behind her back.
"They will arrange for whatever paperwork you might need." Noah knew The Haitian had contacts that he used, but he had never identified them by name. Angela Petrelli had insisted on anonymity.
"Claire will need a diploma and some tutors so she can get caught up with her schooling."
"That can be taken care of."
"Then do it."
"All right," he said. The need for him here was finished. Claire while not looking entirely comfortable was doing okay. He would not leave until he knew she was making progress toward being all right, but he did not belong here now. This was for her family who had been waiting so long to get her back.
"Wait," she called after him when he opened the front door. He wasn't sure what she was going to say or do. Her simple and very soft, "thank you," was not it.
He nodded simply, looking past her to her father before leaving them alone.
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