Word Count: 1,933
"She's changing right before our eyes," Noah said, glancing over his shoulder at his wife on the bed.
"Well, of course she is. She's getting used to the fact she's back home with us. That she's safe again. You knew it would take time. But we've given her stability and a routine."
"No, it's more than that."
"I haven't noticed anything."
"She's…" he shrugged, sliding his wristwatch over his hand. "It seems like she's getting better. Doesn't it?"
"Noah, you know she is. It's going to take time. Probably a lot of it," Sandra said as Mr. Muggles pressed his nose against her hand. His wife proceeded to give into the prized pooch's demand and petted him. "I can't even imagine what she went through."
"I don't want to hear it! You have a far more active imagination than I do."
"Sandra, it's very possible she'll…"
"Stop it," she said, jerking her hand away from Mr. Muggles to hold it up. "I will not have you say she's not going to get better. She will, Noah. She will be whole again. Do you understand me? I may not have given birth to her, but I've raised her. I sat with her when she was sick and kissed her skinned knees. She's my baby just as sure as Lyle is. And I will not stop until she's better."
He sighed inwardly. He knew better than to argue with her when she was like this. "The latest psychiatrist does seem to be helping."
"So does your friend."
"Your friend. I don't know his name, you've never introduced us. He usually comes by to see you when you think I'm already in bed."
"Oh right," Noah said, knowing whom she was talking about now. "What about him?"
"He seems to be helping Claire, too," she said, her attention more focused on Mr. Muggles than Noah at the moment.
Noah frowned at that.
"He was the one who found her and I know he's talked to her a couple of times."
"He comes to visit fairly regularly," Sandra said.
Well, he didn't know what to say to that. He had no idea. She met Noah's eyes then, must have realized she was divulging something he was clueless about.
"I thought you knew."
"No, I didn't know that. Are they? Is he? If he…"
"I don't think it's like that, sweetheart. I do think they're sweet on each other though."
"That's the last thing she needs, Sandra! Why didn't you say something before now?"
"I thought you knew! He's your friend after all. At least she's stopped the dating around you were so worried about."
"She doesn't need a boyfriend!"
"Keep your voice down, the kids will hear you."
"I hope she does hear me. She needs to concentrate on getting well, her schoolwork."
"I didn't say he was a boyfriend. You don't listen to me at all, do you?"
"I said he comes by here regularly. They sit in the kitchen or in the living room and just talk. I just assumed he was checking up on her for you since he's the one who found her. But anyone with eyes can see he…"
She laughed then, clutching Mr. Muggles to her and giving him a kiss.
"I think he can and he does. Isn't that right, Mr. Muggles?" she puckered her lips so the dog could give her one of his kisses.
Noah stepped into his shoes and stood from the bed, setting his shoehorn on his dresser.
"I don't have time for this today; I'm going to be late. You keep an eye on them."
"Is there something I should know? You don't trust him?"
"I thought I did." He grabbed his suit coat and leaned in to kiss her. If he was lucky he'd get her cheek without a mouthful of Mr. Mugglees hair to go with it. "I'll talk to him."
"Don't do anything foolish. She has a friend, I'm not sure we want to take that away from her."
"I'd just like to know what's going on in my house. I know work takes me away a lot, but I swear sometimes I come home and things even look different."
"It's a good thing Primatech had a division here. I can't imagine what she would be like if we were back in Odessa. Looking over her shoulder every day, worried someone would find out where she'd been all this time."
"Right," he said in complete agreement. He knew getting her as far away from Odessa was the best thing for her. For all of them really. Not that they knew exactly where she'd been all this time. He'd found her by a fluke, but there was no telling she'd been there the entire time. He had no idea and she wasn't talking to him about it.
That's what bothered him he supposed about The Haitian spending time with her. He wanted it to be him she opened up and talked to. They were close, closer than close. They were the stereotypical father-daughter team. Daddy's little girl. She was his Claire-bear, and like Sandra he couldn't love her more if they'd conceived her together instead of coming by her in a less than legal way. He'd failed her somehow. First by not keeping her safe and then by not being able to rescue her for so very long.
Sandra might want to keep her head in the sand as far as the endless possibilities that were still there about Claire's future. Noah wasn't going to do that. He suspected sexual abuse of the worst kind. Until she talked to him, though, he just had his imagination to base those suspicions on. The pictures he'd seen on the website he'd found mention of her was enough to give him nightmares for years.
Slowly but surely he and The Haitian were locating every person associated with that place. When done no one's daughter would be in danger from those particular monsters again. There would always be more he knew. At least he could sleep better knowing he'd done something for her.
And then there was the problem of keeping her ability hidden from those he worked for. They couldn't know. Sandra had survived losing Claire once. If The Company took her it would be for good this time and no amount of effort by Noah would get her back. His wife wouldn't recover from that. Claire wouldn't either.
He made his way to his car, dialing his cell phone as he started the vehicle and put it into reverse. Primatech Paper. The Company had been more than willing to transfer him to another facility. They, of course, knew about his missing daughter. He'd thought for a while that they were behind it, but he had enough moles on the inside that he quickly dismissed that idea.
'Hello,' came the familiar voice.
"Meet me at our diner in fifteen minutes," he said, leaving no room for argument.
He found an empty table, ordered a cup of coffee and waited. The Haitian joined him a few minutes later. Not quite within the fifteen minute timeframe, but close. He ordered nothing, which didn't surprise Noah. He sized the other man up while the waitress poured his cup of coffee, setting the pot down on the table beside him.
"My wife tells me you've been coming by my house."
"On occasion, yes."
"To see Claire."
"Yes. She likes talking to me."
"Since when did you decide to become so chatty?"
Noah watched as the other man's eyes grew hard, cold. "I choose who I do and don't talk to. I do not allow anyone else to make that choice for me, not even you."
"My wife tells me she thinks you two are sweet on each other. Whatever that means exactly."
"I am fond of Claire, I will not deny that."
He leaned in close, bracing himself on the table with his arms. The Haitian didn't flinch, didn't even blink. Whatever Noah was capable of The Haitian was, too. That was why they made such a good team. A ruthless duo. They'd never seen how ruthless one another could be until something personal was at stake.
"I don't want you involved with my daughter."
"I believe that is for her to decide. She is an adult, is she not?"
"You know better than I do what she went through. If you think of her as an adult and not an abused child."
"She is not a child and I am aware of her situation. I enjoy spending time with her, nothing more."
"And if she pushes for more."
He saw The Haitian swallow. "Then I guess we cross that bridge when we get to it. I will not hurt her nor will I take advantage. And threatening me will not keep me away."
"I just don't like the idea…"
"Of me with your daughter?"
"I didn't say that."
"You don't have to. I am sure I do not fit the vision you had for her."
"It's not that. It's bad enough I know when she goes out on dates with boys. I'm not sure I want to know who she's going out with, coming home looking like she did. I'm not stupid, I know clothes don't get rumpled like that going to movies."
"She has stopped that."
"And she has never once left my presence looking disheveled or not put together due to anything I've done."
"You just need to remember who it is you're dealing with."
"Are you talking about Claire or you?"
"Both of us."
"I know who I'm dealing with in both instances."
"If you hurt her."
"I am aware of what you're capable of and the lengths you will go to retaliate against those who harm your loved ones."
"I know you are. I just wanted us to be clear. I don't like the idea."
"Would you rather she not feel comfortable with anyone?"
"That is not how it works. She is slowly getting better, assimilating. That is why you moved her here is it not? She is a strong and brave woman; you should give her more credit for getting through this than you are."
"You don't know how I feel."
"I see the way you look at her, hear the way you speak of her. She is not the fifteen-year-old daughter who went missing. She is in college now. She is able to vote. She will always be your little girl. I cannot claim to understand the bond that you have forged with her, but you need to see her for who she really is not for what you want her to be."
"It's not so easy."
"I realize it probably is not, but she will date whether you approve or not. At least take some comfort in knowing I am aware of her situation. Both what happened to her and what she is capable of."
"So you do want to date her."
The Haitian said nothing, and Noah knew he wasn't going to pry it out of him. Hell, with one touch The Haitian could make him forget they had this conversation and the conversation he'd had with Sandra that led to them being here now.
"I have to get to work." He pulled out his wallet, sliding a few dollar bills onto the tabletop to cover his cup of coffee and the tip. "Pay the bill, won't you?"
Noah stood to go then, not bothering to say goodbye.
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