Word Count: 3,557
It was the first time he'd come to the house to call on Claire rather than her father when Noah was actually home. He wasn't sure what he'd expected, but he saw a sort of resolve in Claire's father's eyes when he opened the door to see him standing there.
They had no business together at the moment, nothing pressing anyway. So, there was no reason for him to be here, other than to see Claire. It had been a couple of months since the two men had met at the diner to talk about Claire and whether The Haitian should date her. It wasn't as if they were sneaking around, it just seemed like when her father was home they met places instead of The Haitian coming to get her. Today, though, Claire had wanted them to go together instead of separately.
Her father stepped aside with a somewhat terse greeting of, "hello."
"I see your trip went well," he said simply. Noah had been out of town for close to a week this time. The Haitian was careful not to divulge the reason her father left, beyond the fact she realized that both men worked with people with abilities.
"Your services will probably be needed tomorrow."
"I will be available."
"I hope so."
"I have never shirked my responsibilities."
"Be sure she doesn't do anything to stand out."
"I cannot control her, but she does not willingly betray what she can do."
"Where are you taking her?"
"She said something about…" he paused when he saw a pair of long, bare legs make their way down the stairs. He knew it was her. He swallowed, forcing his eyes to stay at her legs. It was difficult to do.
Her father's eyebrows arched and the Haitian swallowed again. He was very glad when her father turned toward the stairs. She wore a pair of shorts that didn't have much material at all. They rode low on her hips and high on her thighs. She wore them well. Her top also left little to the imagination. Apparently, she didn't see the need to wear anything but her swimsuit top.
"You are not going out in that," Noah said simply.
The Haitian, meanwhile, for a change was left speechless when he was certain it was an appropriate time to say something. He knew it was going to be a very long day.
"We're going to the beach, Dad."
"Most people wear swimsuits to the beach. That's kind of the point." She turned to regard him. "You think I look all right, don’t you?"
"I think you look fine for the beach," he said simply.
Her father cleared his throat. And he knew then he was caught by something more than merely being in between a father and daughter squabble. He'd been caught by her. He wasn't sure how it had happened or when it had elevated beyond mere attraction to this.
"Perhaps a shirt over your suit until we get there would be appropriate?"
And save him from the potential hazard of driving his car off the road. The top to her suit fit her well, snug in places it was designed to be so. He was afraid, however, that a deep breath might make her spill out of it. He couldn't imagine her actually swimming in it, but she hadn't made mention of actually doing that. She'd just suggested a trip to the beach.
"All right," she said simply, dropping her sandals on the floor. "I'll be right back then."
Her father exhaled sharply, glanced at The Haitian who was doing everything in his power not to follow her path up the stairs with his eyes.
"What?" The Haitian finally asked.
He held up his hand with a shake of his head. "I don't even want to know the answer to the question running through my mind."
The Haitian couldn't help but snicker.
"You find this amusing?"
"You're the one who found her. The one who knows the conditions she was kept. You're the last person I'd expect to take advantage…"
"I have done nothing to take advantage. I have only kissed her if that is what's on your mind."
"Then why is she dressing like that?"
"She is correct in her statement that people dress like that, and in far less for that matter, at the beach."
"She's my daughter!"
"And I am sure one day, she will understand your reaction is based on that and not the suggestion she does not look attractive."
"She shouldn't be worried about looking attractive."
"She is a young woman, of course she's worried about looking attractive."
"It shouldn't be a concern of hers."
"It is not going to happen again, Noah. She will not be taken from you. The therapy sessions do seem to be working. I've noticed a drastic difference in her lately. She is healing."
"She hasn't been home that long."
"It's closing in on a year since you've moved to California. School starts again next month. She feels more secure with things. She wanted to celebrate her birthday with her friends."
"She barely mentioned that to me, but then she doesn't really talk to me."
"You spend time with her, though. She tells me of the things you do together and how much she enjoys them. She says you saw a movie together just the other day."
"Then accept that you are giving her what she requires." He regarded her father. "Perhaps it is time for you to start healing as well. Maybe then she will talk with you as freely as she does me."
"We're doing just fine."
"And realize that while she will not be taken from you again, she will not always live under your roof."
"I realize she will not live here forever, that does not mean I want it to happen tomorrow. I missed out on three years with her, I'm in no hurry to have her move out."
"If you say so."
"Is this better, Dad?" she asked, bounding down the steps. She still wore the incredibly short shorts and the T-shirt she'd put on was almost longer than they were.
"Yes, thank you."
"You're welcome. Ready?" she asked, stepping into her sandals.
"Did you bring a suit?"
"I am wearing it, yes."
"Good," she said with a smile. "Bye, Daddy." She gave him a kiss on the cheek as The Haitian opened the door for them.
He had been right in his guess that swimming hadn't actually been on her mind when she'd suggested a day at the beach. She did wade into the water a time or two, but never stayed long and never let the water get above her waist. Thankfully.
It wasn't that he minded, he certainly appreciated the view. It was that he wasn't the only man on the beach who noticed how nice she looked. Not that she was aware they were looking. She rarely did. He wasn't sure if it was insecurity or being genuine clueless about her effect. Perhaps a bit of both.
She took a break from the sandcastle she was building when he approached her with a glass of lemonade.
"You are welcome."
She took a sip, glancing at him clearly with something on her mind.
"I'm going to tell my dad this week that I'm going to move into the sorority house this year."
"I think I'm ready and there are a few rooms open from people who graduated in May."
"Have you spoken to your…"
"Yes," she said quickly. "She seems to think I'm ready, too. And it's not like I'd have to quit school if I find I'm not ready. I could just move back home, but I have to try. You know? To be normal, at least a little bit."
"I understand, Claire."
"And we could be alone sometimes."
She laughed, taking another sip of lemonade. "You and me, silly."
"We're alone now."
"Well, yeah, but we're never alone alone."
"We have been."
"At my house, knowing my mother would be home in an hour or Lyle could walk through the door any second."
"And a sorority house is a better option?"
"I'd have my own room."
"You do now," he said with a frown.
"Not that you can come to."
"I see," he said softly. "Is that the only reason you're thinking of making such a move?"
"No, I mean, it's part of it. I need to find out if I can do it. Stand on my own two feet. Be responsible for my own meals, my laundry, waking up every morning on my own. And I want to really experience college. You know? I miss out on so much not being on campus."
"Sure. Some of it would seem stupid to you, I'm sure."
"Nothing you do is stupid, Claire. I may not understand it, but that is only because my life is so very different than yours."
"I'm sorry. You know, you pity me."
"I do not!"
"Well, whatever it is you feel sometimes. I see it there in your eyes. It doesn't matter. What that place did to you is no better than what those people did to me."
"There is absolutely no comparison, Claire, and do not lessen what you went through by thinking that. I was at least treated decently. I was no one's slave."
"You were still an object."
He shrugged. They had discussed his past and how he'd come to know her father to some extent. He hadn't given specifics, but he'd filled in the blanks enough that she knew more about him than anyone else. He was coming around to the fact that would always be true.
"Not in the same way. I was never in danger. I was never violated."
"Do you think he'll get mad?"
"Yes," she smiled. "The only other him in my life."
"I think leaving out the desire to be alone with me would perhaps be in our best interest."
She gave a soft giggle and set the now empty cup on the sand near their things, which consisted of her shorts, his clothes, and her bag. She shifted to her knees, he assumed to return her attention to the sandcastle.
If he'd been smart, or more intuitive when it came to women, he might have realized by the soft giggle sandcastles were no longer on her mind. Before he knew it or could do anything to stop her, she had planted herself in his lap, arms and legs around him.
"You mean you don't think I should tell my dad I want to be able to spend the night with you sometime."
He swallowed, closing his eyes. He was mindful of the fact she had to be aware of how a man's body worked and what it felt like in its various stages of arousal. He should be ashamed of how easily she had stoked his, but he couldn't really muster up that emotion just now. This was the closest they'd been to one another, and he was going to cherish it for a few minutes before he did the right thing.
"I think that would probably be wise."
"So, would you do it?"
His mind was trying to process what she could be asking. Moving into the sorority house? Telling her father? It was hard to think with her positioned on her lap as she was. She felt very good there. He couldn't even be bothered that they were in public. "Would I do what?" he finally asked.
"Spend the night with me sometime?"
"Is that allowed?"
"Well, you probably couldn't stay there every night or anything, but I don't think they'd really do anything about it."
"We'll see then."
"Don't you want to?"
He made to lift her off his lap, but she wasn't being overly cooperative.
"I do not know."
She frowned then and got off his lap with absolutely no assistance from him whatsoever. He'd upset her somehow. That was putting it mildly. He could see the anger in her eyes very clearly.
"You don't know?"
"I was answering honestly."
"What do you mean you don't know?"
"Exactly what I said, Claire. Can we not make a scene in front of people?"
"I'm not making a scene. I'm asking you a question," she backed away from him when he made to stand. And in the process destroyed what little progress she'd made on her sandcastle endeavor. It gave her something to focus other than the fact that having her on his lap affected him a great deal.
"It shouldn't be a question you answer I don't know to."
"You'd rather I lie?"
"No! I'd rather you say yes because that's your answer."
"It is not as simple as that."
She lost her footing then, stepping in a hole in the sand she'd dug from what he could tell and landed on the ass that was just moments ago seated on his lap nice and snugly. She cried out in pain, clutching her ankle. He could see she had twisted it badly.
"Don't touch me," she said, when he offered her a hand. "I want to go home now."
He watched, amazed as her ankle healed almost instantly. He knew, of course, what she could do. He'd given her many love bites since that first one. Those were just blemishes, though. To see her heal a hurt appendage was a sight.
"No, I thought," she backed away from him rather clumsily, crab walking is what it was called. "Is this all some sort of game to you? Make me feel normal or that someone who knows where I was and what I can do might like me? Did you and my father plan it?"
"Of course not. Now you're being ridiculous. I've spent most every free moment I've had with you the past year."
"Yes, and you disappear without telling me where you're going. I don't even know where you live! And you've never given me a phone number except your cell. How do I know you don't have a wife somewhere?"
"I am being reasonable! I ask a guy who I've been seeing what I think is rather steadily for the past year to spend the night with me and he answers I don't know! What am I supposed to think?"
"That I have reasons for giving such an answer."
"Don't you like me?"
"Claire…" He saw tears in her eyes now, and knew if she started to cry it would be his undoing. It always was. "Please, you know I do."
"You don't say it."
"I didn't realize it was up to question. I have never really been in this position before. I assumed you realize if I choose to spend my time with you, it is because I wish to. No other reason. No games. Your father isn't putting me up to it."
"Then why don't you know?"
"Because I don't know if I can trust myself spending a full night with you."
"I don't understand."
"You do, I know you do. Please put your emotions aside for one moment and think logically."
"But I'm asking you because I think I'm ready for that."
"And if you aren't? Or you realize afterward you are not?"
"I don't know," she said, getting to her feet.
"Now perhaps you see my dilemma."
"Then the right answer would have been I want to but don't know if I should. Not I don't know. That," she said walking up to him. "Is the wrong answer to give!"
"I will try to remember that. As far as my having a wife. That is not even a possibility. My travels I keep from you only because you are safer without details of what I do. I have no other phone number to provide you as that's the phone that is always with me no matter where I am."
"But my father's involved?"
"Sometimes, not always, but usually."
"So, it's because of me you don't know?"
"How will we ever know I'm ready if we don't try?"
"I do not know, but the thought of hurting you scares me terribly. The thought of making you remember…"
"You wouldn't do anything like that to hurt me."
"But regret comes in all forms, Claire, and I would hate to have you look at me as if I took advantage. Or if you believed for some reason that the only way to keep me was to do… things."
"I know that's not true."
"You say that now. We do not know how you will react."
"I want to find out!"
He rubbed his temple with his fingertips, fighting the urge to touch her.
"Where are you going?"
"For a swim."
"You cannot," he said evenly.
She turned then, throwing up her arms. "Why not? This is a beach and I'm dressed to swim."
"Because I have sat through today knowing that every breathing male on the beach has at least noticed you. I do not want you parading around in that," he said gesturing to her, "wet."
"I'm sorry? You do not want me? I know you aren't telling me what to do."
"I am stating my opinion on the subject. It would bother me greatly. If that does not matter to you, then so be it."
"Because I see the look in their eyes. Lust and desire. I fight every minute I'm with you to keep that look out of my eyes. I don't want you to think I see you like they do."
"I want you to look at me like that."
"It is a dangerous path to tread down."
"I'm not going to break."
"That is up for debate."
"No, it's not. Not anymore. Why do you think I wore this suit?"
"I thought for a moment it might have belonged to you before."
She smiled a little at that. "No. I wanted to see if you'd notice me."
"Of course I notice you."
"Not like my friends boyfriends notice them."
"Everyone is different."
"I want to know you want to touch me."
He closed his eyes, making fists with his hands by his sides. "You have no idea the temptation you offer me every time we're together."
"That's my point. I want an idea. I want to see it."
"Did you not feel it moments ago seated on my lap?" he asked, starting toward her.
He cleared his throat, giving a slight smile. "How so?"
"You'd probably react that way no matter who sat in your lap."
"Not so," he said, taking a few more steps toward her.
"No," he said simply, closing the distance between them. "I have never gotten this close to anyone but you."
"Why me?" she whispered.
"I do not know to be honest." He held up a hand, placing his fingertips over her lips. "Before you get upset at me again I will explain. Your father tried relentlessly at first to find you himself. I watched as he suffered through each disappointment when it was not you. I volunteered to take on the task of finding you. He trusted me and knew I would leave no stone unturned. So, for close to three years I was obsessed with finding you. Once I'd done that well it started out as concern; you must realize that. You seemed to find me safe, and I didn't want to abandon my position in your life so quickly. I knew that was the last thing you needed. I had rescued you, I saw where you had been, knew what you could do, and somehow that was important to you. I know this. It evolved into a fondness and more."
"Thank you," she said softly.
"You are welcome." He dropped his hand after brushing the back of it along her jaw. "Do you really wish to swim?"
"It would be kind of nice. I feel kind of hot and sticky now."
"I have an alternative that would be agreeable to me."
"Agreeable to you, huh?"
"Well, lay it on me; I can't wait to hear it."
"Since you voiced displeasure at not knowing where I live I will take you there."
"How is that an alternative to swimming?"
"There is a pool there you can use."
"You have a pool?"
"It is not my home. The Company allows me to stay there since I required a more permanent residence. When I no longer need the place, they will put another operative there I am sure."
"Where do you really live?"
"Nowhere. I have told you that."
"I thought you were joking."
"No joke. I had no home."
"It seems I do now."
She smiled at that, lowering her eyes to her feet and the sand around them.
"All right, I'll go swimming in your pool."
"Thank you," he said, relieved.
"It would really bother you."
"One day I hope you'll show me how much."
"One day, Claire Bennet, you will be unable to stop me from doing just that."
"I kind of can't wait."
"That is good to know. When it is no longer kind of, please let me know."
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