Word Count: 1,658
He wasn't surprised to find her in his bed when he returned. He'd given her a key so that she could be here when he wasn't if she so desired. Tonight, however, he almost wished he hadn't phoned to tell her of his return. He didn't like seeing her like this. With blood on his hands, even if it was only figuratively. Of course, he'd called to tell her he would be returning because she'd left him a message sounding rather distraught. Despite knowing her mother was nearby, he had to return her call to know for himself she was all right.
As quietly as he could, he shed his clothes and stepped into the shower. He'd taken several over the past few days, but he felt it was especially important before joining her in bed. Even if he hadn't talked to her he would have known something was wrong. He recognized by the position she slept in, clutching the pillow from his side to her securely, that she was having a bad night.
He had no idea how much of those nights she remembered in the mornings. She didn’t seem to have nightmares, at least not in the way she once did. All he knew was that there were times she was far needier for comfort than others.
He expected that she would awaken. He did not expect her to join him in the bathroom once he'd gotten out of the shower. She came up behind him after he'd wrapped a towel around his waist. Her arms went around him and she hugged him tight. It was times like this he felt well and truly humbled. He had no idea when he helped her father search for her that things would end up as they had.
He knew too that her feelings for him could change on a dime. Not to say that he believed she wasn't sincere in her affection for him, but he knew that one day she might look at him and see a past she no longer wanted to remember.
She said nothing, not even a hello. She just stood there hugging him as if her life depended on it. And it was that thought that made him realize that whatever was bothering her was bad. More than just the bad dreams that resulted in her clutching his pillow to her.
"Will you tell me now what's wrong?" he asked, turning to face her. He'd tried to get her to tell him over the phone, but she had refused, insisting nothing was wrong. He'd known better, but realized over the phone there was no way he could convince her.
"I'm just not sure I can do this anymore."
"Do what?" He wasn't trying to be difficult or dense, but he had no idea what she was talking about. Was she talking about them? Their relationship had turned physical, but that wasn't all there was between them. There were nights she stayed here and all they did was sleep.
"Any of it. All of it. I don't know."
He picked her up with care and ease, bringing her back to bed. The towel he'd wrapped around his hips came loose as he set her down. He adjusted it once he'd released her. He pushed some hair off her face as he sat next to her on the bed.
"What is it?"
"School. Living on my own. Being an adult."
"You've been doing very well."
"Yeah, until I freaked out at a frat party the other night."
"Why?" he asked with a frown. He hated that she felt the need to go to those things, but knew it was a part of her need to be normal, belong.
"There was a guy there."
He stiffened a little at that. He wasn't prone to jealousy exactly, but he also knew that there were men her age out there who didn't travel as he did. Who could be there for her every night. Every time she needed someone.
"He was just talking to me. You know, the game, how long I'd been a cheerleader, where I was from, what my major was. That sort of thing."
"Okay," he replied cautiously. She sat back on the bed, propping the pillow against the headboard before leaning against it.
"And then I got this whiff of cologne. I don't know if it was his or someone just happened to walk past or what, but I swear I had a panic attack."
"It brought me back. I remembered," she shook her head, glancing at her hands.
"I see," he said softly, settling a hand over hers lightly. He didn't try to hold her hand, merely placed his there so that if she wanted the contact she could take it.
"Oh God. I tried not to freak out or make a fool of myself. I think I did okay. Because no one knows, right? So, they wouldn't understand that whoever was wearing that cologne reminded me of this guy who used to…"
"Shh, you don't have to tell me. I understand. And I'm sorry. It's bound to happen. Did you call your therapist?"
"I left a message, yeah. She called back and we talked, that's why I'm here. She told me to go home to my parents where I'd feel safe. I feel safest here," she said, finally settling her hands around his, holding it.
"I'm glad and I'm sorry I wasn't here for you."
"When am I going to be normal?"
"I do not know the answer to that. I think you've done remarkably well."
"But not well enough if I can't smell some cologne."
"It triggered a reaction in you. A memory. That's bound to happen, Claire."
"I was so embarrassed. I mean, I don't think I went nuts or anything, but I totally shut down on the guy I was talking to and pretty much left without saying goodbye to anyone. I thought. For a minute there I was thinking that someone had found me, recognized me that was why they were walking up to me."
He imagined that was a possibility, though he'd found her far enough away from California that it shouldn't be an issue. However, he imagined clubs as the one she was kept in appealed to men and women from all over the country, if not the world.
"No one you go to school with would have been old enough to get in there."
"I know this. Logically, I do, but what if it happens? What if one day I'm walking down the street with someone who doesn't know, which is everyone besides my family and you. So, I'm walking down the street and they recognize me? Say something? What am I supposed to do?"
"You call me or your father and we'll take care of it."
She dug her fingers into his hand for all she was worth. He didn't flinch or make a sound despite the fact he knew when she drew them away he'd more than likely be bleeding at least in one spot.
"What if they take me again?"
"They will not."
"It could happen! I'm more careful, sure, but what's to stop someone from coming up and taking me all over again. I couldn't go through that again, and I wouldn't even be able to kill myself this time around."
"Don't even talk like that," he said gruffer than he meant to. "I am sorry. You mustn't talk of dying."
"I'd want to, though. Don't you get it? I couldn't sit there and wait another three years for you to find me."
He reached for her, placing his hands around either side of her face. "It would not take me three years to find you this time. I would not eat or sleep or rest until you were rescued."
"But last time…"
"You did not have your ability until later. I told you, your father and I tried but those types of people are not the type to advertise what they're doing. It was a fluke Molly picked up on your location as she did, but she knows you now. She would be able to find you."
"Is that why my dad brought her here to meet me?"
"Yes. She can find any of us, but she seems to be better able when she knows them, has a feel for who they are."
"Where were you?"
"With my dad?"
"Yes," he said simply.
"Are you here for a while?"
"That's up to your father, but I could tell him I'm needed here if you so desire."
"Just wondering if you were going to pack up and leave again tomorrow."
"Not tomorrow, no."
She moved over on the bed, making room for him. He thought about putting something on as she had clothes on, but he honestly wasn't sure it registered with her right now that he was naked. As much as he'd care to get insulted at that, he could not knowing she had things on her mind that he couldn't imagine.
She snuggled against him, fitting against his side rather perfectly. It was times like this she seemed so vulnerable. It wasn't even what she'd been through, where and how he'd found her, but just how small she was in relation to most people, specifically men. It would be very easy to do as she feared and abduct her again if someone really set their mind to it.
"I'm glad you're back," she said as he drew the top sheet and comforter around them.
"I am too."
"What do you do when you're gone anyway?"
"Whatever your father needs."
"Hmm, sounds boring."
"It usually is, yes."
"Some welcome home."
"You're here, that's all I care about, Claire. You know that."
"Promise me you'll be here when I wake up."
"I will be right here."
"I thank you for knowing you can come to me."
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