Word Count: 857
She heard the sound of the doors opening and cringed, backing into the corner of her 'room.' It was little more than a cell. There were even restraints on the bed. She hadn't had to be restrained for a long time, but when she first got here she'd struggled a lot. And been punished and restrained a lot. Eventually, she stopped struggling and the restraints got used less and less.
The struggle was long beaten out of her now. Lately, though, no matter what they did to her she didn't scar, didn't even keep any marks. It both frustrated and aroused her captors. What scars she had gotten before were gone, too. Even the tattoo they'd given her when she first got there was gone. She was, outwardly at least, a whole person again.
Inwardly, she doubted she'd ever be that way again.
She was hoping for a night's reprieve. Of course, if she got passed over that meant someone else was taking her place. Someone who couldn't take the punishment, the abuse, the debasement as well as she could. She'd learned to ignore it, to turn her thoughts to something other than where she was, who she had become, and what they did or had her do.
She'd been a little girl once. The apple of her dad's eye. Blonde and cute and chasing butterflies, blowing bubbles, and riding bicycles through the Texas streets. She had vague memories of that girl, and called upon them often. They kept her sane most of the time.
Some would call her unfeeling, cold, uncaring. She was none of those things. She had a world of warmth in her. Of caring to give. She could feel more than her captors would ever know, because she stopped showing them what they wanted to see shortly after she'd gotten there.
At first she'd marked the days off on the wall. She's stopped that when one day had turned into ninety. No one was coming for her. Maybe it was because she was adopted, her dad didn't love her as much as her brother. That had sent her to bed with silent sobs more than once during her time here. Only in the beginning. She wasn't even sure she'd recognize him anymore. It seemed like it had been that long. For all she knew it hadn't been as long as it seemed.
She let out a breath she didn't even know she was holding as the man in the mask with the keys passed her room by. He smelled of leather, sex, and other body odors - none of which were pleasant.
Her body healed the pain, the soreness, and stiffness of the things they had her do. It did not, however, heal the humiliation. The fact that people took pleasure in her degradation and faux submissiveness.
She still had evidence in her hair from her last session. Cum, dried and flaking, started to smell after a while. She hadn't been allowed to rinse herself off, hadn't been allowed even to brush her hair. That certainly would have gotten some of it out.
She should be thankful, she supposed, that it was just her mouth and breasts that were manipulated and fucked. She wasn't sure why to this point she'd been spared penetration to other parts of her body. She thanked God every day that was the case. She took that as proof He was truly out there, even if on her best day her faith wavered as to why God would allow this end to befall her.
She wasn't even sure she knew what her real name was anymore. She'd been called so many during her stay here. None belonged to her, at least she didn't think so, but they got jumbled in her head so she couldn't be sure. Every once in a while they'd assign her one for the night that seemed familiar, but for all she knew it was one she'd had before. She never paid attention.
The girl taken away was relatively new. Considering she had no idea how much time had actually elapsed since she'd gotten here, new was relative. Her sobs could be heard down the hall and out the door. There was a new scent here now, too. Fear. And it didn't belong to the man with the mask. The sounds quieted only when the door slammed into place, blocking out any sound like a fortress.
There were other girls there with her. It was like a dormitory, or a prison cell depending on how you looked at it. No one talked very often, and when they did, it was never above a hush. Always afraid someone would hear them. Punish them. The threat was always there, alive in the air no matter if they were alone.
She didn't like talking, wasn't even sure she remembered how. Certainly none of her tasks included talking. To talk to them would be to put personalities and friendship with the faces of the other girls and women that were paraded past her room. No, she was better off thinking of them as nobodys, nothings.
Just like her.
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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.
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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.
Word Count: 2,484
He grew distracted from what her father was saying at the sound of her coming home. He had caught glimpses of her here in this new life, but not many and not for very long. If he didn't know better he would think she planned and wanted it that way. He could understand that. He was the only one who knew what he'd found that night.
They'd picked a location where Claire could go to college and still live at home until she felt comfortable living on her own. The Haitian wasn't sure that time would ever come, but he was not a professional on the subject.
It was late, far too late for any night class she might be taking to let out. He caught her father glancing at the clock much the same way he did.
"Hi Daddy," she said, eyes falling briefly on him. He never understood the look in her eyes when she saw him. It wasn't anything he could define and it confused him. Was she upset that he'd left? He had only once assured she was content with her family. As if he'd known what to do with her if she had not been. Did she think he'd told her father all?
"I'm going up to my room. G'night."
"Night," he said with a wave. The Haitian wondered what it was like for Claire to have the love of her father. It was something he had never experienced; love, at least not in this form. Selfless. Her father would have moved the heavens and the earth to get her back. He probably would have sold his soul if that's what it had taken.
Both men were quiet until they heard the sound of her footsteps heading upstairs fade.
"I don't know what's gotten into her. She's never home."
"That is normal for a girl her age, is it not?"
"But I never see who she's going out with. She's always meeting up with people here or there, never at home."
"She lives at home, perhaps her friends do not."
"That could be it," Noah said, clearly distracted now from what they had been plotting moments ago. "It's just there are different boys calling here every week and she comes home late, looking like she just came from the back seat of her car."
The Haitian did not know what to say to that. He had noticed she looked a little disheveled, but had assumed it was just the natural progression of her day. Obviously, her father knew better.
"Would you like me to talk with her?"
"I'm not sure it will do any good. The counselor we send her to indicates she's not very talkative."
"He reveals that?"
"He hasn't said what she has talked about and I haven't asked for specifics. Just generalities. I've been concerned. She doesn't sleep well. She wakes up in the middle of the night sometimes and no one can soothe her. Her appetite is better, but she still isn't eating much. And there are times she does something wrong and I think…" he trailed off. "I'm just not sure what to think. If you could tell me where you found her, maybe…"
"That is not an option. That is for her to divulge if and when she's ready."
"Just who are you loyal to?"
"The young woman who was missing and hurt for years. It is not my place to reveal her secrets."
"I can't help her."
"You are doing what you can for her. Knowing specifics would not help you further. You've gotten her counseling. If she's ready to discuss those experiences she will."
"And if she isn't?"
He shrugged. "I do not know."
"Do you think she will talk to you?"
"I do not know the answer to that either. She seemed attached to me, yes, as the one who saved her. And she knows I am special as she is."
"Do you think that's it? That she has this ability that she can't use openly?"
"It could be. Having to hide what she is may be painful to her."
"Go talk to her."
"And our plans?"
"They can wait. She's more important."
The Haitian stood, hesitating at the door.
"What?" Noah asked.
"It is acceptable I speak with her in her room?"
"You were alone with her for days. If I trusted you with her then I certainly do now in a house full of people."
He ascended the stairs, finding her room easily. He had heard her a time or two on the phone when he was here. Talking with boys he imagined, which was a normal thing to do. At least he assumed it was. Normal for him was far from the path most walked.
He knocked lightly, pushing open the door at the same time. She sat on her bed, brushing her hair out. She had worn it in a braid earlier he'd noticed, which made waves in her hair now that she had removed it.
"Hi," she said simply.
"I didn't think you were talking to me anymore."
"Why would you think that?"
"You haven't said one word to me since you brought me back to Texas."
"I was not sure you wished me to speak with you."
"Well, not talking to me isn't a way to find out."
He smiled at that. "I suppose not. I figured if you wished to speak with me you would initiate the conversation."
"You're always with my dad."
"Do you wish to speak with me, Claire?"
He took a seat at her desk, facing her, his arms draped over the back of the chair. She looked better. He wasn't sure if the couple of months away from her had dulled his memory or if she really had improved that much. He hoped it was the latter rather than the former.
"I can leave you my number. You can call as you need to. Your father says you are seeing a counselor."
"He's an idiot."
"Why do you say that?"
"He has no idea what I went through."
"How do you know that?"
"I can just tell. His eyes glaze over when I start to say anything, as if I'm making it up somehow. And for some reason whatever the police found the night you called them doesn't seem to have made headlines. He'd probably think the article influenced me anyway."
He paused, mulling that over for a moment. It was very possible what she said was true. It was also possible she was either exaggerating or seeing things that weren't really there and using that as an excuse not to get the help she needed.
"I am sorry. Perhaps your father would find you another counselor if you told him."
She looked away then, twisting the brush in her hands.
"I'll figure it out on my own."
"You do not have to do it on your own. The counselor is a fool if he thinks you are making it up, you need one who is not."
She shrugged. "I don't really want to talk about it anyway. What good is it going to do?"
"It will help you realize you did nothing wrong and that you are now safe."
"I just want to go on with my life."
"Is that the reason you go out with so many different boys?"
"Who says I am?"
"What is he following me?"
"No, he observes your phone conversations and the names of those leaving messages for you from what I gathered."
"Unbelievable. I'm just making friends."
"What is it you're trying to say? And, no, they're not all boys."
"I know I cannot begin to fathom what you went through."
"That's right, you can't."
"I close my eyes and I see that room, I see you, and I know that does not do your experience justice."
"And you don't think I do that? You don't think I close my eyes and see my room for the past three years? The other girls? Smell it? That I don't check my hair to make sure there's nothing in it that shouldn't be there on an hourly basis. That I don't dream of it? That I don't wake up, forgetting for the first few minutes that I'm really back home?"
"I am sure you do. I cannot fathom what goes through your head. However, seeking solace in boys is not the way to heal."
"Solace? You think I'm out sleeping with every guy on campus as a way to get better? To forget? Is that what my dad thinks?"
"It would not be unheard of for a woman in your circumstances to go that route. And I cannot help but recall how you woke me up your first night with me."
"Oh my God! I'm going out on dates. I'm trying to be normal. Isn't that why my dad moved us all the way to California? So I could have a chance at being normal? Girls my age date."
"They do, but I think it is the frequency with which you date different boys that has your father worried." He gestured to her with his hand. "And the fact you come home looking as if you slept in your clothes."
"You told him!"
"I told him nothing, but it was your father who found the ad for you. He's a smart man, so I believe he can put two and two together to come up with four, Claire. It is not my place to confide in him where or under what conditions I found you. That is for you to do when you are ready."
"I don't want him to know."
"He's my dad!"
"I'm not sure I understand."
"He already thinks he failed me somehow."
"I think all who care about you do. You were taken from them. It is natural to assume that they failed in protecting you to the best of their abilities."
"He couldn't have stopped it."
"And you think you could have?"
"I knew better!" She looked at him then and he saw the tears. He wasn't sure she'd actually cried yet, not when she was awake anyway. "It was engrained in me from childhood. Stranger Danger. Don't approach a car."
"That is how they approached you?"
"Yes, asking for directions. They had a map…"
He stood from the chair and made his way to her. He stooped in front of her, placing a hand on her knee.
"Claire, you did nothing wrong."
"But my parents, my teachers all warned us. We had police officers come to our classrooms and tell us…"
Her voice was barely a whisper now, the tears falling freely making marks on her pants as they dropped from her cheeks.
"Look at me. I'm not your father, I'm not your teacher, I'm not a counselor, but I know you did nothing wrong. You thought you were helping someone."
"I should have known."
"How could you have?"
"I don't know. I just want them to like me."
"Who?" he asked with a frown.
"The people at school."
"I go out a lot because I want to be liked."
"Oh," he said softly. "And you think that is the way to get liked?"
"I don't know. You're the only person who's stopped me."
"Prior to this you had no choice. There was no stopping for you, Claire. Do you not understand that?"
"I know, but when I did it right they didn't hurt me."
"You should never have to do something in exchange for someone to not hurt you, Claire."
"I'm not sure I know any different."
"That is what the counselor is for. Tell your father the one you are currently seeing is not suitable to you and find a new one. I am always available to lend an ear, but I cannot take the place of serious assistance in what you have experienced."
"And you should not be going out with so many boys."
"It's not that many."
"You are bound to get a reputation. And then where will you be?"
"Do guys really talk about stuff?"
"Some," he said, not that he had experience on the matter.
"I'm just not sure I know how to do anything else."
"Just be yourself."
"That's the problem, I'm not sure who I am."
"I would recommend staying away from potentially disastrous situations until you figure it out."
She sniffled, her shoulders shaking as she fought to control her crying.
"Take my memories away. Isn't that what you said you can do?"
"Yes," he whispered.
"I do not think it would be wise in this situation."
"Because I do not know that erasing the memories takes away the feelings you are experiencing because of what was done to you. That could cause you to have more of a problem, not understanding why you are behaving and feeling the way you are."
"I will make a deal with you."
"You tell your father you want a different counselor and truly try to find one who believes you and can help you. If you do and still wish me to then we will discuss it again. I cannot in good conscious do it now. I would not approve nor would your father."
"And you work for him, right?"
"So, even if I tell you later I want you to if you think he'd disapprove you still won't."
"I'm making a deal with you not your father, but you must sincerely try, Claire. I have not provided your father with the answers he seeks as to the circumstances under which I found you. And I will not."
"Why haven't you?"
"That is your secret to tell. When you're ready, if you're ever ready. He may not really want to know anyway."
"You're probably right."
"So we have a deal?"
"You realize I'll know if you're lying?"
"When I take the memories I am able to see what I take. That is how I know how deep to go. I will know if you did not truly try. And I will stop the moment I see that is the case."
"All right," she said, sounding like she might have been thinking of doing just that.
"I will need the names and numbers of the boys you have," he paused, searching for the correct words. "Gone on dates with."
"I will take care of their memories."
"Because you do not need that type of reputation, Claire. One day, you will thank me."
She laughed softly.
"Okay, maybe not thank me. One day you will understand. Is that better?"
"Are you sure it's not just to ease my dad's mind?"
"All right," she said softly.
Word Count: 2,998
She was all out of tears. She'd sat clutching what was left of her shirt to her for what seemed like forever. Since The Haitian had rescued her, she'd dreamt of seeing a sunrise, just not this way. Her father, being overprotective hadn't let her out of his sight until they'd gotten to California.
And then there'd been tutors, followed by classes, and curfews. She understood the need for curfews, the reason for her dad staying awake with lame excuses until she got home each night. He was worried and felt responsible for what happened to her.
She'd been keeping her end of the bargain with The Haitian, telling her father the following day the psychiatrist she was seeing wasn't working. That was three months ago now, and finally this month she started seeing one that finally got it. Got her. She was relieved tremendously. She'd thought for a while that she was truly crazy. Why else would she be unable to find a shrink she could talk to?
She was far from better, but finally talking about things was allowing her to sleep a night or two without waking up from a nightmare. Almost six months she'd been home. There were times it seemed like a lifetime ago. Other times it seemed like it was not even an hour ago.
Tonight was one of those times.
She'd been keeping to her other bargain with The Haitian, too. She hadn't been dating around. She hadn't even been dating. He must have been very thorough in erasing memories, because from what she could tell her reputation was intact. And the boys she'd gone out with those first couple of weeks didn't seem to pay her more attention than any other girl.
So, when her biology lab class partner asked her on a date she'd accepted. Therapy was going well, she'd been sleeping better, and she was determined to have a real date. Not the types she'd had at the beginning. Things hadn't gone exactly the way she'd planned.
She laughed, wiping under her eyes with the pads of her fingers. She was starting to get cold. Feel the cold was more accurate. She'd probably been cold for a while now.
"When do they ever go as planned?"
She stared at her cell phone. Her father was probably beyond worried sick at this point. If he had the power to he'd have the Army out looking for her. He didn't have that kind of power. She should call and tell him she was okay.
Her thumb kept scrolling through her contact list, though, passing by Dad, Lyle and Mom to The Haitian. She didn't know why she felt safe with him. He saved her. She got that. He hadn't done it on his own, though. He was just the instrument her father had sent because his ability would help him get her out of there.
She hit SEND, never having used the number he'd given her before now. She hadn't wanted to, because she did wish to be normal again without his help. Well, the help of him erasing her memories anyway. There wasn't one day of her three years there she'd want to relive or do over. She'd survived, though. That had to count for something.
Sitting here now, she wasn't so sure what. And she knew he was going to be mad at her. He was going to think she was doing it again. She really wasn't, hopefully he'd believe her since she'd been honest with him before.
'Hello,' he said, sounding as if she'd woken him up. She'd never seen him actually sleeping. Their few days together he'd slept in chairs as if keeping guard over her. He probably was in a way, fearful something would happen to her on his watch.
"This is Claire," she said, clearing her throat softly. "Claire Bennet."
'Is everything all right?'
"I need you to pick me up."
'Where are you?'
"That's the thing, I'm not real sure."
'I'm not that good, Claire.'
She smiled slightly at that. "I can give you the name of the park I'm at."
'A park? It's a little…'
"Please don't. Not now."
'All right,' he said, sounding more awake. 'Tell me the name of the park.'
'I will be there shortly.' He paused. 'I ask again, are you all right?'
"I guess," she said with a shrug he obviously couldn't see.
They disconnected after that and all she could do was sit and wait for him. She had no idea where he was, where he lived. She knew he spent time at her house. She saw him more than she wanted to, a constant reminder of what he'd seen. And what she'd tried to do to him. It had been automatic, which he seemed to know. And that didn't seem to insult him, which was good.
Eventually, she heard a car pull up, saw the light from headlights and knew he was there. She stood then, legs shaky from sitting for so long. She looked a mess. She'd been sitting by the water for hours now so her hair was all sorts of crazy. Her shirt was ripped. At least her jeans were whole. She'd look a lot worse if she didn't heal, so she was thankful for that. She wondered if he'd grow tired of rescuing her. Had he given her his phone number as a courtesy with no thought that she'd really use it?
"Are you hurt?"
She glared at him.
"Stupid question. So, I'll ask again, what happened?"
"I went out on a date."
It was his turn to glare.
"Not that type of date. A real date. He's my partner in biology lab. He asked me out and I thought I was ready for a date. I've found a counselor that actually seems to be working, so I thought I'd try."
"And? Did something…"
"No! I jumped out of his car when he kept driving and driving. I don't doubt people have parties out in the middle of nowhere here. They did in Texas, but I didn't feel like taking any chances. I was just trying to be a normal girl."
"What happened to your shirt?" he asked.
"I rolled down a hill and it caught on something. A few somethings I guess."
"You should have told me you needed a new one. I have nothing to offer you."
"You've seen me in less."
"That is not the point."
Now that he was here and she knew she was safe, she let herself realize how stupid she'd been. She should have known better than go driving with someone. It was one of the reasons until tonight she always met people places, driving herself.
She'd jumped out of a moving car, knowing she'd survive the fall. It was the first time she used knowing she could heal to her advantage. She hadn't thought about that until now.
She stepped into his arms, wrapping hers around him so he didn't have much choice but to do the same. She laughed, though it sounded more like a sob to her and rested her head against his chest.
"Thank you for coming," she said softly.
"You did the right thing."
"I don't know how I'll face him in lab again. I mean, if he really was taking me to a party he'll think I'm a freak."
"I can take care of that."
"I can't depend on you to rescue me for the rest of my life."
She didn't have an answer to that. She just couldn't. It was that simple. She'd eventually have to learn to fend for herself and make better choices.
"You're not always going to be around."
"I will be around until I'm no longer needed."
"By my father?"
"Him, too, but I do not need to stay here for my work with him."
"So, you're here for me?"
"Yes, we have an agreement. Until I'm certain you do not require me to fulfill my end of it I will be nearby."
"When you do his memories," she lifted her head from his chest then to look at him.
"Can you tell me if he meant to hurt me?"
"I should be able to, yes."
"I'd like to know. I really thought he was okay." She shook her head, trying to stop from crying again. She'd already done that enough tonight. "I thought I was okay, making a decent decision."
"And going to a party with him?"
"I wasn't going to drink or do anything. I swear," she added when he didn't look like he believed her entirely. "I thought I could do it. Make a decent choice."
"Perhaps you did. I will see."
"Thank you." She laughed, wiping the tears on her cheeks on the front of his shirt. "I keep saying that to you."
"Have you called your father?"
"Because I didn't want him to freak out or worry."
He sighed heavily.
"I know it's his job to do that, but I just thought you were safer."
"I'm not sure I enjoy you having that view of me."
He shrugged. "I do not know. I am not really an overly good man."
"But you saved me. And you called the police when I asked you to. And you erased those guys memories. And are here today."
"You seem to be a weakness for me."
"Me? Or my father?"
"You. I do not make it a habit of randomly removing memories of boys people have gone out on dates with. Or of even talking to people for that matter."
That affected her way more than it probably should have. She liked that thought, though. That there was something about her he liked. Despite where and how he'd found her, what she'd looked like that night, knowing how she'd been acting once they'd moved to California, and might have overreacted tonight while out on a date.
He shrugged. "I do not know, ever since I was a boy I have not spoken to very many."
"Among the few, though I didn't for a very long time to him either."
"What do you do for him?"
"Whatever he needs me to."
"That doesn't tell me much."
"There's not much to tell. We deal with specials. People like you and me, those with abilities."
"There are more of us?"
"Yes, there are many."
"You didn't think it was just us?"
"Well, how would I know?"
"Don't laugh at me."
"I am sorry."
"I didn't even know what was wrong with me until you found me."
"There is nothing wrong with you," he whispered.
Despite the soft tone, a seriousness to it told her he didn't like hearing her say that. She drew away from him a little so she could look at him. She'd never touched him before. Well, the first night in the hotel room she had, but not since then. And that was different. So, she wasn't sure why he'd let her for so long now, not that she was complaining. Her dad hugged her, but it wasn't the same. It was as if he was reassuring himself she was still there.
"I know that."
Her eyes widened a little when he reached for her, giving an instinctive flinch when his hand got close to her face. Except he didn't hit, slap her, or pull her hair. He just set it there at her cheek. She trembled a little, and it wasn't because she was cold. It was warm and soothing against her cheek, smooth but not completely smooth. He wasn't afraid to use his hands.
"Good," he whispered. "I'm sorry."
"I know better."
She frowned. "Huh?"
Was he making sense to himself? He sure wasn't to her. He used his fingertips to brush aside some of her hair, drawing her tighter against him with his other arm. She fought not to panic. He had done nothing to indicate he was going to hurt her, and he was so gentle about it.
And then for the next minute or two, time simply stopped for her as she was on the receiving end of her first ever kiss. She knew enough to realize he was being kind and not overly pushy or doing anything that might frighten her. His lips were simply pressed against hers, his thumb grazing her cheek moved more than his mouth did. And that was okay with her. She'd seen people make out and she wasn't sure she was ready for anything like that. He seemed to understand that.
"For that," he whispered, drawing away. "I should not."
"Because of what you went through."
"No one was ever nice to me like that."
"I'm not sure kissing you right now is nice."
"Gentle might be a better word."
"For that I am sorry."
He stepped away from her, taking his arms and warmth with him. Her eyes widened when she saw he had a phone in his hand.
"I must call your father to tell him I'm with you and that you are all right."
She could imagine how that conversation was going to go. And judging by his end of it she was pretty accurate. She didn't listen too closely, still going over the kiss in her mind. What did it mean? If she knew anything about how guys worked she might know, but until now she hadn't made much effort at getting to know anything about them.
"He is not happy."
"He wants you home."
"I figured as much," she said, turning her back to him. The sun coming up looked so pretty with the water right here. "I didn't realize it was so late."
"Some might say early."
She glanced at him over her shoulder. "Are things going to be weird between us now?"
"Any weirder than they usually are? I would hope not."
"I kind of like knowing you're there for me."
"That would not change because I kissed you."
"And I am saying it will not."
"Let's get you home."
"I want to see the sun come up."
"You can see that from my car."
"It's not the same. I haven't seen a sunrise in years. There were times I didn't know if it was day or night."
"You must realize I cannot say no if you bring up your time away."
"No, but I was hoping it might convince you."
She smiled. "Are you still going to visit my lab partner?"
"I have to, if for no other reason than he will wonder why you are unscathed after jumping from a moving vehicle."
"Oh yeah, there is that."
"I've never done anything like that before."
"It is all right to use knowing you have such an ability to your advantage. We just don't want you broadcasting it."
"Just in case you decide that dating is too boring."
"Does it bother you?"
"What I've done?"
"Bother may be too strong of a word. I know you deserve much better than what those you have dated can give you."
"And you think you can give it to me?"
"I did not make such a claim."
"No, but I don't think you go around kissing people either."
"You know nothing about me."
"I don't have to. The way you touched me told me a lot."
"And it does not bother you? Knowing I'm the one who found you? Knowing that I saw you?"
"Of course it bothers me. It would bother me whoever you were. I hate that anyone had to see me like that, rescue me. That I tried to," she shrugged. "Well, anyway. But you don't have to treat me like I'm going to break either."
"I worry sometimes you just might do that."
"What is it you're asking of me, Claire?"
"I just want to be normal. Do what normal people do. I've never been kissed before."
His eyes widened.
"No, kissing wasn't really on their minds and it wasn't something we ever did there. It seems men can get kissing anywhere. It's the other things they have to go to places like that for."
"I think I would take the sincerity of your kiss over most anything else."
She smiled slightly. "You say stuff like that and it really makes me wonder what kind of man you are."
"I don't know. You stopped me that night."
"Of course I did."
"Some might not have."
"I'm not some."
"That's my point! You kissed me. And it certainly wasn't like you were shoving your tongue into my mouth or anything. It was nice and gentle and sweet, but you apologize."
"I explained my reasoning."
"For the apology, but not for why you kissed me."
"I cannot deny an attraction to you; I just do not enjoy knowing that it is there."
"Because I'm damaged."
"Because you are still healing."
"So, the shrink declares me all better and suddenly I'm healed enough for you?"
"That is assuming you are receptive to my attraction."
"I didn't stop you from kissing me."
"I guess not."
"Can I tell you something else I've never done?"
"I'm not sure I want to know," he said with a soft laugh.
"Very funny. There's actually quite a lot," she said with a smile. "I've never held someone's hand."
They were quiet for a minute or two after that. Should she not have said that? He held his hand out to her palm up then and she placed hers over his. She jerked her hand a little when their palms met but let hers settle against his. He laced his fingers through hers and she did the same. The sun was high enough now that she could actually see pretty clearly.
"Just a little while longer."
"I know," she said softly.
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.
Word Count: 2,972
Claire watched Lyle from the reflection in her mirror while she put her mascara on. She had no idea what he wanted. He'd been standing there since she started putting her makeup on, but hadn't said anything.
"What?" she finally asked.
"I'm just watching you."
She closed the mascara tube and set it on her vanity before turning to look at him. "Why? I'm not doing anything that interesting."
"I am?" she asked with a frown.
"Yeah, you look nice tonight."
"As opposed to normally?"
"Well, you're going out. Right? To some deal on campus?"
"Yeah," she said. And his point was?
"Well, the last time I saw you go anywhere you were dressed kind of."
"Don't get mad at me or anything, I'm just saying. You looked kind of cheap."
"And I don't tonight?"
"No," he said, eyeing her skirt and blouse. She hadn't put her boots on yet, but there was nothing cheap-looking about those.
"Thank you," she said. She wondered if he had any idea how good what he'd just said made her feel. She was trying to find her niche, but it was so hard. She'd joined a sorority at the beginning of the school year, hoping to make friends and get some guidance by proximity. That had worked to some degree, but not entirely.
"Now I can bring friends home."
"You couldn't before?"
"No! It's one thing for them to check out my sister like you are now and another the other way."
"I see," she said, not really having noticed Lyle didn't bring friends home. Was she really the reason?
"Mom also wanted me to tell you someone's waiting for you downstairs."
"And you waited this long to tell me?"
"You were getting ready. I used to watch you. Do you remember?"
"Yes," she said with a slight smile. "I remember it drove me crazy that you got toothpaste on my curling iron and then tried to wipe it off."
"How did I know it wouldn't work?"
She laughed. "At least my hair smelled minty. It was better than some things in the bathroom I could have smelled like." She stood then. "You sure I look okay?"
"Yeah. I'd dance with you."
"I'm not sure that's saying much. You're a teenaged boy, you'd dance with a rock if it moved."
She sat on the edge of her bed and pulled her boots on, stopping to look in the mirror to make sure they looked okay with the skirt.
"No, you probably wouldn't. You're pretty okay for a guy."
"Then your date will dance with you."
"I don't have a date."
"You might want to tell that to the guy waiting for you downstairs."
"I don't have a date!"
"Whatever you say, but I'm telling Dad," he said, walking toward his room as Claire left hers and headed downstairs.
"Lyle!" Unbelievable! Just what she needed.
"Mom? Someone's here?"
"Just me," The Haitian said, standing from the couch. "I did not realize you had plans for the evening."
"It's just a party at my sorority."
"Did you need something?"
"No, I just thought I'd come see you."
She glanced at the kitchen. Her mom wasn't standing there, but Claire knew she was nearby. Listening. Would she tell her dad? He'd been called out of town that afternoon. That happened a lot, which seemed odd to Claire since he worked for a paper company.
"You could come with me if you wanted to."
"To your party?"
"Yeah, it's no special occasion or anything. There will even be food there."
"You're dressed up."
"No, I just felt like wearing this. It's not formal or anything."
"Would I be the only male there?"
"No, a lot of my sisters have boyfriends and I'm sure some will be there. And there's a fraternity we do stuff with so some of those guys might be there, too."
"But you were going alone. Or were you meeting someone?"
"No, I missed the last one so it's kind of expected I show up tonight."
"Why did you miss the last one?"
"No reason, I didn't feel like going."
"Would you like me to go with you?"
"Sure," she said with a shrug. She glanced at the kitchen again. "Is that all right, Mom?"
Her mom appeared in the doorway shortly after, a dishtowel in her hand. Her mom rarely did dishes, choosing to use the dishwasher instead. "I think that'd be all right, yes. Be home at a reasonable hour. And take your phone with you."
"I always do."
"And keep it on!"
"Yes, Mom," Claire said. "Do you want to drive or should I?"
"You know where you're going, so you can."
"You're letting me drive?"
"You say that as if it surprises you."
"I've just never driven with you." She grabbed her purse and a jacket that went with the skirt and blouse she had on. "Bye Mom."
"Bye honey," her mom said, following them to the door.
Claire knew her mother would stand at the door until they drove out of sight. It should bug her, but it didn't. She liked that they didn't want to let her out of their sight until they absolutely had to.
It wasn't far to campus, but finding a parking space near the sorority house was time consuming.
"I do not mind walking if you don't," he said and she was relieved. Just the way to make a good impression. Invite him to a party and then make him walk a mile to get there. She parked and locked the car, meeting him on the sidewalk that would lead them to the house.
"I don't suppose you were in a fraternity in college?"
"No," he said simply.
"You think I'm silly for being in a sorority?"
"It is not my place to judge what might be silly for you. And they are popular, or they wouldn't be in existence any longer."
"I really just wanted to belong somewhere, to know I'd have friends somewhere on campus. Not living on campus it's not as easy to make friends."
"I hadn't thought of that."
"Not that I'm ready to leave my parents' house yet. Of course, I don't tell people that. I tell them it's the other way around." She held up her fingers like scissors. "You know, the parents' aren't willing to cut the cord yet."
He chuckled and offered her his hand, which she took. He always did that, initiated contact between them to a point but let her finish it. She knew why he did it that way, so she'd know she had control.
"Your father knows I've been coming to see you."
"I didn't tell him."
"I believe your mother did."
"Oh," she said softly.
"He was not overly pleased."
"I can see why maybe, but not so much in other ways. I feel comfortable around you."
"And that pleases me, but I'm not sure he's ready to admit yet that you are improving drastically."
"Not that drastically. I still have my moments."
"I imagine you will for years to come. I find it amazing the strides you've made the past few months truthfully."
"Thank you. You were right, though, the right psychiatrist seems to have been the key."
"Me, too, because as much as I wanted to I don't think I could do this alone."
"You don't ever have to be alone again, Claire."
"I know, but this is something I have to do myself in a way. Get through this I mean." She glanced at him then at the house. "Anyway, we're here, so that's enough talk of that for the night."
The Haitian started to release her hand when he heard her name called. She held onto his, though, and he took his queue from her. She stopped and talked with many. He could see that she really had made an effort to meet people and make friends. And relieved in a way to find that she really had not befriended just guys. He wondered how difficult it had been at first, but she seemed comfortable now.
She handed him a cup that she'd gotten from someone.
"What is this for?"
"In case you want to drink."
"I'll probably just have a sip of yours; otherwise I'll have water or soda."
"Would you live here if you weren’t with your parents?"
"I could. I'd probably like it better than a dorm. I'll be right back, I'm going to the kitchen to get a soda. The keg's over there if you want some," she said, pointing.
He wasn't much of a drinker, so he made his way to a less crowded and busy part of the room. He wasn't good with people. There was a reason he didn't speak often, he just preferred not getting involved in the lives of others. Callous perhaps, but it had worked for him to this point. However, there was one thing he'd grown rather good at. Watching people without them becoming aware they were being watched. And a college sorority party seemed to give him plenty of fodder.
He felt a hand slide into his and glanced to the side, relieved to see her.
"Sorry if I took too long."
"You are fine." He glanced at the cup she held in her hand. "What are you drinking?"
"Punch. It's really good." She held the cup toward him. "Do you want to try it?"
"No, thank you."
"This is probably pretty lame to you."
"It is fine."
"This is just kind of a social thing, no theme or reason. I'm sure the room will clear eventually and there will be dancing and stuff. Right now, people are just mingling."
"I am fine, Claire. Do you know all of these people?"
"No. Some I know by face but not by name and some I've never seen before. I don't think there's too much going on campus tonight so people will show up who might not otherwise."
She wandered away from time to time, talking with someone or going to get more of the punch she was so fond of. He, on the other hand, rarely strayed from his spot. No one approached him, which was fine with him. Realizing she'd been gone for a while now he scanned the room looking for her. He found her walking toward him.
"Hi," she said, sliding her arms around his neck.
"Hi," he said back, eyes widening a little at her gesture. Until now, holding his hand had been as bold as she'd been. Not that he minded or would complain.
"You don't look like you're having fun. Am I leaving you too much?"
"You are fine. I sort of invited myself along."
"So not true, I invited you."
"Because I showed up at your house unannounced."
She shrugged. "I like having you here."
"That is good to know."
"You think so," she said, sounding uncertain.
He slid the back of his hand along her jaw. She didn't flinch. The first - and only - time he'd touched her like this she had. They hadn't been alone again until now. Always her mother was hovering in the background, not that The Haitian could blame the woman. That didn't mean that it was any less frustrating. And until tonight he couldn't think of a suitable reason to get her out of the house.
He slid his other arm around her waist as he lowered his mouth to hers. Her breath caught as their lips met. She tasted of fruit punch and something else underlying he could not place. She mewled softly into his kiss and pressed against him. He knew despite the experience she might have in the eyes of some she was an innocent, these things new to her. It was refreshing to be with someone so excited and genuine over being on the receiving end of a kiss.
He parted his lips slightly, just enough to trace a short path along her lower lip with his tongue. Quick, uncertain of her reaction to this much. She stiffened at the contact. Her hands gripped his shoulders tighter for a moment and then slackened. He felt her body relax against his as well.
His hand at her jaw slid a slow path down her neck, over her shoulder and along her arm so he could embrace her properly with both arms. She drew away, resting her forehead against his chin.
"Am I supposed to get breathless from a kiss?"
He chuckled softly. "I would be remiss if I did not say yes, so long as it is my kiss."
She giggled softly. "You would, huh?"
"Yes," he said, tugging her closer. "Should I apologize again?"
"Will you look at me?"
She tilted her head up, smiling. He was relieved to see the smile. He'd thought for a moment he'd gone too far and caused her pain.
He saw the look of expectation in her eyes and did not wish to disappoint her, so he kissed her again. It was no hardship. On the contrary, it was enjoyable. Perhaps too enjoyable.
They continued that way for most of the evening. He couldn't recall a time he'd spent hours just kissing someone with there being no expectation of it escalating to more. His hands got a little bolder, but never strayed from her waist, hips or the small of her back. He was careful not to push too far.
So, when she broke away, slipping her hand into his and tugging him toward her he grew confused. He followed wordlessly as she led him up a flight of stairs and yet another.
"Where…" he asked as she opened a door.
He groaned softly, realizing where she'd brought him. He didn't need the benefit of a light to know they were in a bedroom.
"Claire," he whispered.
"Shh," was her response.
"No, I cannot be quiet. You need to hear me on this."
Her hands slid along the length of his arms, up to his shoulders, and she brought her head to his chest.
"I hear you."
"We are not doing this."
"Okay," she whispered. And if he didn't know better he'd think she was sleepy.
"Are you all right?"
"I think the punch was spiked," she murmured.
"So, the kissing downstairs?"
She giggled softly. "Was very nice."
He chuckled. "Yes it was. I should get you home."
"Not yet. Want more kissing."
"As long as that is all you want."
"Would it be so bad?"
"If I wanted more?"
"You are not ready for more."
"You're not me."
"Okay then. I am not ready to give you more."
"That's why I like you."
"Why?" he asked, not sure he understood.
"You're good to me. I like that. I'm not used to it."
"It's a good thing I can act independent of my thoughts."
"Mm, you mean I tempted you?"
"If you were not under the influence, it would be tempting."
"M'kay," she murmured.
"Where are your keys?"
"Purse. In the kitchen."
"No more kissing?"
"If you're still awake when I get you home we can talk about it then."
"'K," she said. If he didn't know better, he'd swear she was going to fall asleep on her feet. He took her into his arms then, carrying her back down the flights of stairs the way they'd come only moments ago. He found the kitchen and someone who knew what Claire's purse looked like.
She woke up once they got outside and was able to walk back to her car.
"You're driving," she said, heading to the passenger side.
"How much punch did you drink anyway?"
"Only a couple of glasses. Maybe three or four," she shrugged. "I don't know. It tasted good."
"I'll bet it did."
"You're laughing at me again."
"I would not do such a thing."
"Are you mad at me?"
"You did not."
"But we were kissing and…"
"We were kissing. There was no expectation of anything else."
"I've never kissed anyone before."
"So you've said."
"It is," he said, slightly amused at her ramblings.
"Going to fall asleep now."
"All right, Claire, I'll get you home."
He rang the bell, hoping it would be her mother who answered. He wasn't sure he wanted to deal with her father for a second time that day. He got his wish, though the look of terror on her face wasn't what he'd been expecting.
"She's in the car sleeping. She's fine," he said simply. "She had some punch that I do not think she knew was spiked."
"Is she all right?"
"A little tipsy and tired, but fine otherwise. I wanted you to know."
"Thank you. I'll get her from here," she said, stepping out of the house.
"All right. If your husband…"
"He was called out of town. He didn't tell you?"
"No, I spoke to him this morning. He must have forgotten to mention the trip." He walked with Claire's mom to her car. "Let me help you get her to the house. I think she's more tired then anything."
"She's still not sleeping real well. Her doctor prescribed a sleeping aid, but she refuses to take it." She stopped just short of the car. "And she'd hate me for telling you that, so let's pretend I didn't say it."
He smiled at that. "All right. Consider it forgotten."
"Thank you," she said.
He helped Claire to the house and assured he'd locked the door, he left. It was the strangest night he'd had in a very long time. And a little frustrating to say the least. One thing was for certain, she had a way of making time spent with her memorable.
Word Count: 2,541
Claire woke with a groan. Her mouth felt like she swallowed a cotton ball and her head hurt. She turned onto her side, realizing she was still wearing her clothes. Were they still at the sorority house? Vague images of taking The Haitian upstairs floated through her mind and she cursed under her breath. She was almost afraid to open her eyes, unsure what she'd see.
She let out a breath when she saw the familiar four walls of her bedroom. She should have known better than to think he'd let something happen between them. She glanced at the window, saw it was still dark. She reached for her cell phone, flipping it open. It was an ungodly hour to be calling anyone but she had to. She closed her eyes, counting the rings. If he didn't answer by the fourth ring she'd hang up.
"Damn," she murmured when he answered.
'Hello,' he said in that sleepy voice of his again.
"Um, hi, it's Claire."
'Please tell me you did not sneak out of your bedroom and need me to rescue you in the three hour span since I left you in your mother's care.'
"No," she said, lips lifting into a smile. She rolled onto her back, staring at the ceiling. "I'm snuggled comfortably in my bed."
'That is good to know, I'm afraid I am not up to chasing you around Southern California tonight.'
"I'm sorry I fell asleep on you."
"It shouldn't have happened. I swear I didn't know it was spiked."
'I cannot deny there were enjoyable moments to the night. You do remember them?'
"Yes, I wasn't that drunk. I wasn't even really drunk. Just alcohol and lack of sleep."
'I am glad you remember.'
"Me, too. I also remember taking you upstairs."
'You do not need to apologize. Nothing happened.'
"But I gave you the idea…"
'You did no such thing, Claire.'
"But I did. Why else would I take you up there?"
'To kiss me more privately?'
"Like anyone cared."
'Perhaps you are right, but I did not get the wrong idea.'
"I know I probably woke you. I just wanted to call and say I had a nice time and thank you. Again."
'What are you thanking me for this time? I have a hard time keeping track.'
"Funny man. Let's see," she said holding her hand up above her face. "There's getting me home, stopping me from doing something stupid, and not being mad at me," she said, keeping track with her fingers as she listed off each one. "Take your pick."
'I will accept your thanks and consider it a blanket one. Though I was just relieved your father was not home.'
"That could have been a problem."
'Should we try again?'
'Venturing away from the safety of your home together?'
"You mean, you'd want to?"
'Do you think I'd be talking to you at nearly four in the morning if I did not?'
"I suppose not."
'Is that a yes?'
'No sororities. No punch.'
"What did you have in mind?"
'I'm not sure.'
"Well, a girl needs to know what to wear."
'I will be sure to get back to you then.'
"You do that."
'Will you be able to go back to sleep now?'
"Yeah, actually, I think I will."
"Why didn't you stop me from going upstairs?"
'I, honestly, wasn't sure where you were taking me. My mind did not instantly lead me to a bedroom.'
"Oh," she said softly.
'I have disappointed you somehow?'
"No, I was just curious."
'I wouldn't have taken much advantage of the situation anyway.'
"Why not?" she asked, her eyes drifting closed.
He chuckled. 'Kissing you with others watching or nearby is one thing…'
"The doors lock."
'They would still know.'
"My reputation again?"
'No, because you deserve things to be done the right way.'
"There's a wrong way?"
'Yes! In a room, on a bed, where the next drunk couple would be once we left would be one wrong way.'
"You're going to get bored kissing me."
He laughed then and despite it being over the phone she felt like he hugged her just then. It was soothing and warm.
'Claire, when you are ready for more than kissing I want to ensure that there will be no interruptions.'
Her eyes opened wide at that. What was she supposed to say? Thank you seemed stupid as did okay. Yell at him for being presumptuous that he was going to do more than kiss her?
'My words have left you unsettled.'
'Leave it up to me to discern whether or not I'll grow bored.'
'Do not compare me to those you've had experiences with whether here or there. And do not assume that those willing to take advantage of your apparent receptiveness were the norm.'
"When are we going to go out?"
'We could try for today if you were willing.'
"Today as in a few hours from now?"
'Yes, around eleven? An idea has come to me.'
"Are you going to tell me what it is?"
'No, as far as your attire you can dress casually with proper shoes.'
'Ones suitable for walking around in.'
"Okay then," she said with a smile.
'I will see you in a few hours.'
"You know I've never had a real date before either."
'Your father warned me away from dating you.'
"You obviously didn't heed his warning."
'Do you want me to?'
"No, I know last night was weird. It was nice, though."
'I'll see you in a few hours, Claire. Get some sleep.'
"I will I think. Good night again."
'Good night,' he said, letting her disconnect first.
She hadn't even managed to put her phone back on her nightstand. She'd hung up with him, flipped the phone closed, and that was as far as she'd gotten. She recalled thinking she wanted to go brush her teeth, but evidently not even the cottony feeling in her mouth could prevent her from sleeping.
That was good. She knew she didn't sleep well and when she did sleep it wasn't long enough. The bottle of sleeping pills sat on her desk unopened. She refused to take one. She would get through this on her own and when she was ready, she would sleep again. She believed that. And it wasn't interfering with her schoolwork.
She showered and dressed, expecting a confrontation with her mother in the kitchen over breakfast. It didn't come. Well, not as bad as she'd expected. It was more of a mother's concern than a lecture. Claire could live with that.
"You know you shouldn't be drinking."
"I didn't know it was spiked, Mom, I swear."
"I believe you, but you need to be careful. Your dad trusts his friend, but that doesn't mean others wouldn't drug your drink as some sort of practical joke. Or worse."
"I know," she said. "I do, I'll be more careful next time."
"I know you will. Where are you going today?"
"I don't know. He's picking me up in a few minutes but wouldn't tell me where he's taking me other than to wear shoes made for walking."
"Well, have fun, but be careful."
"Are you going to tell Dad?"
"About what?" her mother asked with a smile.
"Thank you," Claire said.
She was relieved that her father wasn't going to know that on top of going out with The Haitian she'd gotten tipsy.
He'd taken her to the zoo. She hadn't been to one since she was a little girl. And it was fun. They walked casually throughout the zoo, stopping to see whatever animals interested them.
After the zoo, they'd stopped for some take-out and ate at a nearby park. It was too nice of a day to sit inside and The Haitian didn't seem to like crowds of people very well. And being the place was near the zoo, it was full of families with tired children after a long day.
"I had a nice time," she said from the passenger side of his car.
"I am glad, and I did as well."
"Better than a sorority party you mean?"
He chuckled, turning the car off. "I would go again if you asked me to, but it wouldn't be my first choice."
"I'll remember that."
"Perhaps you will sleep well tonight."
"I hope so."
"Me, too. If you do not and need to talk, you can call me."
"One of us needs to get enough sleep."
"It is pleasurable for me to hear your voice."
"Really?" she asked, liking that a lot.
"Then maybe I will."
"For the sake of your sleep I hope you do not."
"It doesn't look like my mom's home," she said.
She'd noticed the car was gone when they'd pulled up. She rolled her eyes when she opened the door and saw four pairs of gym shoes by the front door. That meant Lyle had company. At least it appeared they were in his room.
"I'll be right back, let me tell Lyle I'm home."
She went upstairs, stopping in her room to put her purse down before going to Lyle's room.
"Lyle," she said, pushing open the door. "Where'd Mom go?"
"To the grocery store."
"I don't know," he said with a shrug, more focused on the TV and the video game on. "She just left."
"You got some sun."
"We went to the zoo."
"Yeah, it was nice. Do you guys want something to eat? Want me to heat up a pizza or something?"
"No, we're good. Mom made us some pizza rolls," he said, holding out a couple of now empty plates.
"I'm not your maid."
"No, but you're going downstairs anyway."
"How do you know?" she asked, taking the plates.
"Because he's downstairs," he said with a roll of his eyes.
"I'll see you later," she said, closing the door behind her.
It was Lyle's older friend, Jared. He was a year younger than she was.
"You didn't tell us she has a boyfriend."
"I don't have to tell you everything about my sister. Besides, she's way out of your league anyway."
"Doesn't make her any less hot."
"Hey, that's my sister you're talking about."
She walked away with a shake of her head.
"Lyle's upstairs with his friends playing video games. Mom's at the store I guess. So, if you want to stay for a while you can," she said, walking to the kitchen.
"Did you enjoy the zoo?"
"Yes! Thank you."
"I was trying to think of somewhere we could go that wouldn't seem like I was trying to get you alone."
"You don't want to be alone with me?"
He smiled, stepping closer to her. "Now, I did not say that. I just wanted to choose somewhere public."
"Well, it was fun."
He slid his arms around her and gathered her to him, not that he had to force her.
"I enjoyed watching you as the seals got fed."
"I used to love that as a girl. It's not as exciting now."
"It seemed like they did more tricks and stuff then. Now it went by too fast."
"But it was still cool."
"I'm glad," he said, leaning in to kiss her. She clutched his arms as he did. She was always so nervous when he kissed her, afraid she was going to do it wrong. She wasn't even sure if there was a right or wrong way. She wondered, too, if it was normal to feel both giddy and panicked. Slowly, she loosened her grip as she had last night, sliding her arms up and around his neck.
She'd been all about kissing him last night endlessly. Most of it had been under the influence. Tonight, though there was nothing to pin the blame on. Only herself. She gave a soft groan when he kissed her chin and lower to her jaw.
She stopped breathing for a second when he nipped at her neck. It took her a minute to realize the nip was all he was going to do. There would be no painful bite.
"Did I mention," he whispered at her ear. "That I have a second ability in addition to being able to take memories?"
"No," she murmured.
"I am able to stop others from being able to use theirs."
"So, if I concentrate and do this," he whispered, grazing her neck again with his lips. Her breath caught, but it wasn't from panic or fear this time. He kissed and sucked the same spot for a while. "You will have a mark," he said, drawing away, grazing his finger over the same spot.
"I'd forgotten what that's like."
"Thank you for trusting me."
"I just have never had anyone be nice to me that way."
"I would never hurt you."
"And if I ever I cross a line you feel uncomfortable with I count on you speaking up."
"I have every confidence you will." He trailed his finger along the spot again. "Know this, too, one of these times an invitation like last night's might not be rejected by me."
She swallowed but gave a slight nod. "I know. I already apologized."
"You needn't apologize," he whispered, kissing her again. "I just want you to understand the temptation is very much there. I keep in mind where you've been, what you've been through."
"I wish you didn't have to."
"As do I, Claire, but it is a part of who you are. And I will restrain myself until you are ready."
"Did you want to see it before I stop blocking your ability?"
She walked toward the bathroom, knowing he'd follow. "Do you do that often?"
"When it is required of me."
"That's not a real answer."
"Because it is a difficult question to provide one for. There have been times it's been required a great deal and others not so much."
She glanced in the mirror, running her fingertips along it.
"And it will just disappear?"
"As all your other marks have disappeared."
"Huh," she said. "Do it."
And just like that, the hickey was gone. Her skin was again unblemished, only a white spot from the pressure of her fingertips.
"That is so cool," she said softly.
He chuckled. "I will be glad to experiment with you."
"Hmm," she said. "What other marks did you have in mind erasing?"
"The same type just in other places. Places I would not have to worry about your mother walking through the door and seeing them."
She watched herself blush in the mirror, not realizing it was even possible. She'd seen, heard, done and had done to so much she didn't think anything could embarrass her. Her eyes met his in the mirror.
"But you could just make it disappear."
"Where is the fun in that?"
She glanced away.
"I will let you get to sleep now. You need it, and I hope the day spent in the fresh air will allow you to get rest."
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."
Word Count: 4,497
She heard the door shut and stiffened, realizing her dad was about to say something he didn't want anyone else to hear.
"You sure about this, Claire?"
"Positive, Dad, I have to try," she said, turning to face him. He hugged her then and she clutched him tightly. No matter how confident she might sound to him she was kind of scared, but once she'd made up her mind she didn't want to change it. She'd known back in May when she was invited to live here that she would do it.
"You'll forgive me if I don't feel ready yet, but it's not like you're so far from home."
"I know. I can still come home for dinner."
"And bring your laundry, too, I imagine?"
"Probably," she said with a smile. "And you've seen it. You met Miss Wilkins."
"Yes, I just wish she did more than maintain the house."
"Dad, we're adults!"
"That doesn't mean parents don't worry. Especially yours."
He smoothed back some of her hair. "I am happy that you feel comfortable doing this. Please don't think otherwise."
He kissed her then, hugging her tightly. "I love you, Claire-bear. Be careful."
"I am. I will be."
"And be sure to tell us when your first game is."
She blushed. "I will."
"Moving into a sorority house, becoming a cheerleader, a boyfriend, pretty soon I won't even know who you are anymore."
"Okay, I'm getting ahead of myself."
"Just a little."
"We'll see you for dinner on Sunday then."
"I'll be there."
He left then and she was by herself for the first time that day. She didn't have a lot of stuff. She'd seen some of her sorority sisters with carloads of stuff. She could always go home and get more if she needed something or found she'd forgotten something.
This was right. She needed to do this. That didn't mean she wasn't scared to death. Briefly, she wondered if her dad was still downstairs. If she went down and asked him to take her home, he would do it in a heartbeat. He'd be disappointed, though, and so would she.
She turned her iPod on and set about unpacking her clothes and things. She'd waited until the last possible minute to move in, so she was one of the last to get there. She wasn't surprised when someone knocked on her door. She'd made quite a few friends last year and the few that were close enough during the summer had helped her celebrate turning nineteen.
None of them had realized how special that birthday was to her. They'd never know, but the fact she had friends to do something with meant a lot to her. Her parents had taken her and Lyle out to dinner on the actual day of her birthday. She understood why they'd needed to do that, so she hadn't even bothered to make plans for that night.
There were times she felt so out of it. People would talk about a particular movie, book, TV show, or band and she was clueless. And she shouldn't have been from the looks she got at times. Thanks to the Internet, though, she was able to fill in a lot of the blanks. Her brother helped, too.
Oddly, they were friends now. She wasn't sure why, but the bickering she remembered them doing constantly wasn't there anymore. Either she'd imagined it was ever there to begin with or they'd changed. She liked to believe it was that they'd changed. In fact, she'd mentioned to Lyle coming to stay with her one weekend. He seemed excited at the idea, as she knew he would. What guy his age wouldn't want to stay in a house full of college girls?
"Come in," she said, closing a dresser drawer that was now full.
"You did decide to move in!"
Claire smiled at Maggie, their chapter President. She'd been one of the people who tried to convince her that she was missing out on part of the point of college by living at home. She'd also been instrumental in Claire making the cheerleading squad with no prior experience. She knew her getting on the squad made her unpopular with a few girls on campus.
"I did. Thanks for inviting me."
"We wanted you here. Are you excited?"
"Good. A few of us were going to watch some movies. You're welcome to come down. There's nothing really going on here tonight. I think the Theta boys might be having a party."
"I'll probably stick around here tonight anyway, but thanks."
"Okay. Anything you need, you know where to find me."
"I do, thanks."
"Want this open or shut?"
"Open is fine," Claire said, going back to her stuff.
The rest of her time passed uneventfully. She did go down and watch some movies. It was sort of weird, sitting with people that weren't her parents and Lyle. And to think it would be this way every day.
She moved from the room when her cell phone rang, smiling a little when she saw who it was by the caller ID.
"Are you all settled?"
"A little. I still have some things to put away and pictures to put up and stuff."
"Did I catch you at a bad time?"
"No, I was watching a movie."
"I can call you back later."
"No, it wasn't really anything that interesting anyway. When did you get back?"
"A couple of hours ago."
"Is that your way of saying you wish I'd called earlier?"
"I had a few things to do before I returned home and some more pressing phone calls to make when I got here."
"More pressing, huh?"
"I wanted them out of the way so I was free to speak with you as long as I cared to. Better?"
He chuckled softly.
"How is your room?"
"It's fine. Nothing exciting. I'll put some posters up and stuff, it'll be good."
"Good. And your father?"
"Handled it surprisingly well."
"This is not easy for him."
"I do not think you do, but I'm glad you realize it might be anyway."
"When do classes start?"
"Day after tomorrow."
"And your practices?"
"They started last week actually."
"I did not realize."
"There are games right away."
"I suppose there are. Do you have to wake up early tomorrow morning?"
"No earlier than usual."
"Would you like to have dinner with me?"
"That was the general idea, yes."
"I'd love to."
"I will be there in a little while then."
"All right. See you then."
He hung up without saying good-bye. They rarely said good-bye, she wasn't sure why.
"That your man?"
"Yeah, he's coming to take me to dinner."
"Good for you."
She watched a little more of the movie before going upstairs to get ready. That was going to be an adjustment for her, having to share a bathroom with several other people. He was in her room when she got back from the bathroom. She must have watched more of the movie downstairs than she realized.
"Letting yourself in already?"
"One of your housemates apparently remembered me and pointed me to which room was yours."
"You are rather memorable."
"Uh no. Tall, dark, handsome, mysterious."
"You think I'm handsome?"
"Uh yeah." She frowned. Did she not say it? Maybe not, or at least not very often. "You were a little scary the night I met you."
"You don't scare me anymore though."
"Well, sometimes, but not in the same way."
"That's good to know. That it's not in the same way I mean."
"So, this is it," she said, gesturing to her room. "I have my own phone and computer line, which will be nice. Mom and Dad gave me a laptop," she said, gesturing to it on the counter. "Nothing too glamorous or anything, but I've been told the food's better than the dorms."
"I imagine it would be."
"I ate at the union a couple of times last year, it wasn't that bad. But it wasn't Mom's either."
"Do you cook?"
"A little. I helped my mom sometimes before," she slid her eyes away from his. "I haven't so much since moving to California. I don’t know why."
"I am sorry."
"I hate to bring up topics that make you recall your experiences."
"It's okay. I have to, you know. I can't shove them to the back of my mind and lock them away. I wish I could sometimes."
"You have not asked me again to remove your memories."
"No, because I need them. They're a part of who I am, I get that. And I'm going to do something with them."
"Well, for starters, I'm going to start volunteering at a woman's shelter a couple of times a week."
"Do you have time for that?"
"I'll make time."
"You're very brave," he said, taking her into his arms. She went willingly, allowed herself to take comfort in his embrace and the warmth of him. Things had been sort of strained between them since that day at the beach. It was her fault, she'd overreacted and now was more unsure than before.
"No, I'm not really," she whispered. "You know what scares me?"
"That we'll, that I won't," she sighed softly. "That I won't be able to…"
He drew away a little, placing his hands on either side of her face. He kissed her lightly, hovering over her mouth with his. "What is on your mind, Claire?"
"What if I can't, erm. I'm not sure I'll know what to do with you."
"Do with me?"
"Oh God, let's just forget it, okay. Please? It's not important."
His eyes widened and he lowered his mouth to hers. Her heart stood still for a minute as he made this kiss matter. Her arms went around his neck, pulling herself up to her tiptoes so he didn't have to stoop over so much. She gave a soft groan as his hand at the small of her back slid lower, cupping her ass.
"You do not have to do anything with me. Ever."
"Well, that wouldn't be very exciting for you," she whispered as he found her neck. She loved when he did this. She wasn't sure why. Something he could do that made her feel normal for the little while the hickey was there. She felt him growing hard. If she were daring, she'd slide a leg around him, drawing closer against him.
"You are very exciting for me, Claire."
"Thank you," she whispered as he gave a soft bite over the spot before drawing away. Except he didn't completely draw away as he usually did. Instead, his mouth traveled lower along her neck to where it met her shoulder. Her eyes closed tightly as his tongue slid along her collarbone. Her eyes flew open when she felt the back of his hand brush over her breast.
"Exciting you is very exciting to me," he whispered, drawing away.
He made no effort to touch her further or manhandle her in any way. So, what did that touch mean? Was it any different from when he brushed his hand across her cheek, jaw, hand, or arm? She sure didn't react the same as with those other touches. And he'd never done that before.
"I am sorry, I should not have…"
She stood on her tiptoes again, drawing him to her to cut off his apology with a kiss. He was always so careful of her. She loved that about him and appreciated it, but there were times he apologized too much. This was one of them. She hadn't stopped him. She hadn't thought he was going to hurt her. His touching her there had merely surprised her.
For the first time in all the times they kissed she opened her mouth first, sought his tongue out before he did. Always, until now, she'd waited for him. He apparently found that exciting, too, as he groaned softly into her mouth.
And then she did something she'd longed to do for a while now, but was too scared to. Especially after the way he'd reacted to her being bold at the beach. She slid her arms from around his neck. She felt the ridge of his collarbone and let her hands drift lower to his chest, lower still to his stomach. She'd never seen him without a shirt before that day and it had been hard for her not to reach out and touch him.
She'd touched men before, but it was never like this. It was always at their command, following the instructions and directions they set for how they wanted to be touched. The element of fear that if she did not do things the right way she'd be punished always present. Here, with him, she was open to touch and explore to her hearts content.
And that made her heart pound like crazy.
He'd worn his shirt untucked tonight. She was thankful because it made it easy for her to reach under the shirt and touch him without thinking too hard about what she was doing. Hand to stomach. Skin to skin. Her hand trembled as she skimmed his pecs with her fingertips.
"Claire," he murmured, but it sounded very forced. "I invited you to dinner…"
"It can wait. Or we can order pizza later."
"Saw you come up here, right?"
"A few of them."
"They'll leave us alone."
"We could go back to my place."
"No. You'll change your mind along the way."
"I did not come here…"
"If you tell me one more time this wasn't your intent I'm going to turn around and not talk to you again for a very long time."
His lips curved up into a smile, but his eyes fell closed as she found one of his nipples with the pads of her fingers.
"I am practiced at the art of not speaking."
"I won't see you either."
"That is a more viable threat."
She reached for his shirt to pull it off, but he stilled her hands.
"Can you at least allow me to do this my way?"
She winced, trying to pull her hands from his grasp. It was instinctive, she didn't mean to. She knew that wasn't what he meant. He released them, cupping her cheek and she saw the sadness in his eyes when he realized what he'd said.
"You have not revealed to me all that was a part of your duties nor do I truly care to know. I like to hold onto the idea that my imagination is worse and don't want to find out I'm wrong. I am fairly certain that no one ever took the time to please and attend to you."
Her eyes widened a little and she shook her head. Of course they hadn't. Some thought that they were pleasing her, but she had never once experienced it. Some of the girls did. She never understood that. She'd grown numb to her life, even realized after a while she was probably never going to get out of it. But that understanding never paved the way to enjoyment by her.
"I thought not, and that is what I'm asking you to allow me to do. For now," he said, ushering her to the bed. The bed she'd just made a few hours ago with the new sheets her mom had washed and folded before Claire packed them into a basket last night. "This time. I want to show you what it should be like not what you've learned it to be like."
He kissed her, the barest brush of his lips over hers before he drew away. He placed more delicate kisses along her jaw and neck to her ear as she adjusted on the bed. "I have dreamt of pleasing you, Claire. I have spent more hours then I care to admit hard and longing for you with the thought of showing you what we can be like. I want to feel you as I please you without your feeling obligated to return the favor."
"It wouldn't be…"
"Shh," he whispered. He'd distracted her, evidently that was his plan because she didn't even realize he'd reached under her shirt. One hand rested against her stomach. It wasn't staying there, though.
"Breathe," he whispered. "And tell me if you need me to stop. For any reason."
"I don't, you're fine," she whispered with a deep exhale of breath just as he'd instructed her to do. She wasn't on the verge of panicking anymore. That was good. And who in their right mind would say no to someone offering to please them?
"Why are you in such a hurry?"
"A hurry? It's been…"
"There are many people your age who have not."
"They're not me," she whispered. "I need to know."
She reached for him, placing her hands around his face. She kissed him, deepening it before sliding her mouth to his ear. "You need to know, too. I won't waste any more of your time if I'm too damaged."
"You are not. The fact you're lying here with me should tell you as much."
"It doesn't," she whispered. "Just please."
"I should say no."
"But you won't. Not this time, not tonight. I need this."
His hand slid a little higher and she forced herself to take a deep breath again.
"Could you take off your shirt," she asked. "So I can at least look at you?"
He stood then and drew his shirt off.
"And lock the door," she said as an afterthought. He walked to the door and did just that.
"You will not get in trouble?"
"No," she replied as he turned off the light. And then he was on his way back to the bed. Back to her. She'd taken the opportunity while his back was to her to slide her shirt off and she saw his eyes travel along the spans of her skin. Her breasts were still covered by a bra, but it was a lacy sheer thing so it didn't really hide much as far as what he could see.
"When you set your mind to something you get right down to it, don't you?"
"It just seemed like the shirt was kind of in the way. And only fair since I asked you to take yours off." She glanced down at herself. "Do you want me to put it back on?"
He laughed then, sliding his hand over his mouth. She could almost see him mentally counting to ten.
"Is that a no?"
"Okay," she said with a smile.
He really didn't have to worry about scaring her. He was everything she knew he would be. Gentle, kind, attentive. And he hadn't even really done anything yet other than slide her pants off and remove her bra. She'd never been completely naked in front of a man before. Always there was something to remind her of what she was. Sometimes it was clothes of some sort. Most of the time it was something simple like a collar, stockings, cuffs…
"Stay with me," he murmured, breaking up her thoughts. He kissed her as if sensing where her mind was going. Could he do that? She didn't know how deep or powerful his ability was. For all she knew he could read her mind.
"I'm here," she whispered.
"Stay right here," he whispered in return, sliding lower.
He took his time, paying attention to her neck. Repeatedly leaving a mark. She couldn't help but giggle.
"What do you find amusing?" he whispered, nipping the one he'd just finished giving her.
"Am I going to look like a leper when you're done?"
"For a while, yes." He found her collarbone and kissed it. "And not just there either."
"Why do you like them so much?"
"I do not know. I just like the way they look on your skin, knowing they'll be gone as soon as I wish them away. A temporary blemish. And you like them."
"You're not temporary, though."
"I am here as long as you want me."
"Don't make promises you can't keep."
"I would not and am not."
He surprised her then, taking a peak of her breast into his mouth. She gave a soft cry, startled. Not just by what he was doing but by how it made her feel. He kissed and sucked and nipped and kissed some more, stroking the other one so its peak was just as hard as the one in his mouth. She arched off the bed as much as she could, pressing her breast further into his mouth. And then repeated the process when he switched to the other one.
She lost track of how many songs played when he finally continued lower. Not that she was in a hurry to have this end. His hands slid to her hips, thumbs stroking her thighs before he slid them in between her legs. He grazed her labia with the sides of his hands, stopping only when he'd grazed her clit.
And then, "oh god," she murmured. His mouth was there with his tongue and his lips and his fingers doing things that she had no idea would feel like this. He didn't hurry in the least. He coaxed her body to the end result he was going for.
She'd never had an orgasm before, realized now she'd never come close. She didn't know what to do, but once she closed her eyes and just let herself give into what he was doing it happened. And he kept going to the point she was so sensitive it almost hurt. A nice kind of hurt for a change.
He wasn't done yet it seemed as he continued on down her legs. He was just as thorough in his attention to them and her feet as he had been everywhere else.
His eyes met hers when he slid back up between her legs. He had to be hard but he hadn't tried a thing to push or speed things along to get to the point of where he'd be inside of her. Tears welled up in her eyes at that thought. And he frowned.
"What is wrong?"
"Nothing. It's - you're - perfect."
"Have you had enough?"
"No," she whispered.
He stood from the bed then and began to remove his pants. She knelt on the bed and placed her hands over his.
"Of course," he whispered.
Her eyes never left his face as she worked the button and zipper on his pants, sliding them down over his hips and lower until he could step out of them. Only then did she look at him. She moved her head but he stopped her.
"No," he whispered gruffly.
"I want to," she whispered in return.
He said nothing more, merely moved his hands from her shoulders. She touched him. She'd never willingly touched a man's cock before. She never took the time to look at one, to notice the difference in texture and appearance, the fullness of the sac at the base. Or really enjoy what it felt like. There had been no enjoyment in it for her before now. He murmured something, once again pulling her from her thoughts as if he knew.
She stroked him, making a fist with her hand, and working it along his length.
"Is that wrong?"
"No, not at all, later you can do that all you want. Normally, I wouldn't worry about finishing with you doing that but I'm not so sure that wouldn't happen tonight. I have been waiting too long."
"Oh," she said then, knowing she was blushing.
She laid back on the bed then and he moved on top of her.
"Don't, please, not again."
He placed a hand between her legs, sliding a finger inside of her and she couldn't help but push against it. Her eyes fell closed, her body reacting very easily knowing how good what he'd done before felt.
"Just ensuring you are still ready," he murmured. He didn't stop, though. He seemed to enjoy watching her move against him and let her do just that until she'd come again.
And then he was there. She knew instantly that it was no longer his finger pressing against her opening. She watched as he slid inside of her. He was as careful as he had been with everything else up until now. That didn't stop her from feeling a prick of pain. She stifled her soft cry by biting onto his shoulder, which caused him to murmur something that sounded like he might have liked it.
It was her turn to suck and bite and lick. His skin was too dark for her to leave much of a mark, but it would be there when she was done. She was sure of that. And his would not disappear. That thought turned her on for some reason and she gave a gentle bite at his neck as her body tensed around him.
It was over too soon. Too soon because she wanted it to go on forever, but she knew that wasn't possible. Not soon enough because she wanted nothing more than to have him next to her afterward. She was looking forward to that almost more than the actual act of having sex with him.
"I hurt you," he whispered afterward.
"Only a little."
"I do not understand."
"How it is possible you were still intact."
"They didn't want me for that I guess." She scrunched her nose as he slid a hand to her back, prompting her onto her side so they were pressed together. "You'd have to ask them to find out why. I got the impression that wasn't even an option with me for some reason. And besides I think I'll heal anyway."
His eyes widened, apparently not having thought of that. She hadn't really either until now.
"You mean to say you never, that was never done to you before tonight?"
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"Was it important?"
"I would have been…"
"More gentle? More careful? More loving? I don't think you could have been. You were perfect. Really."
"And you are all right?"
"Yes," she said sincerely. She was all right. She'd done it.
He kissed her. "You were all right the whole time?"
"There were moments, but it wasn't you. It was me. I've never known…"
"I understand. You will know only that from now on."
"Are you staying?"
"I probably shouldn't the whole night your first one here, but I will stay for a while. And if I fall asleep with you in my arms and a while turns into the morning then so be it."
"That sounds nice."
"Yes, it does."
Word Count: 1,869
"Fix his memory again now," Noah said, knowing they'd have a bit of time between the memory wipe and when Viktor Wolff joined them again mentally.
The Haitian did as asked while Noah took the time to clean off the now bloody instrument used in the latest form of torture dispensed on Viktor. The Haitian was grateful he had something other than the bloody stump to focus his attention on, though the coppery scent of blood in the air made it a little more difficult than usual.
"What is with you?" he asked.
"Nothing," The Haitian answered simply.
"This is it. The last name and we've gotten them all. Is this no longer what you want? You want to wake up next to my daughter, knowing you stopped short of completing the task we set out to do."
His eyes widened. "I do want it," he said simply.
"Don't look at me like that. You don't think I realize one of the perks of living in a sorority house is that she has unlimited access to you."
"It is not like that," he said.
"You can't lie to me about this. So, I ask again. Have you lost your stomach for it? Has she said or done something to indicate we should stop?"
"No, she knows nothing of what we've been doing."
"And it's best it stay that way."
"Undoubtedly," he said dryly.
Her father would never understand how badly he wanted this. He could taste it. They had hunted down every man they could find who had touched Claire during her time under Mr. Wolff's imprisonment. There was one final customer they had tried to no avail to get before today.
Her father was pulling out all the stops, able to taste that vengeance would finally be complete. The Haitian had doubts about the extremes Claire's father was willing to take. That was until they'd gotten the most recent piece of information. The Haitian was all in now, though until that final piece of the puzzle had been laid out for them he had some reservations. Beating someone into submission was on a different level than cutting off body parts.
The Haitian wanted to do more than kill the man now that he knew why Claire had been untouched in that fashion. They had known there was one left, and it was someone Viktor was not willing to roll over on easily. They found out the man had offered an unfathomable amount of money for the privilege of not just taking Claire's virginity but taking her off Viktor's hands permanently. There was no telling they would have ever found her alive had that happened.
"Then we finish this," Noah said simply.
There was no give or forgiveness in the other man's eyes. It was hard to picture the man in front of him acting loving and caring to his family. This man was cold and would stop at nothing to get the information he wanted. He had no doubt more fingers would join the one already removed soon. And it wouldn't end there.
The Haitian could not help but think that Claire would not want them to go to these extremes. She wasn't the one, however, who held her during the night and listened to her cry, her muffled screams of terror and pain, her mumbled words that he wished he could forget having heard. Still, after all of this time and intensive therapy, peaceful sleep escaped her. There were times it was so bad that he himself wept for feeling so inept at knowing what to do for her.
The worst of it was when she woke from one of her nightmares uncertain of where she was, looking at him as if he was the enemy. The look of terror in her eyes during those moments. He couldn't even imagine what unthinkable things she believed he wanted her to do. He wondered if she had been forced to sleep with her abusers, until she'd told him not so blatantly it was so. Waking up shackled or bound not knowing what new terror would be inflicted on her now that the customer had his (or her) energy back.
If nothing else, he could assure her that those who had hurt her would never be able to again. The Haitian finally nodded and before Viktor could be fully aware of what they were about, Noah activated the propane torch he'd brought along.
"Mr. Wolff," Noah said. "Welcome back," he added when he noticed the man was coherent once again. Noah seemed to enjoy too much watching as the man realized he was battered and bruised with no memory as to how or why. The man's muffled attempts at a scream as the pain from his missing digit registered in his brain.
The Haitian couldn't help but think the man's name was appropriate. He was a wolf, preying on the young and innocent. Claire had been right, some of the girls she had been with had been sold to him for whatever reason. A good many were runaways. A few, though, had homes to return to as Claire did. Those that had none The Haitian and Noah worked to have them placed with people who would care for them and could handle them with the potential problems.
Mr. Wolff and the lone name he held out were the only two left. And they were done. He could return to her and not have to worry that he'd ever again have to be with her with blood tainting his hands. The Haitian never did the actual dirty work, but he was a party to it. He helped Noah get the information and then erase the memories so that they wouldn't get caught. And he helped as today, prolonging the torture.
The man had held out today despite a sizeable amount of damage being put out by Noah. His face looked minimally better than a boxer stepping out of a ring after a twelve-round bout.
"Give us the name and we'll call the hospital, perhaps you'll get use of your finger again," he said, holding up the torch to the still bleeding stump. Noah had made sure that the man's writing hand was unharmed as the gag in his mouth prevented him from not just crying out in pain but from verbally saying the name. The tears flowing freely down the man's cheeks and his rapid breathing despite the gag were signs enough the man was in pain.
Finally, a shaky hand picked up a nearby fountain pen and scrawled a name on the piece of paper just as Noah brought the torch inches away from the man's mangled and tortured hand. Broken fingers were skewed every which way, and now the severed finger had been added to the mess.
"Take everything. Take it all. I don't want him to remember a damned thing about anything in his life."
"I said take it all. You've seen how some of those girls are. Claire was strong before she got her ability. Not many were that lucky. He doesn't deserve to have a mind left."
While The Haitian agreed with her father, he had his doubts that they would be forgiven if it were discovered the extremes they took in her name. He had come to realize the more time he spent with her that she was not the type to seek revenge against those who hurt her.
He saw the toll volunteering at the women's shelter took on her. The vacant look in her eyes when he saw her the evenings of her work there. She dismissed it, claimed there was nothing wrong but he was no fool. Yet, despite her kindness causing her turmoil and pain of her own she continued with it.
Noah took the entire pad of paper so that no evidence would remain while The Haitian set about taking it all. What her father didn't understand was that he saw what he took. The good, the bad, the ugly. It was there in living color for him to sift through and cloud his mind. Claire did to some extent because he'd explained it to her, but no one could fully comprehend unless they'd experienced it.
The man was evil. It had many forms. The Haitian had seen all kinds of them. Some were more obvious than others. Those who would prey on others, children, were the lowest forms of it he could think of encountering.
"Doesn't deserve to live?" Noah asked, completing his thoughts. He was at Wolff's computer, accessing information on the last name. No password or access information was necessary, as they'd been in and out of the computer several times over the past year or so. And Viktor Wolff had no memory of anyone accessing his files. There was no question in The Haitian's mind as to the fate of the man behind the name.
"We'll keep an eye on him, see what he does. And we might need him again in the future."
"He will be useless to us now," The Haitian said.
"You never know," Noah replied simply, exiting out of the computer. "Let's go," he said.
The Haitian was the last to leave the man's office, taking matters into his own hands for the first time on this quest of theirs. He went against Noah's wishes and ended the man's life. He could not chance the man would repeat the sins he'd committed in the past. He would not allow another Claire to be taken from her family by this man.
Noah stopped in the lobby to place a call to 911 as he'd said he would so the man's finger at least stood a chance of getting reattached.
"That will not be necessary," was all that the Haitian said. Noah said nothing. There was nothing for him to say.
Both men slid the gloves off they'd been wearing, depositing them in a public garbage container blocks from Wolff's office. Their clothes remained relatively free of any evidence that they had engaged in torture. Of course, by now, they'd perfected a system and knew how to avoid getting dirty and soiled.
And for the first time in a very long time, The Haitian removed a few of Noah Bennet's memories once they were back in their vehicle. Just enough so that he had no recollection of The Haitian's confession in the lobby. The rest remained intact.
"Time to see that this nightmare is finally over," Noah said, starting the car. Whether he knew The Haitian had taken steps to alter his memories was unknown to him. There was nothing he could do about it anyway, they could not be given back.
"It will never be over."
Her father regarded him. "No, I don't suppose it will be. This part of it will be, though."
"It's the only part that's up to us to fix," The Haitian added. And that was why he'd gone along with the plan to begin with. There was very little he could actually do to rectify her problems. Ensuring those who'd hurt her were no longer able to hurt anyone gave him some satisfaction.
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 his 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."
Word Count: 1,171
“What are you doing?” he asked lazily.
“Just looking at your hands.”
“Where have you and my dad been?”
“What does that have to do with my hands?”
He winced a little as she grazed his knuckles with the tip of her finger. And then she did something that surprised him. She brought his hand to her mouth and kissed each knuckle. She didn’t stop with a simple kiss, though, and he grew a little unsettled when he felt her tongue graze the first cut. None were deep or bad, just the result of getting his hands dirty when they visited the last name on their list.
He’d refrained from getting physically involved until then, knowing what he’d had in mind for Claire. Knowing how close he had come to not finding her, which would have meant never seeing her. And that had upset him more than he cared to admit aloud, even to himself.
“Just wondering how your hands got all beat up.”
“Not all of our work is pleasant,” he said by way of an explanation.
She circled one of the cuts with her tongue and he hissed, not from pain. Quite the opposite. And he wasn’t sure she was trying to illicit that response in him through her actions.
“Claire,” he murmured. Not at all sure what it said that he got aroused by what she was doing.
“Mm hmm,” she said, her lips around a knuckle.
“You shouldn’t be doing that?”
“Why?” she asked in between one knuckle and the next.
“Safe? Neither is kissing you or taking you in my mouth without a condom but you don’t stop me from doing those things.”
“They’re cuts. Blood. Infection.”
“I can’t get infections. Remember?”
“Just last night you were upset.”
“I’m not upset anymore.”
He would have been able to tell that was the case even if she hadn’t said so by her pressing against him in a way that let him know without question he wasn’t the only one responding to what she was doing.
She slid to her knees, straddling his waist taking hold of his other hand to repeat what she’d done to the other one. And, thankfully, she didn’t stop there. When finished with his hand she switched her attention to his chest, neck, and jaw.
Her hands still joined with his tightened their grip as she moved herself over his length. Her mouth found his as she started taking him inside of her, probably to stop him from saying anything. He knew after some bad nights she felt the need to have sex, as if assuring herself she was okay with where their relationship was. It bothered him that she felt the need to press herself in such a fashion, but he admittedly never grew tired of her taking the initiative as she was now.
She was slow and careful at first, eventually that changed and she released his hands, letting him place his at her hips. Hers slid against his chest and arms as they both moved to the end they wanted. He always felt relief upon completion, understandably. But there was something else there, too, concern for her that she was pushing herself to this end for his sake more than hers.
She kissed his chest before settling against him, head positioned over his heart so she could hear exactly how she affected him.
“Is my dad okay?” she whispered.
“He is fine,” he said with a chuckle.
“What’s so funny?”
“Certainly you don’t have in mind repeating that process for him.”
She shook her head with a laugh. “No.”
“That is very good to know.”
“I’m sure you were worried.”
“I’m sorry if I worried you last night.”
“You have nothing to be sorry for,” he said smoothing down her hair with his hands. “I am sorry I was not here when you needed me.”
“Coming here worked okay. I just hate being alone sometimes.”
“You can go home to your mother.”
“She’s not you.”
“No, but I imagine she’d be as happy as I am to offer you the comfort you need during those times.”
“I guess she would.”
“You know she would.”
She was quiet for a while, he wondered if she’d drifted back to sleep. Her hand moved along his chest lazily so he knew she was still somewhat awake.
“Who did you get into a fight with?”
“Someone like us?”
“No,” he said truthfully.
“I thought you dealt with special people like us.”
“We do, but sometimes there are people who find out things who need to be dealt with, too.”
“I’m fine, Claire.”
“I’ve just never seen you come home hurt before.”
“It doesn’t happen often, but not everyone is complacent and agreeable.”
She moved, shifting on top of him again and sliding her hands along his face where there were some other scrapes and bruises.
“I don’t like it,” she admitted.
“I don’t care for it particularly myself, and I assure you it doesn’t happen often. It very likely will not happen again for a long time.”
“All right,” she said, seeming to find solace in that. She reached for his hands then, lacing her fingers through his. “Not that I mind kissing your owies to make them better.”
“I will keep that in mind,” he said as she brought a hand to her mouth again.
“Mm, yes,” she said and grew still, eyes wide.
“I, your hand.”
“What?” he asked. He drew it away from her mouth to look at it for himself, saw what she reacted to. His hand was healed. The worst of the scrapes was still evident but barely, the others were gone. He drew back his other hand and looked at that one, too. This was the first one she’d attended to and there was nothing there. No visible trace left that he’d literally minutes ago had very much looked as though he’d beat someone up with his fists.
“Did you know I could do that?”
“No,” he said.
“I did do it, didn’t I?”
“I would think so, yes. There is no other possible way.”
She gave a soft laugh and scooted up along his torso.
“What?” he asked.
And then he realized what she was doing. She cupped his face and did the same thing there she’d done to her hands. His eyes fell closed and he gave a soft groan because whether she intended to make it suggestive or not it was very much that.
She drew back, grazing the spots with her fingertips.
“They’re gone,” she whispered, causing him to open his eyes and look at her. Was she upset? No, she didn’t appear to be that. She looked more awestruck and surprised, perhaps a little scared.
“Thank you,” he said, not entirely certain what the proper response was given the circumstance.
Her eyes fell closed then and she shook her head, sliding off of and away from him.
“What am I?”
Word Count: 2,456
She closed up the last box. She didn't have much more to go home with her for the summer than what she'd started the school year with. Some more clothes, her text books and what not, but it wasn't much so her dad didn't have to make more than one trip.
She was glad that she'd made the decision to live here this year. She had to. Her parents, mostly her father, hadn't understood her need, but it was the safest way for her to find out if she could function on her own without having something binding like a lease holding her in a situation she didn't want to be in if she'd discovered she couldn't do it.
She had been able to do it, though. She liked to think it meant she was better. There were days she believed she was. More days than not anymore. She wasn't sure if the shelter she volunteered at a couple of days a week helped or hurt her efforts at healing. It helped, though, to know there were people who'd lived something similar. That was something a psychiatrist just didn't offer her no matter how good the doctor was.
Her psychiatrist probably loved her by now, because she referred anyone who voiced an interest in therapy her way. Claire knew firsthand the difference a good therapist could make. She'd tried on over six before finding this one. Some weren't terrible but they just didn't get her situation and then Claire had found it difficult to communicate.
And she found she was grateful for one thing. It wasn't her father or anyone she knew who'd done things to her. She met women - and girls - every week who couldn't say the same and Claire couldn't imagine experiencing that type of betrayal.
"This it?" her dad asked.
"All right. Need to say good bye to anyone?"
"No, pretty much did that last night and at breakfast. To anyone who was left anyway."
"You'd think you lived a million miles away the way you waited until the last minute."
She shrugged. She wasn't ready to give up the freedom she had any sooner than necessary. While she doubted her parents were going to keep her under lock and key she knew that she'd have to account for her whereabouts while home for the summer. And probably deal with a curfew.
"I wanted to say goodbye to everyone I could. Some of them graduated so I won't see them again."
"Some live around here, though, right?"
"Yes, so I don't think I'll be bored this summer if that's what you're asking."
He chuckled. "I'm not sure that thought crossed my mind."
"So, is Lyle disappointed I'm coming back?"
"Why would you think that?"
"I'm pretty sure he was hoping I wouldn't so he could get the bigger room."
"He'll get his turn."
"And then be off to college before he has a chance to enjoy it."
"The plight of being the younger child."
"I wouldn't know."
And just like that she was home again, though she'd never gotten to the point of considering this house her home. She didn't really consider any house her home. The one in Texas maybe, but they moved almost as soon as she came back so she hadn't really had time to remember.
"So, your mother and I talked last night," he said once he'd pulled onto the driveway.
"Well, rules, you know, every household has them."
"Yes, I remember."
"So, just a few."
"I expected as much."
"Only females can stay overnight."
"Mmm," she said with a glance in his direction, curious to know how hard that was for him to say.
"No alcohol or drugs."
"I don't want lies between us."
"I've never lied to you!"
"I'm not saying you have, but I don't want you to think you have to start now."
"What are you talking about?"
He slid his glasses off and looked at her. She met his eyes, wondering what he was thinking. She really didn't know sometimes. This was definitely one of them.
"If you're spending the night somewhere I'd prefer to know where."
"Your mother and I realize that you've had some freedom, the ability to come and go as you please, stay the night where you please."
"Oh my God," she murmured.
"And while I can't pretend I liked the idea at first and I'm still not sure how I feel about it, I understand whatever your relationship is it's real."
"You think so?"
"If I was as bad of a man as some people think I would lie right now and say no, but I won't do that to you. You don't think so?"
"I guess I don't know what to think sometimes. I think I make it difficult on him."
She shrugged. "Some days aren't so good, you know?"
"And you talk to him?"
"Yeah," she whispered. "I know I shouldn't. And sometimes I don't say anything, but he knows something's bothering me."
"Well, I imagine that's bound to happen for some time, Claire. Possibly forever. You've never told me, but I can connect some dots and make conclusions."
"I guess I just worry he'll get tired of it. Of me not being completely healed."
"I think he's capable of telling you if that's the case."
"I'm not sure. Sometimes I wonder if he doesn't think because he's the one who found me he has some responsibility to me."
His father laughed a little. "Claire, I don't know him the way you do, but I can assure you if he didn't want to spend time with you he wouldn't. I always have work for him to do. He doesn't have to keep things here. He doesn't do that for me, I can contact him by cell phone easily enough."
"I just wonder sometimes."
"Claire, if you love him, if he makes you feel safe then you have to go with that."
"He does. I do."
"I should say something about you being too young, but I'm not going to lecture you. Just be careful and no lies."
"I won't. It's not as if I stay there every night, so it's not a huge issue to begin with. Anything else?"
"I'm going to ask you to continue fighting the urge to do anything with your newfound ability."
"I don't know why."
"For one, I'm trying to keep you off the radar. For two, we don't know if there are side effects."
"Rene was fine afterward, Dad. He didn't grow a second head or stop being a man."
"And those were just minor scrapes, nothing major. We don't know."
"How are we ever going to find out if I do nothing?"
"I'm working on it. I promise. There is someone who might be able to help us. You. Someone I used to work with, but he's fallen off the grid. I'm going to try and track him down, but until I find him please just for me continue to hold off doing anything to make people think you're the Second Coming or something."
She laughed. "All right," she said, though she still didn't like it.
When she and Rene had told him what she'd discovered she could do (and that was a totally weird conversation to have with her father because there was only one way she could discover the ability). He'd told her under no circumstances was she to do anything crazy. She'd protested, in part, wanting to see if there were limitations to what she could do. He'd asked for time and she believed that it wasn't just a stalling tactic, that he really would work on something for her. So, she agreed.
The more time passed, though, the more she didn't like agreeing.
She had this ability. She could heal people. Shouldn't she use that ability to help others? It had made her decide she wanted to go into medicine, though, so she supposed if nothing else it made her finally decide on what she wanted to do with the rest of her life.
She wanted to find a way to cure people. Not by using her ability to do it, but through whatever medical means available. Maybe her DNA held some sort of key that she could use to unlock all sorts of remedies and cures for things.
"We'd better get inside or your mother is going to wonder what we're talking about out here."
"And give Rene the benefit of the doubt. He wouldn't be here if he didn't want to be."
"He works for you."
"Yes, and all the more reason he wouldn't string you along or mislead you."
"Anytime. I know I haven't been the greatest on this subject, you two dating."
"You haven't really said anything on the subject."
"Well, that's the same for us as my not being the greatest. But if you need to talk I'm always here. So is your mother."
"I know that, Dad."
"All right then. Let's get you moved back in for the summer. If you want to leave the stuff you won't need in boxes, we can store them in the garage for a couple of months."
She hadn't told her dad yet because she wasn't one hundred percent on her decision, but Claire was pretty sure she was going to stay at home for the rest of her schooling. She'd proven to herself she could do it, get away from her family and not crash and burn. Oh, sure, she'd had a couple of episodes that some might consider bizarre behavior, but the great thing about hanging out with frat guys and her sisters was that such actions could be dismissed as being drunk. Or tired. And she hadn't done anything humiliating.
The only thing holding her back from making the decision was that freedom her dad had just been talking about. She wasn't sure if her dad was really going to be okay with her spending the night at Rene's when it got down to it. So, she'd have to see. If she decided to find something in the fall it'd be her own apartment rather than back at the sorority house. She liked living there, but learned during the year that she living with that many people could be a bit too much.
She took the afternoon to unpack her stuff, set her room up the way she wanted it. It was weird looking at the stuff she hadn't taken with her for the school year. Some of it she hadn't missed, a few things she had. She'd spent more than one night here during the year, laundry took too long to get done or just not in the mood to contend with a party that was going on. But some of the things were foreign to her, items from her old room in Texas that she never really got to know again. Her parents had bought some new things, but held on to some things they thought she'd want. Knick knacks and stuffed animals, posters of things she'd liked years ago.
The first thing she'd done today was take them all down. She was trying to talk her dad in letting her put a loft up in her room so she could have more space, but so far he wasn't agreeable to making that change. She supposed she couldn't blame him, but she liked the setup a few people had in their rooms using them. And if she ended up staying here, it'd give her room for a couch or something to study on instead of just her bed all of the time.
"Welcome back," Lyle said about the time she was ready to call it quits for the day. He looked as though he may have just woken up.
"Thanks. Sorry about the room."
He shrugged. "It's all right, I'm used to it by now."
"I suppose," she said, realizing he'd always had the smaller room. Even the years she'd been gone her parents hadn't given up hope of finding her again and had kept her room ready for her. The bigger of the two extra bedrooms in their old house.
"Anyway, I'll let you get back to whatever."
"No, it's okay," she said, setting the sweater she'd been refolding on her bed so she could look at him. "I'm sorry, I just have stuff on my mind."
"Yeah, I know," he said. They hadn't spent a whole lot of time together during the school year. The weekend stay with her had never happened. He got busy with stuff and got a girlfriend. She'd been disappointed at first and then realized that maybe he was sort of preparing himself for her being gone again. Gone and then home and then gone again.
She'd never stopped to think about what it must have been like for him when she was gone. What kids must have said to him, about him, or within earshot of him about her. It had to have been hard. And then to have her come back and his life got turned upside down with the move and changing schools.
He'd tried a couple of times to get her to hang out with him and his friends, play videogames or whatever, but she'd always said no. She'd assumed he was just being nice, hadn't really wanted his big sister around. Now, though, she wondered if maybe he had wanted her around after all.
"Why don't we go get a pizza or something?"
"Beth and I have plans."
"She can come, too. I'd like to meet her."
"I don't know she wanted to go to a movie."
"Oh come on, I'm not going to bite or subject her to an inquisition. I just want to have pizza with my brother who I haven't really seen in a while and there is more than one time for a movie."
"Yeah, okay, let me call her."
"Great," she said. "I'll go see if Dad will give me some money."
That was the next thing she was going to have to work on. Getting a job for the summer. She'd never had a job before, the work she did at the shelter was on a voluntary basis. She had no idea what she could do really. The mall was a good place to start, but she didn't have to do that until tomorrow. Or even the next day. It wasn't like her dad was making her pay rent or anything, but she still wanted to be able to buy her own stuff and start saving in the event she did decide to go with an apartment in the fall.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com