He paid the cover charge and stepped into the club. It was dark, crowded, and loud. The dark he could handle, but could do without the excessive amounts of people and noise. He had no idea why he was here beyond perverse curiosity and self-flagellation for coveting something he should not. Two years had not lessened his desire. He'd thought for sure out of sight would equate to out of mind. Not so.
She apparently had no idea he was in the house with her. She'd cut her trip with one of her boarding school friends out west short. He had no idea what had caused the sudden change. He knew only suddenly he faced two weeks alone with Claire Bennet.
He was lying to himself if he denied knowledge of his reasons for being here. Like a moth drawn to a flame, he found her in the crowded club. He would know her anywhere. He felt tethered to her in some way he did not understand. There was no other way for him to describe it. It helped that she was dressed to be noticed. Her grandmother would have a heart attack if she saw how the newest addition to the Petrelli clan was dressed tonight. Not to mention her father. Of course, no one but a select handful knew she was a Petrelli.
There was no doubt what she had on her mind tonight. Dancing and turning the head of every guy in the club. She could achieve that, too. Dressed in a sequined dress that barely covered her thighs and heels high enough to confuse a guy as to where exactly he was supposed to look she was beautiful. And looked hotter than she had the right to look, particularly since she did not know he was there watching her.
She was out for enticing, making young men believe they had a chance at seduction. But only for tonight. There was no doubt the way she carried herself that she was only in it for the short-term. Whether she knew it or not, her dance card for the long-term was already spoken for.
She sashayed through the club with her friends with confidence. She had an air about her that while there when he'd first seen her hadn't been fully developed. She was appealing but still had a look of innocence about her he doubted would ever completely vanish.
She'd spent the last two years at an elite boarding school so that she could complete high school without raising questions from her biological father's constituents. The money Angela Petrelli had spent had paid off, for it wasn't just education that made the school coveted. Sure, it was responsible for creating many future leaders of the world - in various fields. Not everyone aspired to be a politician as Nathan Petrelli had after all.
It also made sure those women with more domestic aspirations would succeed in those endeavors as well. Future leaders needed wives, too, and there were still people who would pay to ensure their daughters were ideal candidates.
She exuded confidence, poise, and charisma. She appeared both collected and regal while still seeming like the girl he'd first seen and fallen for two years ago. Those things had all been there before just not to this degree. He wanted her then. He craved her as if she was his fix.
He should have left the city as soon as he'd discovered she had returned. A glutton for punishment, he'd stayed wanting her close but knowing he had no business being close to her. Yet. She had no idea the sacrifices he made for her. That he stayed away so that she could get her education, live a bit as a person her age should. That he had let her go for this long without saying a word about what she meant to him. He knew what he felt for her. He'd dreamt of her long before ever seeing her. He was aware also that she reciprocated. He had seen it when he looked into her mind the night he'd gone against her father's wishes and left her memories intact. He was hers. He was just biding his time until she was ready for him. He could have her no other way.
He'd never wanted anything for himself until her. Yet he had willingly remained at a distance not wanting to distract her. And he would be a distraction. She still had college, which meant he had no business being here now, watching her cavort around as if she was a free woman. Physically, of course, she still was. Mentally was an entirely different case. Four more years of this self-inflicted distance was going to be beyond merely difficult.
He stood by the bar careful to remain discreet and inconspicuous as he sipped on his non-alcoholic drink. He rarely drank, not liking to pollute his body. Nor did he care for the effect alcohol had on his mind. He'd learned long ago that his gift lay in his mind and it was to be treated accordingly not abused or wasted.
Time passed entirely too slowly for him. He was a calm person by nature, rarely getting excited or allowing stress to enter the equation of his carefully kept control. Tonight, though, he felt his blood boil every time he saw a dance partner's hand drift to the part of her thigh the dress she wore left bare. She always danced away, getting out from under the unwanted touch without doing a complete brushoff.
"She's very good," he whispered, glad there was no one nearby to overhear him talking to himself.
It was nearing closing time now. He'd accomplished absolutely nothing over the past few hours other than making himself miserable. Not seeing her for the past two years was painful, but it was a necessity. He'd made the choice to let her go, knowing she was not yet ready for what would happen between them. She still wasn't prepared for the inevitable. He wondered if her father knew that when he chose him to take her from the danger in Texas. It was a blessing for him she'd fled from his care.
Tonight was a fool's errand.
"Take my advice, buddy, standing here glowering is not going to get her into your bed for the night. I see you watching her all night. If you don't act, someone will. She's new, she's young. Guys who come here. That's their specialty," the bartender said, refreshing his drink. The Haitian's glare must have been warning enough because he backed away without further conversational attempts.
She had sat all but a couple of the slow ones out, which eased his mind somewhat. He was not sure why that was the case since it was probably not pining for him that made her do so. And yet, he could hope. He could hope that while he sacrificed making his life complete until she was ready she in turn set limits to the flirting she engaged in.
He counted four friends with her in addition to the one he'd heard at the house earlier. Six young girls out for a night in New York. They were all getting attention, which eased his mind somewhat. He hoped at the very least she and the one she came with made a pact not to leave without one another. She was still so innocent, another reason he stayed away.
He was no saint, but it was more a taint he felt from years of erasing and absorbing memories that made him feel like he had grown up far too quickly. He'd never gotten a chance for a formal education like college, which of course was the next step for Claire Bennet. She had the grades to warrant acceptance at any number of posh universities that made Angela and Nathan Petrelli burst at the seams with pride. He and Peter had remained quiet on the subject, neither seemed overly surprised at Claire's achievements.
The music the DJ played now reflected that it was the time of night that those involved in budding one-night stands were looking to close the deal. The fast-paced music that had been the norm for hours was replaced with slower songs that brought with it dancing close, a suggestion of intimacy. He didn't need to have been to a club like this before to understand how it worked. He'd had nothing but time in his silence to observe people for years.
There was one guy he'd seen her dance with more than once. The night was drawing to a close and the guy seemed to understand he had a potential in. Move now or go home alone for the night. Claire accepted his invitation and headed to the dance floor with her suitor.
The Haitian knew he had to act then. He set his glass down and let the sound of the bartender's low laugh meet with his retreating back. The song wasn't quite over when he made it to the dance floor. He placed one hand against the small of her back, causing her to stop dancing which was as he intended. Her eyes widened in recognition and surprise. She started to smile and then stopped herself, but not before he saw it.
"I believe she is already committed for the rest of tonight's dances."
"What?" The guy was very obviously sizing him up.
"You heard me. She is with me." His voice was calm, even. He knew the young man would see reason, or understand the glare in the Haitian's eyes indicated he meant business.
"I didn't see you earlier." His eyes darted to Claire. The Haitian could feel the tension in her back and he stroked a thumb along her spine.
"I didn't see him either," Claire said, turning her attention to him now.
"So, you are with this guy?"
"Well, he didn't tell me he'd be here, but yeah I'm with him," Claire replied. She didn't sound entirely too confident, but it was hopefully answer enough to get the other guy out of there. Her gaze was on him, he could see the questions in her eyes. Now that he had touched her, he would never let her go again. It was as he'd feared, the reason he'd forced himself to stay away. Touch was the key to everything for him. She had to realize that. If she didn't, he would make sure she did soon.
"What the hell were you doing dancing with me then?"
Claire scoffed, and The Haitian was pleased to realize her thoughts had not been on leaving with him. "Uh, dancing? This is a dance club. Listen, I'm sorry if you got the wrong impression. I'm just out with some friends for a night of dancing. My first night home for the summer."
The Haitian broke in then. "Excuse us."
The guy looked confused, but the Haitian wanted her in his arms. Now that he had touched her, a light touch to her back was insufficient. Plus, he actually recognized the song. It was an oldie, one his mother might have listened to when she had been Claire's age. One thing about Otis Redding, he proved timeless. His songs were just as effective on young men and women today as they were forty years ago.
He heard the words "cock tease" uttered to their backs. If they were anywhere but a club where he'd have to deal with many minds he would take care of the guy's memories of the night. Her hand at his wrist giving him a barely perceptual squeeze drew his focus to her. That was all it took. He wondered if she knew she had a calming effect on him or if she was just guessing. Either way, it worked.
"Please don't," she whispered. He took her into his arms then. The song was an appropriate one. Otis Redding captured the feeling of wanting to have that particular someone in your arms in this song perfectly. It was a short but powerful song.
"I will not."
"Thank you. He didn't mean anything by it. He's just a dumb jock who thought I'd be easy."
"How anyone could underestimate you and mistake you for being easy is beyond me."
"You think so?"
"I know so. You are the most complicated woman I've ever met."
She scoffed. "Right."
"Are you calling me a liar?"
"Well, no, I just find that hard to believe. I'm sure you've met countless women."
He nodded in agreement as Otis sang words that reflected very closely to what he felt. His arms had yearned to hold her for what felt like an eternity. Now that she was here, in them, he realized his mind had not taken into consideration many things. How she felt against him, how she smelled, how she moved with him almost without effort. "You would not be wrong in that assessment. There has only been one you, however."
"He'll find someone else."
"He did not want someone else. He wanted you, and I could not allow that to happen."
"You know, you've known as I have."
"That's not what I was asking."
He noticed she did not argue with his assessment of their situation.
"Why are you here?"
"What kind of question is that?"
"I haven't seen you in almost two years. I thought you'd forgotten about me."
He scoffed, drawing her tighter as Otis Redding segued into something more modern but still conducive to holding her close.
"I was staying away on purpose, Claire."
He drew away then slightly. "Because I knew I'd stand in your way."
"My way of what?"
"I wanted you with me, even then. I would have made the offer of taking you with me. You deserved to finish school. To know if this is real."
"What is it?"
"I do not know."
"Don't you?" He smiled as she pouted at having her question thrown back at her.
"So, why are you here now? Has that changed?"
"Has what changed?"
"You don't want me with you anymore?"
"If it's possible, even more. My being here at the same time as you is an accident. You were supposed to be out west for the next two weeks."
"You knew that?"
"I've kept track of you, yes."
"Checked up on me, you mean?"
"I merely listened as your family spoke of you. It's amazing what you learn when you do not speak. People tend to think for some reason it means you cannot hear so they say things they might not otherwise in front of you."
"Jen's dad was a creep."
"Yes, as in he tried to cop a feel. Lord knows how many other girls he's done that to."
"I'm glad that you returned to New York then, but had I known."
"You wouldn't be here, watching me." She snuggled a little closer. "Did you like watching me dance?"
"Like? Not at all."
She laughed. "I wish I'd known you were here."
"I'm glad you did not. You would have made it more difficult on me, I'm sure."
"Two necessary years."
"What have you done in that time?"
"What I always do. Go on assignments, find others like us, altar memories when necessary."
"So, if you hadn't thought I was going to dance with that guy and go home with him, would I know you're here?"
He smiled at that. "Probably not."
"Well, then," she said, pressing even closer if that was possible. She brushed against the front of his pants with her thigh and he groaned softly. "I'm glad you were following me."
"I was not following you. I was merely curious."
"You're staying at the house?"
"Were you going somewhere else tonight?"
"No, nothing planned. A cold shower might be in order."
"Why's that?" She sounded entirely too sure of herself just now. She knew exactly why he might be in need of a cold shower.
"You smell good," he said. Avoidance was a wonderful thing.
She laughed. "I do, huh."
She leaned up a little, making him realize for the first time just how high the heels she wore were. Normally, he towered over her, close to a foot taller than her. The shoes added a good three, maybe even four, inches to her height.
She brushed her lips against his neck. "You smell good, too," she whispered against his ear.
"You're welcome. Thank you."
The song ended. He wasn't entirely sure what the name of it had been or who the artist was, but he doubted he'd ever forget it knowing that she kissed him for the first time during it. Even if it had been a kiss to his neck.
"Let's get out of here," she said then, stepping away from him. She clutched his hand, though, tugging him toward her and away from the dance floor.
"Where did you have in mind going?"
"She was going to take the subway home anyway. She lives the other direction."
"But she was at the house earlier."
"Sure, to get ready. Girls do that you know. Get together, do one another's hair."
"I had no idea."
"Now you do."
"I will be sure to remember that."
"I'll just say good night to them."
"We don't have to cut your night short."
"The place is about to close anyway. None of us have fake IDs, so there really isn't anywhere else to go."
"Ah," he said, understanding now why they'd stayed in the same club all night. He let her lead him to her table. He couldn't deny that he enjoyed watching her walk. The guy that had been his temporary competition had moved on as she'd guessed and was talking up someone else. He'd have to move fast.
He'd never given thought to the fact he might have a fetish or prefer any one part of Claire to another. But damn if her legs didn't look sexy as hell with the shoes she was wearing tonight. He closed his eyes briefly, allowing himself to picture what she'd feel like. To touch her legs and feet with his bare hands. Skin to skin. And then the image continued further, Claire beneath him, legs around him like a vice, wearing nothing but those shoes.
He muttered an expletive or two, trying to force the images away.
"Nothing," he lied to her as they stopped at her table. He was so busy paying attention to her, he missed the entire conversation she had with her friends. He did catch one interesting snippet, though.
"Is this your guy?" He hadn't caught the girl's name.
"Yeah," she'd said.
"I can see why those guys at school had no chance."
She'd blushed prettily, even in the dark club he could see the extra color on her cheeks.
"Your friends knew of me?"
"Well, they knew there was someone back home. They thought I was a little weird, though."
"Because my guy never sent letters or flowers or candy on Valentine's Day."
"Oh," he said simply. He supposed those were things girls her age would stop and think about. "I'm sorry you missed out on those things."
She shrugged. "Really, I just liked knowing I wasn't there on display."
"How do you mean?"
"Well, it's a girls' school. You knew that, right?"
"Well, there was a boys' school not too far. We'd have dinners together, socials, dances, mixers. You know?"
"Well, really what those things were for was to try and make a match. Marry us off, get us engaged, or something. Like Nathan's wife. I don't know."
"And you didn't want that?"
"No," she said, sounding very certain in that opinion.
"And yet, you told them you had a guy back home instead of simply stating the truth."
"Because I didn't want them to think I was a freak or in to girls or something."
He chuckled. "They would think that?"
"Well," he said, drawing her to him once they were outside of the club. The air was better out here. It was late May, so it was still cool enough for a jacket. She had none. It had been quite warm out when she'd left late in the afternoon. He slipped out of his jacket, offering it to her.
"Thank you," she said when he draped it over her shoulders.
"You're welcome." He didn't release her. He didn't want to. He brushed his knuckles along her collarbone. "Are you sure I'm your guy, Claire?"
"God, yes. You didn't know? You didn't see the way I looked at you."
He had. Her teary eyes had almost been his undoing more than once. "You were sixteen, going through many changes, losing your family, finding a new family."
"And you helped me. You did it on purpose, didn't you?"
"Let me get away from you. You knew I'd come to New York, that I'd find not just Peter but Nathan and Angela as well. That's why you didn't erase my memories."
"Yes. I could not bring you here myself. I work for your grandmother, I could not betray her orders."
"But if I took it upon myself to run away and come here on my own."
He smiled then. "Yes."
"Smart man," she said with a smile.
"Not smart enough. You haven't kissed me yet."
"You want me to kiss you?"
Her arms went around his waist and she leaned into him. "If you couldn't tell by the way I was dancing with you."
"Well then," he whispered. She leaned closer. He'd forgotten for a moment they were still standing on the sidewalk near the club until someone bumped into them. The bump did him a favor, though. It pushed him into her and he had little choice but to kiss her when he was that close to her.
Lyrics to Otis Redding's These Arms Of Mine song referenced in this fic:
These arms of mine
They are lonely, lonely and feeling blue
These arms of mine
They are yearning, yearning from wanting you
And if you would let them hold you
Oh, how grateful I will be
These arms of mine
They are burning, burning from wanting you
These arms of mine
They are wanting, wanting to hold you
And if you would let them hold you
Oh, how grateful I will be
Come on, come on baby
Just be my little woman, just be my lover, oh
I need me somebody, somebody to treat me right, oh
I need your woman's loving arms to hold me tight
And I...I...I need...I need your...I need your tender lips
Info. on icons used for background:
The non-illustrated icon is courtesy of lay-of-luthien @ LJ. She's got some nice work, and did this and 4 others very quickly! The illustrated icon is courtesy of: julietbunny who gave me this in addition to some other great goodies for the Heroes_Holidays Spring Hiatus project.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com