***Part Twelve***
Word Count: 2,233

He supposed he was lucky on a couple of counts.

One, he had something to keep him not just distracted but busy. Real busy.

Two, Claire's father, the real one who'd raised her, hadn't really seemed to want to press charges. If he had, he doubted he would have gone for the resign with a good reference part of the solution to the problem.

Three, he'd been legitimately out and worked too hard to get there to go back.

If it wasn't for those things, he probably would have called up Matty's old man by now and done whatever violent job needed done. Benny would have known Taylor could do the job and that he had a bad reason for wanting to do that type of job. One thing Benny Chains wasn't was stupid. He'd have sent him out anyway. It was just the type of man Benny was.

He didn't, though. He focused all of his attention on his body. His fighting. Getting himself in the best possible shape he could. That was all he did these days. A copy of Senator Petrelli's letter of reference sat on the bulletin board in his private weight room. A visible reminder of why he was putting himself through this rigorous a regiment every day. He didn't want to have to use that letter. Even having it in his possession left a bad taste in his mouth.

He discovered he could get hurt. He hadn't really believed it until now. Always he'd escaped relationships (if what he had until now could be considered such) unscathed. His heart intact and his mind clear of any indecision or second-guessing. He wasn't sure if that was a fourth lucky thing or not, but he liked to think it was in a way. It meant that maybe he could have someone in his life.

He'd come home after taking her home that night and he and Matty had stayed up all night talking. Buffy offered up her story about her first boyfriend, which as much as it helped didn't because she was in a roundabout way saying if it was okay for a two hundred year old vampire it was okay for him. And that was just crazy thinking there. She had made the point that you can't help who you love.

He didn't admit it to either of them that night or even to himself for a while, but yeah, he guessed he'd fallen in love with her. Or was on the way there anyway. He couldn't be sure never having felt it before. He just knew he liked her a lot and had missed her. He'd gotten used to her being around his apartment, making it seem less impersonal and more like the home he craved.

He was pretty sure with a week or so to think things through he would have come around. Told her he was sorry for the things he'd said and while he still wouldn't have slept with her again until she was eighteen he would have seen her.

He realized now he hadn't asked her age either and, really, shouldn't that have been up to him to make sure someone he was sleeping with was legal? Knowing there were fake IDs out there aside, it was just the responsible thing to do. Especially when the person you were sleeping with could cost you not just a job but your freedom.

Now, though, he was furious at her. She'd kissed him goodbye as if she meant it. That it hurt her to see him leave. As if maybe she loved him. She didn't say it, though. He wasn't sure he could blame her there. He said some shitty things to her that night, but he guessed he resorted to fighting with words instead of his fists.

She'd let him go, though. She hadn't said she loved him. Hadn't asked him to keep her number until she turned eighteen and went to college in the fall. She hadn't said one damned thing that made him think she wanted to see him again.

She hadn't told her old man that she was close enough to eighteen to make a decision. That she'd saved the world, perhaps she could be allowed to have a boyfriend of her choosing. Taylor was a fighter because if the situation was reversed and someone outside the two of them had been trying to keep him away from her he would have fought them tooth and nail. He might have killed someone if it meant being able to see her again. Claire obviously was not the same way.

He was a shmoe, no doubt about it. There was a reason he was single and didn't get tangled up with women. He'd thought of spilling his guts to Chris, knowing he'd be on Taylor's side and go all out to help Taylor cure what ailed him. He could just imagine the lengths Chris would go to, none of them were what Taylor wanted.

Matty wouldn't do that. He'd know, as tempting as it would be for Taylor to do, that jumping into bed with the next available body just wouldn't cut it. Drinking until he couldn't stand or think straight wouldn't either. Not that he hadn't had his fair share of beers since leaving that job.

Leaving Claire.

There was a difference between his two lifelong friends. Matty was familiar with love. The real kind. Chris didn't know about it at all. Love to him was whatever needed to be said or done to get the girl he was focused on out of her pants.

And as much as he didn't want to think it, especially now, he brought her back to his house for a reason. Introduced her to Matty for a reason. Things he didn't do with the women he dated.

Because they didn't matter.

Another reason he'd avoided Chris, he knew his friend would twist it somehow to being Claire's fault. And in a drunken stupor, Taylor could probably start to see it that way, too. And it wasn't entirely her fault. He knew better than getting involved with someone through work. There was always the chance the senator could have returned early from his weekend and discovered Claire wasn't home and neither was Taylor. Cops being sent to his house would not have been good.

He wondered if not thinking clearly was a sign of love, because he certainly hadn't been. He took for granted having her in bed with him, even before the weekend she spent at his house she'd spent nights with him. She always left earlier than she needed to, but was there with him the bulk of the night more than once. What was more, he'd come to like it, and even though it was only one night here at his house he could still smell her perfume in his bed.

He wondered what she was doing. School was out. So, he imagined she was having a good time. The senator had a house in the Hamptons. Was she there? He could picture her soaking up the rays around those parts easily enough. She'd fit in just fine, too. And more than likely Taylor's presence in her life would drift away to a distant memory. And if it wasn't Adam to fill the void there'd be someone else easily enough, someone more suited to the life she had living with the Petrelli's.

He had her phone number, thought about texting her more than once. He assumed it still worked, that her dad hadn't insisted she get a new number, but he didn't give into the temptation. Nothing good would come of it.

She'd told him to go. She apparently hadn't wanted him badly enough to fight for him. He didn't care about the job or the reference. He just wanted her. Hell, he would have taken her with him if she'd asked. Somewhere, anywhere.

And done what with her?

He'd laughed at that more than once since. He'd been sorely tempted to make the offer. He was glad he hadn't, because he had nothing to offer her. Not that wasn't Teddy Deserve's anyway. And it wasn't like he could whisk her away to Teddy's house without being found.

So, that left the money he made on his own, which wasn't a lot. And even if she wasn't used to the lifestyle she had access to living with Nathan, she deserved much better than not a lot. Not to mention she probably would have laughed at him for suggesting it.

He forgot sometimes that she was a good deal younger than he was. He'd kicked more than his fair share of life's tires and knew that sticking with Claire would be far, far from settling. She hadn't yet. She'd been dealt a lot, for sure, but it wasn't the same as living, experiencing things. Hell, at eighteen he'd still been considered a baby to some in the neighborhood despite the number of fights he'd won.

And so he didn't text. Her number was still in his phone, though, and he wondered if the same was true for her. He doubted it, because her dad struck him as the type who would make sure all ties were severed. And that meant phone contact. He imagined she had e-mail, but he'd never had reason to get it and so didn't know it.

He sighed, blotting his face with his towel. It was good for him to think like this. He worked harder, pushed himself to the point of exhaustion and kept going just a touch further. Matty was working hard now to get Taylor a shot at something that wasn't sparring. That had a shot at a payout no matter how small. Taylor knew Matty had his hands full with his new son, so he worked so hard as not to disappoint his friend.

Taylor wasn't really jealous of Matty. He'd worked hard and suffered a lot to get where he was. Few knew that better than Taylor. He was envious, though. They were set to come here in a couple of weeks for the christening and then Taylor would be godfather to Matthew Benjamin Demarat. A junior.

Taylor had talked to Benny a couple of times since Matty's son had been born and it was hard for Taylor to tell who was more excited, Matty or his old man. Obviously, Matty was, but Benny was definitely giving his son a run for the money when it came to being excited at having a grandson.

He stood, taking a swig from his water bottle as he walked to the bulletin board. The letter from the senator wasn't the only thing tacked up on it, but it was the most prominent. Oddly, Taylor felt as though Nathan Petrelli was an okay guy. His letter of recommendation went above and beyond the generic referral, talking about Taylor's outstanding performance and his interest in other pursuits as being his reason for leaving.

That left it wide open for Taylor to do many things and say almost anything as to why he left with a pretty glowing referral to boot.

He ran a hand over his head, hoping Matty was able to schedule him something soon. The big name fighters people saw on TV had months to prepare for a fight, but the little guys. The ones like Taylor sometimes had to be ready to step into the ring on only a couple of days notice. Taylor was willing, felt he was ready and Matty was trying.

He glanced at the clock. It was closing in on nine o'clock. He wondered if Claire was out at some club with her friends. He'd thought about going back to the club he worked at before getting this job, but didn't want to run the risk of running into her. Not that he'd mind exactly, but he wasn't ready to see her and pretend they were friends. Or worse meant nothing to one another.

And if he could make money boxing? Enough he thought he could support someone comfortably? Well, he imagined he'd seek her out in the blink of an eye and see if she'd come with him. He loved the way she touched him after his nights at the gym. She didn't like seeing him beat up, and she'd like it even less when there was no protective headgear in place to keep the injuries he did sustain to a minimum. But she didn't shrink away from him either.

His cell rang and he picked it up, frowning slightly at the number. He really wasn't in the mood to go out with Chris tonight but had nothing better to do really.

"Hey man, what's going on?"

'Not much. Heading to Atlantic City for a night or two, figured maybe you'd want to come along for the ride.'

He should say no, but he had nothing to stay home for either. "Yeah, I can be ready in about twenty minutes, just got done working out."

'All right, be there to pick you up.'

"See ya then," he said, disconnecting the call.

He didn't think Atlantic City had the cure for him, but as he'd yet to find it in Brooklyn he figured it couldn't hurt trying a change of scenery for a little while. Even if it was only a couple of days.

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