(Please excuse my ability to put *anything* Buffy related into a non-BtVS fanfic. There were quite a few good movies to choose from the summer of 92, but I tried to think of one that would most appeal to an 11-year-old girl and her friends.)
"Are you sure you wouldn't rather see something else?" John asked Liz while they were standing in line to buy their tickets. When she'd seen them looking through the newspaper's movie listings about an hour ago she'd offered her opinion on her choice in movie immediately. Claire said she didn't care. John would rather have seen something else, but apparently several of her friends had already seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer and she was feeling left out.
He wasn't sure how appropriate of a movie Batman Returns was for him to take her to anyway, which would have been his choice. It probably wouldn't have been a huge improvement at any rate. He'd seen some pictures of Michelle Pfeiffer in her Catwoman costume.
"I'm positive," Lizzie said.
"Claire's our guest, maybe she'd rather see that Madonna movie about baseball."
"Claire already said she didn't care," Claire said. "I really don't. It's welcome just getting out for a while."
"Yeah, you have been holed up pretty much all week long," John said.
She hadn't complained and he hadn't minded having her there pretty much all day, every day for the past week. Bizarrely, if he could convince her just to stay and forget about going back to her place at all other than putting it up for sale and getting her belonging he would do it. Now that they were spending time together again, even if it was out of necessity not mutual desire or want he didn't want her to get away a second time. Something told him he wouldn't get a third chance. He'd found out during the week that she did own her place, but she still had to get permission from her association or whatever to get the alarm system installed. They'd agreed when his department offered them the paperwork surrounding not just the case of the break-in to her condo but the attack on her and Sophie.
"It's okay," she said. "I understand."
"I'm glad, because I really am only trying to keep you safe the best and least complicated way I know."
"I wonder what he'd do if Sophie started to remember that night?"
"I'd love it if she did," John said.
He couldn't help but believe it was the only sure-fire way they were going to get a conviction to stick on the more serious crimes he'd committed. Claire he thought could identify him for his assault on her, but that certainly didn't carry the prison-time multiple rape convictions did.
"She remembers some things from the day that she didn't before."
"I know, we're hoping because she's the best hope we have. Until then, you're stuck with us. I mean, it has to be better than a generic hotel where you have to eat every meal out or on a tray."
As it was, she was relying on an answering service to take her work calls. She'd had one all along, but only during non-business hours. As soon as he'd found out she'd had that at her fingertips already he told her to up it to all day until the guy was caught. From what she told him, the service was better than an answering machine in that clients got a live person who sounded more like a receptionist taking a message than a machine. People tended to not hang up on live people. They were also able to answer basic questions and offer general information about her services. He'd honestly never given much thought to such services being any better than an answering machine except for a doctor, but he could certainly understand in the case of a pretty new small business like hers. Having the service twenty-four hours a day was the only thing that he could come up with to keep her whereabouts totally unknown. They'd get his machine with his name on it if her calls were forwarded to his house. She hadn't been bothered by that for the short-term, but John hadn't been willing to chance it.
The drive-bys of her parents' house by Shermer PD continued several times a day, primarily at night. There'd been some activity there last weekend, but nothing since. Her parents' had no idea where she was staying. As far as John knew, no one did.
He slid his hand along her back once he'd bought the movie tickets.
"I know Lizzie wants Raisinets. What's your poison?"
"I can buy my own, but thanks."
"I know you can, Claire. You're not though. It's a date, remember? Women don't pay on dates."
"You obviously haven't met some of the guys who've wanted to date me."
He grimaced a little at that. He hated the idea of her dating anyone. He'd tried to picture over the course of the past week who would be her type of guy now. He'd seen pictures of Brian Johnson, a successful computer guy whose picture had been splashed across magazines like Forbes, Fortune, and Business Week. He was a pretty good looking guy now, too. He'd obviously taken to the gym while in college and bulked up some. Certainly computer nerd was safer than a cop. And yet, he couldn't picture Claire with anyone like that. She didn't have a nine-to-five job, and he suspected she'd find anyone who had that kind of monotonous job boring.
So, who did she date then? And why hadn't she met anyone she wanted to marry? He believed her answer about being too busy to some degree, but believed if you fell in love lack of time or pretty much anything else was secondary to wanting to see it through. So, certainly she had to have dated. Had she gotten hurt again? Again was probably putting more stock into her relationship with him than he should be doing. He realized that. Surely after the GRAMMY's the interest in her had to be off the charts crazy. Local woman done good. Who didn't eat that shit up? And who wouldn't be all over her after reading about her?
"Well, hopefully their loss is my gain," he said.
He reached up, touching her hair to tuck some behind her ear because it'd fallen to her cheek. She preferred it off her face he knew and she sighed softly when he did that.
"Don't worry, you're safe from my attempts to kiss you. For now."
"Well, at the very least until Lizzie is asleep."
Her eyes widened a little. "You do remember what I said, right?"
"It's a kiss good night, Princess. Surely I'll be entitled to that much after a date."
"Maybe," she said. He couldn't tell if she was being flirtatious and coy or serious.
"At least I can't complain you're easy," he said with a chuckle.
"No," she said.
"All right," he said once they were next to order their concessions. "Let's go see what Buffy does to those vampires." For some reason, he really had a hard time taking a movie with that title seriously. He hoped he was wrong at least a little bit.
The movie wasn't terrible. It wasn't that good either, but it had its moments and was funny at times. Lizzie seemed to enjoy it, though. He'd sat in between the two of them. Claire had actually let him put his arm on the back of her seat and leave it there. He'd done it as kind of a test, expecting her to push it away or something.
Lizzie talked non-stop at dinner afterwards about Pike from the movie. It was good, though. He liked hearing her talk about normal stuff. The past week had been weird, their routine skewed a bit having someone else live with them.
"I suppose you like him, too," John asked Claire. She'd sat next to Lizzie for dinner. He wasn't sure why, hoped it wasn't because she didn't want to sit next to him anymore.
"Luke Perry or Pike?"
"Do you watch Beverly Hills 90210?" Lizzie asked her.
"I don't," Claire said. "I've seen a few episodes, and I know who he and Jason Priestly are, but I just haven't had the time the past few months to watch any TV."
"You avoided my question, Princess." He didn't miss Lizzie's eyes widen in surprise when he called her that. He hadn't in front of her until now. She didn't say anything, though, and didn't look mad or anything.
"He's cute," she admitted. "I'm not blind. You should talk. Like Kristy Swanson was hard for you to watch for ninety minutes."
"I don't know, ditzy blondes aren't usually my thing."
Claire scoffed a little at that and he imagined she was probably picturing more than one of the girls he'd gone out with after breaking up with her. He'd made a point of going out with anyone who wasn't remotely like her.
"But she saved the world."
"There is that, I guess," John said.
"So are we going to get ice cream, too?" Lizzie asked.
"Well, that's up to Claire. She may be ready to get to work. I promised her that she could have the rest of the weekend if she came out with us. That means you've got to leave her alone, kiddo. I know she told you she'd work with you, but she has a job to do and it's got to be getting close to crunch time for her. I imagine especially now that her working situation is very cramped that's doubly true."
"I know," Lizzie said.
"Ice cream is fine, under one condition," Claire said.
"What's that?" Lizzie asked.
"I get to buy," Claire said, watching John.
John sighed softly. "I guess I can let you pay for ice cream."
"Thank you. Then ice cream is a definite. And, Liz, you're not a bother. I don't mind if you want to watch me or something, but I do need to get my things done. I have to be ready to go in less than two weeks."
"I know," she said, not sounding happy about it.
"That doesn't mean you can't work on your idea while I'm working on mine."
"Oh yeah," she said.
"When I get back in September I promise we'll work on it and have something nice for you to show off to all of your friends."
"What if John catches the guy, though, and you're back home?"
"I'll come get you and take you to my office, which is even better because you can actually see how I put things together."
"Okay," Lizzie said and John hoped Claire wasn't making promises she had no intention of keeping. She seemed sincere, he didn't think she'd do that. He knew how busy people were, though, and Lizzie wasn't her sister or responsibility so it would be fairly easy for her to come back from New York and forget her promise if she was able to return to her normal routine.
It went against everything John believed in to let her pay for the ice cream. She'd paid for so much when they dated in high school and he didn't want her ever comparing that time, that John, to today.
"What would you be doing if I wasn't here?" she asked once back at his house.
"Working on the basement probably, which I will probably do anyway since I promised to leave you alone."
"That's the only thing you can come up with to do in order to leave me alone?"
"At the moment, yes," he admitted. Anything else would involve being upstairs where she was and it'd be far too tempting to bother her.
"You haven't shown me what all you've done down there yet."
"You want to see it?" That surprised him. He didn't think she cared, not really.
"Let it be known I am not reneging on my promise."
"It's my idea, I'd like to see it."
He had most of it done by now. The floors, walls, and ceilings were in place. What was left was aesthetic stuff like shelving, a bar, lighting fixtures (besides the ones already in place in the ceiling), furniture, and things like that. He looked forward to having some of his friends over in September to grill and watch a Bears game down here.
"Wow," she said, sounding genuinely surprised. "This is really nice."
"Thanks," he said, unable to deny that he was pretty damned proud of himself. It was the first time he'd tackled something of this magnitude on his own before.
"And you did it all by yourself?"
"Well, other than the plumbing and wiring, yes. Lizzie helped a bit, you know held things here and there when I needed more than two hands. She hammered a few nails and stuff like that, too."
"How long have you been working on it?"
"About a year, some weeks I had better progress than others."
"Well, sure, especially with your job."
She ran a hand along one of the walls.
"What's going to be down here?"
"The main room will have a TV, stereo, and stuff. Lizzie's trying to talk me into buying some video game system. I'm not sold yet, but we'll see. I'll have a pool table, too. A bar over there," he said, pointing to where he envisioned building the bar. It was the nice thing about doing his own work, if he changed his mind and decided he wanted the bar somewhere else it was no trouble to change it.
"Are you going to stock the bar?"
"Well, sure, the basic essentials at first. Eventually I'd like to have everything," he said. "The furnace room will be left as is for storage and whatever. The sectioned off room will be my bedroom." He turned on the light so she could see into it. "I'll have a little area there that I can put a desk in and use to do some work if I need to."
"You're not worried it'll be too cold down here?"
"Baseboard heating," he said, gesturing to the walls where they met the floor.
"Oh. Did you know it was going to turn out this nice?"
"Well, I sure hoped it would. I mean I've never done anything this major, but I did learn some handy skills from my father."
"Sure, he was too cheap to pay anyone a dime he didn't have to, so things around the house and with the cars got done by him, us when I was old enough."
"You actually sounded kind of …"
"Nice? Yeah, it doesn't happen often, but I bet even Hitler had his good days. He taught me some useful skills, I won't deny that. Working on cars kept me in legitimate work during college and around my class and fathering schedule."
"Well, I'm glad you got something out of it."
"I didn't have a choice. I either helped or got punished."
"I hate that you're so matter of fact about it."
"It is what it is, Princess. So anyway, I'm thinking just area rugs down here. I've never had water get in down here since we've moved in, but it'd sure suck to get good carpet down here only to have the storm of the century cause flooding and ruin it."
"Sure, that makes sense, and if you put them by like the couch and your bed the floor won't feel so cold during the winter."
"You know, I never saw this."
He frowned. "What?"
"When you told me last week you were bringing me to your place, I sort of pictured…"
"A one room shack with a leaky roof and peeling paint? Maybe a shutter or two not secured to the house anymore, swinging in the wind?"
"More like an apartment."
"We started out in one. We had a one-bedroom with bunk beds."
"Your social worker allowed that?"
"I know, right? I didn't have a whole lot of better options open to me. I'm sure they prodded her with a million questions to be sure I wasn't molesting her or something. I was going to school, though, working only as much as I had to in order to survive. I got financial aid, so that helped pay for school stuff and I always had a little left over. I still had stuff for her to buy, though. Honestly, I had a couch that folded out into a bed and I slept on that more than in the room with her, but they needed to see that we both had a bed for some reason."
"Right. I can't imagine. I thought balancing school and art was hard."
"So it's livable then?"
"The house or the basement?"
"I mean the basement, but if you're contemplating the whole house, don't let me stop you."
"Very funny," she said, frowning a little.
"I'm not entirely sure I was trying to be funny, Claire." He stepped toward her then, closing the distance between them so he could set his hands against her hips.
"We just went on our first date. With your sister along. It's a little fast to be talking about whether I like your house, isn't it?"
"Not our first ever date."
"No," she said. "But you also said you don't do that here with Liz home."
"So you want me to live here, but not sleep with me? Like a roommate?"
He scoffed, grazing her hip with his thumb. "Hardly."
"Then what, John?"
"I have just avoided bringing anyone home. I don't want her to get attached to anyone, and well, I don't want her to think sex is no big deal."
"I'm not that guy, Claire. Even if I was I still wouldn't have sex with random women with my kid sister in the room down the hall from mine."
"If you say so."
"What about you?"
"What about me?"
"You aren't that same girl either."
"No, I haven't changed much, though. Not really," she shrugged.
"You didn't need to change much anyway."
"Thanks," she said.
"You know, being down here like this. You could bring stuff down here if you need more room. I know you've got things to do, if you need this space it's yours until you can go back to your office."
"Really?" She eyed the space a little differently now. He could see her processing, analyzing, picturing where she'd put what.
"I'll think about it. I have one other option. A friend of mine owns some office space, I was thinking of asking him if he had anything vacant that he could lease to me for the next month."
"Off the books?"
"Yes," she said with a sigh.
"Good. Well, I promised you I wouldn't bother you for the rest of the weekend. So, I guess we'll start now. Wayne and I are going to be working nights the next week or so, starting tomorrow night."
"You're all right being here with Lizzie? Or should I ask one of her friends' moms?"
"I'm fine with her as long as she's okay staying with me."
"I'm going to talk to my captain and see about getting a car from the department for me to use so you can use mine until it's safe for you to go home. That way you're not stuck here all of the time, but you have to be careful especially with Lizzie along."
"Of course I'd be careful if she was with me. I can rent a car, John."
"If we have to go that route, I'll charge it and you can pay me back once the charge comes on my bill."
"I'm sorry to be so much trouble."
"You're not. We're going to work the bars you and Sophie went to. We have some female vice cops who we hope will catch his attention. He struck again in this area, so we're assuming now he's local. Until the incident this morning we weren't sure, you know? Wayne and I checked out the bars you went to and everything, don't get me wrong. We're going to hit it full-on this week, though, hopefully bring him out of hiding and trip him up."
"That sounds dangerous," she said. He smiled a little at the comment.
"That's what cops do, Princess."
"I know. I've just never thought about it, or been part of the reason they're in danger."
He led her upstairs to the dining room. It was a good thing he had a table in his kitchen for them to eat at because he wasn't going to be able to eat in here anytime soon. At least not as long as she was here.
"How much is this costing you anyway?"
"You don't want to know," she said.
"Yes, but it's a once in a lifetime opportunity. I saved a ton hiring some local girls to model who want the chance to walk a New York runway and get noticed."
"If you say so," he said, running a fingertip along the edge of one of her designs. It was all foreign to him beyond the fact it was supposed to be turned into clothes when she was finished with it.
"Well, I'll let you get to work then."
"Thank you," she said. "And thanks for the movie. I needed it I think."
He regarded her. She was looking at him, too, probably trying to figure him out the same as he was her. He leaned in and kissed her. She didn't pull away immediately, but didn't draw it out either to where he might think she'd be open to more.
"Good night," she said.
"I'll leave Lofton out here to keep you company. If he barks, there's a reason."
"Keep me safe, you mean."
"Yeah, that, too. You can put him in my room whenever you go to bed, just open the door. I don't lock it or anything."
"Ever?" she asked.
"I," he frowned. Was she asking what he thought she was asking? "I imagine if I had a reason to not want anyone walking in I'd lock it."
She didn't answer him, focusing her attention on whatever design caught her attention. He couldn't even be sure she heard his answer, or if he was answering the question she'd been asking.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com