Home for Christmas
Disclaimer: I own nothing. It all belongs to Tim Kring.
Claire Bennet stood outside the brick house. She knew she should take a step forward, knew she should get out of the bitter cold. But her feet wouldn't move.
'I think I'll just go back,' she decided. Yeah, that was a good idea. She turned and walked away from the pretty brick house. Then she stopped. Closing her eyes, Claire sighed. 'No, I can't do that. I promised.'
Why did she promise? If she hadn't promised to come to her parents' house for Christmas, she could be in her little, warm apartment in New York City. She smiled as she thought about her group of friends who would all be singing Christmas carols off key at the top of their lungs at that very moment. This year hadn't worked out that way, though. Claire hadn't been home since she started college, and it had been three years since she saw her parents.
Claire's heart warmed at the thought of her mother. Sandra Bennet appeared to be flighty at first glance, but she was a strong woman. Claire remembered the day Sandra held Bob at gunpoint, refusing to let him into her house. Claire always treasured her mother for that. Sandra would do anything for Claire and her father Noah.
Noah. Claire's heart went cold at the thought. Ever since he returned from the dead and started working for the Company again, Claire hadn't wanted to have anything to do with him. He was the reason she had stayed away so long.
However, she stood outside her parents' house freezing because she made a promise to her mother. And Claire couldn't bear to hurt her mother. Some wounds didn't heal as easily as others.
With her promise firmly in her mind, Claire adjusted the shoulder strap of her large duffle bag and trudged down the sidewalk. When she reached the door, she paused, her gloved hand on the knob. 'Should I knock?' she thought.
This little house was the third one her family had lived in. The house in Odessa, the first one, was home. The house in California, the second one, was a brief stop over. This last one was a place to stay until she could get out on her own.
Taking a deep breath, Claire made a decision and opened the door. Warm air rushed over her, knocking the cold outside. She stepped inside and set her duffle bag on the floor by her feet.
"Claire, is that you?"
Claire froze at the sound of her father's voice. Before she could move, Noah walked into the foyer and smiled. Claire did not return it.
"Noah," she said.
Noah felt his hopes crash down around his feet. His daughter, the one he tried so hard to protect, was a stranger to him now.
It was his fault. He knew that but protecting her had been worth the loss of their close relationship. She was able to finish school and go to college because he went back to the Company. Unfortunately, he couldn't make Claire see it that way.
He stood in the doorway to the living room, his hands in his pockets. His arms itched to hug Claire, but he knew she wouldn't allow that. Instead, he chose to take it slow.
"It's pretty cold out there," he said.
"It's colder in New York." Claire didn't budge.
Noah sighed. "Thank you for coming home. It'll mean a lot to your mother."
"Good. She's the only reason I'm here."
Noah reached for her bag. "I guess I'll carry this up to your room."
"I've got it." Claire took a step back.
And the dance started. The same dance they did every time they were in the same room together. Frankly, Noah was tired of it. He knew the steps so well it was starting to bore him. He wanted his daughter back; he wanted his Claire-bear back.
Claire made a move to go around him and head for the stairs. Noah stepped in front of her.
"Claire, I did this for you. To protect you."
Claire's blue eyes flashed. "You hunt down my kind to protect me? That doesn't make any sense."
"They would've taken you if I hadn't."
Claire dropped her bag, planting her feet on the hardwood floor. "Then why do you still work for them? Why do you still drag people like me from their homes and run tests on them?" Her voice rose. "I'm not a little girl who needs protecting anymore. You can walk away now."
Noah shook his head sadly. "I can't."
"Yes, you can. We've been through this." Claire knew she sounded like a child, but she couldn't help it. She had to make him understand.
"Why? Why do you stay with them?"
His eyes became shadowed. "Because I don't have a choice."
Claire stared at him in silence. Her instinct was to walk away from him, but something in Noah's soft declaration cooled her anger.
"Why don't you have a choice?" she asked.
"They'd hurt your mother and your brother, not to mention come after you. I can't risk it."
Do something to her mother? Hurt her brother? Fear crept up Claire's spine. Her family was in danger, deeper than she realized. All this time she thought it was about her, but for some reason, the Company wanted to hold onto her father.
"You're a prisoner." It wasn't a question. "Why do they want to keep you so bad?"
Noah took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Claire, do we have to talk about this?" He replaced his glasses.
"Yeah, Noah, I think we do."
"I know too much. If I ran, they'd not only hurt my family, but I probably wouldn't remember you anymore."
Claire swallowed. If her father went against the Company, she'd never see him again? Anger seemed to be the easiest way to deal with this information.
"Why didn't you tell me this before?"
"I didn't want you to reveal yourself or try to go against the Company." Noah placed his hands on her shoulder. "I want you safe."
Claire met Noah's eyes, letting Noah's words sink in. "I'm not a little girl anymore," she repeated. "We can work together to take down the Company."
"No. I've met some people in New York. People other than the Petrellis. People who can do different things. We can help you. We can try again."
Noah was quiet. Claire wasn't sure how he would react to her statement. She was prepared for him to yell at her, tell her it wasn't safe. He didn't do that, though. Instead, he nodded.
"Maybe. We need to talk about this first. These people are strong, and the Company's reach is long. It would take a lot of planning."
Claire's gaze didn't waver. "I'm willing to risk it."
"I know you are," Noah said. He then pulled her into a tight hug. "I've missed you, Claire-bear." They parted and Noah peered over his eyeglass frames at her. "Let's get you upstairs."
Claire smiled the first real smile she had in a long time. She picked up her duffle bag and handed it to Noah. Then she followed him up to her room.
No, all her wounds hadn't healed. She had a lot to say to her father. But for now, things were all right. Maybe it wasn't a mistake coming home for Christmas after all.
© 2007 Crimson Idealist
Author's Note: Thank you to Strangevisitor7 and Ladybug218 for the beta.