TIMELINE: 4 weeks after the end of Company Man.
He watched as she dried the dishes, humming a tune he did not recognize. No doubt, their taste in music was vastly different. Despite the differences between them, they worked well together. It was a little alarming. He had been on his own for so long the idea that he could acclimate so well to having someone with him didn't sit well.
He took a sip of his milk. Milk she had poured for him when she saw his glass was empty. Something so simple yet it had floored him that she would go out of her way to be nice to him. She was, after all, subject to his mercy as far as going wherever they might need to go. He didn't plan on having to move again until they could resurface. He was in contact with two sides, both indicated it was not safe yet.
And so they sat and they waited. And he found himself growing closer to her. He'd never had anyone and had presumed that was the way it was to be. He had been relieved to find out she wasn't counting on him to keep her occupied or happy. She found things to do on her own. It made him realize that in some ways she had been alone until now as well. Once he'd erased everyone else's memories anyway.
He'd erased the memories of dozens, possibly hundreds, of people. Some repeatedly as in cases like Claire's adoptive mother and brother. Some were heroes themselves who were not ready to have the knowledge of what they could do yet.
He'd never stopped to think of what it did to them. And he never gave them any thought once he was done. When Claire had hung the chimes in her window the first time he'd felt something foreign to him. Elation. He hated to admit it but he'd wanted to see her again. Needed to. He'd known the moment he touched her. He would not seek her out. It was not in him to betray the man who employed him. But he had given her a way to seek him out, as well as a reason. She knew now she had someone to turn to for answers. And if she did? Well, it was out of his hands.
Her plea to give her friend his memories back had torn him up. He was amazed she had not been able to see that. Accustomed to not feeling anything, he had difficulty masking things around her. Until her, touching her, he'd felt nothing. He had a job to do and he did it. Well. Without question. Without thought or feeling about those he came into contact with. It wasn't until that night in her bedroom he'd felt anything.
He'd thought until recently he was incapable of feeling anything. That perhaps that was the price he had to pay in order to have and use his gift. He remembered vaguely at best his childhood and felt something akin to affection for the family in his memories. It was so long ago and he'd been separated from them for so long they wouldn't recognize him now. Even if he had kept tabs on them once he was old enough to do so.
"Why do you do it?"
"Stay here so complacently."
She cocked her head to the side, obviously regarding him. "Do I have a choice?"
"Well, then, there you go. What good would it do me?"
"Is that the only reason?"
"Well, no, I mean, you aren't so bad and being with you doesn't make being away from home seem terrible."
She smiled, draping the towel over the back of a spare chair. He watched her attentively. It was new to him, this fascination with a woman. There were times he woke up believing it was all a dream, a cruel joke his mind was playing on him. To feel the warmth of a woman, the sweetness of her kiss only to wake up and have it be a figment. That would be cruel and unjust, even for someone like him.
He had yet to let her sleep alone. She had dreams and was prone to waking in the night terrified. That wasn't the only reason he stayed, though. For the first time that he could remember, he wanted something. And he wasn't prepared to let her go even while she slept. What her father asked him to do was the hardest yet simplest thing he could ask of him. Protect her. That was all he wanted to do and yet. How did one go about protecting someone you cared for? He did not know.
"You're welcome. I mean, it wouldn't be my first choice. Leaving everything behind. But I like you and there are worse places I could be than here. I mean, hello, there's a beach right outside."
"You're not here to work on your tan."
"Well, yeah, I know that, but since I'm here I might as well."
He rolled his eyes, but could not help letting a smile show.
"See, you agree with me," she said, taking one of the cookies from the plate. "Wow, these are good."
"You sound surprised."
"I've never made them before. I've seen my mom do it. I mean, I figured how hard could it be, but they actually turned out."
"They are quite good. Thank you."
"Thank you and you're welcome. You cooked dinner the least I could do was dessert." She got a glimmer in her eyes, one he was beginning to recognize usually preceded her kissing him. Not that such a fate was a hardship. She seated herself on his lap. Oh to be as flexible as she was. "So, what's with the question when you already know the answer?"
"I was just wondering. I haven't spent much time with people other than your father."
He tried to mention her family as little as possible. He saw the look in her eyes when he did. It was brief now, but it was still there. Of all the things she'd been asked to give up, leaving the Bennet's was hardest on her. As it should be, he supposed. He didn't understand it. He kept track of his family, but he didn't feel anything for them. It was curiosity more than anything. Were any of them like him?
""What's wrong?" She looked so sincere as if she truly cared where his mind had just taken him. It was another thing foreign to him, someone inquiring as to his state of mind.
"You're asking me what's wrong?"
"Well, yeah, you looked sad for a second there."
"I feel bad that you are kept from your family and your friends. That boy, the one you wanted me to give back his memories."
"This would have happened eventually, right?"
"Yes, it was inevitable. They were bound to discover you had powers."
"Then don't worry about it. I just hated that no one else remembered. I felt alone. You're here, I don't feel so alone."
"Did you like him?"
"Well, sure." Her lips quivered into a smile. "You're jealous."
"I most definitely am not."
"You are. Why else would you ask me about him?"
"Mm, well, it was nice to have someone on my side. He was my friend."
"This is important?"
"Yeah, you know. So I didn't feel so alone."
He said nothing. What could he say? He'd been alone for most of his life. He knew of no other way to be.
She seemed to understand. She ran a thumb along his jaw. His eyes fell closed when she grazed his lower lip. "You don't know, do you?"
She traced the outline of his lips with her thumb. "I'm sorry."
He opened his eyes. "For what?"
"That my father. They. Whoever. Did that to you. Everyone deserves someone."
"You do not need to apologize for them."
"I know that. I still can, though." She met his eyes and smiled. He wished he could describe what seeing her smile did to him. For him. It was so new, so foreign he was unsure how to describe it. "So, did you go out to make your top secret phone call today?"
"And?" She let her fingers continue past his mouth to his cheek and ear, lower again to his neck.
"We're still here."
"Ah. So, are you going to tell me who you're in contact with?"
"For your safety, it's best you do not know."
"But you're here with me."
"In the event something happens to me."
Her eyes grew wide. She hadn't thought of that he realized.
"Yes, Claire, unlike you, I am not invulnerable."
"So, one of these days when you go out to make your mystery call can I come with?"
"It is best no one sees you with me. You're not blonde here, but those looking for you might take that into account and produce pictures of you with different hair colors."
"We stand out together. We are not native to here and our differences in skin color would be noticed by others who could be questioned."
"Oh. As in. Have you seen these two? You by yourself they might not put it together."
"Right. Why did you want to go?"
"I kind of wanted to call my brother."
"Absolutely not, Claire. You must not have any contact with anyone. Not yet."
"I just," she shrugged, shifting slightly on his lap. "I miss him."
"And I'm sure he misses you, but he would not want you to jeopardize your safety. Or his."
He couldn't resist touching her. He reached, tucking some of her hair behind her ear. She did it often herself. She probably thought he didn't like touching her. That wasn't it. His hesitancy was for a far different reason. He was unsure he could stop once he started. He wasn't even completely sure she understood what it all meant. While he had never acted on his impulses he was aware what they were for and how they worked.
"So, I cooked, you baked cookies and did the dishes. It seems as if I owe you something."
"No, you don't. I mean, there's nothing left to do. Unless you're going to take the garbage out."
He chuckled. "No, but I did bring something for you earlier."
"Look by the TV."
"But it doesn't work."
"I said we didn't get any channels out here."
"Okay. And?" She scooted off his lap and he missed her closeness instantly. He knew when she saw the box. "You didn't? Are we going to be here that long?"
"It's only money, Claire."
"But, it's a VCR."
"The VCR was here. It's what else is in the box."
She smiled then, opening the box. "Movies."
"I thought you might like to do something other than read tonight."
"Are you going to watch with me?"
"If I must."
"Yes, you must."
"Then it seems I have no choice."
No doubt she didn't miss the smile on his face so she knew it was no great hardship to sit with her. He looked forward to it actually. She had no idea how far he'd come to think of someone other than himself. What she might like. It was worth it to see the smile on her face and the sparkle in her eyes, though. He wondered why he'd never noticed that look on anyone else before. He supposed he just never cared.