Disclaimer: Characters and situations owned by NBC.
Thanks to: Kathy, for beta-reading.
„Claire is such a daddy's girl," her mother said once, laughingly, to her friends, and Claire, though rolling her eyes in a "oh, Mom" sort of way, didn't disagree. It wasn't that she didn't love her mother, but Mom was every day, like French toast and maple syrup for breakfeast, and so easily distracted that it wasn't difficult to get around her if one had to. Dad was bears on special occasions, just for her, and serious conversations and arrival looked forward to after he returned from one of his business trips yet again. It was an easy divide to make, and she didn't start to feel guilty about it until her father's business trips took on another meaning altogether, and so did her mother's headaches and moments of blankness.
"Claire, if this is the result of domestic violence –," the doctor in the hospital said, and Claire wanted to scream. She tried to explain, but he didn't believe her. The image remained with her: domestic violence. Her mother, her mother with her dog barking mobile and her photos of Mr. Muggles and her cheerful laugh and utter confidence that there would be yet another season of Seventh Heaven, cancellation rumours or not; her mother who hid her nervousness about Claire meeting that couple her father presented as Claire's biological parents in a cookie making frenzy and yet was nothing but friendly and relaxed in front of them; her mother, who had been there with douches and explanations when Claire had her first period, even though Claire had already gotten all the necessary explanations at school, but remained silent as she didn't want to spoil what her mother pronounced a special mother-and-daughter-moment; her mother. Domestic violence, that was crazy people on Jerry Springer and sad stories in the papers, photos of women with bruises or broken noses or missing teeth and Mom clucking her tongue, saying "but why didn't the neighbours notice anything earlier, and why didn't they say something? Not doing anything means helping the bastard who does it cover up!".
Domestic violence couldn't possibly mean her mother and her father, who loved each other.
"I made her forget," her father said when Claire finally exploded at him in a hospital floor. "Your mother is a gentle soul. And people like her shouldn't have to know."
Later, he said he only wanted to protect his family. But his first argument was that Mom was a gentle soul who needed to be protected from harsh reality. Claire thought about her own lies, about the fact she had told her father about Brody, but not her mother, and realized she had accepted this argument long before he ever pronounced it. It was as insidious a betrayal as what her father had done, lies in the name of love, and when Matt Parkman and Ted Sprague came to their house, Claire tried to make up for it by forcing her father to speak the truth. The truth, along with their entire old life, went up in flames.
Her mother, though; her mother did not panic, or faint when the truth was revealed. She accepted; she remained focused; she was barely out of hospital, there was a crazy man with a gun in her house who had glowing hands, and her daughter came back from the dead, and yet there was no mist in her eyes, no distraction, just clarity.
Among other things, this meant that both her father and Claire could have told her their secrets long ago, and the last excuse for what happened to Sandra Bennet was gone.
Meredith Gordon lived in a trailer park; her trailer had the number 36. It was a let down from those penthouse in New York City dreams Claire told Zach about, but Meredith herself wasn't. She was… different. When Claire had met the couple introduced to her as her biological parents, Claire had felt a mixture of disappointment and overwhelming relief. There had been nothing, no feeling of connection, no interest, no dislike or sympathy; they were nice and bland, and she would never have to be afraid of loving them and missing them; there would be no divided loyalties. Meredith, on the other hand, was instantly real to Claire in a way the other two had not been, precisely because she did not resemble Claire's fantasies in the slightest. She was a smoker, you could smell it in her hair and clothes when she hugged Claire; she didn't wear any make-up, and though she couldn't be older than Sandra Bennet and in all likelihood was years younger, there were some grey, uncoloured strands in her hair. The physical resemblance between Claire and Meredith was strong enough for Claire to feel she was looking at her own future when staring at Meredith across the table.
When she cut herself, when she revealed her secret to a woman she had no memories of, after all the pain and trouble she had taken to keep it from her parents who had raised and loved her for most of the years of Claire's life, it was a test as much as anything else. She didn't know whether she hoped Meredith would understand and provide some explanations, or that Meredith would be repulsed, and all further temptation to love her would be banished. In the end, Meredith did understand, and the fire dancing across Meredith's own skin was by far the least dangerous thing about her. Maybe at a happier time in her life, Claire would not have fallen so quickly for her, would have been more careful, would have listened, truly listened when Meredith said about her life after the fire that had separated them:
"I sort of started running. I never really stopped."
But Claire didn't stop to wonder what Meredith was running from, or what it meant that Meredith was a runner. The Mexican necklace that Meredith removed from her own neck and put around Claire's was warm against Claire's skin, as if it had soaked up the heat from Meredith's body, and during the long drive back to Odessa, when Zach insisted on keeping the air conditioning far too strong, it became something to cling to; those traces of warmth.
Everything about Angela Petrelli was elegant and sharp; from the way she dressed to the way she moved her hands to the way she talked, whether in French or English. Claire distrusted her instantly, and had never been so fascinated by another woman in her life. It wasn't that she loved Angela, not after what had happened with Meredith, and besides, the whole "grandmother" concept was too abstract for her. Her grandmother was Mom's mother with her blue dyed hair and her home in Florida and trips to Disneyworld when Claire and Lyle were children and vacationing with her, not this woman who not only acted as if she was queen of the world but got away with it. But Angela was an instant challenge, someone who took you to walk on a tight rope and might just leave you to fall in the abyss if you couldn't manage to find your own way over it.
"You're getting the benefit of my experience," Angela said, and Claire retorted: "Whether I want it or not."
Angela smiled at her, which was nothing like her mother's sunny laughter or even Meredith's fleeting smiles. There was a sense of satisfaction and ownership in it, which raised Claire's hackles yet did not make her want to walk away, on the contrary; it made her want to stay and prove to Angela that any such assumption was wrong.
"You get that mouth from me," said Angela, and Claire, finding even her defiance co-opted, was left to realize that life with Angela Petrelli would mean creating a whole arsenal of new weapons.
"He's lied to you your entire marriage," Claire said to her mother while Ted Sprague tied them up with duct tape. "What makes you so sure he'll keep his word now?"
"Faith," her mother said simply, and Claire wondered whether she would have preferred it if Mom had cursed Dad and angrily demanded to know why Claire had kept silent for so long while Mom was losing her mind. Maybe. If Mom had responded to the truth by hating Dad, then Claire could have picked a side and torn out the love she felt for him, too; it would have been atonement for Claire's own part in everything. But Mom forgave Dad, at least right now, when their family's lives were on the line; Mom wasn't the child in a woman's body Dad always treated her as. No temper tantrum for her. Temper tantrum or righteous anger?
Maybe Mom's ability to hate was taken away from her long ago, along with much of her memories; after all, you need to remember to bear a grudge. Claire didn't want to think this, especially once she saw her father take a bullet for her. She much preferred to think that Mom was simply a better person than Claire would have been, gracious and forgiving even about a betrayal as enormous as this. She didn't want to believe that by doing as her mother requested, having faith in her father and giving him a second chance, she was betraying her mother all over again.
But the truth was that she would never know for sure. Whoever her mother had been before the Haitian started to take her memories away at Dad's command was forever out of reach. What remained was Mom, and Claire loved her.
Why didn't they say something? Mom asked in her memory, and Claire tries very hard not to listen.
"She thought you were gonna rescue her from her tragic life," Meredith's low, pleasant voice said inside the trailer. "That sound familiar?"
Later, once the anger, disappointment and grief left her able to do so, Claire wondered whether that was what had happened between Meredith and the man whose name she still didn't know. Meredith had hoped he would rescue her, change her life, and he hadn't. Most of Claire's anger was for the man, and she vented it through the stone she threw; but some of it was for Meredith, and throwing a stone at her just wasn't possible.
She couldn't have said what exactly she had expected Meredith to do; it wasn't like Meredith could help with Mom and her missing memories and Dad and his lies. But Meredith could have stayed around, instead of leaving for Mexico just after they had found each other again. Meredith could have told her her biological father was dead if he didn't want anything to do with them. Meredith could have been kind and lied.
Like Dad, something whispered in her, and Claire froze.
Meredith could have been a heroine and thrown that cheque into that man's face instead of taking it and sharing a low-voiced conversation and even a laugh with him. That, Claire would have understood and respected. It would have been like a John Hughes movie; a rich bastard and the poor but proud girl who symbolized integrity. Not this odd conversation where Meredith showed him Claire's photo and took money anyway, and joked with him, and where they both sounded wistful while bargaining their daughter away.
So Meredith was a runner, a deserter; fine. Claire didn't need her. She didn't need someone to bail her out of her life. She had spent most of it without Meredith; she would spent the rest without her, too.
It must have been a momentary blackout that made her pack the Mexican necklace in her duffel when she, too, started to run.
It didn't even occur to Claire to say goodbye to Angela when she left New York with her father. Not because she was too stunned after all that had happened, but because she was too angry. Besides, she had made her choice; that woman was not her family. With any luck, she would never speak to her, or hear from her again.
Most of Claire's property burned in Texas, and she didn't take anything from the wardrobe Angela had bought for her from New York, except for the costume that she wore that day New York City was not destroyed; after all, she couldn't very well go around naked. On their way to find Mom and Lyle, her father bought her new clothes, and if he noticed she didn't take anything yellow, pink or brown anymore, he didn't say anything.
"I'm not a baby anymore," Claire said a bit defensively nonetheless when realizing she had gone for either cool blue or sharp black and white contrasts.
"Of course you're not, Claire Bear," her father said mildly.
After they were all reunited again, Claire made another recording of herself, just because, and watched it, alone. For the first time she paid attention not to the way her body healed itself, but to the precise movements of her hands and arms. Almost elegant, one could say. She stopped the replay. Her brother chose that moment to come in, took one look at the video camera and commented: "I thought you had stopped doing that gross stuff."
"Go on thinking that," Claire replied, her sibling reflexes kicking in. "Trust me, you don't want to know."
"You're getting the benefit of my experience," Claire said, and smiled an amused, very presumptive smile.