Disclaimer: All owned by NBC

Spoilers: up to Cautionary Tales (2.09)

Thanks to: Kathy, for beta-reading.


Company Girls

I.

What it came down to was this: before she saw the marks on West's neck, Claire had never allowed her father's actions to become real to her, save for the brief time between her mother's breakdown and stay at the hospital and their house going up in flames. That had been the only time when she had given voice to the anger and confusion in her. Then her mother forgave him and he took a bullet for Claire. She had to lock all the doubts and questions away after that, she had to; just like her mother had done. He was her Dad again, and loved her, and whatever he had done was in the past. Until the day it wasn't anymore. West made it real in a way the cop and the radiation man had not, because West wasn't an adult barging into their home at gunpoint. He was her age. Back when her father had abducted him, he would have been a child. Not dangerous in any way. And if her father could have done that, than it meant he could have done it to anyone. Not just to dangerous people like Ted Sprague. To kids.

If the people he worked for had not given Claire to him, if she had been someone else's daughter, he would have done it to her.

II.

What it came down to was this: before Peter Petrelli had asked her about her past, Elle had done her best not to waste any thoughts on it. It wasn't fun, was it, thinking about Grandma's house on fire – smell the smoke, hear the screams – or knocking out the power grid when she was eight and that ninth birthday spent pumped with transquilizers. (She never, ever, thought about the year in between. There is nothing to remember. Nothing at all. Great big nothing.) But there he was, pushing, pretty toy Daddy said she couldn't have, not for real, just to visit now and then, and he could bite, could he, and words came out of her mouth and memories with them.

Normally, she left Peter's cell in a great mood, but this time she was angry. Oh, but he deserved being locked up here forever. Couldn't control himself, could he, all that power and couldn't control it at all, and the only thing he could do was make people act stupid around him. Just look at that brother of his. No wonder her father had told her they had to take him out, at once, and get him to Hartsdale. Dad knew when someone had to be put there for life, because there was no other way.

Just like her, just like her.

III.

"Looks like you and I are going to the beach," said the man who had kidnapped her, and proceeded to tell her her father had his daughter, and that was that. He had a few plastic bags prepared and inserted a needle in Claire's arm, briskly and efficiently, after disinfecting the point of insertion. Claire watched her blood flow and said:

"You don't have to do that." Which sounded pathetic and like pleading, and so she clarified: "It's not like I can get tetanus, can I?"

"No," the man calling himself Bob said wryly, "but we don't want your blood to be contaminated. It could be crucial for helping so many people, Claire, and I can't run any risks. It might be a long while till we see each other again."

Which sounded at least as if he didn't intend to double-cross her father when handing her over. Maybe this could all end well, after all. Claire thought of the painting, that image flickering on her father's computer screen, and the onslaught of guilt was nearly overwhelming. But it wouldn't happen. It couldn't. She made herself remember other drawings, all those sketches that Peter did of a New York devastated by the explosion. That didn't happen, either. The future was not written in stone.

But there was a price, something inside her whispered, and she shut out New York and that other family that was never truly hers. Not now.

"Why is your daughter here anyway?" she asked, trying to focus on the present, and in that moment, someone else showed up, a man who looked vaguely familiar until Claire recalled he had been at Kirby Plaza, that night. He must have come from a fight. His nose was bloody, and his dark eyes that flickered to her and back to Bob were full of fear, frustration and despair.

"Bennet has Elle," he started, and Bob, carefully removing one filled plastic bag and attaching a new one, nodded.

"I know. He called me. There will an exchange."

"Then you will return Claire to him?" the Indian asked, sounding both relieved and doubtful. For the first time, something like bitterness crept into Bob's mild voice.

"Well, of course, Dr. Suresh. I do want my daughter back. Now sit down. You need another band aid, and as you can see, I'm in the process of cleaning wounds anyway."

IV.

"We'll go to the beach, Elle," Bennet said, and she didn't know whether she hated him more for the smugness in his voice or for the fact that he had known her father would react this way better than she did. Patronizing Bennet, king of suburbia, perfect family man, oh, but just now he had displayed some other talents, had he? Her entire body was still aching, and it tasted like the nothing of memories in her mouth. Suburban Bennet's suburban wife was staring at her, and so was the flyboy who had tackled her outside.

"So that's where you'll kill me?" she asked sweetly. The wife flinched, satisfyingly so. The boy just stared some more.

"That's where I'll get my daughter back," Bennet said stonily.

"Right," Elle said. "And then you'll kill me." She gave Mrs. Bennet her nicest smile, the one she had copied from soap opera queens before they struck. "That's what he does, you know. After he gets what he wants. Just ask his Russian pal. Well, if you have an Ouija board."

"Noah will do what's right," the wife said, voice surprisingly firm, but she left the room anyway while Bennet told the boy to keep Elle wet. Then he knelt beside her again and whispered in her ear:

"We all make our own choices, Elle. What happens today is the result of your father's. When he made you what you are, and when he came after me and mine."

Oldest trick in the book, Elle told herself, divide and conquer, but there was that gap her mind shies away from, and anyway, Bennet was a pro, her father always said so, and a pro could best divide with the truth.

But Elle was a pro, too. She was. Never mind she was called back on her first solo mission just because of some stupid Irish guy who stupidly made her lose her temper.

"And here I thought it is because of your choices," she replied to Bennet. "You know, the one where you started to work for the Company all on your own? And the one where you went to Odessa to kill a guy and left your fingerprints all over the place? Unless you're saying my father made you do that, too."

V.

During the drive to the beach, Claire ignored Suresh's attempts to talk to her. If only, she thought. If only. What if.

"You found us through that newspaper article, didn't you?" she asked Bob.

"Let us just say it helped."

If only. What if.

"And you still mean that about me being an excellent addition to the team, if I worked for you?" Claire asked, staring at him with his horn-rimmed glasses and his placid expression. "That I could do what you do?"

"I do," Bob replied. "You are still very young and… impetuous. But you have determination and intelligence. Unfortunately…"

"Good," Claire interrupted him. "Because I want you to understand something. I can survive anything. So no matter what you'll do on that beach, or afterwards, I'll survive it. And if anything happens to my Dad, I'll come for you one day. For you and your daughter."

Bob pursed his lips and looked at her with interest, while Dr. Suresh exclaimed that nothing would happen, that nobody would kill anyone and that this was about saving lives. It would all be over, soon, and then everyone could go home. Claire wanted to cross her arms, but Bob had still tied them behind her back, so she was reduced to returning Bob's gaze in order to demonstrate that she meant it. He had to believe her. He had to.

"The resemblance is really quite extraordinary," he said. She didn't ask him what he meant.

VI.

All the way to the beach, the stupid boy kept up his inane attempts at conversation with either Bennet or herself. Elle's headache intensified. She had so looked forward to this mission, her chance to prove she could handle herself against a Company legend, more than enough to cover the embarrassment of having lost Peter. She messed up, she'd rectify it. And, well, get out of Hartsdale for a while. Have some fun. But now she was reduced to an object of trade, and if she didn't use the first chance she got, she'd end up dead, and her father with her.

Maybe Bennet was lying, and maybe he wasn't, but the thing was, it didn't really matter right now. It was either him or them. So no question, really. She'd think about everything else after.

Elle refused to consider the possibility that nothing but an exchange would happen. She wasn't naïve. She also didn't want it to end that way. She was pissed off, and she was hurt, and someone really, really ought to pay for it. And even if Bennet had spoken the truth, that someone couldn't be her father.

"What is love, Elle?" one of the psychiatrists disguised as a Company tutor had asked her once, and Elle had replied: "Not wanting to kill someone." She still believed that.

So she made plans, and to make Bennet believe she had caved and was distracted by his mind game, she asked:

"Is your daughter the unicorn type?"

There was a short pause, in which Bennet remained silent. Then the flyboy said awkardly: "Claire likes lizards."

Elle looked him up and down. "Figures," she said.

VII.

After she crashed a car with every intention of killing the boy inside it, Claire told her father the truth, and he promised her that all would be well, because that was what fathers did. But she knew it couldn't be. Not because Brody was still alive, but because she knew what he had done, and the awful thing was, when she thought about what had happened to her, and the other girls, she couldn't wish it away. Wish it different, maybe, wish she'd found another way of dealing with it, but not wish she had done nothing. By the time she made herself confront Brody, he wasn't Brody anymore. All his memories were gone, and later she realized that she knew, even then, that it wasn't the accident that had left him this way. She just made herself believe one last time, because she had to and because, again, she couldn't sincerely wish it otherwise.

"Everything okay in your world, Claire Bear?" her father asked her on the evening of her release from the hospital, and she smiled at him, wanly. He looked at her with such concern that her smile grew real. She made it real. That's what a daughter could do for her father.

"Yeah, Dad," she said. "Everything."

Walking towards her father in the light of the setting sun, Claire held on to that memory.

VIII.

The first time Elle kissed someone, she lost control, and the guy in question, a Company employee, ended up with a heart attack. He recovered, but he was transferred to another Company facility, and she never saw him again. After that, one of her father's superiors, the big honcho himself, came down from Las Vegas. Elle was given tasks to do elswhere for the duration of the visit, but she could guess what was said.

"What does he care anyway?" she said to her father, doing her best to sound disinterested and tough, but inwardly, she was panicked. If she wasn't allowed to touch people anymore, she'd go crazy. She knew she would.

"All will be well, Elle," her father said soothingly, and she grimaced at him.

"That's a stupid rhyme," she said, and he smiled. After a while, so did she. It would be. He promised.

As it turned out, his solution was to let her bring books, food, drinks, music and the occasional medical stuff which was always ignored to Adam. There was no actual need for anyone to do that; Adam's cell was high security, and everything he needed could be transferred via the slot near the window. Adam, who might be a self-entitled English asshole but couldn't be killed and was pretty enough to be eminently touchable, was her father's present to her. She knew he'd find a way, always.

Of course, Adam was gone now, and so was Peter who was a better present than Adam in every way because he liked her and could hurt her back even with his powers dampened, but Elle was a big girl, and she could find her own ways. She thought of that, walking towards her father, feeling the sparks glide over her skin. He looked at her, steadfastly, and she knew it was what he trusted her to do.

Turning around, she raised her hands towards the sky and cut loose.

IX.

Mohinder can't breathe through his nose, and his eyes hurt; it's the light of the setting sun that blinds him. Directly in front of him is a father running towards his daughter, crying her name, cradling her. She tries to be brave, but she is trembling, and at this moment, her father's embrace is all that is shielding her.

The problem, the unsolvable problem, is that he sees this twice.