AN: Still working on this one too for all my Claymore people.


"But what if she hates me?" Irene asked again as they dragged their luggage through the airport.

"Really, it's my dad you should be worried about," Teresa said, ushering Clare along in front of her. "Mom already likes you." She had already spent the entire fight assuring Irene of this.

"That's not exactly making me feel better."

"It'll be fine, Irene," Clare piped in. "If I like you, then Grandma will too. Or she'll pretend she does to make me happy. And Pops will definitely like you. He likes quiet, which is why I don't know why he married Grandma." Teresa rolled her eyes.

"I'm just really nervous."

"I know," Teresa said, giving Irene a small smile. "But you'll be fine. I promise. I'll make sure they're nice to you. Mom already promised that she'll tone it down a few notches." They stepped out into the mild Texas air, so different from the harsh New York winter they had left behind. Here, Irene only needed a light coat instead of the heavy one she had been wearing for the last month. She sighed and followed Teresa to the rental car counter. Teresa had, of course, insisted that she drive herself. It took longer than either of them would have liked, but eventually Teresa procured the desired car.

"I just don't understand," she complained as they piled in, luggage stuffed into the trunk. "I arranged this weeks ago. Why is it so hard for them to have the car I wanted?"

"It is the holidays," Irene said diplomatically. "Mix ups happen." Teresa grumbled a bit more, but her mood improved vastly once she was on the road, navigating through Austin traffic like a pro. Irene looked out the windows at the rows and rows of houses that passed by, her anxiety growing with each one. Each house brought her closer and closer to meeting Teresa's parents. She had spent the last couple of months getting to know Clare, becoming a more fixed figure in the girl's life. They got along rather well, though Irene kept herself at a distance, never trying to seem like another parent. Clare already had two of those, and she did not need another one. Irene was more like an aunt of sorts. Or something like that. She was still unsure herself.

"Remember Clare," Teresa was saying. "'Yes Ma'am, no Ma'am, yes Sir, no Sir.'"

"Yeah, yeah," Clare muttered, crossing her arms in the back seat.

"They won't be used to that New York attitude you were so quick to pick up. Be polite."

Clare sighed heavily. "Fine."

Teresa narrowed her eyes. "I liked it better when you were pretending you were nice for Irene."

Clare stuck out her tongue in response. Normally, their interactions made Irene laugh, but her stomach was in knots as they drove through the suburbs. Soon, they turned into a very affluent neighborhood, and Teresa slowed down to pull up on the street in front of a large brick home. She put the car in park and shut off the engine.

"Okay. We're here." She turned to Irene. "You'll be fine." Irene nodded and opened the door. She followed Teresa to the trunk to get her bag while Clare shrugged her backpack onto her shoulders.

"Teresa, baby? Is that you?" They all looked up at the voice. A woman in her late fifties or early sixties was walking down the steps of the house. If she had not already known, it would have been obvious that this was Teresa's mother. Despite the fact that her hair was the same color as Clare's, her face was almost exactly an older version of Teresa's.

"No, Mama. It's Marlon Brando," Teresa called back, but she smiled and met her mother with a hug. Teresa, even without heels on, stood several inches taller than her mother, and Irene could tell this was where Teresa got her curves.

"Hi Grandma," Clare said from behind them.

"Oh, Darlin', look how tall you are!" She bent down to hug Clare. "I swear you get taller every time I see you."

"That's kind of how it works, Mama," Teresa said as she pulled the luggage out.

"Your sarcasm is noted and unappreciated, Teresa." She rolled her eyes, and Irene wondered if that was a genetically inherited trait. "Oh! And you must be Irene!" Irene held out her hand, but was pulled into a tight hug instead. "None of that! It is so wonderful to finally meet you."

"It's good to meet you, as well, Mrs. Farrell." Teresa had told her that like most actresses, Blackwell was not her real name. Her agent had picked it for her.

"Honey, please. Call me Marianne," Teresa's mother insisted. "Mrs. Farrell is my husband's mother, the old witch. May she rest in peace."

"Grams isn't dead yet," Clare said in confusion.

"Wishful thinking, Darlin'."

"Mama," Teresa hissed. "Stop saying things like that about Grams!" She shut the trunk and locked the car.

"That old harpy has it coming," Marianne huffed, picking up Clare's suitcase and ushering them all up the drive to the house. "She always does her best to make my life a living hell."

"That's because you never even tried to get along with her," Teresa reminded her. "I hope you don't plan on causing another scene this year. Last year's turkey fiasco was enough to last me a lifetime, thank you very much."

"She started it."

"God, you two are worse than children." Teresa followed her mother into the house, beckoning to Irene and leading her into the large kitchen. Marianne ignored her.

"John," she called into the house. "They're here." When John Farrell walked in, Irene saw where Teresa got her height. He was a very tall man, with a slight build and a serious face. But his eyes softened and his mouth crinkled up into a smile when he saw his daughter and granddaughter.

"How are my girls?"

"Pops!" Clare threw herself into his arms and hugged him tight. Irene stood awkwardly behind Marianne as John moved from Clare to Teresa. She felt out of place in the family reunion.

"Dad," Teresa said as she pulled back. "I want you to meet Irene." She walked over and put her hand on Irene's back, pushing her forward. Irene gave a small smile and held out her hand.

"It's nice to meet you, Sir," she said as respectfully as she could. John took her hand in his, grasping it firmly.

"The pleasure's all mine, Irene," he said, returning her smile. "It's good to finally meet the person who's been making Teresa so happy lately." Irene blushed slightly.

"She couldn't stop talking about you at Thanksgiving," Marianne said in a stage whisper for all to hear. Teresa glared at her.

"Mom!"

"What?" Marianne held up her hands innocently. "It's true."

"Doesn't mean that you have to tell everyone." Teresa looked back at Irene apologetically.

"Well, let's get y'all settled in your rooms," Marianne said as a way to change the subject. "Clare, honey, you know where your room is. Teresa, you and Irene can take the guest bedroom on the third floor." Clare dashed up the stairs, and Teresa and Irene followed at a slower pace, lugging their bags up to the top floor. The room was spacious and well decorated, though it did not look as if it were used all that often.

"Is Karen staying here?" Teresa asked, referring to her other sister.

"Yes. She and Daniel are supposed to get here tomorrow," Teresa's mother informed them. "Trina will bunk with Clare, and Jr's going to sleep on the couch." Trina and Jr were Clare's cousins, Karen's children. Trina was thirteen or fourteen, Irene couldn't remember, and Jr was a senior in high school.

Teresa put her luggage on the bed, and Irene followed her lead.

"I made y'all some snacks," Marianne continued. "I know that airplane food's not so good."

"They don't serve food on such a short flight, Mom," Teresa said as she started to unpack. "And we were in first class, anyway."

"Well, then all the more reason for you to eat!"

"Fine, Mama. We'll be down in just a bit, alright?"

"Okay, okay." Marianne retreated, shutting the door gently behind her. Teresa turned to Irene.

"So?"

"I don't know. You tell me. You know them better."

Teresa finished putting her clothes in the closet and cocked her head. "Well, I knew Mom would like you, and it seems I was right. And Dad reacted favorably. He'll need more time to get to know you, though."

"What about your brother and sister?"

"Karen will love you, I'm sure," Teresa said. "She had a gay best friend all through high school. Mom thought they were dating for the longest time, even when he and Karen went to see Cats, and he knew all the songs." Irene smiled slightly at the thought.

"Well, that's comforting. What about your brother?"

"I've already told you, I don't know." Teresa came and rested her hands on Irene's shoulders. "He and I never really talk all that much, and when I told him, well...It wasn't pretty."

"I'm sorry," Irene said softly. "I don't want to come between you and your family."

"Stop that. If he doesn't like it, he can stuff it," Teresa said, placing a soft kiss on Irene's lips. A knock on the door interrupted them, and they did not have enough time to break apart before Teresa's mother stepped inside.

"Oh," she said, eyes wide, her hand coming up to cover her mouth daintily. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt." Irene blushed furiously, looking down at her feet. "I was just letting you know that you're father's taking Clare out to the stables for a few hours."

"Okay, Mama," Teresa said, and Marianne shut the door again. "Hey, Irene. Stop looking so mortified."

"But your mother-"

"Saw me kissing my girlfriend. No big deal." Teresa placed a hand under Irene's chin, lifting her face so that their eyes met. "Irene. It's fine. She was a little startled, but that's all. She won't hate you."

"You're sure?"

"Positive. Now let's go downstairs." She placed her hands on Irene's hips and steered her out the door. "I bet she's made her famous spinach dip. You won't want to miss this." Teresa kept a hand on her back the entire way. They were just now getting back to a really good place in their relationship. Irene had gotten back into the habit of guarding herself since discovering the reason for Teresa's divorce. For weeks, she found reasons to stay a little more distant, claiming that she was busy with work, or that she needed to do something for Paul and Sharon. After a month of that, a month of Teresa being patient and understanding, Irene had let herself open up again. It was slow, but eventually, she got back to herself and let Teresa back in.

"I do like spinach dip," Irene said as they walked down the stairs. Teresa leaned over and kissed her cheek quickly before they stepped into the kitchen. Teresa's mother was behind the counter, pulling cookies out of the oven.

"Mom," Teresa groaned. "I told you I can't have cookies. I'm getting ready for a role, and I have to be super fit."

"Darlin', you're going to be eating all kinds of things tomorrow," Marianne said as she placed the cookies on cooling racks. Teresa sat down on a stool at the counter and reached out to take one. Marianne slapped her hand away. "You'll burn the roof of your mouth. And I thought you weren't having any."

"I lied." She patted the stool next to her, and Irene sat down. "My trainer can just yell at me extra."

"Tell me, Irene," Marianne redirected, pulling a bowl out of the fridge. Irene saw it was indeed spinach dip. "Have you ever been to Texas before?" She brought out some crackers from the pantry and spread them on a plate next to the dip. Teresa immediately grabbed one and shoved it in her mouth.

"Once. For business." Irene folded her hands in her lap. "We didn't get to see much of the city."

"Which city?"

"Houston."

"That place is a dump," Marianne informed her.

"It is not," Teresa said, taking another cracker. "You just don't like it because that's where Aunt Carol Anne lives."

"She's a judgmental hag, just like her mother," Marianne said, leaning over the counter. "I hate your father's family."

"I'll admit, they're not my favorite people," Teresa agreed. "But I wish you would tone it down in front of Clare. Grams is always good to her and Aunt Carol Anne always takes her out riding when we're there." Marianne sighed deeply.

"Oh, fine, Sugah. I'll do my best. Here, Irene, try some of the dip."

"It's freaking awesome," Teresa said through a mouthful.

"Okay." Irene timidly reached out and took a cracker, got some dip and took a bite. Two identical pairs of dark eyes watched her as she chewed. "That's really good," she finally said after swallowing.

"It's my secret recipe. My Mama taught me and then I taught Teresa. She's never made it for you?"

"No. Not yet." She glanced curiously at Teresa.

"I was going to, but..." She sighed. "I just don't make it as good as you, Mama."

"Flattery will get you everywhere," Marianne said with a smile. Irene could see the clear affection in her eyes as she looked at Teresa. To her surprise, it did not go away when she turned her gaze to Irene. "She's really actually good at it. She's just a perfectionist."

Irene raised an eyebrow. "You? A perfectionist?" She thought back to Teresa's bedroom, to the clothes strewn about, to the nightstand that almost always had an empty soda can atop it. The woman's apartment was always in a state of dishevelment unless it was the day after the maid came.

"In my craft, Irene," Teresa stressed, placing a dramatic hand over her heart. "I take my craft very seriously."

"Cooking is your craft?"

"It's a craft, and I do it."

"I'll remember that in the future," Irene said, taking another cracker. Marianne smiled.

"Teresa told me that your brother and his wife just had their first baby."

"That's right," Irene said, letting herself smile. "She's really lovely, and a good baby, too. Not fussy or anything."

"Well, honey, I sure hope you brought pictures."

"I have some on my phone," she said sheepishly. Normally she was not so susceptible to mush, but little Arlette had stolen her heart. "Oh, I think I left it upstairs." She hopped off her stool and dashed up the two flights of stairs to dig around in her purse for her phone. Once she had it, she descended the stairs, stopping short when she heard Teresa and her mother talking.

"...very nice, Teresa. I'm really happy for you."

"I'm just glad you like her. I was worried that it would be really awkward."

"I can't make any promises about your brother, but the rest of us are there for you, baby."

"Dad, too? Every time I talk to him, he's distant. I can't tell if he's okay with this." Irene frowned. She had not known that Teresa was so worried about her father's approval.

"He's trying, sweetheart. He really is. It's been tough on him, but he is happy for you. We can both see how this is so much better than it was with Clare's father."

"He has a name, Mom. And remember, that was my fault, not his. He didn't do anything wrong."

"I know, baby." Marianne sounded tired, and Irene wondered if it was a conversation they had had before. "But Irene is so much nicer."

"Yeah, she is." Irene could almost imagine the dopey smile on Teresa's face. "I really love her, Mama. I don't want anyone to screw this up. Not me, and certainly not Mathew."

"If Irene loves you like you think she does, then nothing your brother says is going to chase her away. He's just a little touchy about the whole relationship thing. You know that."

"Just because he can't get a girl doesn't mean that he can take it out on mine." Irene decided that she had listened enough, and took the next step.

"I found it," she called out, giving them time to stop talking before she entered the kitchen. She pulled up the pictures of Arlette and handed the phone to Marianne.

"Oh, she is just too precious!" the older woman gushed. "Look at those big blue eyes! And all that hair. Teresa was the same way. I swear she came out with more hair on her head than I have ever seen on a newborn." Irene laughed.

"Well, Arlette's must come from her mother because both Paul and I were bald." She ran a hand through her hair subconsciously. "I suppose we just don't have great hair genes in my family." Marianne's eyes swept quickly over Irene's head, taking in the shining silver hair.

"Oh, I wouldn't say that, Darlin'. I think it's quite striking."

"So do I," Teresa added, her eyes crinkling in a smile. Irene hated that she blushed furiously at their words. The color in her cheeks just made Teresa smile wider.

Irene coughed awkwardly. "I suppose it has its advantages. It certainly gives me some credibility with some of our older clients. You wouldn't believe how hard it was to establish myself. Even with my father's name behind me. There were plenty of girls in my graduating class who were just as talented as I was who never got a chance to show what they could do." Teresa was looking at her with concern, while Marianne nodded in agreement.

"You're preaching to the choir, honey. When I married Teresa's father, I tried getting into the workforce, but it just never happened for me."

"That's because the dinosaurs were still around, and you needed to stay home to guard the cave," Teresa said with a smirk.

"That was only a few years before you were born," Marianne shot back, "so I would watch my mouth if I were you." She raised a brow.

"It was ten years, Mama."

"Are you calling me old?"

"I think that was heavily implied, yes."

"You better watch it, young lady."

"Or what?"

"Or I'll make sure to give Clare a couple of chocolate bars right before you leave for the airport."

"You wouldn't dare," Teresa said, scandalized. "You know how hyper she gets!"

"Maybe then you'll think twice before insulting your mother, who loves you so much."

"Threats and then a guilt trip." Teresa shook her head, impressed. "Well played."

"Well, I see where Clare gets it," Irene commented as she took another cracker.

"Her stunning wit?" Teresa clarified with a toss of her hair.

"Her dripping sarcasm," Irene said. Marianne let out a sparkling laugh that sounded so much like Teresa's.

"That child is going to be a handful when she hits puberty."

Teresa groaned. "Don't remind me. I'm still thinking about shipping her off to boarding school"

Irene tensed for a moment as unpleasant memories tickled the back of her mind, and she looked down at her lap.

"Oh, Irene, I didn't..." Teresa placed a hand on her knee and bit her lip. "I forgot you don't like boarding schools." She turned back to her mother and mouthed something that Irene could not quite catch. She knew it had to be some sort of explanation because Marianne's mouth formed a small 'O,' and she nodded.

"It's fine," Irene assured them with a small smile. "And you don't have to go whispering about it. It's a typical sad little rich girl story. Parents who didn't have time for me and all that." She hated that Marianne's eyes were filled with concern. Hated it and loved it at the same time. Maybe through Teresa, she could gain a mother to help fill the void left by the one she had lost. "Not that my mother didn't love me or anything," she said hurriedly. "She was just always working."

"And you father?" Marianne asked before Teresa could stop her.

"Mom, the dad's not a great subject," Teresa hissed.

"It's okay, Teresa. My father was busy running his little empire," Irene said, regretting how much bitterness was able to creep into her voice. "He wasn't-isn't pleased with my...with what he calls my 'life choices.'" She glanced at Teresa almost apologetically. She was not sure how Marianne really felt about the situation, if she was truly alright with Teresa dating a woman, and she was not sure if it was appropriate to discuss. After all, she had only known Marianne for less than an hour. "He doesn't approve."

"Oh." Marianne seemed to have some trouble finding what words to say, and Irene cursed her chronic social awkwardness. Sometimes she really did not know when to keep her mouth shut.

"I'm sorry," she said quickly. "I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable."

"Oh, sweetheart, it's not that at all," Marianne said, moving around the counter to take Irene's hands in her own. The younger woman did not know how to react, not being accustomed to people invading her personal space. "I just don't really know how to respond to that without insulting your father."

Irene looked into her eyes, which she saw now were a dark green instead of brown like Teresa's, and tried to make sense of what she was feeling. This woman whom she had only just met already cared more about her feelings than her own father.

"You can insult him all you want," Irene managed. "Teresa does all the time." Marianne turned to glare at her daughter.

"Have I taught you no manners at all?"

"Irene said I could!" Teresa protested. "Look, I'll show you. Irene, your father is a selfish bastard who has a stick so far up his ass that Sherlock Holmes wouldn't be able to find it." Marianne stared at her daughter with wide, horrified eyes.

"Teresa!"

"What?"

"That was so incredibly-"

"True," Irene finished, rescuing Teresa. "Everything she said is true. It's actually a little toned down than what she normally says." They shared a smile. "Really, I don't mind. I wish I had the courage to say those things myself."

Marianne shook her head disapprovingly, though Irene was unsure if it was at them or at her father. "Irene, I'm going to have to show you some true southern hospitality, then. Goodness." She continued shaking her head as she walked back around to open the fridge.

"Oh no," Teresa muttered.

"What?"

"She's going to start pulling out the comfort food. If she can't fix a problem, she just feeds you and hopes it makes you feel better."

"Oh." Irene watched as Marianne took out a casserole dish and turned the oven on.

"Do you like macaroni and cheese, Irene?"

"I um... I haven't ever had it." Both of the other women turned to stare at her in shock.

"You're joking, right?" Teresa asked. "How is that even possible?"

"We just... never had it, I guess," Irene said, scratching the back of her neck uncomfortably. "I mean, Father said that the cooks were paid too much to make something like that and they never served it at school. Our chef packed my lunch anyway."

"That might be the saddest thing I have ever heard," Marianne lamented. "Practically child abuse. Well, Darlin, we're going to have to fix that. Just give me twenty minutes, and I'll have this ready."

"You'll never want to eat anything else ever again," Teresa warned her. "I swear she puts crack in it."

"I do not, Teresa. That would ruin the flavor balance."

Teresa looked over at Irene while her mother's back was turned and mouthed she's lying. Irene grinned, happy that the conversation had moved away from her uncomfortable family life. She was jealous of Teresa's. Her father had had years to come to terms with her sexuality and still could not accept it, and Teresa's parents were both making a valiant effort. They had both been kind to Irene, and she was starting to feel more relaxed with Marianne, who really was so much like Teresa and Clare.

It turned out that macaroni and cheese was everything Marianne had said and more. Irene had to be very conscious of how much she ate, knowing that there would be dinner later. Teresa and Marianne watched her with amusement the whole time, each having their fair share of the dish. They chatted about this and that, mostly other celebrities that Teresa knew and Marianne pretended to know. Irene was truly relaxed by the time Clare and John returned. Her tension did not return even though Teresa's father was back. John did everything he could to make her feel at ease. She felt like maybe she would be able to face the rest of Teresa's family, knowing that her parents stood behind her.

She was still happy when she and Teresa retired for bed late that night. They had stayed up discussing politics and economics with John and Marianne. Irene was pleased to discover that she had a lot in common with them.

"So," Teresa began as she snuggled up against Irene in the double bed, so much smaller than the one they normally used. "I think they like you."

"I like them, too," Irene said, tilting her head down to place a soft kiss on Teresa's dark curls. "Your mom is so sweet, and I appreciate the effort you father is making."

"Mmmm. I think he's going to be okay with this," she said, letting her lips brush Irene's neck. "You really won him over tonight with all that fancy business talk. He's a sucker for that kind of stuff."

"It was fun. It's not often that I get to talk about that with someone who's not trying to get something from me."

"Hey, we talk about business sometimes," Teresa pouted.

"Teresa, you're pretty good at it, but I know that most of the time you don't understand what I'm saying."

"Is it that obvious?"

"As obvious as it is when I try to talk about acting with you."

Teresa smiled against her neck and then trailed her lips down to Irene's collarbone. "But you're so cute when you're trying to pretend like you know what you're talking about." She paused. "Speaking of which, we need to get dresses for the Golden Globes when we get back home."

"Are you sure you want me to go?"

"Irene, we've been over this. We have to make our first public appearance sometime, and what better place than one where the press interaction is limited, and I get to show you off to everyone?"

"If you're certain." Irene was more than a little nervous. She had never been to an event so big or so very televised.

"It will be fine. The interviews are already set up, and they've all been instructed to just kind of gloss over the whole gay thing. Remember, I'm going on Ellen right before to cover all that."

"I know." Irene shifted them so that she had her head tucked under Teresa's chin. She wanted to be held for a while.

"You won't have to talk that much. And it will give us good practice for the Oscars."

"A little cocky, aren't we? The nominations aren't for almost two months."

"Well, we can pretty much be sure that I'll be there. They're calling it the performance of a lifetime." Teresa made a dramatic arching motion with her arm. Right before she and Irene had met, Teresa had been in a movie about the last Tsars of Russia, playing the Tsar's wife, Alexandra who had been the one to trust the infamous Rasputin. Irene had seen the film, and been impressed with it, especially with Teresa. She had fully transformed into the character, bringing a new dimension to the familiar history. Her raw emotion had been beautiful to watch.

"Well, aren't you confident."

"Oh, hush." Teresa leaned down to kiss her softly. "I have to warn you, Mom's probably going to make us get up early, so we might want to go to sleep now."

"Fine," Irene said. "It's been a long day, anyway. I hate flying."

"Who doesn't?"

Irene made a noise of agreement before leaning over Teresa to turn out the light. In the dark, she pressed herself close to her girlfriend, her lover, and settled in for sleep.

"I love you, Teresa."

"I love you, too, Irene."