Set after Black Dawn, just before Claire's eighteenth birthday. Please don't read if you haven't read BD yet. (BTW, read Black Dawn, by Rachel Caine, for it is awesome)
Claire walked through the ruined streets of Morganville, feeling the bright burning sun beating down against her back. In the past week, her life had changed so dramatically from the struggle for survival it had been during the battle with the draug. Even the day after Magnus had been defeated; people had emerged from their homes, and started rebuilding. Vampires had returned and, though the University hadn't reopened yet, plans were underway for refurbishing the grounds and buildings that had been flooded.
Things were going back to normal, and yet, Claire thought, nothing would ever be the same. The vampires now had no rivals in the world, no enemies, no-one with the strength to wipe them out. Nothing to keep them under control, Claire thought. Because even within the short space of time since Magnus's death, things were changing around Morganville.
Claire picked up her pace and started walking towards Common Grounds, virtually the only place that was up and running so soon after the draug, to get coffee before heading to the lab. It was a pleasant walk, even with the sun so bright in the sky, and quiet- not many people were brave enough to venture far from their houses yet.
Fear didn't keep everyone indoors, though. Morganvillers relished in the sun, as it dried up the horrors of the week before, spending as much time outside, fixing fences and gardens and cleaning the streets. Claire walked past families cleaning and fixing their homes, burying the fear of the draug under a layer of fresh paint. But some of the houses were empty, tired and broken looking. It broke her heart, a little, to think of all the families that weren't coming back, all the houses that would be empty forever.
Claire pushed open the door to Common Grounds and was greeted by the scent of fresh coffee. Common Grounds was the first shop to reopen, and business, though slow to begin with, was picking up. Claire looked around for an empty table amidst the small hoard of caffeine addicts, and eventually spotted one in the far corner of the room, where the vampires normally sat. No vampires out today, except Oliver, pulling shots behind the counter.
"Claire, how nice to see you. What can I get you?" Oliver said, playing the relaxed aging hippie for all it was worth. Claire couldn't be bothered to strike up a pleasant conversation, and to be honest, she was already late for Myrnin. Not that he'd notice, she thought. He had his hands full with Frank, who was not doing well with the whole brain-in-a-jar thing.
"Mocha, please. And a black coffee" She said, and held out her money. Well, at least she would be polite. Oliver took her money, counted out change and gave it to her. "And how is Eve? I trust married life is treating her well?" Oliver said as he began making her drinks.
"She's fine." Claire replied shortly, wondering at his sudden interest in their lives. It wasn't like he cared.
Claire took the warm take-away cups and left without saying goodbye, ignoring Oliver's raised eyebrows. She didn't really care what he thought. He wasn't the scariest thing anymore, especially with his tie-died apron and greying hair pulled back into a ponytail. Oliver didn't care until it suited him, and Claire couldn't be bothered to pretend anymore. She left without another word, squinting when the sunlight hit her with full force as she stepped away from the air conditioning of Common Grounds and towards Myrnin's lab.
It was a short walk, but Claire was grateful for the shade of the alleyway as she approached the lab. Unlike most places in Morganville, the alley didn't seem to have changed at all, as it narrowed towards the slumping wooden shack at the end. It was the first time Claire had been back to the lab since the draug; the first time she'd spoken to Myrnin since he'd used her as bait to lure Magnus to Glass House. She'd hated him a bit then, for using her, for not telling her the truth, for tying her to a chair like some sacrificial lamb. But she knew why he'd done it, and understanding was far too close to forgiving. She hadn't forgiven him for Shane, though. And she doubted she ever would.
Claire heard glass shatter below, sighed, and went down the steps for her daily dose of crazy.
"Claire!" Myrnin looked up from a mess of glass shards with a hopeful, pleased expression, as if her being there meant that she'd forgiven him. Again. Claire didn't say anything, just placed the coffee cups on top of a precarious looking pile of books and went to fetch a dustpan and brush. She knew him better than to just pick the glass up with her bare hands; she'd much rather melt a dustpan than her fingers.
Myrnin, it seemed, had no such qualms. Or maybe that was the benefit of knowing what had been in the beaker to begin with. He simply scooped the glass into a bin, slowly and deliberately, never breaking eye contact with her, as if she would break if he startled her.
He didn't say anything. Neither did she.
"Claire…it worked, did it not?" he said softly. "For all your loathing of the method, it did work." He was right, of course. Damn him. Claire wanted to hate him. Hell, she should hate him, after everything he'd done to her. But she couldn't keep it up, because it was just a front for the guilt she felt after leaving Shane behind. It wasn't Myrnin's fault. He'd gotten them all out alive, even when that should have been impossible. She shouldn't have left him. It was her job to look after him, and she hadn't. She'd abandoned him to the draug, just because he'd told her too.
Claire didn't notice the tears that welled in her eyes. She didn't usually cry; that was Eve's job. But the emotional trauma of the past few days were catching up with her, and she couldn't hold the tears back any longer.
"God, I shouldn't have left him." She gasped, turning away from Myrnin to hide her tears. She felt his hand awkwardly squeeze her shoulder, an attempt to comfort her.
"You got him back. That's all that matters." He didn't understand. Even Shane didn't understand- she shouldn't have left.
Myrnin turned her around to face him, and stared straight into her eyes, holding her an arm's length away. "You got him back" he repeated "and you didn't get yourself or anyone else killed in the process. That is quite a feat, considering the circumstances. Claire, listen to me. It was not your fault. Don't make me see you suffer so, it pains me." Myrnin smiled and gently wiped a tear away from her cheek. "Come, little one. We have much to do if we are to avoid another catastrophe. They are become far too much of a habit these days." And he let go of her and walked off to the other end of the lab, leaving Claire alone with her thoughts again.
She had missed him, she realised, in the time she'd been ignoring him. She'd missed the way he made her see the world; the way he challenged her. And she'd missed him, with his brilliant smiles and silly fanged bunny slippers.
And so Claire forgave him, because in the end, she always would.