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sam_storyteller ([personal profile] sam_storyteller) wrote2005-07-13 12:17 am
Entry tags:

Heroes: Seven Long Years, 1/2

Title: Seven Long Years 1/2
Rating: PG-13 for language
Summary: "I think if Claude had still been in Claire's life, he would have been someone she could go to about this, and as soon as she did, he'd have started a ball in motion to conceal her. It'd make a great AU." "I would really, really love to read that."
Warnings: None.

Originally posted 4.22.07

Now available at AO3.

Seven long years I've been bound to my trade
In one more I'll be free,
I belong to that jovial crew,
And no one cares for me.

-- English-Appalachian folk song


"Keep driving," Claude said when they stopped.

"What?" Bennet asked.

"Don't stop here," Claude said, looking out at the bridge where Bennet had pulled the car over. "I'll take you to her. We're more'n halfway there already. Just keep driving."

Bennet looked at him, but Claude was still staring out the window. He wasn't sure he trusted Claude to cave so easily; the invisible man was notoriously stubborn when he didn't get his way, and could be devious when he was handling the "specials". For all he knew it was just a stall for time.

"Put the bloody car in drive, Bennet," Claude said, turning to him, and Bennet wasn't uncertain anymore. The look on Claude's face was enough. He pulled back onto the road.

"Would you really have shot me?" Claude asked listlessly, as they drove. "Just like that?"

"We swore an oath to find these people. And you buried one."

"How d'you know it was only one?" Claude said. "Might be dozens. Might be hundreds."

"Frankly, you're not that organized."

Claude gave a little laugh. "Sure. Of course."

"Why did you -- "

"What if it was Claire?"

Bennet's hands tightened on the steering wheel.

"That's why you're so distant from her, innit?" Claude continued. "Turn left."

Bennet swung the car across the lane and pulled onto another country highway.

"You're already preparin' for it. Turnin' her in."

"She isn't -- "

"Not yet. But someday, maybe."

They drove in silence, the tension thickening the further into the wild scrub-country they went. Finally, Claude took a breath.

"Turn right here," he said. "Half a mile in. Pull up on the gravel shoulder when the road curves."

Bennet, perplexed now, did as he was told and parked the car, unbuckling his seat belt. Claude stepped out and inahled again, breathing the wet, humid summer air. Bennet knew he hated summers in Texas.

He followed Claude, drawing his gun despite the other man's derisive snort. He didn't say anything, just walked down a short incline to a dry clutch of trees, where he put out a hand to stop Bennet going any further. Down the hill, past the trees, there was a ramshackle farmhouse and a patch of grazing-land. Goats and cattle; two horses in the backyard. You saw these all over, especially in north Texas. Little farms.

Claude sat down next to the trees, shielded from view by the empty branches. Bennet followed suit, crossing his arms over his knees, the gun in one hand.

"What are we looking for?" he asked.

"Just wait," Claude said, even as a door opened.

The woman who walked outside was extraordinarily pretty, with a long dark braid of hair pulled away from her face. She had to be about twenty-five, Bennet thought, slim and tall, out of place in the dry yellow grass of the farmyard.

He glanced at Claude and saw another spate of complex emotions cross his face; affection, worry, loneliness. It hadn't occurred to Bennet that this might be his motive.

The woman swept the braid back over her shoulder and set down a basket of laundry, hanging it on a line that crossed the yard. The horses wandered over to inspect her and she laughed, the sound carrying up to the two men, clear and happy. The goats herded their way over as well, hooves up on the fence separating them from the yard, watching with their slotted yellow eyes.

"She's telekinetic," Claude said, pointing to where she was hanging the laundry. Some of the sheets were lifting out of the basket of their own accord, shaking themselves out and settling neatly over the clothesline. "There's dozens of telekinetics in the files."

"Each different, each worth study," Bennet said reprovingly.

"She is that," Claude answered. His eyes followed the woman's hands.

"What's her name?"

"Shannon. Lives with her parents. Got two brothers. None of 'em showing any signs, least not that I've seen." Claude rubbed his face with one hand, fingers touching his lips. "I found her, Bennet. Without the Company. Then they found her. So yes. I destroyed her file before anyone saw it. Or thought I had."

"Have you spoken with her?"

"Twice. Came out to see her, said my car broke down, got inside the house and borrowed their telephone, waited with her for the tow-truck."

"And the second time?"

"Came back to say thank you."

"Oh, naturally." Bennet glanced sidelong at him. "Why didn't you tell the Company when you found her?"

Claude rubbed the back of his neck, bowing his head. He was silent for a while.

"She answered the door. Big -- big blue eyes. Take a man's breath away, those eyes. Don't even remember what I said. The way she walks, and...she's bright, Bennet. Tol' me all about herself. Degree in Agriculture, goin' to set up an energy-efficient irrigation system, goin' to breed the cattle for better beef."

Down below, her chore finished, Shannon stretched and wandered over to the goats.

"Got a bit of wit about her. Asked if I was tryin' to get to Glasgow and lost m'way. Poured me some lemonade. You Texans," he said, shaking his head. "Don't reckon I'll ever much understand you."

"You hid a woman from the Company because you fell in love with her, Claude?" Bennet asked. He couldn't help being just a little sardonic about it.

"Nobody said anything about love," Claude muttered. "Just thought about what we do to people an' -- it keeps me up at night."

"For the greater good."

"That doesn't much help a man sleep. I do like her. Don't want her laid out on a table, hooked up to a machine." He turned to look at Bennet. "It ever occur to you that I haven' got a wife an' kids? Haven't even got many friends, other'n you. You ever think maybe I want more than just bein' one of the Company's Specials? Some kind of a life -- like that," he added, nodding at Shannon.

"You're lonely," Bennet said.

"Maybe I am. Maybe I just wanted someone to have an ordinary life."

Claude laced his fingers behind his bowed head and closed his eyes. "Don't make me take her in. Use the Haitian, don't let her remember it. Just bag'n'tag her and do the tests and let her go back to her life. Don't ask her to choose. Don't hurt her."

"I can't butter up Thompson about what you've done."

"M'not askin' for anything for me. I can take my medicine like a good boy. Don't let him punish her on account of me, that's all."

Bennet drove them back to Primatech and walked Claude into Thompson's office. He knew better than to take him anywhere else. He left him in the atrium and spoke to Thompson for half an hour about ways and means, partners, and how the stress of this job could get to you a little if you let it. Thompson did not smile, but he did agree to give Bennet the Haitian while Claude was...seen to.

That was the last time Bennet saw his partner for a little over a month. In that month he drove the Haitian out to the farmstead when they were sure Shannon's parents were gone for the day, and they very quietly sedated her with a pill in her drink while they waited for a tow truck that wasn't going to come.


Claude was returned to his custody -- Bennet had no illusions that this was what it was -- on a sunny afternoon in September. He looked pale, but otherwise healthy.

"How're you then?" Claude asked, when they were alone in Bennet's office.

"I'm all right. And you?"

"Fine. The girl?"

No names.

"She's fine. Back at the farm. We have plenty of telekinetics, she wasn't anything special. Her parents thought she went riding and got thrown by a horse; they found her about two days after she disappeared. She doesn't remember anything."

Claude nodded and silently offered him a small black device. Bennet took it and switched it on.

"Global Positioning device," Claude said. He gave Bennet a mirthless smile. "Very cutting-edge."


Claude pulled down the collar of his shirt. There was a nasty, half-healed surgical incision just below his collarbone.

"There's a chip just under m'vein," he said. "Try to take it out and I'll bleed to death. That," he said, pointing to the device, "is to make sure we always know where Claude is."

Bennet set the box on his desk. His fingers felt dirty.

"Works at a range of over fifteen thousand miles. F'I'm gone for more'n a day, that's how we find me. Smash it, and there are five more in a Company vault. Data's recorded and sent to a server, so we always know where I've been, as well. We're very efficient, we are."

"Claude -- "

"No," Claude said, sharply. "We never, ever discuss this again."

Bennet frowned. "Where did you go?"

"They sent me home. Two weeks in England. No clue why; dropped me off in London with a Company credit card and a passport. Said to be back in Odessa by September." Claude shrugged. "Saw the sights. Got bored. Came back."

"See your family?"

"Got none. Just Claude."

"You were gone for a month. Two weeks in England -- "

"That's another thing we never discuss again."

Bennet nodded and studied his hands.

"Come to dinner tonight," he said.

"I won't be your pity case, Bennet."

"You're my friend. Come to dinner tonight."

Bennet left the GPS locked in a drawer in his desk, where it stayed until the batteries ran down and it started to beep incessantly. Then he replaced the batteries and locked it up again.

You would think that a month of missing time and what amounted to professional infidelity would have killed their friendship, but Bennet knew better. By the time they were home, Claude had switched himself on again and greeted Sandra with a hug and a kiss on the cheek, throwing the little ones up in the air and laughing, regaling them with probably made-up stories about his holiday in England.

There were times when he switched off, especially that first time they were sent on another bag and tag, but in the space of a few months he was Claude again. And Bennet did what he could to keep him there -- brought him home for dinner at least once a week, tried to keep him talking to other Company-employed Specials when they ran across them, tried to help him make friends. He discovered an odd, diffident, shy streak that was probably the reason Claude had been lonely in the first place.

He wasn't sure how well it worked. Claude could flirt and banter and bicker like few men Bennet had met; he was good with the new kids, helping them learn and reassuring them about their abilities, but the second it went any deeper he pulled away and became a Company Man, all business again. Still, he never buried anyone else, and he never swerved a hair from Company procedure, so if he was unhappy there was only so much Bennet could do.



They lost him in the rain.

It poured buckets, whole deluges, a biblical plague of epic proportions the entire time they were in California. Claude dripped all over and cursed about never being dry again; Bennet couldn't keep his collars stiff or his shoes clean, and he cleaned his gun every night in case the water was seeping in. The radio stations thought they were funny when they incessantly played "It Never Rains In Southern California". Claude was Not Amused.

When it happened, the boy took off running and both men followed, but a seventeen-year-old kid in good training isn't easy to put hands on. The boy darted and dodged through a city he knew a lot better than Bennet or Claude did, and then Bennet went down in the rain, slipping on slick pavement. Claude didn't stop; long training told him not to, but the boy went one way and he went the wrong way, so eventually he circled back around and found Bennet sitting up, cradling one elbow and rubbing the back of his head.

"Lost 'im," he gasped, breathing hard. "Jesus Christ, I'm getting too fucking old for this. You all right?"

"Bruised but whole," Bennet replied, accepting the hand he offered and pulling himself upright.

"How's yer head?"

"I'll live. Where'd he go?"

"Search me," Claude said. "I'm getting the hell out of this weather."

Back at the motel, Claude dug up two dingy but reasonably clean towels. He hung one over his own head and tossed the other to Bennet, who was carefully stripping out of his shirt to inspect the damage.

"When I retire," Claude said, changing into dry clothes and keeping up a running monologue, "I'm going to find somewhere it never rains and never gets above seventy degrees and there's no smog. And no bloody teenagers."

"Good luck with that," Bennet said, as his phone rang. He set down the towel and checked the ID. "Sandra."

"Better answer, mate."

"Honey, now's not really a good -- what?" Bennet asked, and Claude paused in the middle of buttoning his shirt. "Slow down, she's -- okay, is she okay? She was what? Where are -- how? Put her on the telephone."

Claude relaxed a fraction. If you could talk to the person who was or was not okay, probably they were at least in possession of their limbs.

"Hey, Claire-bear, what happened? Mmh. Okay. You're sure? Yeah, freaking out is what we do, hon. All right. I'll be home on the next flight. No, I do have to. Claude can handle things here."

Claude lifted one eyebrow. Bennet shook his head at him.

"Okay. Love you too. Don't get into trouble. Bye."

He hung up the phone.

"Claire?" Claude asked.

"She got into some kind of accident and cut her hand. Doesn't sound serious, but she's in the emergency room. I have to go home."

"Bennet -- "

"It's not an option, Claude, she's my daughter. Stay here and find the kid; I'll be back if it really isn't serious."

"But the Company..."

"It's been six years, I think you can spend a day without me and nobody will mind," Bennet said. It was the closest they'd ever touched to talking about Shannon, all those years ago. He began throwing clothing into his suitcase. "There's going to be a search out for him after he doesn't come home. I need you to -- "

Claude was already setting up the police scanner. Bennet grinned.

"We won't catch him, though," Claude said.

"He's seventeen, how long can a seventeen-year-old hold out?"

"He's a Finder and he's clever. He'll Find a safe place, and then he'll Find someone who can help him." Claude shrugged. "I'll stay, but if this rain doesn't let up I'm coming home on Friday and sod this kid."


Claude did come home on Friday, just in time for a deluge that swept through the southwest, making landing at the tiny Midlands airport difficult. He showed up on the Bennet family doorstep, head soaking, coat dripping, luggage wet through. Bennet answered the door, looked at him, and silently stood aside. Claude squelched into the foyer.

"That didn't work so well," he said.

"You want a towel?" Bennet asked.

"I want hard drugs."

"HON, WHO WAS -- Claude!" Sandra said, putting her head into the hallway. "You look...tired."

"Sandra," Claude said carefully. "Sorry about the...floor."

"Pshaw," Sandra said. She was one of the few people he knew who could say that word, and the only one who could get away with it. "Been meaning to mop that anyway. Come on, get out of that coat, I'll put it in the dryer and you can stay for dinner. Shoes too, come on, come on."

Claude sheepishly let Sandra pester him into slipping out of his coat and suit-jacket, shoes and socks, and let her carry the damp clothing away. Claire and Lyle clattered down the stairs at the sound of voices, Lyle pretending to be manly and punching him in the arm (ow; the kid was getting big) while Claire hugged him hello.

"How's the patient?" he asked, catching her wrists in his hands. He turned them over, looking for a bandage or signs of stitches.

"All healed," she said with a grin. Claude looked up, still holding her wrists, and caught Bennet's eye. Bennet was poker-faced, but a hint of concern slipped through.

"And your dad ran all the way across three states to get back to you. I think he just got tired of California," Claude said, letting her go.

"Aaaand, guess what," Claire said, grinning.

"Can't possibly."

"I made the cheer squad!" she said. "I am officially a cheerleader."

"School-approved panty-flashing. God bless America," Claude said, and then Claire punched him too (Ow!).

"Dinner'll be ready in about ten minutes," Sandra called from the kitchen. "Kids, come set the table!"

Claire and Lyle both rolled their eyes, but they disappeared into the dining room, leaving Claude still damp and Bennet still quiet in the foyer.

"Been debriefed?" Bennet asked. Claude noticed he was standing so that he could see the kitchen; he hated bringing work home with him.

"Talked to Thompson. They're puttin' someone in place in California but the kid's probably left the state by now. Formal debriefing tomorrow, by the Haitian."

"Will you pass?"

Claude felt a surge of resentment. He'd been debriefed by the Haitian before; it was standard procedure now, to have the Company digging in his memories to make sure he was keeping honest, but he didn't have to like the mistrust. He knew the Haitian understood how little he liked what they did, but what choice did he have now? And if the Haitian knew, if he'd caught the carefully-tucked-away anger at the Company, he'd never told anyone.

"Yes," he said. "I'll pass."

Chapter 2

(Anonymous) 2007-04-23 01:44 am (UTC)(link)
This pretty much fulfills my deepest desires in life.
Heros + AU, my two favourite things!

[identity profile] 2007-04-23 06:44 pm (UTC)(link)
Yay! :D

[identity profile] 2007-04-23 02:33 am (UTC)(link) hurts to think how different it could have been if Bennet and Claude had kept trust between them.

[identity profile] 2007-04-23 06:44 pm (UTC)(link)
It does. But at the same time, you think about Claude spending seven years basically a prisoner of the Company, hating what he does even if he likes his life overall...I wonder which he'd choose, a job he hates but people who love him or freedom from the Company with nobody who loves him at all.

Except the poodle, of course. :D

[identity profile] 2007-04-30 11:52 pm (UTC)(link)
"I want hard drugs."

That's my Claude! *dreamy sigh*

[identity profile] 2008-01-12 09:19 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh, this is wonderful! Just found it (was cruising the fic recs thread on TWoP) ... *skips off to read part 2*