Characters: Ryan Hardy, Claire Matthews, Debra Parker
Pairing: Claire Matthews/Ryan Hardy
Warnings: Graphic "comfort" sex, verbal and physical fighting, and desperate!Ryan and desperate!Claire
Inspiration: Ryan and Claire's final scene together, my own musings about comfort sex, and Pyro by Kings of Leon..
A single book of matches is gonna burn; we're standing in the way.
Running down the mountain; now they're calling on the fire brigade.
Bury all the pictures and tell the kids that I'm okay.
If'n I'm forgotten; you'll remember me for today.
Ryan's first instinct when he felt her trying to move out of his embrace was for him to hold her tighter. He could feel her struggling against his arms, and he knew he was supposed to let go, but he just couldn't do it. She'd fought him before and he'd suppressed it, and they'd both needed that. He knew this had to be the same.
It wasn't until she rolled her shoulders, shoved her palms hard against his chest, and ordered loudly, "Let go of me, Ryan," that he finally did so. His hands fell limply to his sides as he looked her over as she backed away, taking in her disheveled appearance, her tear-reddened eyes, and her bare feet. She crossed her arms over her chest, but instead of looking defiant, he got the impression that she was only doing so to hold herself together.
"I'm going inside," she said, turning on her heel without waiting for him to reply and heading into the house. He watched her go, wishing he had something to say to call her back. Nothing came to him, as usual, and he watched her disappear into the house, standing behind in silence.
He waited only a few seconds before following after her. He peeked into the living room and the kitchen, but she was nowhere to be seen. FBI agents and local, trusted cops were moving to and from room to room as if they weren't someone else's home, but he didn't see her among them. He headed to the stairs, taking each step slowly as he ascended to the second floor. Her bedroom was on the far end of the hall, and unlike all the rooms in the house, that door was shut. Just the sight of it answered his questions about her whereabouts. He approached the door quietly, keeping his ears alert for any sounds of her distress, but he couldn't hear any noises coming from the other side of the wood.
He knocked on the white door softly, leaning towards it to hear through the wall. "Claire?" he called. "It's me." He ducked his head, putting his hand on the doorknob. "Is it okay if I come in?"
He waited almost half a minute, but she never answered. Finally, he turned the knob himself and slowly opened the door.
I, I won't ever be your cornerstone.
When he pushed the door open and stepped inside the room, he found her sitting on her bed, staring at him. Her bare toes were pressed into the carpet, digging themselves into the soft fabric as her heels pushed up against the base of the bed. He stared at her, wondering if there was anything he could say. If there would ever be anything for him to say. Eventually, he couldn't just stare at her any longer, so somehow, he managed to open his mouth and force it out: "I'm sorry, Claire."
The second he spoke those words, her frozen body sprang to life.
"You're sorry?" She exploded at once, jumping to her feet as her face contorted with rage. The fury made her look alive to Ryan, so different from what she had been before—exhausted and hopeless and crying into his shoulder. It mystified him how quickly she could jump from one emotional extreme to the next these days, but he couldn't blame her. It hadn't taken him more than five seconds to push grief over Sarah's death aside and pour his anger into throttling Joe. "How can you say that to me, Ryan? Now?"
"Claire," he murmured, stepping closer, "I just meant—"
She cut him off, slapping her hand clear across his unsuspecting face.
"Don't you ever tell me you're sorry," she ordered, tears of anger and sorrow hanging suspended in her eyelids as she glared at him.
He struggled to right himself, to face her again, to explain. "Claire, I—"
"You're going to get my baby killed," she shouted at him, shoving him away as her voice quavered and the tears that had been swimming in her eyes finally fell down her cheeks. "Because you couldn't bring him home, you're going to get him killed, so don't you EVER think an apology will fix that. Don't you ever think saying 'I'm sorry' will bring him back to me after you lost him."
Ryan closed his eyes, looking down. "I…" He had to bite his tongue so he wouldn't say I'm sorry again. He sighed heavily, admitting, "I just… didn't know what to say, Claire."
She laughed sharply, causing his eyes to snap open. "Yeah," she replied with a humorless smile. The tracks of her tears were still wet and shining on her cheeks. Her face was a distraught and scornful visage to behold, and yet he couldn't look away. "You never do know what to say, do you, Ryan?"
Ryan swallowed, anxious. He knew they were no longer talking about his response to Joey's continued abduction. And he also knew this was not a good time for them to discuss what had happened eight years ago. "Claire," he began softly, hoping to tread lightly, "I know I was unfair to you back then, but right now isn't the ti—"
"'Unfair' does not even begin to cover it, Ryan," she snapped angrily. He flinched slightly as she glared at him; her indignation was so fierce and present it was like it had a life of its own. "You abandoned me," she corrected in a shout. She held up a hand so he could see as she ticked off each option he'd failed to choose: "No note, no call, no explanation. No NOTHING!" She lunged forward and shoved him again, harder this time than she had before, and he fell back against the door behind his back. She stepped towards him, her face alight with menace and her eyes magnified with tears again as she went after him. "You—just—LEFT!"
"No, Claire…" He shook his head, reaching for her hands. She tried to shake him off, but he gripped her hands tightly, not allowing her to let go. "It wasn't about you and me, Claire. That wasn't why I left." He could see angry disbelief cross over her face, and he knew she was going to protest, so he continued quickly before she could interrupt: "I did it for you and Joey." Some of the anger fell off of her face at the mention of her son, and though Ryan knew it was probably only a reaction to his absence, he took the opportunity that her renewed attention afforded him.
He stepped closer, still holding her hands tightly. When he had said before he left that he wanted to talk, he hadn't meant like this, but if this was the only chance he was ever going to get, he was going to seize it for all it was worth. He had to make her understand, once and for all. "I couldn't keep holding you two back anymore," he explained quietly. "I knew… I knew back then that if I stayed, I'd always remind you of Joe, always. If I was there with you, you'd never be able to move on from what happened, because as long as I was there, so was he." He sighed softly, shaking his head as he ducked his chin down. "And you didn't need that, Claire. Not so soon after what happened, after the trials and the sentencing… You didn't deserve to feel him there with you all the time, between us all the time…" He shut his eyes, hanging his head. He was just about to step away and slip out the door—and leave her alone like she no doubt wanted him to from the start—when she did something that froze his entire body in place as if he was suddenly carved of stone.
He barely felt it when her hands slipped out of his grasp—his own had loosened around hers as he was finishing speaking—but when she leaned forward and planted her mouth on his, he felt her markedly than he ever had before. His eyes shot open in surprise when her lips pressed themselves to his, even as the rest of his body stilled in shock. He could feel her lips moving against his, feel her mouth attempting to engage his, but he couldn't move. He was still trying to decide whether to pull her close or push her back when she leaned away—slowly, allowing her lips linger on his before breaking.
"Joe isn't between us right now," she whispered softly, her hands falling from his cheeks to his chest as her eyes stayed locked with his. Her gaze hypnotizing; it somehow appeared sultry to him even despite her reddened rims and tear-stained face. "He wasn't between us eight years ago…" Ryan struggled to breath normally as he felt her hands slide over his belt. He tried to open his mouth to tell her to stop, but he couldn't. She leaned closer to him, whispering a truth he'd never been willing to acknowledge and a secret he'd never expected her to uncover, "Ryan, you put him there. You wanted him there between us so you could use him as an excuse to leave when things got hard."
He stared at her, trying to shake his head to refute her, but still, his muscles wouldn't cooperate.
"I had already ended and buried my relationship with Joe when I asked you to kiss me that first time," she continued, her hands casually moving about his belt and undoing it without ever breaking eye contact.
"Claire…" Miraculously, he somehow found his voice, but telling her to stop was another, and greater, challenge in and of itself. Even when her hands hesitated for him before pulling the leather free of his pants, he couldn't say it. He didn't want to say it.
"I had already pushed him out of my life when I opened up to you, Ryan." His belt made a soft thump as she dropped it on the carpet. "I never once thought of him while we were together." She licked her lips, looking up at him. As much as he knew he should avoid her eyes, he could do nothing except meet them. She gave him a small smile when their gazes locked. "Maybe you think I did," she mused softly, her hands unfastening the button on his jeans easily. The sound of her unzipping his pants was eerily loud in the silent room, nearly as loud as his heart, which was currently beginning to pound in his chest. "Maybe you thought he was always on my mind, but you'd be wrong, Ryan. I haven't thought about any man like that except one in the last eight years." One of her hands slipped inside his jeans, caressing him through the material of his boxer briefs. He leaned his head back against the door, trying in vain to tell her to back off, trying to pull himself together, trying to leave. He couldn't move an inch. "And that one man is you, Ryan."
"Claire," he whispered hoarsely, his hands finally responding to his brain and moving to cup her arms. "Claire…" He swallowed, staring into her eyes. She looked so hopeful, so expectant, like she had finally found the only thing that could make her feel better and feel safe; the only thing that could help her out of her despair.
And that's what she'd said to him earlier, wasn't it?
I don't trust anyone but you.
He shook his head slowly at her. Even if he couldn't find the words to say no, he had to show her this wasn't right. They weren't supposed to do this. It was wrong, and he knew it would come back to haunt them—just like everything else did.
To both his relief and dismay, she ignored his attempts at doing the right thing. "Come on," she whispered, lifting her hands to cup his cheeks and still his shaking head. Her blue eyes blinked at him, curious. She stepped closer, and he couldn't help but suck in a breath when their bodies touched. He knew she could feel him against her, and he knew before she even spoke that this was the end of it. There would be no going back after this, he knew, and despite the circumstances, he couldn't help but hope that maybe there would be some way to more forward when it was all over. "Look me in the eye, Ryan, and tell me you haven't thought about me, too. Tell me you don't want this."
All the black inside me is slowly seeping from the bone.
Everything I cherished is slowly dying, or it's gone.
Little shaken babies and drunkards seem to all agree:
Once the show gets started, it's bound to be a sight to see.
Neither of them were even fully undressed by the time their bodies joined. She'd managed to kick her jeans off by the time he hoisted her up against the door, and they'd shoved his pants and boxer briefs down to his knees, but since that was all that was needed, that was far as they got. His shirt was still buttoned and her sweater was still on over her blouse by the time he took her, but it didn't matter. They shared the same goal and clothes would not stop them from achieving it.
She gasped aloud when he first pushed inside her; both her eyes and mouth widened to their capacity as he filled her completely in one thrust. He captured her mouth with his immediately, silencing her outburst so the others wouldn't hear. It didn't take long for him to steal her breath, and soon enough, she had to rip her mouth from his, her pants joining his.
"Oh, god," she whispered, wrapping her arms around his neck and burying her face in his shoulder. "Oh, god, oh, god," she chanted. Her hands slipped into his hair, fisting the short ends at the back of his neck along with the collar of his shirt as she mumbled incoherently into his ear. "Oh, Ryan…" It had been so long since she'd felt like this; so long since he—or anyone—had been inside her. In all the lengths she'd gone to to suppress her feelings for him, she'd almost deluded herself into thinking he wasn't good at this, wasn't good at striking a match and lighting her entire body on fire.
She was reminded of it now, though—in detail—as he moved expertly inside and around her, pinning her against the door and driving into her like these were their last moments together on earth. As she wrapped her legs around his waist and crossed them over his backside, she realized that, giving the dire situation they were both entangled within, this very well could be their last chance together. The warm, haunting memories of all their previous bouts of tender lovemaking hit her hard, overwhelming her brain and he overwhelmed her body. Waves of nostalgia rolled over her with a frequency almost in tune with his deep thrusts.
"Missed you," he grunted out, pulling back before pumping himself inside her again. "So much, Claire." He buried his face in her hair, kissing her neck as he whispered again, his lips at her ear, "So much, baby."
Claire cried out for him desperately as he moved within her again, and couldn't help but fling her head back, arching her body to his. The back of her head hit the door he had her pressed up against, but she barely felt the resulting pain. She was experiencing so much pleasure—pleasure that she never thought she'd get to feel again—and she couldn't bother to focus on the momentary pain. The feel of him inside her was so much stronger, so much more important, than a bump on the head. She felt like he was bringing her back to life with each thrust of his body inside hers, like they way a lifeguard would breathe air into a victim's lungs, and she never wanted to give up on that feeling, not even to nurse her own wounds.
When she felt his thrusts falter for a minute as he straightened up and lifted her more securely into his arms, she raised her head from his neck to find his face. She could see sweat breaking out on his brow and hear his breaths get shorter and shallower with every push of his hips against hers.
In the short break between when he pulled away from her and when he entered her again, her hands reached for his cheeks, tilting his head up so he looked her right in the eyes. "Put me down on the bed," she ordered breathlessly, not wanting him to overtax himself.
He stared back up at her for a confused second before understanding flickered across his face. He quickly lifted her up into his arms, holding her close as he turned around. He bent down low as he set her on the bed so that their bodies stayed joined the entire time. Crouching over her, he pressed his hips against hers over and over again. She gasped sharply every time he drove himself inside her, but her wandering hands and throaty moans kept him going, kept him confident in the fact that she wanted this, too.
"I haven't thought about any man like that except one in the last eight years… And that one man is you, Ryan."
He grunted, struggling to keep his breathing under control as he recalled her words. He couldn't believe this was happening. He couldn't believe she still wanted him like this after all he'd done. He sucked in a breath, focusing on her beneath him. Her hair was splayed out across the bed and her remaining clothes were rumpled and in disarray. He could feel his heart hammering in his chest as his breathing quickened, but he didn't spare a single thought for it. If he died here, inside Claire, it would be the most wonderful death he could imagine. It would certainly be so much sweeter, so much quicker and gentler, than whatever Joe had planned for him.
"More…" Claire's voice was low and insistent in his ear; more demanding release than begging for it as she wrapped her arms around his back and tugged him to her. "I'm so close, Ryan. Come on. Please. Please."
He grunted in return, not being able to express just how near he was to exploding within her too. He had never felt like this in his entire life—so close to having everything he'd ever wanted come together even as the rest of the world was falling apart. When they were first together, things had been nothing short of blissful. Yes, they'd run into problems, and yes, those problems had proved to be their end as a couple, but all of what had happened before their break-up was nothing like this. He had never felt this way with her, or with anyone. No woman had ever made him feel so powerless, so hypnotized—even eight years ago, Claire hadn't held the same allure for him that she did now. Now, she was inescapable, irrefutable. He never wanted to say no to her. He couldn't say no to her, and this proved it.
He shut his eyes, pushing himself deeper inside her. That was just one on a long list of things he never wanted to stop doing. He never wanted to be without the feel of her hands clutching his back and fisting into his hair; he never wanted her mouth to part from his; he never wanted to hear any name on her lips but his. He never wanted to leave her.
"I'm going to… going to… OH—" Her growing gasp of completion was cut off as he pressed his mouth to hers, keen on keeping things as quiet as possible lest someone hear. He cupped the side of her face, keeping her close, as he moved inside her a few more times. He could feel her hot core closing around him, pulsing as it squeezed him tight, and he knew he didn't have much time left before he fell over the edge with her. He tried to prolong those last few moments inside her as much as he could, but it was impossible. Like everything else had always been with her, joy was fleeting; it ended just as he was coming to terms with its brief existence.
I, I won't ever be your cornerstone.
I, I don't want to be here holding on.
I, I won't ever be your cornerstone.
Too dazed afterwards to realize exactly what she was doing, Ryan let her slip away from him without a word of protest. He rolled over, laid his head back on the pillow behind him, and took a long series of deep breaths. He could still feel his heart pounding in his chest, but with each breath and second that passed, he could feel it slow, beat by beat, and soon return to normal.
By the time he roused himself enough to remember what had just happened, minutes had passed. When he sat up and looked over, he was surprised not to find Claire lying beside him, laughing and smiling like she had so many times in the past. When his eyes drifted further across the room, he finally spotted her on the very far edge of the bed. She wasn't laughing; she wasn't even smiling. She faced him for only the shortest moment before turning away.
He stared at her back as she turned it to him, confusion creasing his forehead and dread seeping into his being. He understood that Joey was still missing and that what just happened between them shouldn't, strictly speaking, have happened, but… It had been good, hadn't it? She'd acted like she'd wanted it, and he had seen that she'd enjoyed it… So why was she being so cold him now?
"Claire?" He called softly. He wanted to reach over and touch her, but he got the feeling such a gesture wouldn't be accepted by her. "Are you—"
"Please leave." Her voice was quiet, soft—so different from the shouts and screams and snaps that he'd heard come out of her mouth not fifteen minutes earlier.
He stared at her back, feeling his stomach drop. He would've preferred it if she'd yelled. He wished she'd face him, at the very least. He could feel his regular heartbeat quicken in his chest as his mind surged backwards. She had wanted it, hadn't she? She was the one that had come on to him, after all. She had acted like it was all she wanted from him, and he'd gone along with it because… Well, because he couldn't help himself. He couldn't say no, not to her.
"Claire," he began again, his voice just as low as hers because of nervousness, "what do you mean? Don't you think we should—"
"There's nothing for us to talk about, Ryan," she interrupted in a quiet mutter, having expected his protest. He watched as she turned further away, watched the way her body curled in on itself. She brought her knees to her chest before eyeing him pointedly over her bare shoulder. "Unless you'd like to talk, and explain to me why you didn't bring my son home after promising me—"
Ryan exhaled shortly, unable to mask his exasperation. "Claire, I didn't—"
"Promising me, Ryan!" Her screech suddenly filled the room, her body whirling around as she sat up to accuse him. "You PROMISED ME that you'd find him, promised me that bring you'd bring him home!"
Ryan's eyes widened in shock at the ferocity of her movements and the fury in her voice, and he felt his body tense. Even after all that he'd been through in the last day, seeing her like this scared him more than anything else. He'd rather watch Joey slip through his fingers again, or have a gun pointed it his head again, than watch Claire fall apart like this. He'd known her for a long time, and this wasn't who she was. She didn't lose control like this. He felt a lump rise in his throat that he tried in vain to swallow as he searched for something to say. "I… I shouldn't have said that," he finally managed, his voice nearly inaudible for knew it was no excuse. "I never should've—"
Claire snorted derisively, turning away again. "Great, that makes it better," she spat, facing away from him again. "Thanks, Ryan."
He didn't know why her words riled him up the way he did, but suddenly he was on his feet, shouting at her from across the room. "What do you want me to say, Claire? That I should've lied to the moment he went missing? That I should've lied to you when I left? That I—That I should lie to you now, and say there's a greater chance that we'll find Joey alive than dead—if we even find him at all after this? Is that what you want to hear? More false promises? Huh? Is that all you want from me, Claire?"
Her could see the hurt spread across her face as she listened to him like he'd physically smacked her with his words. His mouth opened, closed, and opened again after he'd finished. He couldn't believe he'd just said that—he couldn't believe that those words had just come out of his mouth and that she—of all people—had been the one he'd directed his vitriol at. As he attempted to step towards her to explain, he felt his pants tighten around his knees and he couldn't believe what he'd just done, either.
What the hell was wrong with him? She was grieving the loss of her son, the resurgence of her ex-husband, and God knew what else. What had he let her talk him into this? Why hadn't he left the moment it seemed like something was going to happen between them? Why couldn't he control himself around her?
Before he could manage to answer any of these questions for himself, her cold, infuriated snarl interrupted his thoughts: "Get. Out."
Ryan swallowed, desperate to stay, to explain, to apologize. "Claire…" He reached down, hiking his pants up and fastening them quickly before crossing the room to speak with her. She turned away from him as he stepped closer, but he didn't stop. "Claire, I didn't mean it. I was just angry, I—" He reached out to touch her shoulder, to turn her towards him, but she whirled around and shoved him away with such a force he'd yet to feel from her, despite all the times she'd pushed him away since he'd returned. He stumbled back, but managed to catch himself on the nearby dresser before he could fall.
He felt his throat close as he stared at her. If she had looked distraught earlier, it was nothing compared to how she looked now. He'd never seen her look so upset, so hopeless, so completely beaten-down. "I…" He licked his lips, trying to find something to say and trying not to think of the fact that all of this was completely his fault. He'd gone into the farmhouse without backup. He'd let Emma slip away with Joey. He'd completely given into Claire's temptations when the absolute last thing she'd needed was him inside her. And then he'd gone and told her that her missing baby boy would most likely be dead soon, if he wasn't already.
She glared up at him with such intense and unfathomable hatred from her position on the bed now that he could do nothing but stare, dumbstruck, back at her. Her anger in no way underscored by the tears that swam in her eyes and glimmered on her skin as they fell down her cheeks. He wondered, looking down at her, how they'd ever fooled themselves into thinking that they'd actually work. It was clear now, as it had been eight years ago, that they were nothing but toxic to one another. Hell, he couldn't even apologize to her or make love to her these days without turning things into a fight. How had he ever deluded himself into thinking that they might be able to pick up the pieces after Joey was safe and this was all over?
Her voice was cold with fury and raspy with tears when she finally managed to open her mouth and speak: "Get the hell out of my house, Ryan." He watched as one of her tears fell down across her lips, and he found himself wondering if she could taste the salt yet. "Right now," she ordered.
He hesitated for just a second, opening his mouth for one last appeal, but her eyes zeroed in on his so quickly and with such fierceness that he closed it at once. He knew now that anything he might say now could only make things worse. His eyes fell to the floor and he nodded once. "Okay," he muttered, backing away. It was more than fair, he knew in his mind, for her to order him away. It was just his own twisted heart that wanted to stay, wanted to comfort and console her—even though the rational part of him knew his continued presence would only make things more painful for the both of them.
Managing for once to think with his head instead of other parts of his body, Ryan headed to the far side of the room without complaint, picking up his belt on the way out and slipping it through the loopholes of his jeans.
"I mean it," she called out to him as he opened the door. He turned to catch her eye, but she was staring out the far window, her back to him. Despite this, he could hear her voice perfectly clearly, and was able to easily spot the now-suppressed anger lurking within it. "I don't want to come downstairs in an hour and find you there. I want you off my goddamn property, Ryan."
He shut his eyes, leaning his forehead against the doorframe. He knew she wanted to say I never want to see you again, but so long as Joe's disciples were out there, they both knew that wasn't an option. Nonetheless, he understood her implication. He was to stay away unless his presence in her home was absolutely necessary. After a short moment—in which he knew she was staying silent only so she could hear him conform to her rules and then leave—he finally mumbled, "Fine," and left the room.
Watch her run; can you feel it?
Watch her run…
Can you feel it?
He headed for the stairs immediately, not bothering to loiter outside her door in an attempt to listen in. He didn't want to hear her sobbing the second he disappeared or—worse—not hear anything at all. He left before he could make the situation any worse for himself.
"Hey, where are you headed so fast, Hardy?"
He was almost out the front door when Parker caught him by the arm, halting his escape. He looked to the floor, immediately avoiding her seemingly all-knowing eyes and trying to pull himself together. He knew he wouldn't be able to bounce Parker's suspicions away if she looked into his face right now and saw the guilt that he knew was there. He just couldn't hold her off; not today. "Just back to the hotel," he mumbled, his eyes briefly meeting hers. "I haven't slept and…"
"Have the EMTs looked you over?"
Ryan nodded. "Yeah." The leftover paramedics had checked him over after they'd sent the girl to the hospital. He looked away, but watched out of the corner of his eye as Parker looked him over. He could see in the way her eyes narrowed slightly as she looked at him that she suspected something.
After a moment, she cleared her throat softly, wondering in a quieter voice, "How's Claire?"
Ryan tried not to jump at the question, but it was practically impossible. Memories of their hurried tryst against the door and on the bed flashed through his mind, mixing with her own screams and his shouts, as he struggled for an appropriate answer. He hoped—and very much doubted—that Parker didn't notice his preoccupation. "Not… good," he managed. He reached up, rubbing a hand over his brow. "Before I left, I… I told her I'd bring Joey back."
"Yeah," Parker sighed, eyeing him knowingly. "I heard about that…" Her eyes drifted to the ceiling and Ryan stared at her, awestruck and horrified. What else had she heard? What did she know about what had just happened in Claire's bedroom? He was trying to stumble through his tangled thoughts when Parker continued, her voice quieter now, "We, uh, we could hear you two shouting." She gestured to the entryway around them, which Ryan only then realized was completely deserted. "I decided to give you two some space, and sent everyone outside."
Ryan exhaled in relief, barely being able to believe his own good fortune. The last thing he needed was for someone to suspect he and Claire were involved again. He had to see this case out; he would rather die than be sidelined. "Thanks," he muttered. He moved to step out the door, but Parker stopped him again, holding him in place as she looked him over with those piercing dark eyes of hers.
"Hardy, is there anything I should know about with you two?"
Ryan shook his head at once, resisting the urge to look away. "No." He paused, thinking of a way to elaborate so she wouldn't read into his quick answer. "We… We should probably change our headquarters, though, because she explicitly told me to get the hell off her property."
Parker sighed, letting her hand fall and giving him a small, sympathetic smile. "She's upset about her son, Ryan. She'll come around soon enough. And after all, she probably knows better than anyone else that you're our best shot at ending this thing with Carroll."
Ryan looked down and didn't reply. He didn't know how to tell Parker that she was wrong, and that Claire's anger at him went so much deeper than just how he'd lost her son. At this point, he didn't even think bringing Joey back in on piece would fix anything between them. "Well…" He cleared his throat, finally stepping away. "I'm going to go. I have my cell…" He trailed off, and Parker nodded.
"Good. Get some rest, okay?"
"Sure." Ryan nodded absentmindedly, moving towards the door. There was no chance of him resting, but she didn't need to hear that.
He had just hit the bottom step on the porch, but he turned around when she called his name. "Yeah?" He wondered, unable to hold back a sigh from his voice.
This time, Parker's smile seemed genuinely encouraging. "It wasn't a total loss, yesterday, you know," she reminded him. "You probably saved Meghan's life by going in when you did."
"Yeah," Ryan muttered unenthusiastically.
The unspoken truth hung between them, louder than her praise as it echoed Claire's shouts: But you lost Joey.
Parker nodded her head towards a waiting police car just outside the front door. "Go get some rest," she told him again.
Ryan didn't bother promising he would. He knew his promises were worth nothing, especially that one in particular. He was exhausted, but by no means did that mean he'd be able to fall asleep. He turned away, making his way over to the waiting cop that Parker had signaled to transport him. He gave the woman the address of the hotel and then settled into the backseat as she walked around to start the car. Without even thinking, his eyes drifted to the upper floors of Claire's home as he waited for the car to pull away. On the second floor, on the far left side of the house, he caught a glimpse of Claire's face just before she disappeared behind the curtain again.
He watched the window even after she vanished, and his eyes stayed locked on the empty panes of glass even as the car pulled away from the curb. Maybe he could keep one promise. If what she wanted was for him to stay away from her and never come back—if that's what she really thought was best for her—then he'd manage it. Hell, he'd done it before.
What did it matter if in doing so, he annihilated himself in the process? He'd already put himself on the path to ruin eight years ago when he left her, and it seemed to be in his character these days to throw all the second chances he was given out the window. What was one more self-enforced failure, really, in the grand scheme of things?
I, I won't ever be your cornerstone.
I, I don't wanna be here holding on.
(Watch her run...)
I, I won't ever be your cornerstone.
(Can you feel it?)
Claire jumped when she heard a knock on the door and a voice calling out from the other side. "Ms. Matthews?"
She opened her mouth—ready to yell at Ryan to go away—before she recognized the voice as female and remembered that she'd just watched Ryan be driven off by one of the local police officers.
The voice sounded again as she got up from the bed. "Can I come in?"
"Y—" She was about to answer in the affirmative, but then she realized as she stood up that she was still half-naked, and some of her clothes were still strew about the floor. "Give me a minute," she called, hurriedly putting on her panties and shoving her still-quivering legs into her jeans. She took a look around the room, but didn't bother herself with the rumpled bedspread or her mussed hair or her tear-stained face. Her son had been kidnapped by serial killers and she'd just returned from being abducted by a stalker. There was no reason for anyone to look beneath the surface of those facts for more perverse truths about why she was so disheveled.
She pulled open the door, almost jumping at the sight of Debra Parker before her. She glanced over the woman's shoulder, thinking she'd see an entourage of FBI agents or cops, but no one was there. In fact, there wasn't one other person standing in her upstairs hallway, and she couldn't hear any movement from downstairs. She wondered when everyone had gone so silent. She tried to remember if it had been this quiet before, but all she could remember when she thought back was the sound of Ryan's ragged breathing in her ear and his soft whispers about how much he'd longed for her over the years.
"Missed you, Claire. So much. So much, baby."
"Yes?" she asked, holding tightly onto the door as she kept it half-closed so as to discourage visitors. All she wanted right now was to be alone. Or to be with Ryan.
Claire bit down hard on her tongue, forcing that thought away. She'd been the one to order him to leave; what business did she have wishing he was here with her now?
The FBI specialist tilted her head at Claire, wondering, "Do you mind if we talk?"
Claire licked her lips, swallowing. Though she knew she should be polite and invite the woman to sit down, she didn't budge. "Is this about Ryan?" she asked warily. Every time she thought about him, she felt good for just about two seconds before she remembered all that he'd said, how he'd tried to apologize—and then all she wanted to do was hit him again.
Parker smiled faintly before nodding. "It wasn't his fault, you know," she began softly. "He did his best. None of us could've anticipated that Carroll's people would impersonate SWAT team members and help Emma escape with your son."
"Yeah, well, maybe you all should start thinking outside the box," Claire snapped. "Because if we've learned anything since he started this, it's that he has no trouble playing by his own rules." Claire looked away, staring off to the wall on her right. "It's his game, anyway," she muttered. "We're all just his silly little playthings, too stupid to guess his next move correctly."
Claire knew she was being insulting, but she didn't care. The FBI had failed more times than was acceptable, and she saw no reason why they shouldn't be reminded of that. She ignored Agent Parker's soft sigh and waited for the woman to address her directly before facing forward again.
"I know this is soon," she began anew, "but I need to talk to you a little bit more about the man who abducted you. We need some more specifics."
Claire sighed, finally letting go of the door and holding it open. She walked over to the bed and sat on it in silence, waiting for the agent to ask the questions. Her "abduction"—if that's what they were politely calling her lapse of naïveté now—was one of the last things she wanted to talk about. She looked down at her bare feet, pressing them against the carpet. At least Agent Parker didn't want to talk about Ryan.
Claire's head snapped up from the floor as she remembered—Charlie's computers, the pictures, the video feed to her bedroom… Ryan. She felt her stomach clench in fear as her eyes flew to Agent Parker's. The woman was asking her something—something about her abductor's hair color or eye color or something—but she couldn't hold back from cutting in.
"When they came and got me, the FBI agents, they—they raided his lair or whatever, didn't they? Did they take all the computers?"
Agent Parker looked unimpressed at being interrupted, but after a moment's hesitation, she replied slowly, "Yes…"
"There—There was a video feed," Claire continued hurriedly, "to my room." She knew she was speaking too quickly and too worriedly and was going to arouse suspicion, but she didn't care. No one could see what had just happened between her and Ryan, but so long as there was still a camera somewhere in her room, someone might be able to. She had to make sure no one got that far. "Did you shut it off?"
Parker nodded. "Yes, that…" She sighed, looking uncomfortable as she tried to apologize. "I am so sorry you had to see that, Ms. Matthews. I can't imagine—"
"When?" Claire asked abruptly. "When did you shut it off?"
Parker's eyes narrowed, confused. "About…" She glanced at her watch. "About three hours ago, when we found it. Why?"
Claire shut her eyes, letting relief spread through her body like blood through her veins. Thank God no one filmed that.
"We still have to find the camera and disable it—it might be sending data to a back-up location…"
Claire stared at the FBI specialist in horror; her fingertips had gone numb again and her head was clouding over. So there was still a possibility that someone saw them. Someone that had contact with the cult and Joe, someone that would tell him… She squeezed her eyes shut, trying not to shiver. She didn't ever want to think about what Joe would do if he got solid proof that she and Ryan had…
"I need you to delete it," she whispered. "When you find the camera, you have to destroy the footage; you can't watch it."
"Excuse me, Ms. Matthews, but why do we have to do that?"
Agent Parker asked the question politely, but Claire saw no reason to play around with niceties, so she replied bluntly, "Because there are moments on that video of a very personal nature."
"Ms. Matthews, to be quite frank… I heard the two of you fighting," she admitted. "And there's nothing to be ashamed of," she continued quickly, noticing the surprise on Claire's face. "You are in a very difficult situation right now and…"
Claire stopped listening. There was too much to be ashamed of; so much that she couldn't even begin to tell this agent, let alone any other. She looked up at Parker as the woman continued talking, and Claire wondered if she was going to spell it out to get the specialist to agree to delete the footage.
Her eyes fell before she could even ask. She knew admitting what had happened between her and Ryan today would only make things worse. That mistake had been made eight years ago; she wasn't going to repeat it now. No one had to know.
"If you won't destroy the footage right away, then will you please let me choose who gets to go through it?" she asked, struggling not to scream in frustration. Was it so hard to get these people to help her? Wasn't it in their job description?
Parker stared down at her, finally sighing. "I'm guessing you'll want Agent Hardy to do it, then?"
"Yes," Claire replied at once. She could see Agent Parker staring at her, searching her face with those questioning dark eyes of hers, but she didn't flinch or look away. She had things to be ashamed of, yes, but Parker didn't need to know that. If Ryan was able to delete the footage without anyone seeing it, then no one needed to know.
"All right," Parker answered finally. "I'll talk to him about it what he gets back." She took out a small notebook from her back pocket, uncapped a pen, and ordered, "I need you to tell me everything you remember about the man who abducted you."
A little under a half hour later, after Agent Parker had exhausted all of her questions and Claire had recounted all that she could remember, the FBI specialist closed her notebook and pocketed her pen. She told Claire quietly that she would be right downstairs if she remembered anything else, and that if she needed anything, she should come to an agent instead of leaving the house.
She was almost to the door by the time Claire mustered the courage to call out to her. "I need to go to a pharmacy." She paused a moment, licking her lips that were dry from talking so much. She tried not to remember the way Ryan's mouth had felt against hers. "There's one on Trenton and Market Street."
Agent Parker glanced over her shoulder. "Ms. Matthews, considering what just transpired downtown yesterday, we are going to strongly advise that you do not leave the house. I'm sure one of the police offices downstairs can get you whatever you need."
"No, I really need to go myself," Claire insisted. "And I need to go today," she added.
Parker offered her a small smile. "What brand of toiletries do you use? I'll go and get whatever you need myself, if that makes you feel better."
Claire shook her head rapidly. "That isn't what I need. And I really have to go myself," she pressed, trying not to let her voice shake. "Today." She didn't want to think about what might happen if she didn't take care of this right now.
Parker opened her mouth, about to reply, but then closed it abruptly. Claire watched as the agent's eyes roamed over her face, suddenly filling with concern. She cleared her throat quietly, taking a few steps towards the bed Claire was still sitting on. She lowered her voice almost to a whisper as she wondered softly, "Claire… Do you… Do you want me to take you to the hospital first?"
Claire stared at the FBI specialist, completely thrown for a moment. It took her many seconds to realize what Agent Parker must be thinking, where her mind had immediately gone. She struggled to keep calm as she quickly replied, "It isn't—isn't that." Embarrassed and humiliated of her actions with Ryan, as well as how solicitous and sensitive Parker was being with her now when she didn't deserve it, she could feel her skin heat up as she struggled to explain. "I don't need… Charlie never…" Claire shook her head hastily, at a loss for how to explain herself without dragging Ryan into this and damaging his career yet again. It would be easy to put the blame on Charlie, but then where would she be? He hadn't attacked her; far from it. He'd punished himself when he'd touched her, and how could she say he'd raped her when there would be no proof, and even less motive? Even if she swore up and down that he had, they would insist on her being examined by a doctor, and she knew that would only lead to more questions, ones whose answers she didn't have.
Claire looked down, helpless to reply. She knew Parker was staring at her in confusion, but she couldn't think of an appropriate answer. As furious as she'd been at Ryan before—and how angry she still was now—she didn't want to throw him under the bus like this. It hadn't been his fault, what had happened between them earlier. She had been the one to start it all, and as suddenly as it had all transpired between them, even she hadn't been prepared. She couldn't blame him for this, especially not in front of his boss.
She took a deep breath, lifting her chin to look Agent Parker square in the eye. She wouldn't back down, she wouldn't lie, and she wouldn't implicate Ryan in her mistake. He deserved many things, but not this. "I need to go to a pharmacy," she told the FBI specialist sternly. "And I'm going to get there whether you take me or not." She paused. "That being said, I would greatly appreciate a ride, Agent Parker."
Even hours after he arrived back at the hotel, Ryan still hadn't moved. He lay in his bed, staring at the mind-numbing uniformity of the stucco ceiling above him and let his mind go in circles. He was exhausted—beyond exhausted—but he couldn't find it in himself to sleep. His mind continued to race—no matter how often he tried to focus on dull subjects like the ceiling of his cheap hotel room—and he could swear his heart was still thumping a few beats too fast.
He knew that if Jenny were still here, she'd tell him to get it looked at again. After slapping him in the face for taking advantage of Claire, that is. He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to force those thoughts away, but to no avail. That's how she'd word it, Jenny would—You took advantage of her. She was terrified and upset and angry and vulnerable and you took advantage of that. Selfish bastard. You wait eight years to speak to her again, and then at the first show of weakness, you go after her?
Ryan shut his eyes tighter, pressing a fist to his forehead as if he could physically push the thoughts out of his head. He almost wished his sister was here so that he could explain himself. Or try to, at the very least. He still wasn't sure what he reasons were or why he'd done it, so he supposed in the end that it was better Jenny wasn't here to rip into him.
Circling back on the endless loop of his thoughts, he remembered Claire again, struggling for the thousandth time today to understand just why everything that had happened this morning had happened.
It had to have been more than eight years of repressed lust, didn't it?
He loved her, didn't he?
He cupped his face in his two hands, rubbing his eyes. Did that even matter? Did his feelings for her even hold any water after all he'd said and done? He knew she hated him now, and with good reason. What did it matter if he loved her? Today was no different from what had happened all those years ago; he'd hurt her then and he'd hurt her now. The only way for him to protect her was to stay away; he knew that. Why did he keep relapsing?
Later, as the afternoon light melted away beneath the horizon and dusk and darkness began to fall in rapid succession, he couldn't stop thinking back to that last week they'd spent together, just before he'd shown his true colors as a coward and left without even the thinnest of explanations. He wondered if she remembered the last time they'd made love in her bed, despite it having occurred eight long years ago. He remembered every moment, even now, in perfect clarity, as if it, too, had happened this morning. He wondered if she had ever realized, after he'd left, that he had been trying to say goodbye that night. He had been just as good with words back then as he was today—that's to say, terribly inept—but he'd tried to make her see through other mediums.
He had always hoped that she'd be able to pick up on their last night together and realize what he'd been trying to tell her. He hadn't been able to say any of what he wanted to—both because he didn't have the courage and also because he'd already made up his mind to leave—but he had hoped she knew anyway. He had hoped she'd felt it as they'd fallen asleep in one another's arms, that he loved her and that he was sorry for all that he'd done.
And he had loved her; he still did. He just never had been—and after today, probably would never be—able to say it.
As he laid in bed in his darkened hotel room and prayed once again for sleep to come, his mind wandered to her, mixing his old memories with new ones.
He wondered if she felt the same way.
Maybe she loved him, too, but just didn't know how to say it.
He squeezed his eyes shut, clenching his hands into fists. No. Of course she didn't still love him—if she even ever had. All that had happened today had been a testament to the very fact that he was nothing more to her than someone she used to know; someone she had once known very intimately but had, over time, grown estranged to. And he accepted that fact, for she was the same to him. She was just a stranger now, nothing more than an ex he'd had a bad break-up with, and he didn't want or need her to be anything more than that.
"There's so much I want to say to you."
Or at least that's what he tried to tell himself, as he fought desperately for the sleep that eluded him and struggled weakly against the memories of her that overtook him—that she was nothing more than a woman from his past.
A single book of matches is gonna burn; we're standing in the way.
If'n I'm forgotten, you'll remember me for today.
Author's Note: Comments, reviews, and constructive criticism are all welcome and greatly appreciated. Thank you for reading and please let me know what you thought of the piece. :)
- I'm feeling:accomplished
- I'm listening to:Pyro by Kings of Leon