Pairing: Mentions of Claire Matthews/Ryan Hardy
Summary: “Oh, don’t worry. I won’t tell Joe.” Claire runs into Roderick the morning after she arrives at the mansion.
Author’s Note: I think I love Roderick (and I really love Roderick) because he’s a lot like Joe when Joe’s feeling vindictive, except he’s like that all the time. He’s a wild card, he does and says whatever he ways (for the most part) and that’s so much fun to play with. This one-shot was borne out of my thoughts of what might’ve happened if Roderick had seen or heard the ‘I love you’ that Claire mouthed to Ryan as they drove off, and also just what their first conversation post-“abduction” would be like. Please enjoy. :)
.Claire tried not to make a sound as she moved from the bottom of the enormous winding staircase and across the foyer to the kitchen down the hall. Even with her feet bare and most of the wood floors covered in carpet, she still felt like she was making too much noise. She froze in place when her stomach growled again, certain someone would hear it and come jumping out from around the nearest corner brandishing a bloody knife. When she noise subsided, she hurried along, her feet moving quicker now due to her growing anxiety.
She wished she could brush aside the fear she felt and say she had been watching too many horror movies, but it wasn’t so simple. The visions that terrorized her were no longer dreams or nightmares or twisted visions, but reality. She wondered how she’d ever be able to look Joey in the eye after this and assure him that there were no monsters under the bed. They were surrounded by monsters on every side here.
Even now, even when she appeared to be the only one awake, she could feel their eyes on her. She remembered the footage Charlie had taken at her home, and she wondered if there was surveillance in here.
She nearly sighed aloud in relief when she got to the kitchen and found it empty. She closed the door at once, still looking over her shoulder as she made the way to the fridge. She couldn’t shake the feeling that they were watching her—from somewhere, somehow. Her eyes scanned the ceiling and the walls, but she couldn’t see any cameras.
Just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t there, she reminded her herself, remembering Charlie again. He’d been stalking her obsessively for two entire years and she hadn’t even noticed that. She hadn’t once felt uncomfortable or intruded upon. It stood to reason that their spying techniques had only gotten more sophisticated over the years, especially at their home base. What was it Ryan had said? They’re on a terrorist level; had that been it?
She blinked, blindly searching the fridge for food as her mind went in all directions as to what that statement meant exactly. They hadn’t seemed like terrorists before; all of Joe’s efforts had been to capture her and Joey… Sure they’d hurt many other people in the process, but there had been a point to it all. Now that he’d accomplished that, though, what would happen next? Who was his next target? Or did he not even have a target anymore—was his main objective just to create mayhem and suffering?
Claire shut her eyes, taking a moment to compose herself as the cool air from the refrigerator washed over her. Regardless of whatever Joe’s ultimate goal was, she knew who would end up bearing the brunt of it all. Whether or not it was really his fault—and most of the time, it wasn’t—she knew Ryan would blame himself. He’d blamed himself from the moment all this started, and he’d blame himself right up until the moment he died.
And that was how things would end: not with Ryan putting Joe behind bars again—no, that wasn’t even close to a possibility anymore—but with Joe driving a second knife into Ryan’s heart.
Claire shut her eyes, trying not to think of it. Nevertheless, she just couldn’t help but realize how unfortunate it was, that nearly all of Ryan’s family had died but he’d survived—survived just to live through this, survived only to die when Joe finally felt that he’d had enough, if that day ever came.
Claire remembered thinking, back when she’d first heard what Joe had done to put Ryan in the hospital, that he’d been lucky. Just a few millimeters deeper, a few millimeters to the right or the left, and he would’ve died instantly. You lived, she remembered telling him time after time. I’m so happy that you lived. Now, though, she had to admit that it wasn’t lucky, and she wasn’t happy. If Joe had managed to kill Ryan the moment he’d thrust that knife into his chest, all of them—herself included—would’ve been saved a hell of a lot of heartbreak. From here, she knew, things would only get worse. There was no getting better; there never had been and there never would be.
“Might want to close that if you’re just going to stand there,” a voice suggested, making her jump as her eyes snapped open in recognition. “Don’t want to waste the power.”
Claire automatically slammed the refrigerator’s door shut as she spun towards the voice. A blonde-haired man in a sheriff’s uniform waved at her benignly from his spot by the door, where he leaned against the wooden frame. Roderick. The sight of him made her skin crawl.
“Morning, Mrs. Carroll,” he greeted with a pleasant smile. “You’re up early.” He glanced at the watch on his left wrist. “It’s not even seven-ten.”
“I was—hungry,” she answered quickly, wishing she’d managed to take something out of the fridge before she’d shut it. She could sense him studying her through his polite façade he put up and she hoped she didn’t look suspicious. She couldn’t help but feel like some of Joe’s Followers had the same penchant for mind-reading that he seemed to possess, and Roderick more so than most of the others.
“Want me to make you an egg?” He grinned, nodding towards the stove. “I make a mean Greek omelet. Ask anyone. On Saturdays, we—”
“No,” she replied at once. She watched the muscles in his face tighten momentarily at her rebuff, watched his smile grow taut for a second, and was forced to quickly add, “Thank you. But… no.”
The smile reappeared in full force almost as quickly as it had faltered, and Claire couldn’t help but notice that he certainly had learned a thing or two from Joe. “Well… If eggs aren’t your taste, we have plenty of other things. Fruit. Toast.” He pointed across the room. “Oatmeal’s in that cabinet.”
“I’ll just…” She spotted a box of cereal on the side counter, and felt her heart lurch in her chest. Honey Nut Cheerios were Joey’s favorite cereal. She didn’t know if it was more upsetting or comforting to know that they were catering to his needs and wants. “I’ll just have some cereal,” she murmured, moving across the room and hoping he’d take the opportunity to go about his own business. By the time she’d turned around, though, box in hand, he was still there—and holding out a bowl with a spoon resting inside. She tried to take it without visibly recoiling.
Claire wasn’t quite sure why she had such a strong aversion to the pretend-sheriff, but she suspected it was a product of her now-heightened instinct towards danger, and therefore she trusted it. He put her off almost as much as Joe did, and she figured anyone that made her feel that way was not to be messed with in any way, shape, or form. She didn’t even feel safe being in the same room as him—but then again, where did she feel safe anymore? Certainly not here. And certainly not anywhere, for that matter.
She’d left the only person—and therefore the only place—that had ever made her feel even remotely protected back on that driveway in the middle of the Pennsylvanian countryside.
No matter how certain her chances of being abducted might have been last night, there had always been the slim possibility that she might’ve made it out alive and with Ryan. It was her own fault that she was here, her own fault that she’d left Tyson and ran out to that car when she had. Still, she couldn’t make herself regret it.
At least not yet.
“So!” Roderick began, leaning against the corner of the counter as she prepared her meal. “What were you thinking about so hard when I walked in? Something important?”
“Nothing,” Claire replied at once, struggling to keep her jumpy nerves under control as she poured cereal into the bowl.
“Nothing?” he repeated skeptically, and she watched out of the corner of her eye as he slowly edged closer to her. “Really? You seemed to be very concentrated on something when I walked in.”
“Well, it was nothing,” she repeated flatly, moving away from the counter and walking back to the fridge. “I was just trying to figure out what I wanted to eat.”
“Hm…” He put his hands in his pockets, watching from the other side of the table as she poured milk into her cereal and then turned away to put the carton back in the fridge.
Claire bit the edge of her tongue as she returned to the table so she wouldn’t snap at him. It would do her no favors to get off on the wrong foot with Joe’s second-in-command. As calmly as she could manage, she looked up and met his eye across the table, wondering, “Is there something I can do for you, Roderick?”
He shook his head, that pleasant smile still on his face. “No,” he replied politely. “Not at all. Don’t trouble yourself.”
“Good,” she nodded, picking up her bowl and heading towards the door. “I’ll be going, then.” She knew he was lying, and she knew there was something that he wanted to press at—why else would he have shown up in the kitchen like this, when she was completely alone?—but she didn’t care. She didn’t care what he wanted to know and she didn’t care if she was being rude. She had to get away from him before something happened.
She had almost made it to the door when he called out to her. “Oh, wait…” He paused, chuckling softly. “I’m sorry; I’d almost forgotten. There is one thing you could help me with.”
Claire chewed on her lower lip, clutching the bowl tightly in her hands as she wondered how far she’d be able to get before he caught her if she started running. Maybe she could shatter the bowl to distract him and then bolt… She shut her eyes. It was a pointless hope. She knew the other Followers would just come out of the woodwork, and no doubt that would attract the attention of Joe.
She shut her eyes, forcing herself to respond to Roderick. If she dreaded anything more than death in this world, it was seeing Joe. She’d managed to go almost twelve hours so far without facing him, and she really did not want to break that streak anytime soon. She took a deep breath and forced out a reply. “Yes?” she wondered, silently surprised to hear how calm her voice sounded, even to her own ears.
“If you’d turn around,” he prompted. “You know, it’s not really polite to talk with your back to someone.”
Claire bit back a sigh, turning in place to face him. “What do you need my help with?”
“I just have a question, Claire. That’s all.”
He grinned impishly, his shoulders shaking in soft laughter. “Well, you are very to-the-point, aren’t you? You know just what you want.”
Claire exhaled sharply, turning her head to the side so she wouldn’t have to look him in the eye and suppress the urge to hit him at the same time. “What is your question, Roderick?”
“Oh, it’s simple, really. And honestly,” he added, “it’s just to settle my own curiosity…”
“Your own curiosity about what?”
“About whether or not you’re really in love with him.”
Claire’s eyes snapped back to his at once, and the fear and shock his words elicited in her surged through her body like an electric shock. It took her a second to blink, to breathe, to remind herself that they weren’t talking about the same person. He was talking about Joe. Joe, not Ryan. No one knows about Ryan except him and me, she comforted herself silently. Joe suspects but he doesn’t know. No one knows. “No,” she replied at once. “I’m not.”
Roderick frowned, shifting his weight as he watched her. “You aren’t?” he questioned in what appeared to be genuine confusion. “Really? So you… lied to him, then? Why?”
“I never lied,” Claire replied, shaking her head. She didn’t care what favors or special treatment it might afford her to pretend to be in love with Joe; she wasn’t going to play nice just because everyone expected her to—and especially not when Joe himself seemed to be counting on it. “I never once said that I was in love with him, not in ten years. I haven’t lied.”
“Ten?” Roderick questioned with a deepening frown. “I thought it had been eight…”
Claire’s forehead creased, confused as well at his mix-up. Shouldn’t he know Joe’s record better than anyone? “What are you talking about?” she wondered warily, feeling the hair on the back of her neck prick up as it often did around Joe’s people.
Roderick grinned widely, spreading his arms out. “Why, Ryan Hardy, of course.” He paused, eyeing her. “Why?” he asked in an over-done stage whisper. “Who did you think we were talking about?” His eyes lit up with mirth, and they looked just as dangerous as his smile. “Joe?”
“Oh, come on, Claire.” He sighed, eying her like a disappointed parent with his hands on his hips. “Do me the courtesy of not lying right to my face, please.”
She shook her head again, trying to gather her thoughts and be as convincing as possible. These people responded to strength, power, and confidence. There was no way she could have the first two, not here, but maybe if she pretended enough with the third… “No,” she managed, “I wasn’t lying. I—I—” She reached a hand up, clutching the bowl with both hands as she struggled for something innocuous to say. “It’s in the past.” “It’s over.” “We’re done.” None of them worked. None of them were true anymore; they were just lines. And she knew he’d see the lie on her face the moment she attempted use any one of them on him.
“You what?” Roderick pressed, leaning towards her. He pushed off the counter, stepping forward. Claire took an instinctual step back, moving away from him—and then mentally cursed herself. His smile had widened when she’d moved back, and she knew in her heart that it wasn’t feigned this time. He really was happy, probably ecstatic, and he had no qualms about showing it. She could see it in his eyes—it excited him to see her scared, more so to be the thing that scared her—and that made her stomach twist into painful and irremediable knots. She coached herself to hold her ground, and to mind her tongue as long as possible.
“I don’t know what you think you’re talking about,” she answered finally, holding her chin up, “or what you think you know, but the answer’s no to both.”
“Oh really?” He took another step towards her and it took all of Claire’s will power not to shrink back, flee from the room, and barricade herself in her bedroom. “So then it wasn’t you professing your undying love to the very dashing—but not quite quick enough—Mr. Hardy as we drove off? Hm…”
Claire’s eyes widened as she stared at him, completely stunned. “How did you—?” She broke off immediately, having realized what she’d said, but it was too late. She’d already showed her hand, and they both knew it.
Roderick actually snickered when he saw the look on her face, and his shoulders hunched forward in amusement. She was still too taken aback by his intuition and her own blunder to even try to cover up her shock or convince him that she felt otherwise. She just stood, staring, and wondering how she could be so stupid, so easily tricked—even after everything that had happened.
“Well, I’ll be honest, I was only guessing, Claire!” he laughed. “I thought I saw you say something to him, but I wasn’t sure… And now I know for certain!” He grinned, eyeing her suggestively. “And it’s a good thing to know, wouldn’t you say? Very… useful, if you know what I mean.”
He turned then, ostensibly to head back to wherever he’d come from, but Claire couldn’t let him go so easily. “Please—” She swallowed, barely believing she was saying this. She knew it would most likely do more harm than good, but she had to try. She couldn’t just let him leave like he hadn’t unearthed the most important—the only—truth she’d hoped to keep buried during her stay here. Joe and his Followers could learn everything else, know everything else… But that was the one thing she could keep herself. It was the one thing that was hers, the one thing that he could never know, because neither she nor Ryan would ever tell.
She hadn’t even been here for half of a day yet, and somehow she’d already managed to ruin everything for herself. Somehow, she’d taken the only solace that she had had, the only private thought she’d had left, and all but shouted it from the rooftops. Joe would know in under a minute, just as soon as Roderick left, and though she knew it was pointless, she couldn’t help but appeal to his second-in-command. She had to do something.
“Please—Please don’t say anything to Joe.”
Roderick looked over his shoulder, staring at her bewilderment before snorting to himself and turning around to fully face her. “Really?” he laughed aloud. “You’re going to try that?” He shook his head. “Good god, of all the means of persuasion available to a woman like you, you’re just going to stand here and beg—”
Claire pressed her lips together in exasperation, unable to understand how she could keep saying the wrong thing, one after another after another. “No,” she tried again, “I’m just asking that—”
“Claire,” he cut in smoothly, sounding very much like an elementary school teacher reprimanding a pupil, “don’t be stupid. If I know,” he enunciated slowly and carefully, “then that means that he knows, and that he has probably known for a very long time.” He shrugged, and a smile spread across his face as he made his was slowly back towards her. “Hell, I’m sure he found out it the second you even thought about looking twice at Hardy, let alone jumped into bed with him.” He leaned forward, leveling his face with hers across the space between them and lowering his voice to a whisper. “He’s perceptive like that, you know?”
He straightened up a moment later, putting his hands in his pockets as he took another step towards her. They were less than a foot and a half feet apart now, and Claire was suddenly very aware of just how alone they were. Not only in the room, but in the whole house. Was it possible that everyone was still asleep? Would they hear her if she screamed? Would they even care?
When he grinned again, revealing a bright white—and yet no less sinister—smile, Claire had to clutch the bowl in her hands so tight that her knuckles turned white so that she wouldn’t back away.
“Between you and me…” Roderick made a show of looking around the room and over his shoulder before he continued, even though they’d been alone since the moment he’d walked in. “Joe’s had some lapses in judgment as well recently…” He frowned, searching for the right words. “He’s been…confused as to where his… Well, let’s be polite and say, his heart lies, but now that you’re here…” He smiled at Claire in what she guessed was supposed to be his best shot at benevolence. It was nothing short of menacing. “Well, I believe it’s time for us all to forgive and forget, don’t you, Mrs. Carroll?” He reached out, resting his hand on her shoulder as they stood in front of one another. It took more self-control than Claire would’ve ever expected it to for her to not pull away.
“But if it’ll make you feel better,” he added in a charged whisper, “Your most recent love affair with Ryan Hardy can remain our little secret…” He grinned, and Claire could hear all that he wasn’t saying almost as clearly as she could the words that were coming out of his mouth. It’ll be our little secret until I find the perfect moment to expose and exploit it. He gestured between the two of them with a hand. “We can keep it just between friends, hm?”
He squeezed her shoulder then, just a tad too hard to be truly genial, and walked to the door. She’d just heard him push it open when she spoke.
“We’re not friends.”
She shut her eyes, both angry and pleased with herself for saying it. If it meant he went to Joe, so be it—he was right; Joe already knew. But Roderick needed to know she wasn’t going to go along with his stupid games like the others. She didn’t have the patience nor the willpower to keep it up.
“Oh…” He spoke quietly, slowly turning around to face her. She had expected to see anger on his face—even the smallest flicker—but all he showed her was a mask of indifference. Somehow, that was worse. “Yes,” he agreed softly, his keen blue-green eyes flitting across her face. “Trust me, Claire… That I know for sure now.”
She swallowed, staring back at him with her nerves on edge. She felt more anxious now than she ever had before in his presence, and she couldn’t understand why. Yes, he was dangerous—creepy and scary—but he had never once physically harmed her. And yet her body was strung taunt, as if expecting him to attack at any moment. She nearly flinched when he spoke.
“Enjoy your breakfast before your cereal gets soggy.” He tipped his head towards the stove behind her. “And have an omelet tomorrow, will you? They really are quite good.”
He left then without another word, and she stood, watching him go in silence as her cheerios continued to saturate the milk surrounding them in the bowl. She didn’t even feel hungry anymore.
It was only after she’d deposited the bowl in the sink and grabbed a banana from the counter for later that she realized why he’d put her off so in their last few moments together, what had been missing. While he’d been speaking during that last minute, he’d stared at her with such an intense focus that even she couldn’t look away. He had barely blinked, let alone laughed or joked around like he had earlier, but that wasn’t what worried her…
She’d been waiting all the while for that congenial smile, but it had never appeared on his stoic face.
We’re not friends.
She shut her eyes, feeling her mind pitched into darkness like she knew her body would soon be pitched into a shallow grave. She’d thought her biggest mistake so far this morning had been inadvertently revealing her feelings for Ryan, for she’d feared backlash from Joe and her own suffering, but now she saw that she’d done something that was potentially much, much worse. And she had done it on purpose.
We’re not friends.
Roderick could not be trusted to be an ally, no, that was obvious—no one here could be trusted—but Claire now knew that she hadn’t only not made a friend, but she’d garnered herself a steadfast enemy as well. And something told her—something to do with the knots that tied up her stomach when she spoke to him and the way her hair pricked on the back of her neck when he looked at her—that Roderick had the capability to be much more destructive, and possibly much more powerful, than Joe.
And what had she done to this newfound player? She’d gone and wrecked his first impression of her. She’d cold-shouldered his politeness, lied to his face, and avoided direct questions. If he was anything like Joe—and she very much suspected they were two peas in a pod—then Roderick would not soon be forgetting any of her slights against him.
Claire shut her eyes, reaching out a hand to steady herself against a nearby wall as her head spun.
She hadn’t even been here a day, and yet she already knew where she’d eventually end up. She had always known, really, but she’d seen the truth clearer today in Roderick’s eyes than she ever had in Joe’s.
Joe would give her a do-over. Joe would give her an opportunity to correct her mistakes, to smile, to play the part. Her sins would be atoned in his eyes if she said those three little words, and she’d be allowed to live for as long as she continued to lie.
Roderick, on the other hand, would not be so easily won over. Roderick had no emotional tie to her; no past, no history, no nothing. She meant as little to him as he did to her, and one day—either through Joe’s blessing or otherwise—Roderick would inevitably assume control, and then he would have no reason to give her a second chance, no reason to give her an opportunity to redeem herself for her initial blunders.
The most she could hope for now was that Joe would have her killed long before Roderick could ever become a legitimate threat.
Author’s Note: As always, these stories tend to turn out darker than I intended. Regardless, thank you so much for reading! This was just a tiny little idea that popped into my head as I was falling asleep last night, but I hope you enjoyed it.
Please free to leave your thoughts in a comment below and let me know how I did! Roderick was a new one to try out for me, so I’d love feedback on how he came out. :)