indyhat (indyhat) wrote,
indyhat
indyhat

Caesar's Wife

Characters: Claude, Bennet (Claude/Bennet if you squint)
Rating: PG-13
Spoilers: Through 1.17 ("Company Man")
Word count: 5,700.
Summary: Bennet's never woken him at five in the morning just to ask him to come to the office.
A/N: The story takes place around 1997 (9 years before S1) and was written for fantasticpants, in response to the prompt: Claude/Bennet, "When you have to shoot, shoot, don't talk". Grateful thanks to fool_of_ships for throwing out several very interesting ideas when I posted the first section of this as part of a "works in progress" meme a while back, and to entangled_now, who beta-read the story for me and made enormously helpful suggestions. You're all fab :)


icarus: You following B5 over there?
umbrellagirl: Babylon 5? Yeah. I have a friend who sends me the cassettes.
umbrellagirl: So much better than Star Trek.
icarus: Yeah.
icarus: My boss reminds me of Bester.
umbrellagirl: :-o
icarus: Sinister bastard.


*


It's been, what, four years? since he started working with Bennet. And in that time, Bennet's never woken him at five in the morning just to ask him to come to the office.

He foregoes a shower for ten more minutes spent in bed, because for Christ's sake, it's five in the bloody morning. Finally crawls out; splashes cold water against his face and decides there's no point in shaving because, likely as not, he'll be back in bed within the hour. At least, he hopes so.

He waits in the Primatech parking lot as instructed, rubbing his hands together against the dawn chill. It's getting lighter now; rainclouds hang low on the horizon, but the sun creeps underneath them, painting pale yellow streaks against grey.

Bennet comes out of the Primatech building.

"Get in the car."

He stands there, arms folded, arse leaning against the bonnet. "Where're we going?"

And Bennet just blanks him. "Get in the car."

What, just like that? No please, Claude, no niceties?

Bennet does niceties. Claude doesn't. So if Bennet's out of small talk, then either something is very, very wrong, or he's let things go a bit and he's going to have to start re-exerting some seniority.

Like that ever did him any good.

He sighs; gets into the car. Old habits.

Inside, the car carries the unmistakeable aroma of coffee, and he's pretty sure he can smell something sugary. Starting the engine, Bennet nods down between the seats. "Coffee, if you want it. And," Bennet reaches behind him to the back seat and fetches a small white cardboard box, "I got donuts."

Well, now he knows there's definitely something up.

He picks up a cup. "Thanks." Steam wafts through the hole in the lid, rolling away in a wave from his breath. "So ... where're we going?"

"Just ... just drink your coffee, okay?" Bennet's face is the same tense, empty map it's been since the parking lot, though his tone is mild enough.

He just drinks the coffee. It's hot, which is a start. The donuts aren't bad, either.

The road winds, a river of early morning silver, up through canyons. Still green, this early in the season; by August, everything will be dried and bleached. Rain splatters across the windshield and outside; branches swing in the wind, sending leaves fluttering.

Inside, the car is warmed by breath, coffee and the car's slightly unpredictable heater. At least it's functioning this morning, blowing warm air that threatens to steam up the windows until Bennet turns a dial on the dash, and colder air fans upwards, reminding Claude of hairdryers in swimming pool changing rooms.

"Can I trust you, Claude?" The sentence appears from nowhere. But he knows his partner too well: nothing ever really comes from nowhere. Trace a cough of Bennet's far enough back and it'll be tied up in in some bloody spider's web of a plan.

There's actually something a bit insulting about the question. Never mind four years and any number of bail-outs (on both sides). He got out of bed at five fucking a.m. and into the sodding car, didn't he? How much evidence does the man need?

Although— he's in the wrong company for that question - Bennet's need for evidence is meticulous. Obsessive, even.

But if Bennet's waiting for something else from him, he's going to be waiting a while. 'Cause this is it: just him, warmed up a bit by coffee and donuts, but short on sleep, and no answers to show for that yet.

So no, he's not particularly inclined to make things easy, this morning.

When he doesn't reply, Bennet frowns, tightens his grip on the steering wheel. Repeats the question. "Can I trust you, Claude?"

He looks out at the trees, bouffant green boughs bent against the wind. "Trusted me so far, haven't you? What changed?"

Bennet looks sidelong at him in between checking the rear-view mirror and making the wipers go faster. It really is a filthy day - grey skies leaking relentlessly. As Texas weather goes, it's practically English.

Bennet doesn't address his question directly, but that's hardly unusual. Instead, he hands Claude a bit of paper from his inside pocket.

Claude unfolds it - it's a printout of an email, addressed to bennet@primatech.com. The sender's name and the subject line are blank.

We believe your daughter's life may be in danger. You know why. We can get your family out, relocate you somewhere safe. Please await further instructions.

"That's it?"

"Yes." Bennet purses his lips. "It's a pretty serious security breach."

Claude rolls his eyes. "You think?"

His partner raises an eyebrow, glancing sideways at Claude as they take an exit off the highway. "I want to know what you think."

He sits up, examines the paper again. "Well, it could be a hoax. Or just some crackpot ... there's enough of those out there."

Bennet's head tilts marginally in an unconvinced I suppose.

"Does Thompson know about this?" Because setting off on a job at five sodding a.m. isn't exactly standard operating procedure.

Bennet gives him another sideways look, but then returns his eyes to the road, saying nothing.

"You didn't tell him." And it's not a question this time. "Why not?"

A long pause. Then—

"We don't know what it is yet."

Claude snorts. "Bollocks." As if they ever knew anything at this stage in the game. He looks at Bennet: face impassive, to all appearances focused on the road ahead. Even more reined in than usual, if that's possible. "You reckon you've fucked up somewhere, don't you."

It's the way that Bennet says absolutely nothing at all that clinches it, he thinks. Man's jaw doesn't so much as twitch; it's unnatural, even for Bennet, the human bloody automaton.

And that's what makes it so unlikely. "I know you, mate. Careful's not the word for it. There's no chance you've given somethin' away."

A dry look. "What makes you so sure?"

Claude shrugs. "Just sayin', it's not your style." He shifts in the car seat. "Supposin' it is real - what're you goin' to do about it?"

Bennet fiddles with the wiper controls. "We find these people and we find out what they know and we take them out." Quiet, steely determination, and Claude would have expected nothing less.

"Is that where we're goin' now, then?" Because for Christ's sake, Bennet still hasn't said. Bastard's probably enjoying that.

Bennet doesn't say anything, so Claude adjusts his position in the seat; changes tack. "You think they're a serious threat?"

His partner glances in the rear-view mirror; keeps driving. When he speaks, his voice is measured. "I can't allow anything to happen to Claire." He doesn't say - doesn't need to - that there's no shortage of interested parties when it comes to specials and their genetic material.

Starting with their current employer. And, he notes, these aren't exactly the thoughts of a loyal Company employee. "So what happened to 'Company property'?"

Bennet gives him a pained look. "She's still my daughter, Claude."

"Yeah, mate."

Try telling them that.

After a little while, he tries again. "So where are we goin'?"

Bennet gives a not-shrug. You'll see.

Claude sighs and huddles down in the seat. "It was bloody warm in bed."

Bennet ignores him, but he expected that.


*


Path: 156.35.0.2!dream.dco.org!hana.mil.il!newsfeed.aloe.vegas.net!news.morpheus.columbia.edu!newspost.anon.penet.fi!not-for-mail

From: <75889346@anon.penet.fi>

Newsgroups: misc.specials.rights

Subject: Heads up 

Date: Wed 16 Apr 1997 02:38:01 -05:00

Organization: anon.penet.fi

Lines: 1

Message-ID: <7r9jhi$hsb$1@news.anon.penet.fi>

NNTP-Posting-Host: modem-37.smilla.anon.penet.fi

X-Trace: news.anon.penet.fi 75889346 18315 62.136.15.37 (16 Apr 1997 07:37:46 GMT)

NNTP-Posting-Date: 16 Apr 1997 07:37:46 GMT

X-Complaints-To: abuse@anon.penet.fi

X-Priority: 1

X-MSMail-Priority: Normal

X-Newsreader: Microsoft Outlook 3.01.2014.211

X-MimeOLE: Produced By Microsoft MimeOLE V3.01.2014.211

Xref: wnb1 misc.specials.rights:12844

Everything's ready, friends. Icarus: you're up. Good luck.


*


By mid-afternoon, the rain has stopped and a watery sun has begun to peer through the clouds. The last things that could properly be called trees are miles behind them; before them lies the desert, stretching in warm red insolence to the horizon .

"You goin' to tell me where we're goin', or what?"

Bennet sighs and stretches his shoulders into the driver's seat; they've been travelling for hours. "There's a reasonable diner up here."

Claude stares. "You're tellin' me we drove all the way up here just for a bloody sandwich?"

He receives a mildly reproachful stare in return. "They do a very good chilli, actually."

The chilli is, in fact, excellent. Claude washes it down with two bottles of Dos Equis while Bennet, as the designated driver, orders a lemonade.

He's nearly finished eating when Bennet leans back and regards him thoughtfully.

"What?" He's not sure he likes the expression on Bennet's face.

"Well, it's obviously not Thompson."

"The email?"

Bennet nods.

Claude snorts, stabbing at the chilli with his fork. "Don't think he's above a little entrapment? Test your loyalty, now that your little Company project's all grown up and startin' school?"

Bennet's expression is difficult to read, but Claude's pretty sure the sentiments Don't talk that way about my daughter and He's an evil son of a bitch, but he's not that evil share top billing.

Then again, he might just be projecting.

Bennet merely wipes his mouth on the cheerful red napkin and continues. "It's not Anna." Thompson's secretary, and as loyal as they come. Besides, she knows nothing about Primatech's real purpose; Claude wishes, again, that he didn't find the Company's sleight-of-hand quite so impressive.

Bennet tilts his head to one side. "You've been working late a lot recently."

He shrugs, gaze snagged by two patrons leaving and the brutal swing of the diner door as it closes behind them. "Thompson stuck me with some extra paperwork."

" 'Til two in the morning?"

And at that, Claude does look at his partner; jerks his head up sharply and connects with Bennet's steely expression. "Been spyin' on me?"

Bennet says nothing.

"What happened to trust?" Because if they can't trust each other—

"This email happened." And there's a sort of quiet fury in Bennet's voice. "So you'll pardon me if, right now, I don't particularly trust anyone."

And that stings, but he swallows it, for the moment. "All right, then. Let's have it."

Bennet raises an eyebrow. "I'm sorry?"

"Your case against me. C'mon - let's have it."

Bennet frowns. "Not here."

They stand, and Bennet puts a twenty on the table; Claude weighs it down with one of the empty beer bottles, though the diner's so airless that it's an entirely wasted gesture.

Halfway across the parking lot, dust swirling idly around their feet, Bennet says "There's a whole Usenet group ... you know what that is?"

"Special interest group, yeah?"

Bennet gives him a look that clearly says Are you trying to be funny?

Claude shrugs. What?

Back in the car, the air is stiflingly hot and dry. Neither of them says anything for the first couple of miles until the windows go back up and it's cooled down as much as it's going to on what is now a hot spring afternoon.

"So," Claude turns to Bennet. "You were sayin'."

Bennet's gaze slides across, and it's a long moment before he says anything.

"You remember Charles Deveaux?"

"Bloke with the roof."

Bennet exhales in dry amusement. "Among other things."

"Yeah. What about him?" And where's this going?

"I think he's involved in this group on Usenet."

"What's the group?"

"misc.specials.rights."

"Ha."

Bennet gives him a look.

"Specials interest group. See?"

His partner sighs. "You know, I'd feel better about this if you'd actually take it seriously."

"I am taking it seriously, mate. I'm deadly serious. As, I believe, were you when you started telling me why you think I'm responsible for this bloody security leak."

Maybe it's just the sun passing behind a cloud, but the temperature in the car seems to drop a few degrees.

Bennet stops the car along a strip of road that's exactly the same as pretty much every other strip of road between here and the interstate. "We'll walk from here."

Claude gets out of the car, squinting in the late afternoon sunlight - but Bennet's face gives nothing away.

There's a thin knot of fear in his chest, but he squares his shoulders and follows Bennet into the desert.


*


He knows almost nothing about her; doesn't give away anything of himself - nothing that matters, anyway. It's better that way; safer. You never know who's listening.

icarus: You're here a lot
umbrellagirl: Yeah. Not supposed to be exerting myself.
icarus: How's that?
umbrellagirl: Doctors think I'm fragile.
umbrellagirl: it's bullshit
icarus: Sorry, lag
umbrellagirl: np
> icarus has quit.
> icarus has arrived.
icarus: Bloody hell
icarus: How come that never happens to you?
icarus: Fucking bronco server
umbrellagirl: that's funny
umbrellagirl: since you're in Texas
umbrellagirl: hello?
> icarus has quit.


*


"Jesus Christ, Claude," and it's the first time in a long while that he can remember Bennet uttering words that count as profanity in these unimaginative parts. "We're partners."

He shrugs, because there's not much you can say, really, with a gun in your face.

"Tell me you're not involved."

"I'm not involved, mate. Stop being a wanker and put the gun down." Words calmer than he feels, and evening sunshine incongruously warm on the face of the man who might be about to kill him.

His partner, and he supposes he should be insulted. Leaving aside the whole cliché of being taken out and shot in the desert. Christ.

None of which alters the precarious, dizzying sensation that everything's balanced on a knife-edge. Which it is, if one's the sort of person to care about living.

And then one of those stupid lines from a bloody spaghetti Western comes to him. 'Course, he's never been the reverent type, and he doesn't suppose that death's about to change that. But his mind's got no sense of priority.

"When you have to shoot, shoot; don't talk."

The Good, the Bad, and the bloody Ugly. Even assuming he's the ugly one - and he has no particular illusions about that - then he supposes that leaves Bennet with Good. Which isn't quite right, since Bennet's pointing a sodding gun at his head.

But Bennet's not Bad, exactly - just Misguided.

He's supposes he's wandering off the point a bit.

"Look, mate, there's nothing in it for me, lettin' people in through the Company's back door. To them I'm just another item on their inventory, somethin' else for them to dissect in their labs, yeah?"

His partner blinks at him, placidly, apparently unmoved.

"You know how this works, Noah. You've got to trust me."

"Do I?"

The gun doesn't waver, and Claude's attention is drawn to the barrel, pulled right into the long dark cylinder. How the fuck did we get here?

The sun chooses just then to dip below the rocky horizon, and orange shades shift into something cooler. In the same moment, a hawk wheels and dives somewhere to Bennet's right, and it's near enough that Bennet's eyes flicker towards it, just for a second.

That's the break Claude needs, and he seizes it. Launches himself at his partner, grabbing for the hand with the gun in it, striking the wrist even as Bennet's attention snaps back and he begins to step away.

Claude lucks out; finds the pressure-point, and Bennet's fingers loosen on the gun, which drops into the scrubby grass. Both pairs of eyes follow it, but Claude's quick enough to get his left hand up and across Bennet's face, blocking visibility as he steps through and takes Bennet down. It's clumsy and he bangs his knee on a rock on the way down, which hurts like fuck, but he'll take that over having a gun trained on him, thanks very much.

And then they're brawling in the dust, Claude sprawled on top of Bennet, trying to get him to stop bloody thrashing. "Don't. Or I'll give you a bruise you can't lie your way out of."

Bennet's response to that is to shuck his hips; Claude's thrown off into the sand and gets a faceful of some unfairly abrasive shrub. Bennet scrabbles after him, grabbing his leg, and they're rolling, locked together, trading grunts and punches and the desperate grip of fingers on suit fabric, until Claude's on his back with Bennet's hands around his neck, pulling at Bennet's tie in grim retaliation.

Bennet's sweating and dishevelled and his hair is standing on end with dirt and fury, and the look in his eyes isn't far short of frightening. "What did they offer you, Claude?"

And that really takes the piss - he tugs ferociously at the short end of Bennet's tie, pulling it down towards him as Bennet's face begins to turn a rich shade of pink. "Is that what you think of me? That I can be bought? You don't know shit, mate."

Bennet's breath wheezes out in gasps. "I'm not—letting them—take—Claire—"

Oh, for Christ's sake.

Claude rolls his eyes and relaxes, releasing his grip on Bennet's tie and letting his head rest back in the dirt. "You wanker. I'd sooner turn myself over."

Bennet's fingers loosen slightly around Claude's neck. Grey eyes meet his. "I need to be able to trust you, Claude."

He sighs. " 'Course you can. Tosser." Relief infuses slowly into fingers gone numb with violent exertion and fear.

Bennet just sits there astride him for a moment or two, blinking, then sighs and slides off into the dust.

They lie there, side by side, watching the light fade until the first stars begin to twinkle against the cobalt sky.

Eventually, Claude starts to feel the cold seeping into his bones, and he rolls over and gets up, brushing dust from his trousers.

Bennet's still lying on the ground, and Claude extends a hand. "C'mon."

Bennet's expression is hopelessly sombre.

He gestures impatiently, offering the hand again. "Are we goin' home now, or what?"

His hand is grasped, reluctantly, and he realises as he hauls Bennet up that the man's feeling guilty, for crying out loud. He sighs. "Don't worry about it, yeah?"

But he can see Bennet's conscience eating away at him, working his jaw and sapping the energy from his movements as they walk back to the car.

In the car, everything seems a little more normal. Darkness falls quickly in the desert, and the lights on the dash give the car a warm glow as the headlights blink on, attracting hundreds of tiny, curious insects.

Bennet turns to him, putting the car into gear, and Claude wonders if this will be some overwrought and mutually embarrassing apology. But Bennet merely says, coolly, "I appreciate your not turning invisible back there."

"Yeah, well. Won't say I wasn't tempted to bugger off, mate — but someone should stick around to keep you on the straight and narrow."

And at that, Bennet snorts - there's no other word for it.

"What?"

Bennet's mouth curls up at one corner, but evidently he's decided not to push his luck. "I appreciate it." Can't quite keep the amusement out of his voice, though; Claude isn't fooled.

The road sweeps through the darkening desert, and the car's headlights carve them a tunnel, brushing the edges of rough grass and reddish-gold dust. Above them, the perfectly clear night sky disappears into infinity, stretched between distant pinpricks of light. Claude leans his head back against the seat-belt and watches the stars, marvelling at how unchanging they appear, mile after mile. After the intense, gritty fear of the desert, everything feels perversely serene.

After a while he sits up again, tilts his head side to side to loosen it up. "Were you really goin' to shoot me? Seriously?"

Bennet shrugs. "I had to know I could trust you. Caesar's wife, and all that."

"What?" Claude isn't keeping up. He rubs the back of his neck; wonders if there's going to be someplace on the way back where he could get a beer. Several beers.

Bennet sighs. " 'Caesar's wife must be above suspicion'? William Shakespeare - not a bad writer. From 'round your way, I think; perhaps you've heard of him."

Claude gives him a caustic look, though in the darkness, he doubts Bennet really appreciates it. "Don't start. I don't have to be talked down to by another bloody American about English sodding literature." Bennet says nothing. "Suppose you're goin' to tell me you're one quarter English, too."

"One eighth, in fact," says Bennet, mildly.

Claude scoffs. "Aren't they all. Anyway - you're not my bloody wife."

Bennet glances at him, face lit faintly by the reflected glow of headlights from the road, revealing a raised eyebrow. "Actually, in this context, you're not my wife."

They drive on, sharing a silence that might just about count as comfortable.

Miles pass.

"D'you never think about it?"

"Think about what?" Bennet checks the rear-view mirror as they join the highway, merging with the thin, late-night traffic.

"Taking Claire and going somewhere. Gettin' out."

"Of course not." And Bennet's words are far too smooth, far too practiced.

"You've got a lousy poker face, mate."

"It's not a game, Claude." Leading him away from the point; something Bennet excels at, and he's half tempted to pursue it, wear him down until Bennet admits what he has thought of, what he is willing to do.

"You know, you could—"

"No." And there's no room for argument; Bennet's voice is steel. "Company interests come first— unless you're telling me your priorities have changed." A pause. "Have they changed, Claude?" The question mild enough, but there's a weight of meaning there.

"No, mate." And he hopes, more than anything he can remember hoping in his life, that that's the end of it.


*


It's late when he switches on the big Sun workstation and waits for X-Windows to load. Starts a telnet window.

telnet evolve.shalom.il 5440

WELCOME TO EVOLVEMUSH

login: icarus
password: **************

HI THERE! YOU'VE EVOLVED.

You are in the lobby.

hub inbetween marketplace help

> @tel 254
> You have teleported to Knossos.
umbrellagirl has paged you: Well?
> umbrellagirl has arrived.
icarus: He's not going to do it
umbrellagirl: Really?
icarus: It's not the right time.
icarus: He's not ready.
umbrellagirl: deveaux will be pissed
icarus: Tough
umbrellagirl: What did he say?
icarus: We didn't quite get that far
icarus: Bastard nearly shot me.
umbrellagirl: shit!
icarus: Can't say I blame him.
icarus: Better go, yeah?
icarus: Tell him I'm sorry
icarus: Tell him we'll try again in a year or two.
umbrellagirl: okay
>
> You have quit EVOLVEMUSH. STAY SPECIAL! :-)


*


He's known since he saw Claire curl her tiny fingers around Bennet's, years ago, that his partner would make a good father. Can't fake that, he'd thought, peering through the glass of the Deveaux greenhouse. That's fatherhood, that is. Conscious of Thompson's sardonic leer to his left, he let the thought evaporate.

But Bennet couldn't fake it. Oh, he tried, for the first few months - tried very hard to remain stern and uninvolved, to remember that she was just a project, Company property. But by the time little Claire took her first tottering steps across the lounge before sitting back down on her diaper-clad bottom with a pleased thump, Claude, watching from the kitchen with a beer in his hand as Sandra and her husband gazed, enthralled, couldn't miss the fatherly pride on Bennet's face.

Thompson can't ever see this. Claude knew what the consequences would be; they both did. It surprised him, how ready he was to protect Bennet against the Company. Supposed that meant they were beginning to trust each other, after all.

He debated with himself whether he should even have the conversation with Bennet; suspected it would be a touchy subject. Brought it up one day in the car, somewhat against his better judgement.

Bennet, predictably, was overly reasonable. "She might not ever—"

"Don't kid yourself, mate." He knew enough about his partner by now to be aware that Bennet, at his most rational-sounding, was usually looking for a way out. "You have to prepare for the possibility."

"Of course." Bennet's voice evenly balanced, as though everything were perfectly simple.

Claude remembers, even now, the look they shared - which was anything but.



*


He's at his desk two days later when Thompson comes in. "Claude - a word, please?"

He follows Thompson into his office, prepared for the inevitable lecture on the importance of fixed hours and could Claude please not stash pastries in the desk drawers, because the cleaning staff are worried about mice.

Instead, Thompson opens a file and turns it towards him.

"What's this, then?"

Thompson sits back and steeples his fingers. "You tell me."

And he doesn't have to scan it for more than a couple of seconds to see that it's a record of every login, every session on the Sparc station.

"Been putting in some extra hours, Claude?"

He wakes, shaking. Puts on the bedside light and smokes with trembling fingers the two cigarettes he stashed in the drawer for emergencies. None of it does a blind bit of good, and he's still awake when the alarm goes off at seven-thirty.


*


misc.specials.rights disappears, inexplicably, from Usenet. Much to Bennet's irritation, there exists no archive of the group's posting at Deja News.

The 'further instructions' never arrive.


*


"Isn't it Claire's birthday soon?"

Bennet looks up at him, face startled momentarily blank. It takes him a couple of seconds to reply, and when he does, there's a faint inflection of irritation. "Yes - why?"

"Just wondered, was all. She havin' a party or anything?"

"I think Sandra's arranged something," Bennet shrugs, but that perfect, filing-cabinet memory compels him to add "Saturday week."

Claude nods, and doesn't push it.

Three days later, he gets an invitation in the mail, decorated with Winnie the Pooh illustrations and balloons.

He ends up in the den, creating a menagerie of slightly wonky balloon animals for a dozen overexcited seven-year-olds. Ducks out for a moment when Sandra brings in a plateful of cake, winking at her over the top of the chaos.

Bennet is skulking in the kitchen, and Claude is struck, suddenly, by how ill-at-ease he looks. "You all right, mate?"

"Fine," though Bennet doesn't look it.

"Bit mad in there, yeah?" Claude gives him a grin, rueful acknowledgement of their utter dependence on Sandra at this moment.

His partner's wry, careful smile is interrupted by a knock at the front door; when Bennet answers it, Thompson is standing there wearing a cheerful grin and carrying a small, brightly-wrapped parcel.

Bennet steps back into the hall as though slapped.

Claude nods politely to Thompson, but his gaze is drawn to his partner, whose face has become a polite mask. Claude knows that look; knows that right at this moment, Bennet is anything but calm.

Bennet recovers himself sufficiently to say "Very nice of you to come." He nods to the shining red package in Thompson's hand. "Well, that's very kind of you ... you shouldn't have." Voice carefully polite, and oh, you're a smooth bastard when you need to be, Claude thinks.

He wonders in some irrational part of his brain whether physical violence might be about to erupt, but Thompson only smiles, shark-like. "Oh, I wouldn't miss this for the world." He looks around. "And where is the birthday girl?"

As if the bloody cacophony doesn't give it away, thinks Claude, eyes still on Bennet's face as his partner steps, hesitantly, towards the den.

Sandra's head pokes around the corner. "Noah, would you— Oh, Mr Thompson!" She straightens, and steps properly into the room, glancing briefly and quizzically at Bennet before returning her attention to their guest. "Well, this is a nice surprise," she dimples at Thompson. "I know a young lady who'll be just thrilled to see you ... Claire, honey, why don't you come out here for a second?"

Claire skips out from behind Sandra to stare up at Thompson with round eyes.

He crosses the floor in two steps and squats down in front of her. "Happy birthday, Claire."

Small fingers tear with impatient delight, and the paper parts to reveal a little girl's bangle and matching necklace in something Claude finds himself hoping isn't actually gold.

Claire squeals, and Thompson's craggy face melts into an indulgent, syrupy smile. "Here, let me help you put that on." She stands patiently as Thompson fastens the clasp on the necklace and holds the tiny bracelet for her to slip onto her wrist. "There, now. Fit for a princess, hmm?"

"Claire," nudges Sandra, urgently, "Now what do you say, young lady?"

"Thank you!" she beams, then, overcome with shyness, flees back into the den.

Claude risks a glance at Bennet; his face is like thunder.

Thompson stands, and smiles at them all again. "Well, I have to be going, but I just wanted to drop by." He claps Bennet on the shoulder as he passes. "See you at the office." He nods. "Claude."

Sandra shows him out.

Claude swallows, and exchanges a long look with Bennet.


*


"Charles? Daniel. How have you been? Well, you know. One can't really complain. Yes, I'd heard.

"Listen, about this whole affair. Naturally it's over for now, but I'm afraid I simply can't allow a repeat performance. You know perfectly well that the girl's important to us, and I don't appreciate being sabotaged. Angela and I are very disappointed, Charles. Very disappointed.

"Well, I suppose we'll see, won't we? Yes. We're going to need to keep a close eye on 'Mr Rains' in future - I rather get the feeling that he might outstay his welcome.

"No, I do see. You do what you feel you must, Charles - it's all any of us can do, after all.

"Well, take care, Charles. You'll give my regards to your wife, of course. Yes. Goodbye."


*


He notices the difference, after that. Nothing obvious - Bennet's never obvious - but it's there if you look. And he does look; sees it on every warmly-welcomed visit to the house, in every disappointed glance when little Claire realises that Daddy isn't watching her as she plays with her newest bear.

He's haunted by the terrifying possibility that in trying to preserve Bennet's relationship with his family, he's made everything infinitely, irrevocably worse.

We'll try again, he tells himself. Have to.

Fate, it turns out, has other ideas.


*


From: rains@primatech.com
Subject: [no subject]
To: bennet@primatech.com
Date: 15 Oct 1999 14:09:57 -06:00

Noah,

I know what they've asked you to do.

If anything goes wrong, there's a file on my machine you might want to take a look at.

c:\My Documents\Primatech\Templates\Extraction.txt. The password is thompsonisanob.

Try not to be such a stubborn bastard, and look after Claire and Sandra and Lyle.

C.





[A/N: Again, huge credit to fool_of_ships for the idea of misc.specials.rights, without which this bunny would never have grown as big and strong ;) ]

x-posted to heroes_fic, rare_heroes, brave_new_slash, morallygrayfic and paper_pwns_all
Tags: angst, bennet, brave_new_slash, claude, fic, heroes, heroes_fic, morallygrayfic, one_offs, paper_pwns_all, rare_heroes
  • Post a new comment

    Error

    default userpic
  • 71 comments