She felt the familiar rush of air over her skin. It dried some of the tears on her cheeks, staining them to her face. That air was all she’d been longing for; but right now, standing in this place, it wasn’t how she’d wanted it.
“Claire?” She turned around slowly, still holding the urn. She noticed how he’d flown in right in front of her mother and brother. Pretense obviously wasn’t on his mind. “I’m sorry.”
She stared him for a moment before falling into his comforting embrace. West held her as long as she wanted it, seemingly not knowing what to say. No smart comment was needed here, no explanation for why he’d panicked. He was a bit of an interloper, but if all he wanted was to be with her, no matter whose daughter she was, then it didn't matter to her one bit.
“Please don’t ever go again,” Claire whispered against his chest.
The corner of his mouth lifted at her words.
“I’m not going anywhere unless you come with me.”
Claire pulled back to look at him and he reached with his thumb to wipe away her tears.
“Come see my family,” she said, holding his hand and leading him. “If you’re going to be around, there’s a lot you need to know.”
West followed her. It was like he always would.
Claire hurried into the bathroom. West would arrive any minute and she’d overslept. Confusion struck her when she went to reach for her brush and it wasn’t where she usually kept it. She went through the cupboards and under the sink.
“Lyle!” she yelled at the top of her voice, “I don’t have time for your games. Give me my brush!”
“I don’t have your stupid brush!” he yelled back from somewhere downstairs.
“Lyle!” Claire ran down the stairs and found him by the couch staring at the coffee table. “I need it!”
“Why? Doesn’t matter what you do, you’re still ugly,” he said distractedly.
Clenching her jaw, Claire reached over to grab his arm. He automatically moved away, still staring at the table.
“What are you looking at?” Claire ground out through her teeth as she checked the clock.
“It’s…nothing,” he said, walking away. “Just go get ready for your date.”
As he left, Lyle’s hand brushed against the table he’d been staring at. Claire’s jaw dropped open as it disappeared.
“What was that!” she exclaimed.
Lyle looked like a deer caught in the headlights.
“It’s not my fault,” he stammered. “I don’t, I don’t know what happened. But your brush and the remote…”
“You’ve got an ability,” Claire whispered.
“What, like you don’t!” Lyle snapped.
“It’s okay, Lyle,” she said. “I know it’s weird at first.”
The doorbell rang and Claire ran to open it. West stood there, his arms full of daisies.
“Since when are you a flowers guy?” she teased, welcoming him in with a kiss.
“Since you like daisies,” he replied, taking off his coat. “Am I early?”
His eyes went to her pajama bottoms and flowery top, unbrushed hair, and hastily applied mascara.
Claire winced as she remembered what she must look like.
“Sorry,” she whispered. “But since you’ve seen me covered in blood and with my bones popping out of my neck, I won’t worry about it.”
“Probably best,” he agreed. “You want me to wait?”
“Come over here,” she said, keeping in mind that Lyle was still staring at where the coffee table used to be.
“What’s up, man?” West asked him. “You look out of it.”
“Don’t touch him,” Claire said cautiously and moved to the front of her brother while West looked at her strangely. “Lyle, it’s okay. West and I both had to figure this out, too.”
“Don’t be so dramatic,” Lyle said and sighed, sitting on the chair which vanished beneath him.
West’s eyes grew very wide and Claire stifled a giggle.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to control it or Mom will ground you when you make all our furniture disappear.”
“So, how do you control it, Miss Perfect?” Lyle asked from his position on the floor which he was wisely keeping any part of his skin from touching.
“That’s a good question,” West observed. “How do you control it?”
He looked inquiringly at Claire who rolled her eyes at him.
“Well, mine just sort of does itself,” she said.
“Appears to be his problem,” West remarked.
“How do you fly and stop flying?” she asked in return.
“Will power.” He shrugged. “A simple matter of concentration, like when I want to stop walking or stop chewing.”
“Lyle, you think you can do that?” Claire asked.
“Do what? I don’t even know what I’m doing!” he replied, sounding a bit panicked.
“This ability is a part of you,” she said. “It’s controlled by your brain just like anything else. Do you feel any different?”
“I feel like I’m vibrating, buzzing, all over,” Lyle admitted.
“Then try to stop…buzzing,” Claire said, quenching her smile. “Concentrate.”
Lyle sighed and closed his eyes.
“Buzz gone?” West asked after a few minutes.
“Give him time,” Claire said, nudging him.
West just smiled at her and grabbed her hand. She sighed and snuggled into his chest while Lyle concentrated.
“I don’t feel any more buzzing,” Lyle said after a while.
“Okay, touch something unimportant,” Claire said, looking around. “Here.” She grabbed a vase. “Mom hates this.”
She set it on the ground and Lyle tentatively touched it.
“Good job, you turned it off!” Claire said happily.
“But can you turn it back on?” West asked.
Lyle sighed again and closed his eyes. It was faster this time when he opened them and announced he was buzzing.
The vase vanished.
“I wonder if you can bring things back?” Claire asked.
But this time, no matter how much Lyle concentrated, he could not do anything. The vase stayed gone; but, unfortunately, so did the chair, coffee table, remote, and her brush.
“Can you control it now?” Claire asked.
“I-I think so.” Lyle nodded his head.
“So I can do this?” she asked and grabbed his neck in a choke hold.
Thankfully, for all of them, Claire didn't disappear.
“What is going on in there?” said a new voice coming from the kitchen.
Lyle and Claire looked at each other with identical looks of horror.
“You tell her,” Lyle said, squirming out from her hold.
“Your problem, bro,” Claire said, grabbing West’s hand and urging him out the door. “You tell her.”
Claire retreated with her boyfriend into the air and smiled down at her glaring brother. She could just hear her mother's words growing softer as they flew higher.
“Lyle, where on earth have you put my coffee table?”
Today was the same as yesterday, but, somehow, Claire felt like it was different. It was her birthday, but it was something else that was bothering her.
Yawning, she stretched in her bed, deciding not to worry about it. Her mom and Lyle were taking her out to lunch. Lyle had teased that he was going to make her present disappear before she could open it, but she'd just retorted that it would be a waste of his money since he couldn’t make it come back. Claire smiled at the memory of her brother’s face before getting up to complete her morning routine. She was proud of him for becoming so used to his ability. After they'd done research on it, Mohinder had helped them come to the conclusion that the objects he vanished went nowhere in this world, which made Lyle useful on missions regarding dangerous items that needed to be destroyed.
West was taking her out tonight. It wasn’t quite their anniversary yet; but they were going on eight years now. Claire was glad she had his steadfast presence in her life, though she knew he wanted to be more. She wasn’t quite sure why she’d turned down his proposal three times; but she knew the next time it happened, she’d have to know why or be able to say yes.
Putting that thought aside Claire reached for her toothbrush and was startled by the ringing of the phone.
“Happy Birthday, Claire,” came one of her favorite voices.
“Well, if it isn’t Uncle Peter,” she teased.
She could practically see his wince.
“I may be at least ten years older than you, but since you’re turning twenty five today, I think we should agree to drop the uncle,” he said.
“Come on, Peter, I’m only joshing you!”
“I know, but if you don’t stop, you won’t get my present,” he warned.
“Are you coming?” Claire’s lips curved up.
“I could teleport and give it to you now, but Nathan and I are doing some world saving today, so we’ll both fly out tomorrow.”
“On a plane?” Claire asked.
“You know better than that.”
“I do,” Claire said, grinning. “Tell him hi for me and thanks for coming.”
“Of course he’d come, Claire.”
“Well, I’m just not used to it yet,” she admitted.
“He wants to make up for things and he knows your real dad is…” Peter trailed off.
“I know,” she said.
“Anyway, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Claire hung up and looked at her face in the mirror. It was smooth, clear, soft. West always remarked on her skin. She looked at least five years younger than she was. She felt strong, healthy, alive. So, it was a surprise to her when she suddenly slid down the wall and sobbed while looking at her beautiful reflection. It was an instant revelation that changed her life forever. She suddenly knew why she kept saying no to West. She wondered if Peter had figured it out yet and why she hadn’t noticed his own lack of aging. It was the worst birthday present ever.
Later that night, she sat across the table from West. He was so young and vital, but he looked like he was twenty six. What would he think of her now?
“Claire, I don’t mean to sound too picky, but you’ve barely said a word all night. Am I that boring?” West finally asked.
“No, no, you’re not boring,” Claire said nostalgically. “You never have been.”
“Then what is it? You know I can always tell when you’re lying.” He took her hand.
“Can we go somewhere and talk?” she asked, realizing she couldn’t get out of this conversation.
“Of course.” He nodded. “Where do you want to go?”
“To the first place you caught me,” she said softly.
His smile grew over his face like it always did.
“Sure, we can make it across half the country in about an hour.”
“Let’s fly,” she said.
The wind helped to clear some of Claire’s thoughts. She knew he was flying faster than normal to help her forget. He always knew what she needed. She could picture the questions going through his mind. What was the matter with her? Why wouldn't she open up to him? Why did she keep rejecting him? How could he help her? She didn't have any answers.
"We're here," he announced into her thoughts.
They alighted on the sign and Claire sighed with satisfaction.
“This place was the first time I felt like I could trust somebody after what happened to me,” she said.
“I’m just glad it was me,” West said gently.
“You made it you. It couldn’t have been anyone else,” she said.
“Then why are you so anxious?”
Claire looked West in the eyes.
“Look at me carefully, West. Do you see me as I truly look? Don’t see the same person you see every day or the woman you love. What do I look like?”
West took her seriously as always and she could tell he looked. Really looked.
“You look beautiful. You look like a woman who’s...lost something. You look like a woman, but just barely. About twenty years old, not knowing what she’s supposed to do with her life.”
“Exactly.” Claire looked away from him.
“What did you lose?” West asked, his voice going an octave higher than normal.
She nearly cried at the sound because it was so familiar to her. He always did that when he was afraid.
“Eventually I will lose you,” she said, tears trickling down her cheek. “If I don’t lose you right now. And, not only will I lose you, but I will lose every single person I love because I can’t die.”
Recognition dawned in West’s eyes. It obviously made sense to him. She would bet that he'd wondered about it and just hadn't ever mentioned it for fear of upsetting her.
“I’m sorry you’ll go through that, but...are you sure?” he asked.
Claire swiveled her head around incredulously.
“Do you think old age is going to stop me when a nuclear blast can’t? Did you really look at me? I haven’t aged a day since I was twenty. And, yeah, I’m young, but have you seen Peter? He’s thirty eight and he looks like he’s twenty five!”
“Pretty well preserved,” West said lightly.
“You think?” Claire wiped her tears and looked away again.
“But what was all that stuff about losing me now? Do you seriously think I would let go of you because of that? I’ve waited eight years for you and been rejected three times. I wanted to be with you despite who your dad was. We’ve helped save the world countless times and I’ve never let you fall without catching you,” West ended, rubbing her shoulders.
“But one day you’ll fall and I won’t be able to catch you,” she said. “Could you live with yourself knowing that I’ll always look younger than you? That to the outside world we would look terrible? That we won’t be able to do all the normal things- I mean, should we even have children? How could I stand to lose them eventually?”
“Our minds and our experiences will be the same,” he said firmly. “We will still be able to connect on an emotional level. There will be barriers and hard times and who’s to say if we won’t wish something was different one day? But I will always love you, Claire. You’re being yourself, just a little too dramatic. Did you ever read that fairy tale about the woman crying over the fate of her unborn children?”
“This is serious, West. I’m not exaggerating something minor.”
“I know,” he said. “But you’re worrying over things you can’t help. I don’t know how you’ll make it through. I don’t know where things will end up. But I will be there for you, old and ugly, until the day I die.”
“You die,” she said slowly.
But she felt better. He wasn’t repulsed by her immortality.
“Claire, will you marry me?”
Claire looked over at West and the ring box in his hand.
“You must have got that so long ago,” she said sorrowfully.
He smiled a little ironically.
“I’ve had it about four years. The good news is that it’s totally paid for.”
“Only you,” she said, and chuckled a little.
“Stop dodging, lizard girl. Tell me here, where you first trusted me, that you’ll marry me.” He grasped her hand.
“Yes, you idiot!” Claire threw her arms around him. “You know how much I hate that name.”
“You love it,” he whispered into her hair.
Claire smiled in spite of herself.
“Yeah, I kinda do.” West pulled back and opened the ring box. He slid the ring onto her finger and she gazed at it in awe. “It’s beautiful, West.”
“I’m glad you like it,” he said, dipping his head down. “Again.”
Their kiss was as passionate as could be expected from two people who’d been waiting eight years to get married.
“I’ll tell you one thing,” he said as they broke apart, their heads still lingering near each other. “It’s going to be a short engagement.”
Claire unwrapped the rest of her presents at Sandra’s home with Lyle, West, Peter, Nathan, and her mother. When the last one was open, she set it aside and glanced at West. He smiled happily at her and she stood up.
“Um, everyone, West and I have an announcement to make.” West moved to stand with her. “We’re getting married,” Claire said, holding up her hand.
Excitement broke out over the whole party as everyone hastened to congratulate the couple.
“Finally,” Lyle said. “Now you two can stop mooning over each other and get boring.”
“Lyle!” Sandra reproved. She turned to Claire. “I’m so happy for you, sweetheart. You too, West.”
“Have you started planning yet?” Peter asked.
“No.” Claire rubbed her hands together nervously. “But we do have a few requests that are a bit unusual. Mom, I want you to be my matron of honor. I don’t really have anyone else I could ask. So, do you mind?”
“Of course not,” Sandra said emphatically, misting at the eyes. “I’m honored.”
“Lyle, you’re the best man, dude,” West interjected.
“Yeah, because you don’t have anyone else to ask.” Lyle rolled his eyes.
“Like you have so many people,” West shot back.
“Treat me nice or I won’t do it,” Lyle teased.
“Yes, you will,” Sandra told him.
“I am actually in college now, Mom,” he told her.
“Not to me, you aren’t,” she answered.
Ignoring the bickering men in her life, Claire took a deep breath.
“Um, Nathan, if you’re uncomfortable, I understand. But could you, would you, walk me down the aisle?”
Nathan looked startled. Understandably so because while he and Claire had gotten a lot closer over the years, it was a big step for the two of them.
“I-I, of course, if that’s what you want,” he said.
“I do,” Claire said softly. “My dad isn’t here anymore, but you are and I wouldn’t want anyone else.”
“Thank you,” he said simply.
“Can I be ring bearer?” Peter asked suddenly, lightening the mood.
Over the next few months the plans went swiftly. Claire often wished she could stop time like Hiro and Peter, just so she could catch her breath, but when the day arrived, she wanted to stop it so that she could be in the perfect moment forever.
She walked down the aisle with Nathan at her side and stood beside West with her mom and brother next to them. Behind them were Peter and her grandmother and Heidi with Simon and Monty. Assorted other people with powers that they’d assisted and who’d helped them over the years were scattered through the audience. West’s parents were in the front row.
She was surrounded by the people she loved. For a moment she remembered that they would leave her. But she didn’t let herself dwell on it because this was a day for cherishing. Claire looked down at her hand in West’s and knew this was right.
The day flew past in a flurry of perfection and laughter. Claire didn’t think she’d ever been hugged so much in her life. West certainly hadn’t. He looked a little dazed by the time they finally said their goodbyes and headed off together.
“Alone at last,” West exclaimed as he flung himself onto the bed in their new apartment.
“Is that any way to act on your wedding night?” Claire asked indignantly from the doorway. “I’m standing here, in my dress, at the threshold.”
West raised himself up on his elbows.
“And you look beautiful. Maybe you should just stand there all night so I can look at you.”
“I’m sure there are other things we could be doing,” she said wryly.
“Hmm, beautiful and smart.” West raised his eyebrow. “Well, this should be done properly then.”
He got off the bed, went over and lifted her in his arms, and floated them both over the doorway.
“I think that may have been cheating,” she said. “I think the point is to carry me over.”
“Do you want me to do it again?” he asked, grinning.
“Just float me on over to the bed, West,” she said, laying her head on his shoulder.
“As you wish,” he replied, gliding to do just so.
West looked over at his youngest daughter. Myan was five now. She’d been playing with Tanya who was eight. The two of them, plus Claire, were his world. He couldn’t believe they’d waited so long to have their girls but he didn’t want his life to be without them.
“What is it, Myan?” he asked.
“Why are you so old?”
“Why do you say that, sweetie?” West crinkled his eyebrows.
“Well, you look so old. Mommy doesn’t look like that.”
West hadn’t let himself think about that for awhile.
“Mommy’s very youthful. But we’re actually the same age.”
“Oh.” Myan shrugged and went back to her playing.
But West thought about what she said for a long time.
Ten years later the subject came up again. Tanya had manifested her powers of elasticity at about thirteen, but now it was Myan’s turn. Their backyard had started to become overrun with foliage of all kinds and they couldn’t understand it. West spent every evening with a weed wacker and Claire with pruning shears.
One evening West straightened up from his work and noticed Myan standing at the window watching them. She was fifteen and there were tears in her eyes. Later that night Claire asked what the problem was, but Myan wouldn’t answer. But the next night she did the same thing and they began to get an inkling what was going on.
Claire and West sat both the girls down and talked with them about their abilities and it became clear that Myan was able to manipulate growth around her. That, coupled with her love of nature, was something that needed to be controlled.
Myan was afraid at first, but both of her parents encouraged her to embrace her abilities and learn to control them.
“We both had to go through the same thing,” West told them. “It was really hard to understand.”
“You should’ve seen your Uncle Lyle when he got his,” Claire recalled with a giggle.
“That was a good day,” West agreed.
“I can make myself taller,” Myan said looking more excited as she popped up an inch or two in front of their eyes. “Can I make myself younger or older?”
West looked at her.
“More importantly, could you do it for other people?” he asked sharply. More sharply than he probably intended.
“West!” Claire said reprovingly. “What are you getting at?”
“You know what I’m getting at, Claire,” he said. “Excuse us, girls.”
He and Claire rose and went into their bedroom.
“West,” Claire began.
“I wouldn’t have to look like a pedophile every time we went somewhere if Myan could use her ability on me,” he explained passionately.
“West, you’ll still die. She can’t make you live forever. We don’t even know if she can do anything. Do not get my hopes up.” Claire’s emotions rose to the fore and she almost started to cry. “You know how much I love you, but I’m fine with the way we are. We shouldn’t mess with nature. And in the end, you still have to go. Even if Myan could prolong your life, when hers ended, so would yours.”
“Claire, we’re fifty years old, but you look like you’re twenty. That’s a thirty year difference.”
“Let’s talk to Mohinder about it,” Claire finally agreed after an hour of discussion.
“Thank you,” West told her fervently. “I just feel so inadequate next to your complete perfection. I don’t want you to not want me.”
“West,” Claire said, sounding exasperated, “I want you.”
She went over and kissed him and proved it.
When they did talk to Mohinder, he ran some tests on both West and Myan. Claire and West had made sure this was okay with their whole family before going through with it.
“It is possible that she could change your appearance,” Mohinder finally concluded. He himself was old now and it had taken him a while to do his research. “But she cannot change your age. You cannot prolong your life anymore than I can.”
“It’s more than I hoped for,” West said.
A secret hope in Claire’s heart died, but she said nothing because it was more than before.
“You should probably plan to appear a little older than Claire,” was Mohinder’s advice. “It might look odd to have two twenty year olds with teenage daughters.”
“I could look thirty,” West said happily.
“And, I believe that as she grows up, her powers will grow and it would be more conceivable for her to alter both your appearances.”
“Thanks, Mohinder. My, are you up for this?” Claire asked their daughter.
“I want to know how to do this. And I want to help you.” Myan nodded determinedly.
They all watched as Myan settled herself and concentrated. Before their eyes, the gray receded from West’s hair and his skin firmed and his posture straightened. He was more West as Claire remembered him and still the man she woke up beside every day.
“Thank you, My,” West said as he looked at his reflection in the mirror.
All the family laughed as they looked at Mohinder fiercely scribbling notes.
When they got home the girls went out with their friends, leaving West and Claire alone together.
“I feel like we’re kids again,” she said, placing her head on his chest.
He scooted up against the bed head to make it more comfortable for her.
“I don’t feel any different,” he said.
“I don’t want you to,” Claire told him. “Because I know how old I am, no matter how I look. You should, too. Remember what we promised each other the night we got engaged? This will be hard, but we’re on the same level.”
“We’ve always been the same, Claire.”
“Even when you’re gone, we still will be.” Claire nestled her head against him and West leaned down to kiss her.
“We still will be,” he agreed.