When Claire somberly passed by the window of Haven’s home the next evening, she couldn’t help turning her eyes toward the expanse of sea outside. Though when those pools of green passed over the docks, she noted her childe sitting there, staring out at that same ocean as well. Though Claire doubted she even had the strength at this point to try and speak to anyone else, she felt she needed to go and speak to him before the next wave of crippling grief made that impossible once again.
Aidan looked down slightly as she exited the house, which was still several feet off from the beach and the dock. Nonetheless, he immediately sensed her presence as he always had. When her feet finally reached the dock, they both appeared to be steeling their nerves to manage any conversation at all.
“Are you really going back to England?” she asked in a whisper as she moved to take a seat on the dock next to him.
“I think five years is quite enough time to deal with America and all the horror she provides” he answered, though his dark eyes remained on the lapping waves that continuously kissed the wooden dock below them.
“Do you think it will be better there now? I mean better than it was when we had to leave” she managed to add, attempting to meet his gaze, which he could not return.
“Well neither Mary nor her sister is queen anymore. So I guess all I can do is hope” he replied quietly.
Claire was quiet for another long moment. However when a ship finally appeared over the horizon, she had to speak up “it wasn’t all horror though, was it?” she asked, almost as though wanting him to convince her of that fact.
Aidan took a moment to answer that as well “the fact that it wasn’t is what makes it hurt so much” was all he could say.
“But you’re still leaving?” she asked softly.
“Everything here reminds me of her. I need to get away. If for no other reason than my own sanity” Aidan answered her just as softly.
“I’m so sorry, Aidan. If I hadn’t…” Claire attempted, but simply shook her head.
That was when Aidan did finally look back at her “If you hadn’t what, Claire? You can’t possibly be trying to take the blame for the earth splitting in two and swallowing that beautiful girl. I’m pretty sure you had nothing to do with that” he attempted to assure her, though his words seemed choked.
“But I’m the one who talked you into staying here to be with her” she replied, eyes down.
“I think Erica was the determining factor there, darling” he told her as he gently touched her shoulder.
“But I’m also the one who talked you into waiting before embracing her. If she had been one of us…”
Aidan simply sighed as he moved his hand away again. He took another long moment before finding any more words as he watched the ship grow nearer “why do you always feel the need to blame yourself for everything, Claire? You are one of the most beautiful, self-sacrificial, loving creatures on this earth. And you always somehow see yourself as some kind of monster. Where does any of that come from?” he asked her, honestly wanting to understand that guilt she had been drowning in since the first moment he saw her, over a century earlier.
But before she could make any attempt at an answer, the ship reached the dock and the crew called greetings to them from on deck. Claire and Aidan slowly got to their feet as the ship was secured and the crew began the lengthy process of unloading the cargo.
“I assume this is the ship that’s taking you home?” she asked as she sadly looked up at where he stood seven inches taller than her own petite 5’4” frame.
“That’s the plan” Aidan agreed, though there was a trace of nervousness in his eyes nonetheless.
“I guess this is goodbye then?” she choked on the words, looking down once more.
“Oh darling, I’m sure we’ll definitely cross paths again, all things considered” he smiled as he moved to gently cover her pale hands in his as further assurance that it was not to be their final meeting.
She forced back the tears, surprised she still even had any left to shed, and moved to wrap him in her arms. Only Aidan instead moved his hands to tilt her face up to his and cover her lips in a kiss of the variety they hadn’t shared since the decade that they had spent so many nights of as lovers; back when he too was just as human as the one they both mourned so deeply now.
When the kiss finally ended, leaving both of them a bit overwhelmed, he finally gave her hand one last squeeze before moving away from her, past the busy crew members, and onto the ship. When she finally forced her eyes to turn to look after her departing childe, Claire was a bit startled to find an equally dark set of eyes, belonging to a beautiful young man on the crew, quickly turning away from her as she looked his way.
She was more than a little caught by the dark eyes, tanned skin, and shoulder-length black locks on a boy who was perhaps nineteen, if that. She swallowed a bit as she noted him quickly averting his own eyes and attempting to return to his stacking of cargo containers, while continuously looking back toward her with more than a bit of distraction.
She cast one more glance at where Aidan then disappeared below the deck of the ship and turned her emerald eyes back to the young man who forced his own away from her just as quickly. Claire had been alive long enough to know desire when she saw it as she did in this man. Though it was rare that she had to contend with that look from anyone other than her servants or her husband, at least in recent nights.
“Hello” she finally managed the next time he couldn’t stop his gaze from returning to her.
Though his immediate response was a blush that barely showed upon the tanned skin that gave some clue to his probable Spanish decent “hello” he returned with as much volume as he could muster before turning away again.
Claire tried to remind herself that they did indeed need new servants now. But she wasn’t sure she even wanted to bring herself to go through that process anew, when she was barely over the loss of Luke and Isabelle, not to mention her other even greater loss.
Forcing herself to try and push her grief away long enough to even carry on a conversation, Claire finally spoke again “will you be going back to England on this ship tonight too?”
“I live here. My mother lives here” he added the quiet clarification, forcing his eyes to stop traveling over her again as they spoke.
“She does?” she repeated as she took her own nervous look around.
“My father lives in England though” he added more quietly “I sometimes see him when I’m there. But mostly I’m on the boat or here with my mother, looking after her” he attempted; though spoke every word like he was unsure of it, at least in her presence.
“Your father doesn’t look after her?” Claire managed.
“Not particularly” he added more quietly as he quickly moved to help another of the crew slide a heavier crate across the dock. When that task was done, he looked back at her once more “you’re not boarding the ship with your… husband?” he offered warily.
“Husband?” Claire replied a bit caught by that question.
“The man you were… kissing” he added more quietly as he looked down quickly again, afraid he may have somehow offended her.
“Aidan’s not my…” she attempted, but easily realized any explanation she could give would either have to be a lie or make absolutely no sense to this unaware mortal before her “he’s an old dear friend” she settled on.
A few of the crew called their goodbyes to them as the last crate was unloaded and they began readying the ship for its departure again. He looked back at her again, his eyes moving to her wedding band with a nervous biting of his lip “is your husband no longer with you?” he asked, trying to sound regretful of the possibility.
That was when Claire noted his eyes on her wedding band, and couldn’t help her own nervous glance downwards. Instead of trying to explain her and Sean’s very strange marriage to a new unassuming mortal, she quickly found another subject “so do you know what’s in all of these?” she asked as she took a step closer to the crates as the ship pulled away from the dock at last.
“Some” he returned, his nervousness seeming to double as she moved to a spot only a few feet from where he stood.
“I am staying with the man who owns your ship. We usually look over the cargo to determine its use to us as well before sending it off” she told him as she leaned over the crate nearest them.
“I’ve seen others out here when we’ve unloaded cargo in the past. But I don’t remember seeing you. Which I think I would have” he added more quietly, his eyes staying on her longer now that her own gaze was on the crates.
Claire looked down again “Yes it was usually others who came to the docks to receive the shipments. But we lost many of them in the quake yesterday” she forced the words as calmly as she could.
“There was a quake?” he asked, immediately worried by that information, as he turned his eyes up the beach toward where she assumed was his home.
“I’m sorry, I guess you had no way of knowing” she replied, looking back up at the sound of the fear in his voice.
“I… I have to” he stammered.
“Of course” she bowed her head slightly to him as he rushed off to determine the safety of his own loved ones. Claire looked after him, silently hoping that fate would be less cruel to him than it had been to her when it had taken yet another child out of her life.
When the attractive young man returned to the dock later that night, it was a different individual who greeted him. Haven was outside looking over the forgotten crates when he returned to the dock a little under an hour after his brief conversation with Claire.
“I’m sorry lord. I know I shouldn’t have left the cargo unattended, but when I heard about the quake…” he told Haven, immediately apologetic as he reached him.
Haven just allowed a polite smile, which turned softer when his eyes fell on the boy “it’s fine. We lost enough people ourselves that we haven’t really had much time to notice if other things were running smoothly anyway.”
“I just had to go and make sure…” he then let his voice trail off as he looked toward Haven’s nearby home “I’ll start bringing the cargo inside” he stated dutifully as he moved to attend to that task.
“No hurry” Haven offered, “it’s already fairly late and I don’t think any of us are really thinking much about cargo or shipments right about now” he added more quietly.
Then the young man spoke up again to stop Haven from turning away “there was a woman out here earlier. I’m afraid I had to rush off, and didn’t get a chance to apologize for my swift departure. She said she was staying with you though?” the young man attempted to gather any other information he could about the woman who he had been so drawn to earlier that night.
“Well, I have a rather large household” Haven smiled, “hard to say which of them you may have encountered” he returned apologetically.
“She was saying goodbye to her… friend” he replied, though his voice faltered a bit on using the same word Claire had used to describe the man who she had been so affectionately sharing that kiss with.
Haven allowed a small smile “that would have probably been Claire saying goodbye to Aidan” he offered the information politely.
“Claire?” he returned, her name a breath in his throat.
“Yes she’s a relative of mine who’s staying with me since her own home was rather destroyed yesterday” Haven added regretfully.
That was when the young man looked down again, his current duties all but forgotten “She said she had lost people?” he dared.
“Yes, two servants and her ward” Haven offered sadly.
“Ward?” he replied, knowing he should not be expecting any information from his employer, but his draw to Claire seemed to be making him forget his own probable insignificance to his wealthy employer.
“Yes. There was a little girl who lost her family some time ago. Claire had taken her in and raised her as her own. She was killed in the quake yesterday” Haven added sadly “so, as you can see, we’re not really too concerned with the timely delivery of any particular cargo right now” he added softly “so, take your time. We’ll be here” he added quietly as he headed back toward his home once more.
It was nearing two a.m. when the attractive young dock worker had finally wheeled the last of the cargo into Haven’s home for perusal before it was sent off to be sold. It was then that Claire appeared at the top of the cellar stairs. She had spent most of the evening hiding out downstairs and attempting to read through some of Sean’s most recent writing in a futile attempt to keep her grief from crushing her for yet another night. Awsha had been upstairs in her former quarters. Haven had retired to his study and Sean to the studio that he used to spend much of his time in when last they had stayed at Haven’s home.
“I thought that might have been you up here” Claire greeted him with another attempt at a smile, as hard as it was for her lips to form many of those right then.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to disturb you” he apologized after he took a moment to catch his breath upon the sight of her once again.
“Oh I wasn’t asleep” she assured with another attempt at a smile. She then quickly added “I assume your family is ok?”
“Yes, the quake didn’t quite reach my mother’s home” he then quickly added “my employer told me about your own loss. I’m very sorry” he added quietly.
“Haven told you that?” she asked shakily.
“He mentioned that you had a young girl who you had taken in…” he informed, though looked down once again, knowing that he was once again forgetting his own status in relation to any guest or relative of his wealthy employer.
Claire took a long moment to force her emotions back again before speaking again “we’ve been talking this long and I don’t even know your name” she made one more futile attempt at a smile.
“It’s Avan” he added with a wider smile than he had meant to.
“Like Evan?” she replied.
“My mother agreed to give me a British name, because of my father, but couldn’t quite commit to the spelling, because of my father” he repeated with another slight smile “or maybe she just wanted me to stand out. And here I am unloading ship cargo. I’m sure she’s very proud” he allowed with a tiny bit more of his personality showing through now that Claire had shown even the tiniest bit of interest in him personally.
“I’m Claire” she offered “And don’t worry, you do stand out” she added as that tiny smile finally made its way to her lips at last.