Going Home Again

Claire Avalon

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Claire watched the pale blue glow of the alarm clock as it turned from 2:13 to 2:14am. Her body was frozen still under the covers and her breathing methodically slow, but she was wide awake. The room, the bed, everything felt foreign even if at one time it had been hers. The modern, clean lines of her father's estate felt too sterile, too manicured for her taste. She'd dismissed the guards weeks ago, despite their protests. But her father couldn't contradict her orders, and they never made her feel safe, only imprisoned. Plus, if everything worked out tonight the way she wanted, security would only ruin the plan. And Claire couldn't stand those dogs, or any dogs for that matter. The sentiment was confirmed by the ancient feline purring softly a solid 10 inches from her owner, paw outstretched, initiating the slightest physical content. Affection and distance. Both Claire and the cat's preferred method for companionship.

Returning to her thoughts she mused on the last time she'd slept in this room. 6 years...no it had to have been longer than that. The few times a year she had spent with her father had mostly been on the neutral ground of luxurious cabins in the French alps, the occasional summer in Madrid. Sometimes Christmas...but even that stopped eventually. Even her adolescence was spent between boarding schools and summer music intensives. And then there was conservatory, one semester spent in a dorm room before her father bought a small one bedroom condo in a historic apartment building downtown. It wasn't flamboyant, but the rent price meant her classmates weren't likely to be her neighbors. He bought the condo as an early birthday present before Christmas break, muttering something about security in the building and the practicality of the location. Claire didn't come home that Christmas. She figured he probably preferred it that way. For as long as she could remember, Avalon never met her gaze, never discussed subjects of depth, never really cared to know her. That's not to say she wasn't provided for. Claire was painfully aware of her privilege. She never had to ask for anything she wanted twice. Perhaps that was her father's way of placating his guilt. After all, it wasn't really his fault that he just couldn't find it within his heart to connect with his only child...

His only living child.

Claire's mother had been driven mad by the coldness too, and she wasn't even the primary target. The young woman often wondered why her father even agreed to having a child with his second wife. They looked so happy in photographs, now tucked away deep in Claire's various scrapbooks and memory boxes before her father could vaporize them. Perhaps she was an accident. She'd never had the courage to ask. Reproductive intentions are a better set of questions between mother and daughter, and Claire genuinely didn't even remember the woman anymore. She knew her 3rd birthday was the trigger. Two days before Christmas and Claire had officially outlived the ghost that would haunt the rest of her life. Her father couldn't even be bothered to leave his office, or so she'd been told by a particularly gossipy housekeeper who supplied the details her nanny...and her father...couldn't seem to articulate. Maria had always treated her like an equal, spoken to her like an adult, Claire mused to herself with a smug affection. As if any validation might solidify her worth. She knew the full story by the time she was 7. Her mother, fed up with the neglect (perhaps more toward herself than her daughter), snapped a polaroid of her toddler attempting to blow out the 3 candles atop her cake. Leaving the details of cake cutting and serving to the nanny, Edith Avalon set the photo down on her vanity table, along with her wedding band, and impressive engagement ring, and penned a brief note.

"Malcolm: I can walk away and take care of myself. She cannot. Don't make her wish she could. I'm sorry. -E."

And, after packing a surprisingly small suitcase, she left. Claire supposed her father had some idea where she ended up, if at least for the sake of the divorce papers. But he never went after her, not even for child support. I supposed considering his financial situation, he felt that would be crass and vindictive. If there was one thing Avalon could always do, it was fulfill his duties. His daughter would grow up with the best schools, well dressed and well traveled, comfortable in every external sense. Sometimes he even had the decency to pretend his emotional distance was for her own safety, encouraging her to keep her family a secret, deny association, and even assume her mother's maiden name. Claire never took him up on that one. Some sense of identity was vital to her sanity. Nevertheless, the vast majority of her father's public never learned of her existence. In the process of mourning one ghost child, he had created another. And while Claire never felt too guilty about her father's financial support in her life (figuring he at least owed her that), she did strive not to depend on it. And it had been a solid 3 years since the 24 year old had touched her trust fund.

Back to the present, this thought pattern was doing a decent job of keeping Claire awake, but was starting to taste a bit too much like self-pity. Bitter. There were more current issues to be bitter about. Her father's potentially irreversible brain damage, her sudden acquisition of responsibility many of his properties and possessions, not to mention physical care, the threat of another attempted kidnapping, a target on her back. The ACME job and grad school applications sitting cold on the printer tray. The black diamond and ruby engagement ring reminding her that in the meantime, life was on hold.

Click, click.

Joe wouldn't like this plan

Click, click.

I shouldn't have insisted on coming alone...but he never would have agreed.

Click, click...pause.

Claire tried to make the rise and fall of her chest convincingly slow, but her heart, already prone to tachycardia, was thumping hard enough to ring against her pillow-side ear.

Click...click.

Regret washed over Claire and she thought for a moment she could will herself into passing out. But time froze, and with a gulp Claire hoped was invisible, she opened her mouth.

"I wondered what was taking you so long."
 

Claire Avalon

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Based on the helpful advice from @Ann Tickwitee @Polly Tix and @Tenchi Masaki I'll be posting the entire Going Home Again Saga here. I'll also be reposting from chapter 1 since I've made several edits and it looks like you only have a little bit of time to edit a post before it stops letting you. Either that or I'm old and don't understand websites.
 

Claire Avalon

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Claire Nowak
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Going Home Again


Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego headcanon, set in the aftermath of the series finale. All hail the rightful owners.


Chapter I:


“Family Reunion”​


Claire watched the pale blue glow of the alarm clock as it turned from 2:13 to 2:14am. Her body was frozen still under the covers and her breathing methodically slow, but she was wide awake. The room, the bed, everything felt foreign even if at one time it had been hers. The modern, clean lines of her father's estate felt too sterile, too manicured for her taste. She'd dismissed the guards weeks ago, despite their protests. But her father couldn't contradict her orders, and they never made her feel safe, only imprisoned. Plus, if everything worked out tonight the way she wanted, security would only ruin the plan. And Claire couldn't stand those dogs, or any dogs for that matter. The sentiment was confirmed by the ancient feline purring softly a solid 10 inches from her owner, paw outstretched, initiating the slightest physical content. Affection and distance. Both Claire and the cat's preferred method for companionship.


Returning to her thoughts she mused on the last time she'd slept in this room. 6 years...no it had to have been longer than that. The few times a year she had spent with her father had mostly been on the neutral ground of luxurious cabins in the French alps, the occasional summer in Madrid. Sometimes Christmas...but even that stopped eventually. Even her adolescence was spent between boarding schools and summer music intensives. And then there was conservatory, one semester spent in a dorm room before her father bought a small one bedroom condo in a historic apartment building downtown. It wasn't flamboyant, but the rent price meant her classmates weren't likely to be her neighbors. He bought the condo as an early birthday present before Christmas break, muttering something about security in the building and the practicality of the location. Claire didn't come home that Christmas. She figured he probably preferred it that way. For as long as she could remember, Avalon never met her gaze, never discussed subjects of depth, never really cared to know her. That's not to say she wasn't provided for. Claire was painfully aware of her privilege. She never had to ask for anything she wanted twice. Perhaps that was her father's way of placating his guilt. After all, it wasn't really his fault that he just couldn't find it within his heart to connect with his only child...


His only living child.


Claire's mother had been driven away by the coldness too, and she wasn't even the primary target. The young woman often wondered why her father even agreed to having a child with his second wife. They looked so happy in photographs, now tucked away deep in Claire's various scrapbooks and memory boxes before her father could vaporize them. Perhaps she was an accident. She'd never had the courage to ask. Reproductive intentions are a better set of questions between mother and daughter, and Claire genuinely didn't even remember the woman anymore. She knew her 3rd birthday was the trigger. It was two days before Christmas and Claire had officially outlived the ghost that would haunt the rest of her life. Her father couldn't even be bothered to leave his office, or so she'd been told by a particularly gossipy housekeeper who supplied the details her nanny...and her father...couldn't seem to articulate. Maria had always treated her like an equal, spoken to her like an adult, Claire mused to herself with a smug affection. As if any validation might solidify her worth. She knew the full story by the time she was 7. Her mother, fed up with the neglect (perhaps more toward herself than her daughter), snapped a polaroid of her toddler attempting to blow out the 3 candles atop her cake. Leaving the details of cake cutting and serving to the nanny, Edith Avalon set the photo down on her vanity table, along with her wedding band, and impressive engagement ring, and penned a brief note.


"Malcolm: I can walk away and take care of myself. She cannot. Don't make her wish she could. I'm sorry. -E."


And, after packing a surprisingly small suitcase, she left. Claire supposed her father had some idea where she ended up, if at least for the sake of the divorce papers. But he never went after her, not even for child support. She supposed considering his financial situation, he felt that would be crass and vindictive. If there was one thing Avalon could always do, it was fulfill his duties. His daughter would grow up with the best schools, well dressed and well traveled, comfortable in every external sense. Sometimes he even had the decency to pretend his emotional distance was for her own safety, encouraging her to keep her family a secret, deny association, and even assume her mother's maiden name. Claire never took him up on that one. Some sense of identity was vital to her sanity. Nevertheless, the vast majority of her father's public never learned of her existence. In the process of mourning one ghost child, he had created another. And while Claire never felt too guilty about her father's financial support in her life (figuring he at least owed her that), she did strive not to depend on it. And it had been a solid 3 years since the 24 year old had touched her trust fund.


Back to the present, this thought pattern was doing a decent job of keeping Claire awake, but was starting to taste a bit too much like self-pity. Bitter. There were more current issues to be bitter about. Her father's potentially irreversible brain damage, her sudden acquisition of responsibility for many of his properties and possessions, not to mention physical care, the threat of another attempted kidnapping, a potential target on her back. The ACME job and grad school applications sitting cold on the printer tray. The black diamond and ruby engagement ring reminding her that in the meantime, life was on hold.


Click, click.


Joe wouldn't like this plan


Click, click.


I shouldn't have insisted on coming alone...but he never would have agreed.


Click, click...pause.


Claire tried to make the rise and fall of her chest convincingly slow, but her heart, already prone to tachycardia, was thumping hard enough to ring against her pillow-side ear.


Click...click.


Regret washed over Claire and she thought for a moment she could will herself into passing out. But time froze, and with a gulp Claire hoped was invisible, she opened her mouth.


"I wondered what was taking you so long."
 

Claire Avalon

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Claire Nowak
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Chapter II

“Nepotism”​


Claire’s face felt white and hot and red and bloodless all at once, a chill followed by a wave of heat enveloped her whole body. She had tried to sound cocky, confident, and self assured, but she’d had only the company of the cat for a week, singing had taken a back seat, and she hadn’t called Joe back in two days. As a result, her voice felt foreign and clumsy inside her mouth, gone dry with fear and anticipation.


“You really should be sleeping, detective,” that familiar voice said in a tone that indicated she had suspected this all along, “Or is it detective? What do they call a freelancing profiler with a fear of commitment?”


Claire ignored the quip, reaching in her mind for a lower blow that she had the courage to say out loud, “I’ve always been a night owl. Maybe it’s genetic.”


The intruder raised one eyebrow, or at least Claire assumed she did since the other one was concealed under the crimson brim of her hat. The not-detective sat up in her bed, standing seemed too much of a challenge at the moment. The cat gave her a disgusted glance, before jumping off the bed and past the intruder’s red stilettos, heading for the door. Claire felt suddenly all too aware of her own body, like her soul had been drifting aimlessly through her memories and had suddenly come back into her skin too quickly. Textures felt too…textured. The air felt too thick. Claire found herself painfully and suddenly aware that she was braless, barefaced, and swathed by a tangled set of glossy black curls which she had mysteriously begun to style more voluminously than her typical soft waves. She pulled her knees to her chest, feeling impossibly pathetic and small.


Carmen was characteristically unfazed, "I hope you didn't dismiss security on my account, you really needn't have bothered. Or should I expect an ACME ambush from the shadows?"


"Why would there be? Are you planning to steal something from me?" Claire's voice was coming back to her but it took every muscle in her well-trained diaphragm to steady the tremor in it.


"Well there's always breaking and entering," the thief replied.


"You can't have broken in if I was expecting you. I would have sent an invitation directly but you didn't exactly leave ACME your forwarding address."


Carmen's smirk widened subtly, "Seems I got the memo regardless."


Claire started to panic. This was as far as her imagination had rehearsed, and like most anxious brains, she had tried out every possible line of dialogue and prepared satisfactory retorts. But now was the time for the actual conversation, and bravado was no longer serving a purpose, so with uncharacteristic impulsivity she forced out the question, "You didn't know about me, did you?"


"No...not at first. I wasn't looking for you," Carmen sighed in a way that sounded genuine, yet overly composed. Her gloved hand pressed against her temples, giving away a little more than her voice.


Then again, Carmen knew Claire studied body language, syntax, handwriting, anything she could get her eyes on to better understand the mind of a criminal. So potentially this was a form of posturing. Claire had never had to analyze Carmen live and without a screen between them.


Finally feeling somewhat stable, Claire forced herself from the safety of her bed and walked over to the window, sitting in one of the two reading chairs. Carmen followed suit, shadowed brow still carrying some tension.


"I never like to rush my research, but I can admit I was rather hasty in my reading. And once I'd found what I was looking for I made the mistake of deeming anything else irrelevant."


"You made a mistake?" Claire shot back, not sure if she meant it sarcastically or sincerely. "The great Carmen Sandiego?"


Blue eyes darted between amusement and danger. She was picking a side, Claire could tell. "It would seem that I have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to father figures, or so I've read."


Claire felt her face get hot again, silently praying it didn't show. "So you've been reading my thesis. It's just a work in progress-"


She was cut off by Carmen's raised hand, "There's no need to explain. I like to believe there's nothing in the world from which I cannot learn, and that includes amateur essays on my weaknesses."


"Something tells me if you actually felt that way you wouldn't feel the need to call me something as pejorative as 'amateur.'"


"On the contrary, my not-quite-a-detective, the word amateur comes from the Latin word for love. Someone who does something for the love of it, rather than profit. I might be worthy of the term myself." Carmen replied.


Claire tried to meet the thief's gaze, "I am conducting this research on ACME's dime, Carmen."


A real smile spread over Carmen's face...still a smirk...but a real one. "Ah...of course. But let's not pretend that was your motivation."


"So what are you looking for here? I'm guessing if you want an answer you've got labs that can give it to you. Is it to gloat, some kind of redemption, the bust you originally came to steal because by all means..." Claire could tell she hit a nerve with the redemption part. She hadn't meant to instill guilt in Carmen but Claire knew her well enough to know guilt lingered just under the surface at all times.


"I...Claire," using her name for the first time, "I never meant for him to get hurt. Everything I did, I did to protect-"


"You could have just not come back, how's that for protection?" Claire surprised herself with the harshness of her words. She had never blamed Carmen for what happened to her father, or for her curiosity. She knew the anger was misdirected but she'd rather die than admit that to the lady in red.


Carmen spoke like she was speaking to a child, "I had to come back. You have to know that," her voice caught in her throat ever so slightly.


"I do...I do know that," Redirect! Now! Claire thought. "So when did you learn about me?"


"After Lee...took him." Claire made a mental note of Carmen avoiding 'your father. "I did some digging to get ahead of any potential aces in his sleeve. And fortunately he didn't seem to know about you either. I wanted to keep it that way."


"I do suspect that by stepping into my father's spotlight I've painted a target on my back. But I got your attention."


Carmen inched forward confidently, "I look after my own. You're ACME's behind-the-scenes expert on yours truly, I'd treat you the same way I treat my detectives."


"Your detectives?"


"What can I say? I'm very possessive."


Claire stifled a laugh, "Yes, of things that don't belong to you."


"Touché," Carmen replied, lightly, "nevertheless it serves no one if you're hurt."


"So you're protecting me?" Claire wanted to pry deeper into the thief’s twisted justification for her protection.


"I'm keeping an eye on you. If you want protection, that's something I can provide under...alternative circumstances."


Claire got the sense Carmen wanted to draw this out, so she cut to the chase, "Alternative as in V.I.L.E?"


"I see we are on the same page." Carmen didn't miss a beat.


"Not on the same page, just clarifying your intentions. I don't often get to do that with you."


"What else did you expect? A sister? A family?" Carmen almost grimaced, and Claire was caught off guard by her straightforwardness.


"I...I'd like to know. I've been trying for over 2 decades to live up to a ghost who can do no wrong and it turns out that ghost wasn't even dead. I've had to ask myself, 'what would she look like? Like me? Would she have been smarter, braver, stronger, would she have been enough? And of course she wasn't there, so she could never really let anyone down." Claire wanted desperately to play it close to the vest but deep down it was never her nature.


"How's being a criminal for a letdown?" Carmen tested.


Claire was ready for that one, "If you're gonna be something you might as well be the best."


Carmen nodded approvingly. "You've got choices to make. And in the meantime, I'll be monitoring ACME's applications." She stood up, towering over Claire, signaling this conversation had gone as far as the thief was willing to take it.


Minutes later, with the sound of some mysterious hybrid vehicle echoing in the distance, Claire heard the unmistakable hum of the fax machine from the other room. Crimson paper with a familiar logo came to rest, competing with the cold applications beneath it. Handwritten (somehow?) in the upper left corner a note was scrawled in an elegant hand:


V.I.L.E. eagerly awaits your application. Don't call us, we'll call you. Until next crime! -C.S.
 

Claire Avalon

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Chapter III

“Blue Genes”​


Buenos Aires, three weeks ago...


Claire steadied herself with a deep breath as the nurse showed her to the private room her father was confined to.


"He has good days and bad," the young nurse pulled Claire out of her thoughts, "Yesterday he was fairly lucid. We try to avoid the news, and keep the curtains closed. He's still sensitive to light. There's a call button beside the bed if he gets agitated."


"You're not staying?" Claire felt guilty for saying it even before the words left her mouth.


The young woman shot her a sympathetic glance, "I'm sorry miss, I have rounds to make. But someone is always close by if you need something."


And with that, Claire was left to confront her father, whatever that meant now. It took her eyes a moment to adjust. The room was nice, for an inpatient facility, but sparse for the safety of the patients. Her father's salt and pepper hair was half hidden by a bandage, one cheek was marked with the greenish hue of a fading bruise. She noted a small cut above his eyebrow. Other than that her father looked normal. She strode the length of the large room, stilettos clicking on the cold floor. Why Claire always felt the need to dress up around her father was beyond her, maybe because the dynamic between them was more akin to two business colleagues than a father and daughter.


"Dad?" She asked tentatively, still retaining a few yards of distance between them.


The older man's bruised brow knotted with a soft kind of confusion, "Mija! You...you're grown up!" He frowned, squinting a little. "Come closer, I don't know why they keep it so dark in here."


Claire was taken aback. Her father almost never spoke Spanish to her, and he certainly never called her a pet name. In fact, between her nannies and her mother's German-American heritage, Claire assumed her first language had been English. She'd always been rather disconnected from her Argentinian half, inferring that her father relied on her pale skin, neutral accent, and English fluency to protect both the privacy of his business dealings and guard her from prejudice.


Before she had a chance to reply, her father spoke again, "Your eyes! Your mother always said they'd darken when you grew up."


Oh...Claire knew well that her eyes had been unmistakably dark brown from birth. She closed them tight, as if trying to teleport herself out of the room by sheer will-power. Anything not to have this conversation.


"Dad, I'm Claire. Do you remember me? You were hurt, you hit your head."


"Claire? No...no that's not right," the man seemed frustrated, fidgeting instinctively with the bandage around his temple.


Claire took his hand, sitting gingerly on the very edge of the hospital bed.


"Dad, you're having some memory problems. I got here as fast as I could," that was a lie, she prayed he didn't couldn't tell. "Are you alright? Can I get you anything?"


Avalon shook his head, more so out of confusion than in response. "Where...is Marguerite? Where is my wife?"


I'm not doing this, thought Claire, exasperated and emotionally overextended. It hurt to see her father like this, however disconnected their relationship. And she was not ready to unpack the knot of emotions unearthed against her will by a robbery gone wrong and a kidnapping gone worse. She pushed the call button, feeling pathetic. How long had it been, ten minutes?


The door opened quickly and Claire said a silent prayer of thanks to any deity who cared to hear it.


"Everything okay?" A different nurse appeared, for which Claire was extremely grateful.


"My father seems a bit distressed by my visit," she said in hushed tones, "perhaps I should come back another day when he's feeling better."


Avalon broke through the whispered conversation, "Where is Marguerite? Has she been hurt?"


The nurse, clearly familiar with this line of questioning, replied calmly, "No need to worry, Mr. Avalon. Your wife is safe and well. You'll see her soon."


The response settled Avalon and he reclined back into his pillow, eyes growing heavy.


"We find it's better to tell him what he wants to hear. He won't remember asking in a few hours. He asks about you and your mother a lot."


Claire tried desperately not to roll her eyes. "No...he's not asking about me. Marguerite isn't my mother." She knew this information was inadequate and her delivery less than polite, but finding her emotional tank completely drained, Claire left the room, her father, and the bewildered nurse, and made her way down the hall.


He's well cared for here, my company will just confuse him, Claire thought to herself, not quite believing it.


Pulling her father's black jaguar up to the gate at the bottom of the long driveway, Claire punched in a security code and drove past the empty gatehouse. She'd known what she needed to do, and she'd know it since she dismissed the guards. Maybe since she booked her flight from California. She needed an audience with the owner of those blue eyes her father remembered. Preferably alone, and realistically, not through a prison phone and a glass wall. And absolutely no one at ACME, even her fiance, could know about this.


Now... thought Claire, in a voice that sounded a little too much like her intended target, what does one wear to an audience with the queen of crime?
 

Claire Avalon

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Chapter IV


“Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina”​


Joe woke up with a start, disoriented by the empty bed. It took a moment for the morning fog to dissipate, as he reoriented himself with the situation. Claire had been gone, nearly three weeks now, looking after her father’s estate in Argentina. And her fiance was getting worried. Claire’s phone calls had gotten less frequent, and her details more vague. He glanced at his clock: 6:47am. 11:47am in Buenos Aires. Instinctively, he fumbled for the landline.


Four rings...five...click.


“Hello?” Claire’s low voice sounded more tired than Joe liked to hear, but it was a relief nonetheless.


“Vi?” He called her by his personal nickname, “it’s me. I miss you.”


“Did you just wake up?” Claire asked, sounding distracted.


“Yes...did you?”


Claire drew a long breath. “No...no...it’s just been hard to sleep here. This house is so damn cold. That’s modern architecture for you,” she tried to make her voice sound lighthearted, somehow worrying he would instinctively be aware of last night’s unusual interview. The ink on the fax had long since dried, but the red paper burned a hole in her heart.


“I think I really should come down there. Chief would be more than willing to give me the time off. You shouldn’t have to be on your own right now.”


Claire recalibrated her brain, trying to sound like the dutiful daughter and loving fiancee she hoped she was, “No...you know we need to save the vacation days for the wedding, and besides, there’s not much to do around here. Dad’s being cared for. I’m really just here as a precaution.”


Joe’s voice was fully awake now, a concerned knot forming at the back of his throat, “Vi...you don’t have to do this. Everyone here understands. ACME is like a family--”


“ACME is your family,” Claire interjected, sounding more harsh than she intended, “I’m adjunct at best, basically a freelance armchair psychiatrist.”


And as much as he hated to admit it, Joe knew it was true. ACME would be thrilled to employ Claire full time, but until she held the badge, she’d never really belong. He’d been there for 5 years, starting as a lowly trainee cataloging evidence, and eventually finding his niche training the academy K-9 unit. Eventually, his veterinary expertise had expanded his role beyond the scope of police dogs, particularly with Carmen’s penchant for both utilizing and stealing animals ranging from carrier pigeons, to rare cats, to Komodo dragons. Thankfully that last one was handled by local authorities.


“Don’t downplay your skills. You’re practically hired already. Did you get that application mailed yet? Because I can check up on it for you?” The detective knew this was a touchy subject but then again, these days, everything was.


“No...no...I don’t have all my legal documents with me here. And I really want to finish this thesis first, I think it’ll help my credibility,” Claire was bluffing, hoping she didn’t sound as transparent as she felt.


“You don’t have to do this right now,” Joe tried to sound comforting, “If it’s not the right time...or if you’d rather go back to music school, you’re not letting anyone down. Least of all me. I promise, Vivi.”


Tears stung the corners of Claire’s eyes, for reasons she couldn’t possibly put together over the phone. “It’s just hard to make any decisions right now,” her breath was audibly shaky. “I need to get through the meetings with Dad’s lawyers, the benefit concert, see where I’m needed,” she paused, voice softening, “I miss you too. So much.”


Joe could hear his fiancee on the verge of sobs, and his words felt all too inadequate. He wanted to hold her and run his fingers through her pitch black hair until she fell into a much needed sleep. A sense of dread had taken root in the pit of his stomach since Avalon’s capture, and he could feel it overgrowing in his gut. He had to get to Argentina.


“I know, Vi. I love you. Call me tomorrow, okay? Or tonight. Just, don’t make me guess if you’re okay.”


The tears escaped the shelf of Claire’s lower lashline. She steadied herself against the desk. She hated lying to him, but she also knew that Joe would keep her secret even if it meant risking his job and his credibility. And she could not bring herself to do that to him. For now, her late night rendezvous with the world’s most wanted thief would have to remain between the two of them.


“I love you too, Joe. I’ll talk to you soon.”


And for all her lies and half-truths, she really meant it.

*​

Shortly before 8, Joe walked through the familiar ACME doorway, nearly colliding with a blonde detective on a skateboard.


“Hey hey! Broself, how’s it hanging?” the teen asked cheerfully, jumping off the board to avoid the collision.


“Morning, Zack,” Joe high-fived the detective, trying to match his energy, “Any news on Carmen?”


Zack opened his mouth but was interrupted by the arrival of the Chief’s floating head, “Nope! Nada! Zipzilch, goose egg! Radio silence from the lady in red!"


“I’m so bored I’d take a gang of jaywalkers-” Zack mused, stopping himself when he remembered the last time he’d expressed that sentiment. An admission of boredom at ACME carried the same superstition as using the word “quiet” in an ER. Say it, and chaos was sure to ensue, usually accompanied by at least one rogue detective turning to a life of crime.


“You did not just say that, little Bro,” an older, red-headed woman entered the room wearing an exasperated look on her face.


“Ivy chill! Carmen is probably doing some much needed R and R, and when she’s ready to return, we’ll be ready to stop her!”


Ivy had a feeling Zack’s bravado was for the benefit of company morale, more so than genuine sentiment. More than once over the past few weeks she’d caught her brother lost in thought, heard his footsteps pacing in his room long after midnight, and watched him pour over recent case files. His juvenile enthusiasm seemed the same, but his eyes looked older and more disillusioned. If Carmen thought she was the only one struggling with the aftermath of the Avalon/Lee Jordan mess, she was gravely mistaken.


“How’s Claire?” Ivy’s tone softened and she gave Joe a sympathetic smile. While Claire’s freelance profiling work and presentations at ACME had been well-known for a few years now, Claire’s family history had remained a secret from most detectives until after Avalon’s hospitalization. Claire published her work as Claire Nowack, utilizing Joe’s last name. Even now, the Chief only provided confirmation of Claire’s identity to detectives who were regulars on Carmen’s trail.


“She’s...doing as well as can be expected,” said Joe, not really having any idea how well was actually expected in this exact situation.


Ivy nodded understandingly, “Think she’s okay down there by herself?”


“Honestly, I’m starting to worry about that. Chief, I really think I gotta check on her. Things are pretty slow around here, and Avery can handle the new pups for a few days.”


The Chief’s computerized head nodded, “Done! Deal!” his phrasing was jovial but his expression was more nuanced than an AI had any right to be capable of. “Take care of your lady. And Joe,” he sighed, “take care of yourself too.”


The Chief had every right to be concerned. In the past month his detectives had been shot at, abducted, imprisoned, and injured enough to take up almost an entire year’s worth of worker’s comp. Insurance claims and psych evaluations kept a steady stream of paperwork filtering through his systems. And truth be told, the idea of Carmen retreating into retirement terrified him (as well as Zack and Ivy) far more than the concept of never actually catching her. It’s true, the Chief hadn’t exactly cut contact when Carmen took off. He’d bent the rules from time to time and hopped onto her frequency, usually with the cover of some kind of gibe, but deep down they both knew the truth. The Chief would give anything to slaughter the fattened calf for his prodigal daughter if she would just return home. And sometimes, “see you next crime” sounds a lot like “I love you.”
 
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Claire Avalon

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(don't know why it wouldn't let me post the words zip zilch goose egg until I added the typo...oh well.)
 

Claire Avalon

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Chapter V

“Si je t’aime, prends garde à toi!”​

Sheet music lay spread out on every inch of the lid of Avalon’s glossy baby grand piano. Claire reached to catch a page as it slipped off the music stand. Across every line were layers of scribbled pencil notes. The international phonetic alphabet carefully written above the French, German, or Italian lyrics, translations meticulously plotted out above each score, chaotic arrows, circles, and checkmarks noting everything from leaps to breaths to things even Claire could no longer decode. A benefit concert for her father’s company hardly seemed like a priority at the moment, but as she had stepped into the public eye with the hospitalization of her father, a PR gesture seemed long overdue to comfort nervous investors. The singer knew music had taken a back seat. Warming up, her mezzo voice felt like rolling a boulder uphill...or driving an eighteen wheeler for the first time. Theoretically, the mechanics were the same, but every move felt unfamiliar and nerve-wracking. She stared at herself in the full length, antique mirror on the left wall. Breathing deeply, she concentrated on keeping her shoulders low, her throat open, and her diaphragm engaged, but her eyes looked empty and her musical selections failed to inspire her. There were the classic mezzo arias to choose from. She’d thrown out Cherubino (too lightweight, and pants-roles had never been her forte). Delila was a classic, as “Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix” was usually a crowd favorite. There was Amneris from Aida, Rosina from The Barber of Seville, (if she was going with Rossini that was less exhausting than Cinderella), Dido, if she felt like singing in English...but Claire knew what she was avoiding. The irony felt deliciously tempting, although it would certainly superimpose itself over any remaining goodwill she had with the investors.


Part of Claire, the part of her she didn’t like so much, felt like her father deserved it. His assets were diversified. What kind of hit was he really taking, realistically? Make them squirm, she thought. Make them wonder if I want this. Make Carmen wonder if I want this.


Carmen knows exactly what you want, retorted a louder voice in Claire’s head. Do you?


She glanced guiltily at the back pocket of her music binder, knowing the red and white pages concealed inside offered her two very different lives. And why she was even considering one of them was beyond her. There were too many choices to make, but for now, Claire was choosing Carmen. At least, the one by Bizet.


Her French would need some polishing, her accompanist would need updating, and her lawyer...well...he would probably need a sedative. A sly smile crept up one corner of Claire’s red lips.

In that moment, from behind the blue glow of a screen, another woman watched the gears turning in Claire’s head. Was it just her imagination, or was Claire’s reflection making direct eye contact with the hidden camera? No, of course she wasn’t. A trick of angles. Leaning in, Carmen recognized with a pang of something that felt vaguely like culpability, the expression washing over that pale face. It wasn’t so much that they looked alike. Afterall, even if Avalon was Carmen’s father, they would still only share one parent. Claire’s hair was pin straight without the assistance of an iron, and significantly less full. She wasn’t quite as tall, and certainly less muscular. Her cheekbones and jawline were softer, and in profile, Carmen had noted that Claire lacked the strong hooked nose both she and Avalon possessed. With the exception of her coal colored eyes, Claire’s features were significantly more eurocentric, less definitive, perhaps less striking, but the stubbornness on her face, the decisive, slightly clenched jaw, and the inquisitively set brow all sent a chill down Carmen’s spine. Claire was going to pull something at this concert. There was only one way to find out what. And Carmen did love opera…


*​

As striking as her appearance was, Carmen was always surprised by how easy it was to hide in a crowd. Distinguished looking men in expensive suits and tuxedos strolled past her, accompanied by elegant (often much younger) women, making quiet conversation and sipping from delicate champagne glasses. The thief did love to people-watch, unable to resist noting the various Rolex watches, Tiffany rings, and glittering Cartier tennis bracelets. Not that Carmen would ever be tempted to steal something so pedestrian. Simply the ease with which she could was enough to entertain her restless brain. She did desperately miss the chase, and her various henchmen and women were starting to ask questions. Part of her knew deep down that the Chief had hoped this would mark a turning point for her. And maybe it would have, had Avalon not slipped off the roof and with a brutal poetic twist, forgotten all about his maybe undead daughter. But logic aside, Carmen had uncharacteristically taken this misfortune as a sign.


This is what happens when you try to get close to people. You’ve made too many mistakes, you chose your path and you knew the consequences. Avalon didn’t ask for this and you had no right to impose your helpless orphan sob story on a grieving man. Christ, Carmen, what did you think? You’d get this fairytale ending where your father would accept and forgive all your transgressions? Legal repercussions be damned! Did you actually plan to serve the time allotted to a felon of your caliber, or did you expect to cut some sort of deal with ACME? Come back, utilize your knowledge to secure the landmarks you’d once stolen? Did you expect trust, redemption, friendship...family?

No, that ship had long sailed. She had an entire corporation now, a whole community who depended on her, and who followed her every command. She’d sacrificed intimacy for power, and she hadn’t regretted it, at least, not in the traditional sense. Carmen closed her eyes to shut out the flashing images in her head. Ivy’s terrified but perverse expression as she began to slip over the edge of a floating turret. The glittering water of the Seine reflecting the lights of the Eiffel tower, vibrating with shockwaves from the underwater explosion, and the C5 car breaking the surface, absent of the two detectives. Potentially the worst one, while not the most dangerous, was turning her craft around to toss two lifebuoys into the dark, choppy waters below, while a juvenile Lee Jordan looked on with disgust and apathy. Afterall, her desire to mentor a mind as great as her own had been the catalyst for her greatest lapses in judgement. She’d enabled a psychopath, who saw her moral code not as a sign of her superiority, but as a weakness. And he exploited that relentlessly against the few people Carmen truly cared for.


Carmen was decidedly against superstition, but Avalon’s memory loss was the closest thing to divine intervention she’d ever seen. She’d learned her lesson, and the universe had quite literally given her a get out of jail free card.


But Claire was collateral, collateral which would have been easily avoided if she had just done her research a little more thoroughly and realized the full cost of her actions. Furthermore, Claire wasn’t content to let Carmen go gently into that goodnight. She didn’t appear possessive or furious or repulsed, all reactions Carmen would have been more than prepared for. Claire was enticed, and insistent on tempting the thief to get closer. And they both knew from experience, there is nothing in this world as persistent as a deeply lonely woman.


This thought pattern had gotten entirely too sentimental for Carmen’s taste, and she was almost relieved by the slightly younger man making his way toward her table. Handsome, but not my type, Carmen thought, assessing his impressively long, wavy, chestnut hair and full beard. His jacket was slung over one arm, and the sleeves of his dress shirt were rolled up his forearm in a comical but fitting attempt at practicality. Carmen steeled herself against unwanted advancements, quietly amused. Then, spotting the gunmetal colored ring on his left hand, flecked with shards of meteorite, a sense of both recognition and familiar dread washed over her. This was no aspiring suitor, this was Claire’s fiance. More importantly, this was an ACME agent, and he was heading right toward her.
 

Claire Avalon

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[I'm genuinely having the time of my life writing this extremely self indulgent fanfic about my childhood obsession as a 24 year old married woman, so if you've been reading and enjoying thank you so much because it feels so good to be inspired to actually get this on paper...or...screen?]
 

Claire Avalon

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Claire Nowak
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Chapter VI


“Sentimental Incompetence”​


Carmen assessed her situation with the skill that came from years of practice. In the blink of an eye she noted every exit, both conventional and unconventional, and plotted out a series of escape paths. She watched the crowd for eyes scanning her, ready for an onslaught of backup at any minute. Satisfied that the detective was working alone, she decided on a riskier approach. She’d have a conversation. She shifted her feet, testing the range of her vintage Charles James gown. Comforted by the feasibility of potential movement, the woman turned her attention to the approaching agent.


Joe rested one hand nonchalantly on the high top table where Carmen stood. “I thought I might see you tonight.”


Carmen eyed him up and down, critically, “In that case, detective Nowak, I would have expected you to come better prepared.”


Joe raised an eyebrow. So the thief knew his name. He pondered if this knowledge had come from researching ACME or researching Claire. Probably both. He trusted Carmen to be thorough if nothing else. “I came as prepared as I need to be, Carmen. I’m not here to arrest you.”


“My, my. And what would you colleagues make of that?”


“I know what my fiance would make of me causing a scene by arresting you right before her concert. And I know better than to let you upstage her.”


Carmen manufactured a laugh, “I wouldn’t dream of it, detective.”


“I don’t believe that for a second, Carmen. I’d like to know why you’re here.”


“Is it so hard to believe I might just be here to enjoy the music?” Carmen was beginning to feel cornered, but for reasons that had nothing to do with fear of being arrested.


“As a matter of fact it is. I think you’re here to confront Claire. I don’t think you’ll be satisfied until you’ve made her as miserable as you are,” Joe didn’t hold back, not where his future wife was concerned.


Realization dawned on Carmen. Claire hadn’t told him. Of course she hadn’t. How do you spring an invitation to V.I.L.E. on your ACME significant other? She grinned in spite of herself. “Oh I have no such intentions for tonight, Joe. Claire and I have already become acquainted.”


The lights blinked twice, inviting the affluent crowd to take their seats.


“Enjoy the concert, detective. I know I will.” And in the second of darkness that followed, Carmen had vanished with the speed of a vampire.


Joe sighed, not really caring if she saw his exasperation. Carmen disappearing? That was par for the course. But Claire keeping a secret from Joe, that was new territory. Still, Joe had known instinctively that someone was afoot, and he was far too anxious to be angry. He’d flown down in a rush to surprise his fiance and get a reading on her mental health. Carmen’s mind games were hardly his top priority. He made his way to his seat, scanning the bustling audience for any sign of the incognito criminal, but she had slipped away to observe the performance from a less predictable seat.


*​

Claire re-applied her lipstick in the warm glow of the dressing room mirror: Dior 999. The angular bodice of her black velvet Mugler gown curled wickedly beneath her collarbones, giving her whole appearance a slightly villainous energy. She found that empowering, and empowerment was something Claire was particularly in need of. Reaching for the intercom, Claire inquired after her pianist.


“Is Anita ready?” She hadn’t seen her collaborator since rehearsal two hours ago, and the usually chatty woman seldom left her alone this close to showtime.


No response.


From the shadows beyond her open door stepped an elegant woman in a vintage satin gown, a shade of emerald so vibrant you wanted to drown in it. The woman pulled at the blonde hair around her forehead, which Claire noted with dread was actually a wig.


“Anita won’t be able to make it after all. Now, shall we go over your tempos? I believe I’m up to date as of your last rehearsal but as I was unable to attend this afternoon’s rehearsal I may not be privy to any last minute adjustments.”


Claire wanted to scream, or cry, or even laugh. This was absurd. First, performing with an unfamiliar accompanist with no warning or rehearsal was exactly fuel for the confidence boost her ego demanded. Secondly, sharing a stage with the greatest thief of all time at her first performance in months wasn’t exactly the kind of sisterly bonding Claire had signed on for.


She opened her mouth, to say what, she wasn’t sure. But before she could construct a sentence in protest, all the gravity in the room targeted her fragile body. Claire’s eyes were open, she could tell, but blackness swallowed up her vision and it was a feat of Olympic strength to keep her head from hitting the vanity table.


Carmen was oblivious to the sensations in Claire’s head, but she noted the color drain from her face and the unbalanced swaying of her thin frame. Crossing the room in quick strides she placed a steady hand on Claire’s shoulder, a gesture which shocked the singer’s system into the present.


She noted Carmen wore an expression of unfamiliar and genuine concern, and rifled through her brain to find the fastest way to dismiss it.


“I’m fine, you just startled me.”


Carmen’s expression did not waver, “You looked like you were going to faint,” she removed her hand gingerly.


Claire tried to subtly calculate her heart rate, she estimated around 180 and rising. “Where’s Anita?”


“She’s safe,” Carmen had seen to that hours ago with a harmless traffic diversion, a mysterious phone call, and a generous wire transfer. “I merely arranged a little diversion. I so rarely find time to play these days…let alone for an audience,” she flipped through the pages in her binder with a sly fondness.


“No offense, Carmen, I’m sure your talents know no bounds but soloist piano and accompaniment are two very different art forms and the latter relies heavily on trust and communication, neither of which reflect our dynamic at present.”


“Have a little faith, Claire. I’ve been over your recordings with a fine-toothed comb. The voice is such an intimate instrument, it really is a shame every detective doesn’t have the chops for it. The things I could learn from watching Zack as Pagliacci…”


“Zack is about a decade too young for Pagliacci,” Claire said, more to herself than Carmen. All the same I suppose you haven’t left me much of a choice. But don’t forget, you take every cue from me.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”


Claire wondered what on earth had possessed Carmen to insert herself into her performance. This couldn’t all be a mind game, there had to be some motive, something to be gained from this. Perhaps she’d reveal herself at the final applause, destroying Claire’s potential credibility with ACME and damning her to a life of crime. A trading of one family business for another. But that didn’t seem right, afterall, a private affiliation served them more than a public one if Carmen wanted to use Claire for access to CrimeNet. She was sure her own intellect wasn’t dazzling enough to warrant the thief’s attention.


As the young mezzo made her way through the program, she had to begrudgingly admit that Carmen was a fine musical collaborator. Singing with her at the keys was comfortable, instinctual. At least musically, the duo was in lock-step. Communication and trust. They didn’t yet have those. But they had something, some kind of unspoken synchronization, an understanding that existed outside the boundaries of their relationship. Still, it was hard to believe that Carmen’s motive for a stunt of this variety was a desire for familial connections.


Carmen felt the connection as well. Claire was easy to follow, she didn’t overly embellish or waver in and out of tempo. Her artistic choices were logical and intuitive. The woman allowed her mind to wander. Is this what it would have been like, growing up in the Avalon household, her adolescent hands playing that same glossy piano where Claire had practiced? Little sister at her side on the bench, imitating her hand positions and studying the little black shapes that danced across the pages with the intense curiosity of a musically inclined child?


In truth, Carmen knew that had Avalon not lost his wife and child, Claire likely would never have been born. There was no parallel universe in which the two existed in the same home. If they wanted harmony, they’d have to create it. And Carmen was still testing the waters.


She flipped the page, growing familiar with the sight of her bare hands, and temporarily comfortable with her own fingerprints.


“En vain pour éviter”


Not the traditional aria of choice when it comes to selections from “Carmen.” Still, as the thief masquerading as a pianist played the first somber notes of the recitative, the words felt every bit as pointed as the moment Avalon uttered the words, “who are you?” Fitting, an opera about fate, signs, and a doomed woman would bear her name.


There’s no such thing as fate, Carmen thought to herself, less like a mantra and more like armor.


“Mais si tu dois mourir, si le mot redoutable

Est écrit par le sort,

Recommence vingt fois, la carte impitoyable

Répétera : la mort!”


Claire’s voice was as dark as the melody, and Carmen trusted her anxieties were a product of the atmosphere, nothing more.


“Encore! Encore! Toujours la mort!

Encore ! De désespoir!

Toujours la mort!”


Carmen’s French was fluent, though the music alone conveyed the unmistakable message:


But if you must die, if the dreaded word

Is written by fate,

Try again 20 times, the pitiless card

will say again: death!


Again! Again! Always death!

Again! Despair!

Always death!


Carmen kept her head in shadow as she waited for Claire’s extended arm to signal the final bow.


Claire gripped the railing of the steps leading off stage until her knuckles turned white. Bracing herself against the nearest backstage wall, she closed her eyes and half whispered, “Don’t you ever pull a stunt like that with me again.”


But Carmen was already gone.

[I haven't had a chance to edit this yet so this may change down the line. The title is a reference to Maelstrom's line about Carmen missing his clue when she broke into his prison cell. I'm not sure how I feel about it yet, I'm very fussy about my titles. Feeling a bit of writers block coming on, but I'm trying to force myself to write something every day.]
 

Claire Avalon

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Hey everyone (like all three of you that read this but I love you all), I’ll be out of town for Miss USA since my little sister is a competitor (any guesses which state?) so I’ll be gone trying not to feel ugly for a week:)

anyway hopefully my dad’s cranberry sauce is the cure for writer’s block and I’ll be back ASAP! Happy thanksgiving to anyone celebrating!
 

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