Long time no write. Life gets in the way sometimes, and writer's block has always been one of my worst enemies. But I'm giving this one-shot a shot. It's my take on the final showdown with Claire at the cabin, so it was written quickly, to be posted before the actual canon scenes air starting Monday, July 1, 2019, and it includes a lot more people at the cabin than are actually going to be there.
I have to thank Russ and Danielle Renee, for encouraging me to write. Again, I'm not sure how good this is going to be, but I'm giving it my best. And it's just a one-shot, detailing Claire finally getting caught, and the truth that Ben didn't set any fires finally being revealed to everyone.
Ciara's wrists were once again tied to the bedposts in the cabin. This was the second time it had happened in the last five months. First, with Jordan in February, and now with Claire in July.
Ben was right, Ciara silently reflected glumly. Making Claire jealous wasn't the best idea. Even now, Tripp might literally be paying for it with his life, as after shallowly cutting his throat with that big honking butcher knife, Claire had angrily, forcefully plunged it into his right shoulder and left it there before using the lit lighter to force Ciara into her car to take off with her to the cabin again.
Claire was pacing up and down, ranting and raving as she flicked the lighter on and off, and Ciara, a literal captive audience, was forced to listen. She had realized Claire was sick after Ben told her about the ringtone, and after she realized that Claire had then set the Horton Cabin on fire with Tripp and Haley inside, but until tonight, Ciara...actually, no one...had had any idea just how sick Claire was.
"It's always you!" Claire said to Ciara disgustedly. "Theo liked you better than he ever liked me."
Forcing herself to remain calm, Ciara said, "Theo and I grew up together. His mom and my mom were best friends until his mom died. Theo and I knew each other a lot longer than you and Theo knew each other."
"Excuses, excuses, you always have an excuse ready, don't you, Ciara?" Claire asked. Her hair and clothing were disheveled from her fight with Tripp at the loft, and the craziness in her eyes was palpable.
"Claire, what do you want from me?" Ciara finally asked. "I backed off of Theo after you stole him from me, but you can't seriously expect me to stop being friends with someone I've been friends with for, like, my entire life. You are the Face of Bella. And believe me, I will never be anything but friends with Tripp ever again."
"You didn't even care about the damn contest, and you won it!" Claire thundered, as if Ciara hadn't spoken at all. "You knew how much that contest meant to me, Ciara. But for you, it was just a lark. You just entered it for shits and giggles. That contest was everything in the world to me, and you knew it!"
"Not at the time, I didn't!" Ciara said. "I know now, though."
Claire stepped closer to the bed, standing at Ciara's left side, and flicking the lighter open once more. "Everyone loves you," Claire spat. "Everyone wants you. Perfect Ciara. My own father even told me not to make trouble for you!"
Ciara hadn't known about that. "I'm just Shawn's sister. You're his daughter. He loves you, Claire, I know he does."
"Not enough!" Claire screamed. "It's never enough! I'M never enough! But you, Perfect Ciara, you're always enough for everybody! I am so SICK of everyone thinking you're perfect!"
"You obviously haven't talked to my mom or Grandma Julie lately because they certainly don't think I'm perfect. I know I'm not perfect," Ciara said, feeling her heart pound rapidly as Claire waved the lit lighter back and forth.
"Ben thinks you're perfect," Claire said. "It's sickening. I would have done anything for Tripp, anything at all, to make him love me the way Ben loves you, to make him look at me the way Ben has always looked at you. But you were in the way. As long as you're in the way, no one is EVER going to love me the way I deserve to be loved, damn it!"
Outside the cabin, Ben, Marlena, Hope, and John had just arrived at the same time, and with the window open, they all heard what Claire said about no one ever loving her the way she deserved to be loved as long as Ciara was in the way.
Ben looked at Marlena worriedly. "Dr. Evans," he said, half prayer, half plea.
Marlena looked over at John for a moment before meeting Ben's gaze again. "We will get Ciara out of there, Ben, I promise."
Hope stood silently, her mind reeling not only at what she had just heard, but also at the knowledge that Ben Weston had been telling the truth the entire time: he hadn't set any fires. All along, it had been Claire. Ciara had believed Ben's innocence, except for the brief time that Hope and Tripp had gotten into her head and made her doubt Ben, from the start, and Ciara had been right about him, while the rest of them had been wrong.
Now Tripp was in surgery at University Hospital, having the butcher knife Claire had plunged into his shoulder removed and the superficial wounds from the same knife across his throat tended to, while Claire was holding Ciara hostage at the same cabin where she and Rafe had rescued Ciara from the fire Claire set a year ago...the same cabin that Hope and Ted Laurent had found Ciara and Ben outside of after Ben saved Ciara again when Jordan had set the cabin ablaze and left Ciara tied to the bed in there to die. And now it was happening again.
"Claire, you don't want to do this," Ciara said, and everyone outside could hear the tears in her voice. Ben's gut clenched, and Marlena put a hand to her mouth as John put an arm around her shoulders. "Think of my mom! She already lost my dad, and Zack. If you kill me, you'll be making her lose another child. You don't want her to suffer like that, do you?"
"I'm tired of being the only one suffering!" Claire snapped. "You have to be dead and gone, Ciara. That's the only way my life will mean anything to anyone!" She started to lean over Ciara, ready to set the rope binding her left wrist to the bedpost on fire, when the door flew open, having been kicked down by Ben, who rushed into the cabin with Marlena, John, and Hope right on his heels.
"Oh, Claire," Marlena said softly, regretfully. She hadn't doubted Ben for a second since he had told her, apologetically, that Claire was the one who had set the original cabin fire last summer that could have killed Ciara, and the more recent cabin fire on Smith Island which could have killed Tripp Dalton and Haley Chen.
"Claire, put the lighter down," Ben said.
"What, so you can play hero again, Mr. Necktie Killer?" Claire said. "I don't think so! And damn Eve!"
"Eve? What does Eve have to do with this?" Hope asked, casting a worried glance at Ciara before focusing her attention on Claire.
"I made the mistake of trusting Eve when she said that nobody would ever know I was really the one who set the fires! She promised me that Ben would go away for them for a long time, and nobody would know it was really me. NOW EVERYBODY KNOWS IT WAS REALLY ME!" Claire exploded.
"Eve has known all along that you set the fires?" John asked. "Do I have that right?"
"YES!" Claire shouted. "And it was all for nothing!"
Hope bristled, realizing that Eve could have cost her the life of her only daughter, while Marlena and John exchanged a look that clearly said that they would be paying Eve a visit very soon to upbraid her for exploiting Claire for her own personal agenda when it should have been clear even to Eve that Claire obviously needed help.
Ben and Ciara's eyes met. Ben moved toward Ciara's right wrist, to start untying her from the bedpost, and Claire waved the lighter's flame near Ciara's left cheek. It took every ounce of Ciara's willpower not to scream or flinch. "Go ahead and untie her, Ben. I'll set her on fire if you loosen that rope just the slightest bit," Claire threatened.
"Claire," Marlena spoke up then, "we're right here for you. John and I...Hope...your parents...we all love you. All you had to do was come to us. We would have helped you. We want to help you now."
"Oh, yeah, because you guys have always been so available. Sami came back drugged out of her mind and nearly killed you at your wedding. Will had amnesia, then he got his memory back, then he got a brain tumor and almost died. Great-Grandma Caroline DID die. Paul was in a wheelchair and moved to San Francisco, and Grandpa had to go be with him when Will almost died because he was so traumatized. And you, Grandma Marlena, you keep seeing Ben Weston as a patient. Don't tell me you would have been there for me. You didn't have the time, because you, ALL of you, were so damn busy being there for somebody else! And you, Grandma Hope," Claire turned on Hope now, "so obsessed with nailing Ben for the fires and keeping him away from your perfect, precious daughter. Grandma Julie, telling Ben off and trying to get Ciara to turn her back on him. And my dad, so concerned that his perfect, precious sister is shacking up with the serial killer, while my mom was here long enough to try to pull Grandma Marlena's plug and couldn't even come back for Great-Grandma Caroline's funeral because she was busy with some case. I don't even make the list for any of you!"
"Claire, that is not true," Hope said.
"Don't lie to me!" Claire retorted.
While Claire had been telling off Marlena and Hope, John, not the focus of her attention during her rant, crept around Marlena and Hope and around the cabin until he was standing behind Claire without Claire knowing he was there. He wrapped one arm around her throat from behind, and with his other hand, he snatched the lighter from her, closed it, and then tossed it across the bed to Ben Weston, calling "Heads up!" as he did so. Ben caught the lighter, then turned and handed it to Hope, who was standing behind him. "Untie Ciara," John directed Ben. Ben wasted no time freeing Ciara from the bed. Her arms went around his neck as soon as her hands were free, and he lifted her to her feet, her arms still around him, as his arms went around her waist.
Just then, Eli burst through the door with four uniformed cops right behind him, all of them with their guns drawn. "What in the hell is going on?" he asked. "Dr. Johnson called 911 and said that Tripp Dalton had been stabbed through the shoulder and received superficial cuts to his throat with a butcher knife, and said the police needed to get out here immediately because Claire Brady had taken Ciara Brady hostage and was armed with a lighter?"
"That's the gist of it," Hope replied.
"One of you shoot me and put me out of my misery," Claire implored Eli and the uniforms. "It's all over. I'm not going to jail for any of this. I won't do it! You can't make me sit in a prison cell!"
Although she was no longer the Commissioner, Hope quietly said, "Detective Grant, Officers...holster your weapons."
Eli looked at Hope, confused. "Hold on here. Are you telling me that CLAIRE is the one who set the cabin ablaze on Smith Island?" he asked, shocked.
"Yes, I did!" Claire exclaimed defiantly. "And I sliced and stabbed Tripp with a butcher knife and left him on the floor of the loft to die, and I took Ciara hostage and brought her out here intending to finish what I started last summer when I found her here asleep with a broken leg while Ben was off getting his meds and set the cabin on fire to get rid of her because she is always ruining EVERYTHING for me!"
Eli and the uniformed officers silently holstered their weapons, but all of them were looking at Hope uncertainly.
Marlena spoke up then. "Ben, you and Hope take Ciara and get out of here."
"Oh, sure, Ciara wins again!" Claire exclaimed hatefully.
Safe in Ben's arms, Ciara looked at Claire sadly. "Claire, it's not about winning and losing," she said.
"Says the girl who gets everything she ever wanted," Claire shot back.
"No, Claire. I have never gotten everything I ever wanted!" Ciara snapped, her nerves stretched to the breaking point. "My dad is dead! I miss him every single day! Chase raped me! I certainly didn't want that! You think I have this charmed life, like I'm some Disney fairy tale princess or something? I hurt! I bleed! I've had my heart broken, my spirit broken, been disappointed!"
"Spare me," Claire spat. "Everybody has always loved you! The miracle baby, the golden girl! You ruin everything for me, Ciara. EVERYTHING!"
"Okay, I'm getting you out of here," Ben said quietly into Ciara's ear.
Ciara looked up at him, then looked over at her mother, who still looked shocked, and then at Marlena and John, who was still physically holding onto Claire. "Yeah," she whispered.
Eli's mind was spinning with the same disbelief that had engulfed Hope when she learned that Claire, and not Ben, was the real arsonist. Hope looked to Eli, and he and the uniformed officers moved out of the way. Ben and Ciara, arms around each other's waists, walked out of the cabin. Hope trailed after them, and then Eli and the uniformed officers came outside. The uniformed officers agreed to head back to the Cop Shop, leaving Eli standing outside the cabin with Hope, Ciara, and Ben.
Hope looked at Ciara. "Baby, why didn't you tell me that Claire set the fires?" she asked.
"Would you have believed me, Mom?" Ciara asked. But there was no snark, no anger, no defensiveness, just an honest question asked matter-of-factly. "If I had come to you and said that Ben, when Dr. Evans had him under hypnosis, remembered hearing music outside this cabin the night of the first fire last summer, and then when we were at the café a few weeks ago, he recognized the music he heard as Claire's ringtone, the one that she wrote herself, that no one else has, would you have believed me?"
Hope looked over at Ben, whose face was an impassive, blank mask. "No," Hope said sadly, but honestly. "No, I wouldn't have believed you. In fact, I would have gotten angry at Ben for having the audacity to try to say that Claire had done it."
Eli joined the conversation then. "So when I found you outside the burning Horton Cabin on Smith Island-" he started.
"Claire had already been and gone," Ben said. "Rory, that, that stoner buddy of JJ Deveraux's, I ran into him in the park. He had given Claire false passports for Haley and Tripp to get out of the country, and because he was higher than a kite, he didn't realize there was anything off about Claire. She offered to deliver the passports for him, and he agreed. If you can find him, maybe he'll remember."
"You don't need to find Rory," Ciara added then. "I found him, when I was looking for Ben. He said that Ben wanted to know where Claire had gone, and Rory told me that he had told Ben she was headed for Smith Island."
"You had the lighter in your hand," Eli reminded Ben.
"Wrapped in a handkerchief," Ben said. "Any fingerprints of mine that were on it, Eve Deveraux had to have transferred onto the surface of the lighter from my fingerprints on file at the Salem PD, because she knew that Claire set that fire."
"She knew that Claire set both fires," Ciara piped up. "Claire admitted that in there just a few minutes ago! And Eli, if you don't want to believe me, or Ben, then you can ask my mom, or Dr. Evans, or Mr. Black, because they all heard it too."
Eli's eyebrows shot up as he swung his gaze from Ciara and Ben to Hope. "It's true," Hope said. "Claire admitted everything. Ben didn't set the Horton Cabin on fire, and he didn't set this cabin on fire a year ago when he and Ciara were here after he found her after her motorcycle accident. Both times, it was Claire."
Eli looked at Ben then. "It looks like I owe you an apology, then, Weston."
Ciara opened her mouth to defend Ben, but before she could say anything, she heard her brother shouting, "MOM? MOM, ARE YOU OUT HERE?"
"Yes!" Hope shouted back. "Over here, Shawn!"
Shawn burst through the woods and into the clearing. "What the hell is going on? Aunt Kayla called me, said I needed to get out here right away because Claire needed me." When he saw Ciara standing in the circle of Ben's arms, the look on Shawn's face turned positively murderous. "YOU!" he roared. He took one step toward Ben with a clenched fist raised, and Ciara jumped in front of Ben, ready to defend him from her brother, but Hope surprised everyone when she jumped in front of Ciara.
"Shawn-Douglas Brady, drop that fist right now!" she commanded. Shawn, shocked at the way his mother was speaking to him, unclenched his fist and let his hand full to his side.
"But Ciara's with that-" Shawn started.
"Hero!" Ciara shouted. "And you better not say another word against Ben, Shawn. I mean it!"
Shawn looked at Hope as if Ciara was the one who needed psychiatric help. "What's going on?" he asked again.
Hope looked at Ciara and Ben before addressing Shawn. "You two go on. I'll call you later, Ciara." Ciara left Ben's arms to hug her mother. Hope gave Ciara an extra squeeze before Ciara stepped back. Hope then regarded Ben. "Ciara was right about you all along Ben," she said. "Somewhere along the way, I forgot what it was like to be young and in love and have disapproving parents...probably because it hurts too much for me to remember."
"Commish-Mrs. Brady," Ben said. "For whatever it's worth, I'm sorry that things turned out the way they did. I hated having to tell Ciara...and Dr. Evans. They love Claire. So do you."
"What the hell do you know about my daughter?" Shawn demanded then.
Hope put an arm around her firstborn's shoulders. "Eli, I'm gonna be here for a while. Would you please take Ciara and Ben to the hospital so Ciara can get checked out, and then see that they get home, to the gatehouse on the DiMera Mansion property?"
"Sure," Eli agreed. Hope repeated her promise to call Ciara later before Ciara and Ben followed Eli to his unmarked police car. As they started walking to the car, they heard Hope say, "Shawn, we're going to go inside the cabin now, and Kayla was right. Claire does need you...and Belle, so you're going to have to call her and tell her to get a continuance for her court case and get here immediately."
The ride to the hospital was silent. Ciara and Ben sat in the back seat, her head on his shoulder, holding hands with their fingers intertwined the whole way. Kayla gave Ciara a quick once-over at the hospital, and assured both Ciara and Ben that Tripp, who had been sedated after the surgery to remove the butcher knife from his shoulder and repair the internal damage it caused, would be fine with a little physical therapy on that shoulder, and promised to check in with Hope the next day.
After the hospital, Eli drove Ciara and Ben home, to the gatehouse. They both thanked Eli, and as soon as Ben unlocked the front door, and ushered Ciara inside ahead of him, he quickly shut and locked the door, then turned to embrace Ciara only to have her launch herself at him. He caught her up in his arms, lifting her off the floor, and they just held each other tightly for a long moment.
Then Ben set Ciara on her feet and tucked her hair behind her ears. "When Dr. Evans and I walked into the loft and saw Tripp there on the floor with that big knife in his shoulder, bleeding all over the place, I was terrified, Ciara."
"Having a lighter wasn't the best idea," Ciara replied. "And I really didn't know how far gone Claire actually was until everything was happening. But you found me. Again."
"I will always find you, Ciara," Ben said earnestly. He took hold of her hand and placed it on his chest over his heart, then covered her hand with his own. "You and me...we're connected, right here." He nodded toward their covered hands over his heart. "We have been from the night I found you in the middle of the road after you wiped out on your dad's motorcycle."
"And I will always have your back," Ciara promised Ben. "The entire town owes you a major apology."
Ben smiled. "Take it easy there, Bobcat. If your mom stops trying to throw me in jail, and your Grandpa Victor doesn't try to have me rubbed out by the Greek Mafia, and your Grandma Julie doesn't look at me like dog poop on the bottom of a very expensive pair of her shoes-"
"They won't," Ciara said fiercely. "Not anymore!"
"The only one whose opinion matters to me is you," Ben replied. "You know that."
Ciara framed Ben's face in her hands, then stretched up to kiss him. The kiss lingered, and then Ciara pulled back just enough to rest her forehead against his. "I'm drained," she said.
"Me too," Ben replied.
"Hold me all night while we sleep?" Ciara asked, biting her lip.
"Definitely," Ben replied as they headed toward the bathroom to wash their faces and brush their teeth before they would get into pajamas and go to bed.