A/N: Hello! I just wanted to say THANK YOU SO MUCH for the lovely reviews! It was so nice to hear that you guys like my writing; it's a real confidence booster! I only wish you guys had used your pseudonyms so I could send you messages to thank you in person :)
This will be the final chapter of this story. I will, however, be posting some other The Gifted fanfic, all of it Clarice/John based. If you want me to write anything particular, let me know!
The first think she notices when she comes to is the quiet. In the cells, there was always someone crying, someone screaming, someone yelling at them to shut up. She fell asleep each night to the sounds of her neighbor banging his head on the wall. But she doesn't hear any of that. She hears sheets rustling, and her own breathing, and birds outside. Her hand feels warm. Upon opening her eyes, she realises it's because it's being held in John's. He waits patiently while she looks around the room - the same one she got ready with Lorna in, that day the world exploded - before she settles on the one thing she really wants to see.
"Hey," he says.
A tear falls down her cheek as John squeezes her hand. "You really suck at not getting kidnapped."
And then she's sobbing in relief, all of the emotions catching up to her, and John moves from the chair to the bed and gathers her into his arms, kisses her head and it feels so right, so wonderfully, perfectly right that she almost can't take it.
"It's okay, you're safe, I've got you," he whispers.
He lets her shaky breath do all the talking.
She falls back to sleep for an hour or so, and when she wakes John is still there, holding a bowl of plain crackers and a glass of water. She guzzles the water and nibbles at the crackers until he coughs. "We need to talk," he says.
"Absolutely. What about?"
"I thought you didn't think there should be an us."
"I didn't." His voice breaks. "And then you got taken for the third time in two years and I fell apart. I spent the time I wasn't looking for you thinking that we'd missed our window. That I might never get the chance to hold you and kiss you and tell you that I love you."
"That you what?"
He takes a deep breath. "That I love you."
Despite her injuries Clarice lunges forward and is caught with John in a kiss, a life-affirming, everything-I-never-said kiss. When they pull away she smiles. "I love you, too."
John is waiting for Clarice to get out of the bath when she calls out for help.
He enters, and she is sitting in the bath with her back to him. "I can't wash my hair," she says in a weak voice, filled with frustration.
She has two cracked ribs and a broken collarbone. She can't lift her arms far enough.
Wordlessly, John washes and brushes her hair. When she's done, he leaves the bathroom and returns with a black blouse, something she can put on herself, and a sling for her arm so she doesn't move her collarbone.
When she emerges from the bathroom a couple of minutes later and hugs him, neither one says anything.
They go downstairs, where Marcos, Lorna and the Frosts stand around arguing. Silence falls when they see the pair walking downstairs.
"Clarice, thank God you're alright," Marcos says and she smiles as he hugs her gently. "You are all right, right?"
"Mostly," she chuckles. "I'll get there."
"Well," Esme says.
"Now you've got your friend back," Phoebe says.
"We believe you owe us a favour," Sophie says.
Clarice looks at John with horrified eyes. "You never said you owed them a favour. Why would you do this if you owed them a favour?"
"I would've worked with Trask himself if it meant getting you back."
"But you shouldn't have!"
"Well, he did," Phoebe snaps.
"And now you have to pay the price," Esme adds.
"No," Lorna says.
All eyes fall on her.
"Excuse us?" Sophie says.
"I believe that defeats the purpose of a deal."
"I don't care. Clarice is my friend and we helped rescue her because it was the right thing to do. Not so we could get something out of it. John, Marcos and Clarice are going to go back to the Underground free and clear and we are going to be happy that she is safe and her powers aren't in the hands of Trask Industries. You got that?"
"Thank you, Lorna," John says, unable to convey his gratitude through his words.
"We won't forget this," Marcos adds.
"Neither will we," the Frosts promise.
Clarice falls asleep again in the van, leaning on John's shoulder while Marcos drives.
"So," he says, "you two. . .?"
"Yeah. You were right." John runs his hand through her hair. "I really- thank you, Marcos. For helping to get her back."
"Hey, she's my friend, too. But you're welcome."
"When Lorna comes back to us, remind me to thank her every day for what she did."
Marcos chuckles. "Yeah."
They drive in comfortable silence, occasionally talking, for four hours until they reach HQ. Clarice wakes a few minutes before they get there and John loves the way her face lights up upon seeing it. He gets out of the van and she holds onto his arm as they walk inside.
They are met with a flurry of activity as usual. Sage is giving orders and people are following them. Lauren is helping Caitlin teach a class of children between the ages of five and fifteen, while Andy plays basketball with a few of the others.
Clarice is hit with an overwhelming sense of home.
Someone shouts her name and Caitlin looks up and all of a sudden she's running towards Clarice and wrapping her in her arms. "Are you okay? What happened? Oh, I'm so glad you're safe."
Clarice tries not to cry, fails miserably, and falls into Caitlin's motherly embrace.
She pulls away and is brought into another, slightly less fierce hug by Lauren. Reed pats her shoulder. When Lauren lets go of her she sees Sage, who nods at her and smiles, and Andy comes forward to give her a quick side hug. Norah dashes up to her and gives her a tight squeeze.
"It's good to have you home, Clarice," Reed says.
Clarice smiles and realises for the first time that this really is her home. This ragtag band of runaways, mutants fighting to change the system, is home. It doesn't matter where they're living or how they're surviving. It's the one place, the one group of people she will always come back to.
"All right, Clarice needs to get some rest," John says, wrapping an arm around her shoulders.
"There's a spare bed next to John's. I'll grab you a blanket," Sage says.
When they get to the corner John's been living in, Clarice flops onto the bed next to his with a satisfied sigh and John pulls the blanket up to her shoulders. He lies on his own bed and reaches out a hand to her, which she takes.
"Sorry about the lack of privacy," he says.
"Eh, no big deal."
"When this is all over," John leans closer to her, as if he's telling her a secret, "we are going to live in a house. A real house."
"Mmm." Clarice closes her eyes, humming in agreement.
"With a porch and a swinging chair."
"And a big backyard for Zingo."
"And a fireplace in the living room."
"A bathroom with a huuuuge bath."
"A real kitchen."
Clarice falls asleep to a beautiful dream of living in a house not unlike her foster home, standing on the porch with John's arms around her, watching Zingo run.