Rating: PG-13 by default
Spoilers: Up to 'Fallout'
Disclaimer: If they were mine, would I really be writing fanfiction?
Summary: Matt and Claire spend a year together. Prequel to 'Apocalypse'.
Notes: This is the prequel to 'Apocalypse' that I've been writing on and off throughout. It's basically a series of snippets looking in on the year Matt and Claire spent immediately after the explosion in New York. Thanks as always to Tripp3235 for reading this thing a whole lot! Thanks again for reading!
One Year Lost by SLynn
'Please don't be dead.'
He wasn't bleeding which had to be a good sign. Claire really wasn't sure but she thought it couldn't be that bad if he wasn't bleeding.
She'd feel better if he'd wake up.
She wished it if only so she wouldn't be alone anymore, so she'd have someone else to talk to. True, Matt was little more than a stranger to her, she'd only known him a few weeks, but still. Claire was beginning to feel like she might be going crazy. That maybe none of this was real and it was all in her head. Everything.
It would make more sense that way.
Claire could still hear the muffled sound of destruction overhead. She and Matt had barely gotten away. He was the one who had thought to go underground, into the subway, while it seemed as if everyone else was heading in the opposite direction. Back towards it all.
Matt's quick thinking had probably saved both of them.
Well, he'd saved her.
Not long after they'd gone underground, the structure had begun to collapse. Matt had dragged her to safety when she'd gone completely into shock.
Claire imagined she must still be in shock now.
"Matt," she said, her voice barely above a whisper. "I'm going to go take a look around. The noise, it isn't so loud now and we need food and water. I won't be gone long, I promise. Just, don't…"
"…don't go anywhere while I'm gone."
"You're awake," she said brightly, rushing over to Matt's side.
"What happened? Where…"
"You were knocked out," Claire said as she handed him a bottle of water. "Do you remember? Do you remember anything?"
"Peter," he said after taking a short sip, "I remember him. And… running. But what… where are we?"
"The subway," Claire answered. "I think your leg might be…"
"It's fine," Matt said dismissively. "What about Peter? Sylar?"
Claire just shook her head.
"You don't know? But…"
Matt stopped talking as his vision swam.
"You were knocked out," Claire repeated. "You were knocked out for days. I didn't know what to do. I had to go get food, but I didn't go outside. I couldn't… it's all caved in. What if we can't get out? What are we going to do?"
"I don't know. Just… just give me a minute."
Matt took a deep breath and tried to sort things out. His leg, his side, his head – they all hurt. He wasn't sure he'd be able to stay conscious for much longer.
'What are we going to do?'
"Should you be doing that?"
"Yes," Matt answered, doing his best to push himself to his feet.
"Really? Because I thought…"
"Are you just going to stand there or are you going to help me?"
Claire didn't bother hiding her irritation. Sure, she was glad he was awake and seemingly alert, but he was beginning to be annoying as well.
She moved across the small room and stood in front of him.
"What do you want me to do?"
"Give me your hand," he said, motioning for her to stand beside him.
With great effort Matt struggled to stand, propping up most of his weight on one arm as he used Claire's support to maintain his balance.
"Let go," he said once he was standing upright, braced against the wall.
Matt just gave her a look and she shrugged, backing away.
As soon as she let go he hesitantly shifted his weight back to his injured leg, grimaced and nearly collapsed.
"I told you," Claire scolded, back at his side and helping him sit down again. "It's too soon…"
"I had to try."
"I'm the one that heals, not you."
"I know," Matt said, panting slightly from the effort. "But we can't stay here. Who knows how long these emergency lights will last. We need to get back with others. We need to find Peter. We…"
"You need to rest," Claire interrupted.
"I've been on my butt for over a week now. There isn't time."
"Matt, maybe I should…"
"It's not safe," he said immediately, hearing Claire's unfinished sentence in his head. "No. You can't."
She nodded, not liking the idea of leaving him alone anyway. Of going off into the city, a city she didn't know, alone. Fearful of what she'd find.
Besides, Matt didn't look well.
"I found Nyquil and Sudafed and Tylenol."
"Here," Claire said, handing it over. "You know, I think you may have a problem."
Matt gave her a tight grin as he opened the bottle, swallowing two without any water.
"How are you feeling?"
Claire put a hand to his forehead and frowned.
'Don't do this to me.'
"It's nothing," he lied. "A slight fever. It'll pass."
Claire didn't look convinced.
Matt tried to give her a smile. Something, anything to reassure her, but it only ended in a coughing fit.
'Please don't die. Please don't die. Please don't die.'
"You're awake again," Claire said happily. "I thought for awhile there…"
"I know what you thought."
Claire looked away, momentarily embarrassed.
"How do you feel?" she asked instead.
Matt nodded slowly, his head finally clear.
"This is how you've been getting in and out?" Matt asked skeptically.
Matt stared at the small hole in the rubble that Claire had brought him to. He was finally able to walk, able to move again without any serious pain, but couldn't help but feel defeated.
"I can't fit through that."
Matt turned and stared at her.
"Well, it is obvious," she countered self-consciously.
Claire found it easy to forget he could read her thoughts, especially considering he'd spent the past month more or less asleep.
"I could go up and check the surface," Claire suggested. "I haven't been yet and…"
"No," Matt said immediately shaking his head. "Then what? If there was anyone left to help they'd have already been digging this area up."
"Unless they're too busy with the rest of the city," Claire suggested.
Matt nodded; there was some truth in that, but he wasn't willing to sit around and wait any longer.
"There has to be another way."
They'd gone through the tunnel.
Claire and Matt had gathered up all of the supplies they could carry and walked along the track until they found another way out. Neither of them was familiar with the city so they weren't exactly sure where they were going. And when they did finally find another station, it was as much of a wreck as the previous one had been.
They didn't have any luck until their third stop.
Matt insisted on going up first.
"Well?" Claire called out from the bottom of the stairs. "Is it safe?"
There was no answer.
"Matt? What is it? Is it bad?"
He still wasn't talking and she couldn't wait any longer.
Climbing the steps, Claire was angry and she didn't care this time if he could hear her thoughts. He should have answered her.
'Keep me down there in the dark. Waiting. Who does he think he is?'
But all her thoughts died when she reached the top.
Stunned. There was no other word for it. For their surroundings. The destruction.
They'd spent the past few days sleeping in an abandoned café. It had started to snow and neither of them had been prepared for it.
"What do you think happened?" Claire asked, the only question she'd been able to ask for the last week. "Did it happen? The explosion, do you think…"
"I don't know, Claire," Matt sighed. "I don't."
"But you have to have some kind of idea or…"
"You saw more than I did," he shot back.
"I don't care what happened," he interrupted. "I just want to find Peter or Nathan or Hiro… anyone. I just want to know…"
He trailed off, shaking his head and looking thoughtfully at the ground. Thinking of Janice. Janice who he'd convinced to come with him. Who was here, somewhere in the city.
"You think he… Do you think he made it?"
Matt looked up at with a quizzical expression. He hadn't even heard her question; he'd been too lost in his own thoughts.
"Do you?" she repeated.
'Is he even listening to me? God, he doesn't even care what I think.'
Matt only sighed, shaking his head.
He didn't need this now.
"So," Claire asked impatiently, "which way do we go?"
"Give me a minute," Matt said as he continued to stare at the map.
"I thought men were good at this sort of thing."
"This was my first time in New York, alright? Give me a break."
Claire only rolled her eyes and turned away.
'Gees. How hard can it be?'
Matt tried not to be upset by that, but it wasn't easy. He was trying, but Claire practically breathing down his neck for results wasn't making it any easier.
This whole thing was a nightmare. A nightmare made worse by the fact that he and Claire Bennet had absolutely nothing in common. On good days they were civil to one another, and this was not a good day.
Not that he wasn't grateful, Matt really was. She'd taken care of him, helped him incredibly those first few weeks, but since then...
Part of him knew she was young and scared and that he should be making heavy allowances for that, but he couldn't. Matt had his own troubles, his own worries and Claire wasn't helping.
"Isaac's loft was on what street again?" he asked.
Claire sighed heavily and looked down at the map with him.
"Thompson," she provided.
"Okay," Matt said slowly, scanning the map.
"Here," Claire pointed. "It's right here."
'Any closer and it would have bit him.'
"You look," he said, completely frustrated and thrusting the map at her. "Take it."
"I don't know how to read a map," she protested. "You said you could find it."
"Well, I can't."
"Why not?" she asked.
'What? Can't he read?'
"No," he answered, immediately regretting it. "Yes, of course I can read. I'm… I have a hard time. It's… I'm… damn it."
Matt turned away from her, upset and angry with himself.
Claire didn't know what to say.
"I'm dyslexic," he said once he could face her again; hating having to explain himself to a girl half his age. "I just need a few minutes, okay?"
"I'm sorry," Claire said softly.
"Don't apologize," he shot back.
Claire shut her mouth with a frown and Matt couldn't help but feel ashamed by his outburst.
"I think I found it."
"Maybe they went to Peter's place."
Peter's apartment was just as empty as Isaac's loft had been.
Matt picked up the phone, lifted it to his ear out of habit and then threw it against the wall.
"Where the hell could they be?" Claire asked, her frustration evident.
"Don't cuss," Matt admonished automatically.
"What do you care?" Claire shot back. "You say worse. Lots worse. And a lot more often."
"I'm an adult," Matt returned forcefully.
They were both tired and irritable and devastated. There was no one. They'd seen no one but one another since this whole thing began.
"Oh, I'm so sorry," Claire said mockingly. "Should I start calling you Mr. Peterson?"
Matt gave her an odd look.
"What?" she asked in an almost snotty voice. "You want me to call you Officer Peterson instead?"
"Why would you do that?" he asked, caught between confused and amused.
"Because it's your name," she said in that slightly exaggerated tone that only served to remind him how young she was.
But this time Matt wasn't annoyed. This time he laughed.
"What?" she asked.
"Peterson?" he asked back.
Matt laughed. He couldn't help it, he had to laugh.
"Peterson," he repeated. "Yeah, okay. Call me Officer Peterson."
Claire stared at him, lost.
"That is your name, right? Peterson? Matt Peterson?"
Matt was almost laughing too hard to answer her, but managed to shake his head in response.
"Oh, man," he said in-between laughs. "You don't even know my name. We've been walking all over this city, we may be the only two people left in the world, and you don't even know my name."
"That's not funny," Claire said in a huff.
"Yes, it is," he said, still laughing. "It's very funny."
"Yeah, well, what's my name?"
"What's my middle name?"
"Marie," he answered easily.
"That's not fair," she said. "You're cheating. You can read my mind."
"But I still know your name," he answered with a big smile on his face.
Claire turned away from him, angry. Angry and upset, but mostly with herself.
Matt finally stopped laughing but still felt slightly hysterical. It was the first time he could remember laughing in ages. It felt like ages. It felt nice.
"So?" she asked, finally facing him again.
"Are you going to tell me or not?"
Matt stared at her, not knowing what she meant.
'Your name?' she thought, unwilling to ask out loud.
"Oh, yeah," he said, unable to keep from smiling. "It's Parkman. My last name is Parkman."
"I think we missed Christmas."
"A few weeks ago."
"Merry Christmas, Claire."
"Merry Christmas, Officer Peterson."
"We're never going to find them."
Matt looked over at Claire as she'd said it, as she sighed and sat heavily on Angela Petrelli's couch.
"You don't know that."
"I know that we haven't seen anyone in nearly three months," Claire answered. "That every house we know to check is empty. That…"
'That I'm so tired.'
"Me too," he said quietly in agreement.
"Maybe we should just stay here?" Claire suggested. "They might be looking for us. They might be just missing us and if we stay still…"
"Claire," Matt interrupted. "I don't think anyone is looking for us. They probably think…"
"That we're dead?" she finished questioningly.
"Wouldn't you think that?"
Claire didn't answer, just looked thoughtfully at the ceiling for a moment longer.
"He's dead, isn't he?" she finally asked.
Matt gave her a serious look.
Matt just nodded. There was no way he'd survived. No way. Peter had sacrificed himself so that they could live.
Claire sighed and shut her eyes tightly, wishing this was all a horrible dream.
"Is this legal?"
"I don't think that matters much right now," Matt answered as they walked through the department store.
Claire swept her flashlight over the seemingly endless racks around them, walking a few steps behind him.
"Besides," Matt continued, "we need warmer jackets, extra batteries, blankets if we can find them."
"But it's like stealing, isn't it? I thought you were a cop. Aren't you supposed to be like anti-theft?"
"Okay," Matt said stopping abruptly to face her. "How is this any different than the food and water we've been taking?"
"I know it isn't," she said. "I do, it just feels different. We have to eat, it's a necessity."
"Well, we have to stay warm too."
Claire nodded as they continued to look around.
"But just so I know," Claire said as they continued on, "you're not one of those cops, right?"
"What in the hell does that mean?"
"You're swearing again," she countered.
"Ignore it. What did you mean by that?"
"You know," Claire said as if it was obvious. "One of those cops that takes bribes and beats people."
"Yes, Claire. I am. I'm exactly like every cop you've ever seen in a movie."
"That's not what I meant."
"Yes, it is."
"You know your power? Kind of annoying."
"Tell me about it," Matt mumbled under his breath.
"And it isn't what I meant and it's not just in movies. It's on the news too."
"So should I believe everything I see about cheerleaders?" he asked her in return.
Claire didn't have an answer.
"I think this is your stop," Matt said as they arrived in the women's section.
"Actually, I think it's over there," Claire returned, pointing to the junior's department across the aisle.
Matt just shrugged; he'd never known the difference and doubted now was the time to learn.
"You going to be okay if I keep looking around?" he asked.
The look Claire gave him in return was all the answer he needed.
"Yell if you need me," he said as he walked away.
Claire began to look through the racks of clothes, and as odd as the situation was, it was kind of nice. Familiar even.
She picked out a few pairs of pants, some long sleeve shirts and a couple of sweaters and then, out of habit, headed towards the dressing rooms.
That's when she first noticed the smell.
Claire's scream shattered the silence and sent Matt running back towards her in a panic.
"What's wrong?" he asked. "What happened?"
Claire didn't think twice, just threw her arms around him and buried her head against his chest.
Matt didn't know what to do except hold her, tentatively at first as he patted her back.
"It's awful," she said. "It's too…"
'They're dead. They're all dead.'
Since coming across that first group of dead bodies, eight total all shot in the head, they'd been finding more and more.
Death was everywhere.
Some of the deaths looked accidentally while others appeared instantaneous, a good many were homicides.
Matt couldn't account for it.
How just a few blocks away there had been no one, no sign that anyone had even once inhabited the city, and now this.
And they had no choice. Matt and Claire had to walk through it all.
There was one last house to check.
Claire read the letter over for a fourth time.
It wasn't addressed to her, or Matt. It wasn't addressed to anyone. It was just a quick note; an apology and directions.
And signatures. Signatures with dates attached to them.
Proof of life.
Niki, D.L. and Micah had originated it not three days after the incident, after the explosion.
Was it right to call it that? Had it happened?
Claire wasn't sure.
Two days after that Hiro and Ando had added their signatures.
A day after that it was Simone and Isaac's signatures and a brief 'good luck' message left behind.
There was no one else on the list and confirmation in the letter itself of everything Claire knew Matt had been dreading.
She walked to the back yard, to the garden where she knew he'd still be.
"I thought she'd be alright," Matt said softly without turning to face her. "I thought we'd…"
Claire put a hand on his shoulder, tried to offer him some bit of comfort as they both looked down on the spot D.L. had indicated. The place where Janice and Nathan's two sons lay buried.
'What do I say?'
Matt didn't answer her, just reached up and squeezed her hand in his own in a sort of thankful acknowledgment.
"Come on," he said, sounding decided if not abrupt; quickly wiping his eyes before turning towards her. "Let's sign that letter and get out of here."
The George Washington Bridge was gone.
It hadn't collapsed. It hadn't been destroyed. It looked as if it had been removed. Almost as if it had never been there in the first place.
"What happened?" Claire asked.
Matt just shook his head in disbelief.
All over the city, things like this were common. Just large sections of the city seemed to be missing, or moved, or who knows what. Evaporated. Disintegrated. Other parts looked bombed out, burnt, and flooded even. There was no making sense of it. There was no understanding it. He felt as if he was having a nervous breakdown.
"Their note said…"
"They hadn't been here yet," Matt reasoned, finally able to pull himself together some if only for Claire's sake. "When they wrote that they hadn't been here, hadn't seen it. Either that or it hadn't… whatever did happen hadn't happened yet."
"Do we have to go back?" Claire asked fearfully.
Matt didn't know how to answer that. He knew the answer, yes they did, but he didn't want to tell her. Hell, he didn't want to do it either. The part of the city they'd just made it through was like an above ground cemetery. It was a waking nightmare.
It was never going to end.
"Can't we just stay here for awhile?" Claire asked, practically begged. "I'm so tired. I don't think I can walk any more. At least not today. Tonight. Please?"
'Don't make me do it. Not now.'
"Okay," Matt easily relented. "Let's find some place to sleep tonight. Just for tonight, though. We'll go tomorrow."
"It looks like rain," Claire said as she peered out the window.
Matt nodded without even getting up to see for himself.
"We'll go tomorrow then."
"We really should get going," Matt said. "The weather has cleared up. Has been for days."
Claire only briefly looked up from the book she'd found to occupy her time.
"Tomorrow?" he asked her.
"Claire, we really should…"
'Leave me alone already.'
"We can't stay here forever."
"I'm going tomorrow, Claire."
"You said that yesterday."
"I mean it this time," Matt returned.
Matt stared at her, tried hard to get a fix on what she was thinking, but came back with nothing.
"Are you coming with me?"
"I don't have a reason to go," she answered. "I don't have any family left. I don't have any friends. There is nothing left, Matt. Don't you realize that? There's nothing left for me or you or anyone anymore."
"What about the others?"
"They probably think we're dead," she said flatly. "And you know, I'm beginning to think they might be right. You ever wonder if maybe this isn't some kind of purgatory we're in? Some kind of punishment for what we've done?"
"What could you have possibly done to deserve this?" Matt asked, quite serious.
"A lot of things."
"You're a kid, Claire. You haven't lived long enough…"
"Stop calling me a kid," she yelled at him suddenly angry. "I'm not a kid."
"I didn't mean it like that, I only meant…"
"No," she interrupted him, growing angry. "You always say that. You always do that. I'm not a child, Matt."
"I know that," he tried, but she wasn't having it.
"I don't think you do. Because that's how you see me, right? Some kid who needs you to look after her and take care of her…."
"Stop it, Claire."
"Well I don't need that," she continued without pause. "I don't need that and I don't need you."
"I know what you're doing, alright? Just stop it. If you want to talk, fine. But I'm not…"
"I hate that," she interrupted, angrier than ever. "You know, of all the things I hate you doing, that's the worst. Just because you can read my thoughts doesn't mean you know me."
"You're right. I don't know you," he said, getting caught up in it despite himself. "I don't know anything about you except that you can't be hurt, your middle name is Marie, and the fact that you cry every night when you think I'm asleep."
Claire was so caught off guard she had no reply.
"And I know," he continued, determined now to have it all out. "I know that you wish it wasn't me here with you. That you think it should have been me instead of Peter."
"I never said that," Claire said softly. "I'd never…"
"I know you'd never say it, Claire," he returned without any bitterness in his voice. "I know you wouldn't. But you think it. I think it too. It doesn't make you a bad person. Having those thoughts… People weren't meant to hear… I'm used to it, okay? That's not the point."
Claire frantically wiped her eyes, trying not to let too many tears fall. Unable to keep from staring at him now. He looked as if he might break. It was frightening and made her feel so very, very guilty about how she'd been acting and what she'd been thinking. Guilty and ashamed.
"The point is that we can't do this to one another," Matt finally said having to look away from her as he did it. "We can't just shut down or quit. That's what I meant. You're too young to start giving up already. You're too smart for that. Too good."
Claire gave him a slight nod.
"We can't stay here, not forever. I'm just as scared as you are about all of this and I don't have anyone left either. Just you. And like it or not, you've got me."
"It's okay. Really. Let's just, let's just go already. Let's get this over with."
The walk back across the city hadn't been pleasant but it was thankfully over. They were just about back to where they had started. Back where it had began and were once more staying at the same abandoned café they'd spent their first nights above ground in.
Claire wished Matt would talk to her, wished she knew what to say to get him to talk to her, but she just didn't know where to begin.
After their last fight he'd only really spoken to her when it was absolutely necessary and she was sorry for the change.
She didn't hate him. She didn't blame him. Claire just didn't know him.
It had been over five months and she still didn't know him.
"I was thinking we should try a few of the other bridges. The Manhattan or the Brooklyn maybe. What do you think?"
Claire looked up at him, surprised.
'Why is he asking me?'
"Because I want your opinion," Matt answered, looking back down at the map again.
"Um," Claire said uncertainly. "I guess. Yeah, it would make sense to try them. They can't all be out, right?"
"That's what I thought."
They planned to leave the next day, early the next day. Matt and Claire had decided their route, packed some supplies and only the clothes they would need, and were all set.
But he couldn't sleep.
Claire was still awake, still up and thinking and it was killing him.
Matt hadn't meant to hurt her.
He didn't want it to be like this, and not for the first time did he wish he'd never been able to hear inside anyone's head but his own.
'He hates me. I know he hates me.'
Matt couldn't see her from across the room, not in the absolute darkness that surrounded them both, but he could still hear her.
'Why shouldn't he? After the horrible things I've thrown in his face. The way I've acted.'
Matt tried turning over, thought if he could just get a little further away from her then he wouldn't have to listen any longer. He shouldn't have listened in the first place. It was his fault, not hers.
'He's all I have left and he won't even talk to me. He hates me so much that…'
Matt couldn't take it any longer. Claire was crying now, sobbing, so upset and lost and he hated himself for doing that to her. He couldn't let her go on thinking that way. Couldn't live with himself if he did.
"Claire," he said softly, sitting down next to her and tentatively touching her back. "Please stop. Please. I don't… I don't hate you. I really don't."
She wouldn't face him; could only cry harder.
"Please don't do this. I didn't mean for you to think that. To feel this way. Please believe me. Please."
Claire stopped and turned towards him, unsure if he was just telling her what she wanted to hear. She sat up and wiped away the last few tears, met him face-to-face; still wary.
"I wasn't trying to be mean or to hurt you. I wasn't trying to get even. I just have a really bad habit of saying the exact wrong thing and of not saying anything even when I know I should."
Claire managed a small smile at that.
"It's true," he continued with almost a laugh, rubbing her arm affectionately. "You're all I have left now, Claire. And you probably don't need me. I know you could do this alone, that you're strong enough to handle this. But you don't have to. And, well, I need you."
She didn't wait for him to finish speaking before snaking her arms around him tightly and resting her head against his chest.
"I need you, too."
"That figures," Claire said as they approached the ruins of the first bridge.
"Maybe we'll have better luck at the next one."
They'd gone back to their café. It was the only place they felt reasonably safe.
With both bridges a wash, so to speak, neither of them were up to much more. They'd walked all over the city and back again and in some pretty bad conditions.
They felt like they'd earned a break.
"Why are we playing this?"
"Because we don't have enough people to play Hearts," Matt answered as he dealt out the cards.
"You know that this is quite possibly the world's most boring game, right?"
"What's wrong with War?"
"Nothing," Claire answered, "if you're twelve."
"I'm sorry; I don't know a lot of card games for two people."
"No," she sighed, "this is fine."
"We could play Battleship."
"Are you kidding? Five games in a row and you never even missed once. It was a massacre."
"It's not my fault you couldn't stop thinking about where your ships were."
"You didn't have to listen."
"Okay," Claire said, "remember when I said that War was quite possibly the world's most boring game?"
"I was wrong. This is. This is worse than anything else. It's like torture."
"Monopoly is supposed to be fun."
"And it is with more than two people," Claire said as she absentmindedly flicked the top hat piece off the table.
"You're just a sore loser," Matt chided.
"Can't we play something else?"
'Something I can win.'
"We could play Scrabble," Matt suggested. "I almost guarantee you a win at Scrabble."
"Because I'm starting to think you really can't win."
Claire glared at him before flicking the little doggy piece in his direction.
"I don't even know why we bother playing anymore. I always win."
"Because you cheat," Claire said as she set up the board for another checkers match.
"I don't cheat. I'm just better at this than you are."
"You do cheat because you can tell where I'm going to move next."
"That's not cheating that just… okay, I don't know what it is, but it's not cheating."
"You'd think you'd at least let me win one today."
"Why should today be any different than yesterday? Or any other day for that matter?"
"Just because," Claire said evasively as she moved her checker across the board.
"No really, did I miss something?"
'I should have just kept my mouth shut.'
"It's your move," she said avoiding his gaze.
"Claire? What is it?"
"I'm sure it's not," he said seriously. "What?"
"It's just that, well, today's my birthday."
Claire gave him a goofy half smile, embarrassed a bit to admit it.
"I didn't know."
"That's a first," she shot back.
"You should have said something, I would have…"
"Thrown me party?"
"Well, I'd have at least let you win a few games of checkers," Matt returned.
"It's no big deal," Claire said trying to change the subject.
"No, it is. It should be. You're eighteen, right? That's like the next best birthday after twenty-one and sixteen."
"So I have one birthday left and then…"
"They pretty much all suck after that."
"Glad I have that to look forward to."
"We should do something. No," Matt said suddenly. "I should get you a present."
"I don't know. What do you want?"
Claire just smiled.
"This is really what you want?"
"Yes. It's been driving me crazy."
"Shave," Claire ordered from just outside the bathroom.
"I was starting to get used to having a beard."
"Well, I wasn't," Claire countered. "It's like living with Grizzly Adams."
"Are you even old enough to know who that is?"
"Shut up and shave."
"We really do need to find a way off this island."
"I know," Claire commented. "We're running out of board games."
"I'm a little more worried about running out of food."
"Oh," Claire said having never really thought about it. They always found food wherever they went. It never felt like a problem. "So, what should we do?"
"I'm not going in there."
"Claire," Matt tried reasoning.
"No," she said with a brutal shake of her head. "I'm not. I'm not. I'll stay here."
Claire looked at Matt with fear in her eyes before returning her gaze to the tunnel before them.
"What if it's flooded?" she asked.
"We'll turn back."
"What if it floods while we're in it?"
"Can you swim?"
"That's not funny."
"It'll be fine."
"I can't do it," Claire said shaking her head once more. "I'm sorry. I really can't."
They'd found a new place to stay, one nearer the tunnel, as Matt still continued to hope Claire would change her mind.
Every day he went down to check it out; growing more and more certain that it was their only option for escape.
Claire usually came with him if only to check out the message board.
It wasn't a real message board but a wall covered with letters, letters very much like the one they'd found at Nathan's home.
She kept looking for some news from their friends, some sign that they had gone this way as well, but there was so much to look through.
She found it.
It wasn't much of a note, all it read was: M/P/C – Headed south on turnpike to Richmond - D.L.
But it was something.
It was real.
"Okay," Claire said with a sigh. "Let's do it. Let's get out of here."
It was worse than she could have ever imagined.
The smell, the chaos and the absolute darkness of it all. Even with their flashlights, even with Matt stopping every so often to turn on a stray set of headlights, it wasn't enough. It was just awful.
And the bodies.
Claire wasn't sure which was worse, seeing them or not seeing them.
At first, most of the cars just appeared abandoned. It was easier at first. But the further they got into the tunnel the more chaotic it became. The first major crash they came upon was nearly impassible.
Matt climbed over first before giving her the okay. With a bit of an effort, Claire retraced his steps before losing her balance and slipping to the ground.
"Are you alright?" Matt asked immediately, bending down beside her to help her up.
"Yeah," Claire answered, more embarrassed than hurt. "I'm fine."
"You're bleeding," Matt said, indicating her arm.
"Matt it's fine…"
But he was already pushing up her sleeve to get a better look at the damage. There was a good amount of blood where she'd been cut, but as soon as he wiped it away they both watched as her skin pulled itself together closing off the wound.
Matt was still holding her arm and staring having never seen Claire do that before.
"I told you it was fine."
"Does it hurt?" he asked, still a bit transfixed.
"A little," she admitted.
Matt gave her a weak smile before helping her back to her feet.
"Let's keep going."
It was slow work. They had to stop frequently to climb over cars. It took forever; at least it felt that way.
Finally they began to see light on the other side, but there was a lot less of it than they'd imagined there would be.
The closer they got the more it dawned on them.
The exit was nearly and almost completely blocked off.
'Oh God. No. No.'
"No, we're fine," Matt said automatically, in the near dark he didn't notice she hadn't actually spoken. "We can get through this."
"No we can't," Claire returned, right on the edge of panic.
"Yes we can," Matt said more forcefully. "We know this is how everyone else got out. It has to be. They wouldn't have left the notes…"
"Maybe it was blocked after," Claire offered. "Maybe…"
"Yeah," Matt said with a nod, still looking over the situation.
Claire shifted nervously, scanning the remains both before and behind them with her flashlight.
"I think if we climb up there we might be able to get down on the other side," Matt said, putting down his backpack and flashlight. "Let me just go…"
"No," Claire said quickly, grabbing him by the arm.
"What if you fall? You could fall and…"
"I'm not going to fall," he answered, trying to pull himself free.
But the harder he pulled the more frantic she became.
"Don't do it," she said.
'If you die I won't know what to do. Please. Please. I don't want to be alone. You can't leave me alone.'
Matt stopped trying to break free and instead wrapped his arms around her tightly.
"Nothing is going to happen to me," he said softly. "I'm not going to leave you. I promise that. I'm not going to leave you alone. Not here. Not now. Not ever."
Claire nodded slightly.
"We have to find a way out," he said, unable to let her go so soon.
"Then let me do it."
Matt leaned back just enough to look in her eyes.
'Please. Let me do something.'
Part of him felt insane to be going along with it, but he'd nodded just the same.
Claire squeezed him one last time before dropping her bag and preparing to make her way up the rubble.
"Be careful," Matt called out to her, shaking his head as he held the light up so she could at least see where she was going.
Scaling it didn't look easy, but Matt thought watching her do it was much worse. Despite seeing first hand how she could take care of herself and knowing that yes, she was the best person to give it a try, it didn't stop him from worrying.
Once at the top, Claire took a smaller flashlight out of her back pocket and peered down the other side.
"There's more light over here," she called out. "Down at the bottom. I think there's a way out."
"Alright," Matt said. "Stay there and I'll…"
"No wait, let me make sure before you try it."
But she hadn't listened; she'd already disappeared over the other side.
For a time all Matt could do was listen and wait, silently shaking his head and resolving to never let her go first again.
And then he heard a crash.
"Claire!" he yelled. "Claire!"
When she didn't answer immediately he didn't hesitate. Matt climbed up after her as quickly as he could given he had next to no light available.
"Claire!" he continued to call out, hoping she'd answer.
It wasn't until he was at the top that she did.
"I'm fine," she yelled back up to him from the very bottom of the debris, shining the flashlight in his direction. "Didn't you hear me? I kept saying I was fine!"
"No," he said, shaking his head and angrier than he could remember being in a long time. "No, I didn't hear you! I thought you'd… I thought…"
"I'm fine," she repeated.
Matt let out a sigh of relief before looking at the path before him.
"Are you coming down?" she asked.
"Yeah," he said shortly.
"Okay, just watch that first step."
"Do we even know how to get to Richmond?"
It had taken a few days to gather up some new supplies. Matt had left both their backpacks on the other side of the blockage and neither of them felt like going back. So instead they had raided the first store they had run across.
Unfortunately they had not been the first ones there.
There was practically nothing left.
It wasn't until they'd walked a good distance that they found anything worth taking.
But that wasn't the part they found disturbing. That hadn't been the worst of it.
Matt couldn't bring himself to ask the question out loud and couldn't ignore the fact that it seemed to be the only thing on Claire's mind.
Every time they approached a new building, turned a corner, went down a new street, it was all either of them thought.
'Where are all the people?'
They had to stop.
Matt and Claire had taken up residence in a small house as soon as it had started to rain.
They'd been walking since they left New York, unable to find a car, and neither of them wanted to continue on in that type of weather.
By the time they'd made their way inside both of them were completely soaked and exhausted.
"It'll let up soon," Matt said reassuringly.
"I don't think so," Claire said, not liking the look of things. How dark the sky was. How threatening it all appeared.
"Even if it doesn't," Matt reasoned, "we can stay here a few nights. It's not much but it has a roof."
Claire managed a small laugh.
"I'm going to go," Matt said, jerking his head towards the other room. "I need to change out of this. You should too. Just knock when you're done, okay?"
Claire nodded, waiting for him to shut the door behind him before getting out of her wet clothes as well.
As soon as she'd changed she tapped a few times on the door before giving the room a good once over.
It wasn't much of a house, it had virtually no furniture and everything it did contain was covered in dust. It was really just windows and walls. But, as Matt had pointed out, it did have a roof. Claire was thankful for that.
"Hey," Matt said, coming back into the room with her. "Found some blankets. No pillows. Actually, I'm not so sure about these either."
"They'll be fine," Claire said, taking him from him and shaking them out on the floor.
They both sat down and for the first time in a long time there was awkward silence between them.
"We should have brought the checkers," Claire finally said.
Matt woke up to the sound of wind howling outside the door.
Claire was still asleep, her head resting on his chest, his arms wrapped loosely around her. It was an unspoken thing between them, ever since that night when he'd stopped her from crying. They slept like this now. Sometimes he held her; sometimes it was her arms around him; other times they didn't even touch at all. But they both felt the need to be close. To be close to someone real. To have something that grounded them.
It kept them sane.
"I can almost hear you thinking."
Matt looked down, surprised to see Claire looking back at him and wearing an odd smile, her head still resting against his chest.
"Nothing," she said dismissively. "I just… I know when you're awake. When you're worried. You twist my hair; you pulled it."
Matt looked slightly embarrassed as he took his hand off of her head. He hadn't even been aware of it.
"I don't mind," Claire said, sitting up slightly so that she could meet him eye-to-eye.
'I wouldn't mind…'
"Claire," he said, feeling suddenly caught; it was as if all the air had left the room.
He needed to end this now, but it was too late.
Claire leaned in to him, equal parts caution and confidence, pressing her lips against his.
Matt closed his eyes for one second. For one brief moment he gave in to it. He'd returned her kiss and forgot himself. But only for that one second.
"Claire," Matt said, gently pushing her away from him. "I can't do this."
"But I thought…"
Matt just shook his head slightly.
Claire sat back, moved away from him and looked mortified by what she had just done.
"It's not that I don't…" Matt tried to explain.
"No, I understand," Claire said quickly.
"I don't think you do," Matt returned, sitting up and taking hold of her hands.
Claire shook him off and got to her feet.
"No, really," she said. "You don't have to say any more. I'm just being stupid and I misunderstood some things. You're just so good to me and I thought…"
"Trust me, Claire, if I was about ten years younger," Matt said, getting to his feet as well. "Five years even, it might be different, but…"
"Please stop explaining," Claire said weakly, turning away from him.
"I'm sorry," he offered.
Claire nodded slightly in recognition, her back still to him.
"So it's just my age?" she said quietly.
"No," he answered slowly. "Well, not entirely. It's a lot of things. A lot of other things."
"Like me? You don't like…"
"No. It's not you. Claire, you're a wonderful…"
"Girl," she provided.
"Woman," he corrected. "You are. But, I just can't do this. This isn't the right. I'm not right for you."
"But is it really so wrong that…"
"You're lonely, Claire. Not in love. There's a difference."
"And you're not lonely?"
"Yeah, I am," Matt admitted. "But, you know… at least we're not alone. And just because I'm lonely and you are too doesn't mean... Seriously, do you know the kind of hell I'd be going to if I took advantage of this right now?"
Claire gave a nervous laugh, turning to face him once more.
"Listen," he said quietly. "You're smart, you're funny and you're beautiful. But you're also scared, and lonely and confused. You'd regret this and it's not something…"
"You don't know that," Claire argued. "I know you can hear my thoughts, but you can't tell me how I might feel sometime in the future. You can't possibly…"
"I'd regret it," he quickly, looking away from her slightly.
"Is there someone…"
Claire stopped herself from finishing that question, realizing what she was about to ask. Remembering that Matt was a widower, that it had been less than a year since his wife had died, and Claire was practically accusing him of…
"There is," he said softly to her surprise.
"Who?" she asked before she could stop herself.
"I don't…" Matt began cautiously. "I don't want you to get the wrong idea. I love… I loved my wife. I loved Janice, and things between us were not always good. I never cheated on her. I never even considered it. I wanted my marriage to work, and even…"
He stopped and shook his head slowly.
"There is… there is someone else," he admitted for the first time even to himself. "I don't know… I don't know how she feels or if she…"
"You don't have to explain," Claire said quietly. "I don't have any right…"
"No," Matt said with a crisp nod, finally able to look her in the eyes again. "You do. You have every right and I'm sorry."
They stood a few feet apart, silent and unmoving.
"This isn't going to be weird now, is it?"
"That probably depends upon what you mean by weird," he returned with an almost nervous laugh.
Claire gave him a strange look; strange and uncertain.
"I mean, come on, we just played the at home version of 'Escape from New York'. How much weirder can it get?"
Claire gave him a small laugh in return.
"You have no idea what that means, do you?" he asked with a grin.
"Yeah," he said, nodding his head. "Maybe it is just the age thing."
Claire laughed this time for real. Still embarrassed, but not enough to stop herself from giving him a hug.
It was the fifth car they'd run across and Matt almost didn't even bother with it, certain it was either dead or out of gas like all the rest.
"What do you think?" he asked, gesturing half-heartedly at it.
"It's worth a shot."
Matt shrugged, knowing she was right.
It turned out to be their lucky day.
"Stupid piece of junk."
Matt and Claire finally hit civilization just outside of New Brunswick.
It was only a few people, but seeing them was a welcome relief.
"Do you know how to shoot a gun?"
Claire looked over at Matt as they continued to walk through the nearly isolated city.
"I'm from Texas," she said.
"That doesn't answer my question," he returned with a laugh.
Matt laughed harder and shook his head.
"A real gun," he explained. "Not a shotgun."
Claire shook her head.
"I think it's time you learned."
"I still don't understand why you think this is necessary."
"Because I want you to be able to protect yourself if you have to."
"Why would I have to?" Claire asked.
"Just in case," he answered, refusing to elaborate.
"And where did you get this thing anyway? I didn't know…"
"Back at that gas station," he answered. "You have to know where to look. Are you ready?"
"Aren't you forgetting something?"
Matt looked around his makeshift target course, certain he'd gotten it all set up correctly.
"I can't die," Claire answered for him.
"I'm not worried about that," he said under his breath.
Claire continued to stare at him oddly.
"I want you to be able to take care of yourself if… if I can't."
"Why? What's this all about?"
Matt didn't want to explain, but thought he might have to in order to get her cooperation.
The last few days they'd seen more and more people. And with more people came more thoughts. And some of the thoughts he'd heard had been unsettling.
Matt was beginning to remember why he hated his power.
Some people were just no good.
"Humor me," he said flatly.
"Alright," Claire agreed. "What do I do?"
Matt explained it all to her in intricate detail; way more than she probably needed to or wanted to know, but he felt it was important.
"You used to teach a gun safety course, didn't you?" Claire asked after she'd taken her first few practice shots.
"Yeah, how'd you know that?"
"It shows," Claire said with just the right amount of eye rolling.
"Ha, ha," Matt returned before returning to the matter at hand. "Not bad, but you need…"
Claire had swung around towards him, gun still in hand and Matt quickly blocked her arm, eyes wide.
"Whoa! What are you doing?" he nearly yelled.
"Sorry," she said sheepishly.
"It's okay," Matt assured her, taking the gun out of her hand and putting it down. "Let's just try to remember that I can't re-grow an arm or anything else, alright?"
"I think you've got the hang of it."
"Really?" Claire asked, kind of proud of herself.
"Yeah," Matt answered. "I'm now reasonably sure that if you had to, you should probably just throw the gun at anyone who is attacking you."
Claire gave him a contemptuous look.
"I'm joking," he said with a laugh. "You're actually pretty good for a beginner."
"Thanks," she said sarcastically.
"That was a compliment."
Claire looked at him for a moment.
"Yeah, I know."
"Do you think this one will work?" Matt asked, pointing to the seventh car they'd found that day.
"I hope so."
It wasn't until they hit Baltimore that they'd come across their first crowd and their first checkpoint.
"What do you think they're looking for?" Claire asked, staring at the queue of cars before them.
They'd made pretty good time in the car they'd found, but the interstates were sometimes nearly and completely jammed. They'd only just made it back onto the 95 a few miles back and now this.
"It's probably just routine," Matt answered. "Who knows. Maybe they're looking for fruit."
Claire nodded, knowing he was trying to make her laugh, but she couldn't. She felt too uneasy.
So did Matt.
When it was their turn Matt rolled down his window and gave the man, he looked as if he belonged in the Army, a brief smile.
"Let me see your license."
"Actually," Matt said, "I don't have it. I lost my…"
"Name?" the man asked instead.
Claire stared at him, unsure why he'd lied.
"Who is she?" the man continued to question.
"She's my niece," Matt said, turning and giving her an odd smile.
'Yeah right,' the man thought. 'Like I haven't heard that one before.'
"Does your niece have a name?" he continued, stressing the word niece unnecessarily.
"Claire," Matt answered. "Claire Peterson."
"And you're both…" the man stopped mid-sentence and waved his hand between him in a gesture Matt couldn't quite understand.
"Both what?" Claire asked skeptically.
"Normal," he finally spit out.
"Last time I checked," Matt said slowly.
"Alright," he finished. "Just get to the nearest post and get some identification."
Matt nodded and couldn't relax again until they'd put some distance between themselves and that checkpoint.
"What did he mean by that?" Claire asked. "What… what was that? We're they checking to see if we were…"
"I think so," Matt nodded.
Matt shook his head and realizing for the first time that a lot had changed in the world.
"Just stay in the car, okay?"
"Claire," Matt said as nicely as he could. "It will be easier if I go alone. We need to know what is going on here but…"
"Of course she'll help," Claire cut in. "She was your partner. Your friend, right?"
"A lot has changed."
Claire nodded slowly.
"This way, if something is wrong…if something does happen… You know what to do, right?"
"Yes," she said softly.
Claire had the gun in the glove compartment and directions to Richmond. Just in case. Not that she'd leave him behind. Both of them knew that she wouldn't, but it made him feel better knowing she at least had the opportunity if it came down to that.
Matt gave her one last look, one more nod and then walked away.
They'd been watching the Mall for the past few days, hoping to see her. Today they finally had.
Washington D.C. was the only functioning town they'd come across, although the National Mall looked more like a market bizarre than any thing else. There were people everywhere buying and trading goods and stories. After the solitude of a near yet spent alone in New York, it was kind of dizzying. But, amid it all, he'd managed to spot who he'd been looking for. To find her thoughts.
Audrey was still alive.
Matt just hoped she hadn't changed. That he could still trust her. Everything else was so different now, he wasn't entirely sure if he should risk approaching her. The news he and Claire had managed to find wasn't good, the stories circulating that people like them were being blamed, persecuted and locked away.
But Audrey wouldn't do that. She couldn't have changed that much.
He had almost caught her. Matt was just a few people behind her, a few paces, ready to reach out and touch her elbow when something else caught his eye instead.
A lone flyer pinned to a makeshift wall.
Matt didn't have time to sort it out, just snatched it down and practically ran back towards the car.
"Well?" Claire asked as he slid into the driver's seat. "What happened? Is she going to help us or… What's wrong?"
Matt didn't answer her, just handed over what he'd found.
"Read it," he said flatly.
"Just read it, I'm too… It'll take me forever. I saw your face and just…"
Claire looked down at her own image, a picture of her from a few years back.
"What's it say?" Matt asked.
"It's a missing persons' flyer," Claire said. "It's…"
She trailed off, shaking her head. Unable to fathom that after all of this time they'd still be looking for her.
"What does this mean?" she asked.
"Welcome to Richmond."
"Why couldn't they leave us an actual address?"
Matt and Claire had settled into their own place, a rather nice sized home that had obviously been unoccupied for the past year.
"What are we going to do?" Claire asked, exhausted from another day of searching for their friends, for food, or anything in order to just keep surviving.
"I've been considering blackmail."
"Find someone with a lot of money, hear a few interesting thoughts, and blackmail them into taking care of us."
"You're not serious," Claire said with a laugh.
"I don't see what other choice we have."
"Come on," she scoffed. "You are entirely too moral for that kind of behavior. You're practically a boy scout."
"You say that like it's a bad thing."
"It's true," she said only half serious.
"That it's a bad thing?" he questioned.
"No, it's not."
"I'm too old to be a boy scout."
"Fine," Claire said. "You're an eagle scout. Is that better?"
Matt smiled at her.
"Seriously though," Claire said after she'd stopped laughing. "What now?"
"Get some sleep," Matt answered. "We'll worry about it tomorrow."
"How long has it been?"
Matt turned towards her, surprised she was still awake at this hour.
"How long has what been?" he asked.
"Since all of this began," she said. "Nearly a year, right?"
"Doesn't it seem like longer?"
"Yeah," he said. "It really does."
Claire stayed silent for a minute or two longer.
"I'm glad I'm with you."
Matt looked at her, a slight hitch in his throat making it impossible to speak. Instead he leaned in and kissed her on the forehead. Thanking her silently for what might have been the nicest thing anyone had ever said to him.
"I think I saw Hiro today."
Matt had gone back to the street, a smaller version of the market bizarre they'd seen in D.C., half a dozen times without any success.
He was certain it had been Hiro, completely certain, but there was no telling when or if the other man would return.
Matt had asked a few people about him but either no one remembered him or no one would tell him.
It was frustrating.
Claire, he knew, was going stir crazy waiting back at the house, but they couldn't risk it. Matt wouldn't risk it. Every day he saw more and more flyers claiming to be from her family, looking for her, offering rewards.
Finding the others wasn't worth that possibility.
He knew he had to be patient, but Matt had never really been a patient man.
'Is that him? I can't see… maybe. Maybe it is.'
It was his fifth walk through the market place when Matt heard that familiar voice. He turned as soon as he recognized it, looking around for the man it had come from.
'What's he doing? Did he hear me?'
Matt still couldn't find him; couldn't see him anywhere.
'I think it's him.'
Matt spun once more on the spot, still unable to find him. Starting to think he was just imagining it.
He turned just as D.L. put his hand on his shoulder.
Matt wasn't sure who was more surprised, D.L. or himself, as he reached out and hugged the man he, in actuality, barely knew.
"Oh man," Matt said, completely in shock, "you won't believe… we've been… it's been…"
Matt stopped and took a deep breath, composing himself.
"How are you? Everyone?" he asked. "Is everyone…"
"Micah and Niki are good," D.L. assured him. "Hiro, Ando, Isaac, Simone. We're all good. We're all together. What about you? What… what happened?"
"It's a long story," Matt said. "Can you come with me? Claire will want to see you too."
"She's with you then," D.L. practically sighed with relief. "We've been worried. Weren't sure."
"Good," D.L. said with a smile. "You've seen the flyers then?"
Matt only nodded.
"Is it just…" D.L. started to ask. Desperate to know but unable to say it.
"It's just us," Matt said, saving him the trouble. "Just me and Claire. Peter… it's a long story."
"Well, I can't wait to hear it."