Chapter Twenty-Two

"Retribution and Salvation"

Part I

When Peter opened his eyes again, everything was dark. So dark.

He didn't know how long he had been lying there, in what he would discover was likely a pool of his own blood.

He wrenched himself up, insides screaming with every movement. The pain – agony was probably a more accurate term – made him pause, because it was just so unusual for him to feel it.

He had forgotten what absolute agony felt like. He hadn't felt anything lingering like this for three years.

He had been spoiled by Claire's ability, the regeneration that had saved his life more times than he could count. She was always joking that he was ahead in their little game of who saved who, but they had never acknowledged that she would always be ahead by virtue of the simple yet incredibly complex gift she had given him.

Oh God. Claire.

He wheezed as blood poured from his nose and mouth, trying desperately to get up. How could he have forgotten her?

It all came rushing, careening, back to him now. The last thing he remembered was Linderman wrenching every last drop of agony from Peter's tired bones, then Claire kneeling over him, shouting and –

And then? She wasn't here now, which meant – he didn't know what it meant. The thought blaring in his mind was, where was she?

He tried, really tried to get to his knees, the first step in a long series of steps to actually getting up and helping Claire if she needed any help. He imagined his nightmare scenario, of her face blotched, bruised and bloodied by her encounter with Linderman. Lying helpless with her wide eyes, a window to the soul he loved, staring sightlessly at the night sky.

He gulped, willing, willing his muscles to work for one last time. He hated himself for being this weak, knew that even now he was succumbing to Linderman's power. He knew, even accepted that he was dying. He had simply sustained too many injuries to survive. Even his limited medical training let him know that.

But that wasn't what was important right now. What did he care about his own life when Claire's could potentially be hanging in the balance?

But try as he might, he couldn't get to his feet. He got as far as teetering onto his knees, his joints shattering in agony, before his legs gave way again.

He would have fallen to the floor but someone caught him – someone that, even in his depleted state, Peter instinctively needed to shy away from.

He looked straight into Sylar's dark, murky eyes; felt his almost repulsive hold around him. If he'd had enough energy left, Peter probably would have shuddered being in such proximity to him.

But Sylar's voice never wavered. "Where are they?"

He honestly did not remember what, if anything, he had told Sylar that sent the other man careening out of the ballroom. He only knew that one minute he was being lowered with surprising gentleness onto the floor and the next he had opened his eyes again, to what he didn't know.

What had he said to Sylar? He'd said he had seen –

It all came back to him now. He had seen Claire tackle Linderman, taking them both out the window. But they were on the first floor, which meant that they had fallen – that she had fallen –

What if Linderman had done the same thing to her as he had to Peter? What if he had taken away Claire's ability to heal and she had fallen and –

He didn't needed to finish the thought before attempting to get to his feet again. It may have been futile, but he wasn't going to die without doing something – anything – to save Claire. If Claire was in trouble he would be there for her, broken bones and sinews or not. They were two halves of the same whole and the possibility of her being in need and him not being there was – well, it was an impossibility.

But try as he might, he just couldn't get up. Tears streamed from his eyes, testimony to the agony that racked his body from the effort. If Nathan had been here he would've joked at Peter's expense how typical it was for him, shedding tears when there was work to be done. But no one, least of all Nathan, was here to see what Peter had been reduced to; it was either sink or swim as far as Peter was concerned.

He was pretty sure at least one of his legs were broken, maybe even his right arm which made hauling himself to his feet difficult. But that was no excuse. Claire had moved heaven and earth for him and he was being stopped by the frailty of his body.

He uttered a string of expletives that, although costing him a lot of effort, did nothing to improve his situation.

Peter was sure he was experiencing some weird form of déjà vu, because as he finally struggled onto his unbroken leg he saw Sylar walking – no running – towards him from the entrance of the ballroom. Again.

"What –?" Just forcing that word out of his mouth almost caused him to topple over and crumble into a convulsing heap.

Sylar didn't give him a chance to reform his sentence. "I'm going to take you to her." It was all he said before heaving Peter unceremoniously into a fireman's lift.

Okay, he finally gone insane, because this? Was really, really insane. But what choice did he have? If there was even the smallest chance Sylar was telling the truth, that he was going to take Peter to Claire, he would take that chance. Gladly take it, even if it made his skin crawl.

"What … what are you doing?" It would have been hard to talk under normal circumstances in this position, but being critically, maybe even fatally wounded and trying to talk upside down was worse.

Sylar didn't respond but continued to walk, carrying Peter away from the ballroom and down the stairs. Sylar had never been the sanest tool in the shed, but then again, if he was the only chance Peter had of getting to Claire at the moment, he would take it with both hands.

As repulsed as he was even by the merest contact with Sylar, Peter was forcing himself to breathe evenly. He was not going to be useful to Claire if he ended up a hyperventilating mess. Why Sylar couldn't use telekinesis to lift Peter up was a mystery; what wasn't was his complete inability to care what the hell was going on in Sylar's mind at the moment. That fact was only important by his continued inability to read the other man's mind, confirming that Linderman's power stayed intact.

They continued to make their way down the long hallway that led from the magnificent central staircase, a staircase Peter could hardly remember racing up. In fact, he could hardly remember anything beyond leaving the fight in the library after seeing Linderman's henchman pouring through the doors and feeling, knowing they had just walked into a trap.

A trap only Claire and Sylar had foreseen. It made him angry and furious beyond all measure. If only they had listened to them –

Wordlessly Sylar carried him to the garden, the biting chill of the night hitting him, hard. It wasn't long before even Peter saw the crumpled bodies of Claire and Linderman on the lawn.

Claire lay as still as a statue while Linderman was writhing ever so slightly on the ground, trying to get up just as Peter had futilely tried to do moments before. Peter could hear the distinct sounds of fighting elsewhere in the estate, but he only had eyes for Claire.

"Let me go." He didn't mean to snarl – after all, Sylar had brought him to Claire, he had to be grateful about that – but his impatience coupled with the agony ripping through his limbs got the better of his manners.

"You can't stand." Was Sylar's only reply as he felt himself being lowered onto the ground. He struggled valiantly to remain standing, but was forced to the ground by his idiotic body, broken and battered.

Damn it.

It didn't stop him from crawling on hands and knees to Claire. When he got there though, when he was able to gently brush away hair matted to her forehead, his entire being nearly broke.

He swore afterwards that he literally heard his heart shatter into a million pieces.

Her eyes were open, those wide, glorious eyes that in life always seemed to smile and wink in the sunlight. They were open and staring, sightlessly, up into the achingly clear night sky.

And he couldn't hear her breathing. Why couldn't he hear breathing?

He knew she was gone, felt it in bones that were broken almost beyond repair, felt it in his eyes that stung with fresh tears. Felt it in the way his heart seemed to stop beating as his mind and body refused to believe the truth.

"Claire." He whispered, trying uselessly to recall her from wherever she was, but she was gone. Heart, body and soul.

She was gone; never to come back. The thought held a surreal, macabre fascination for him. He had seen her die so many times but she had always come back; at the back of his mind he even fancied that she had come back for him.

He couldn't stand, couldn't sit up to cradle her head in his. Couldn't do anything to mourn except to wrap his shattered body around hers and sob, brokenly, into the crook of her neck.

He couldn't bear to see those horrible, sightless eyes on the woman he loved. "Please come back. Please, please come back." He didn't care that of all people, Sylar was witnessing the unchecked tears streaming down his face, didn't care that he had been reduced to this. Why would he care in a world where Claire was gone?

Immersed as he was, it almost escaped his attention that Sylar, after placing Peter onto the ground had approached Linderman. He stood over him, stilling for the longest moment as he watched the once powerful man twitching in what Peter hoped was agonising pain.

Linderman's lower body wasn't moving and even from this distance Peter could spot signs of paralysis. A fitting fate for a man who had destroyed the lives of so many.

Sylar stepped on Linderman's hand, causing the older man to wince aloud.

"Gabriel, let me go. I have all the answers you seek." It was incredible that even in the face of his own death, Linderman was able to remain so calm – collected even. "I know you have questions … so many questions. I know the truth about your parents. I could … I could give –"

"I don't need your answers, old man." Sylar bent down, placing even more pressure on Linderman's hand and stared intently into the older man's eyes. His powers still blocked, Peter couldn't read Sylar or Linderman's thoughts, but in retrospect maybe it was for the best. He had no idea what Sylar – Gabriel – whoever he was now – had gone through during those years of testing in Linderman's labs, but the mere fact of being killed then resurrected – rebooted so callously – gave Peter the chills. He and Claire were probably the only people that could understand what it was like to wake after death, but he had no idea what it was like to be tortured repeatedly and having that ability used against him.

"I don't need your answers." Sylar repeated, this time in a whisper, as he placed his hands around the old man's face. They were almost gentle, cupping his face even as Linderman realised what was about to happen. "What are you doing? What are you –?"

His words were cut off with a sickening crack. Sylar had snapped Linderman's neck.

As disgusted by the cold, calculating look on Sylar, Peter could only feel relief. And if he had to be honest with himself, he maybe even some satisfaction. His death had been retribution for the lives he had ruined, lives he had taken, all done in order to feed a power hungry man's ego.

Besides, if Sylar had felt too morally upright to kill Linderman, Peter would happy have to have. An eye for an eye, but as far as he was concerned, Linderman's life in no way atoned for the taking of Claire's.

He had plenty more mixed feelings but he wasn't able to focus on them, becoming distracted with the changes slowly taking over his body.

His hitched breathing slowed, returning to a more even, measured pace. The agony in his broken leg and arm suddenly lessened, dulling to a low throb before receding altogether. The familiar feeling of the gashes over his body kneading themselves together began washing over him and it was then that he realised that he was healing.

He was healing.

He collapsed on his back, taking care to keep a firm hold of Claire's hand and allowed the comfort and familiarity of what was happening to calm him. A sense of well being suffused him as the last vestiges of pain in his chest – probably a result of internal injuries, not that he will ever know what it had been exactly – receded, then disappeared altogether.

After precious seconds ticked by, he dared moving his limbs; first his hands then legs then finally, his body. He rolled onto his side, heaving himself from the ground with skin and bones that had been healed as good as new. Like every other time this had happened, he still felt shaky and slightly unstable, but the feeling was a hell of a lot better than what he had been experiencing just a few minutes ago.

He smiled at the thought but then remembered – Claire.

He threw himself onto the ground next to her, taking her hand with one of his, while the other brushed the last few strands of hair from her face. She looked so peaceful, so calm, so still.

Still dead.

His entire chest heaved, mind and heart shattering for a moment before he came to himself. His eyes snapped to Sylar's, who were intent, fixed, focused even. There was no panic in them, just curiosity.


It was only then and only then, Peter realised he would be the source of Claire's salvation. It would be too much to say that trumpets sounded or the earth stood still in Peter's mind, but it wasn't an unfitting description of that moment of clarity, of epiphany.

She may be dead, but he – he had the ability to control life and death now. He had absorbed Linderman's power. Later he would consider the power more a curse than a blessing, but right now, in this moment – he thanked Sylar for doing what had needed to be done.

"Do you think –?"

"Do it." The steely look in Sylar's eyes frightened Peter a little and to be honest, he was getting used to them. Sylar – Gabriel – would always be a little unhinged, an inevitable consequence of everything he had been through.

Without further ado, Peter spread his hands across Claire, threading one of them through hers and placing the other over her heart. Somehow, the feel of her skin under his fingers made him that much more assured that he would be able to pull this off and bring Claire back.

He concentrated, harder than he had ever concentrated his entire life. He had gotten used to the off-kilter sensation that usually accompanied the first time he tried accessing an ability he had just absorbed, but now it irritated him. It was in there, floating somewhere inside his messy filing cabinet of a brain along with everything else he had collected over the years, but he just couldn't grasp it, hold onto the understanding enough for him to effectively use it. The power was so incredible, so complex, so – dare he say it – so god-like.

Sweat started beading his forehead as his concentration intensified. He would do it. He had to do it.

A warm feeling spread over his hands and he could feel it sinking through Claire's skin. It was working. It had to work. He had to save her, there was no other alternative.

Tortured moments crept by as nothing happened. She was as still as she had ever been, in death. Not even when Peter saw the pallor retreat from her skin did he believe he had been able to bring her back; didn't dare believe it until he saw her eyes flutter and her chest start heaving up and down. Didn't allow himself to weep or laugh in joy until he felt her breath against his face as he cradled her in his arms.

She was alive, well and truly alive.

"Oh god, Claire." It wasn't until that instant that Peter realised how much hope he had held back, how much of himself he had not been willing to part with. Even after seeing her still and lifeless, he had hoped.

Which was just as well that he hadn't lost hope in destiny.

The fluttering of her eyes soon gave way to a breathless sigh. He leaned over, still cradling her body in his arms. He was determined that he would be the first thing she saw when she opened her eyes.

"Peter." Her voice was weak and soft, spiralling into the ether like smoke. She reached up, trailing small fingers down his face. It wasn't until then he realised that he was still crying. It was very unmanly, but then again, he really didn't care. "Is that really you?"

He grasped her fingers in his, feeling sure he was never going to let them ago. "It is. It's me. I'm here."

She smiled, eyes shining. "You're alive."

Despite his tears, he could only smile in response. "I am." Of course he was, because of what she had done – what she had potentially sacrificed – for him. "You saved me."

He gently kissed her, savouring the sweetness of the moment. Despite everything that had happened, they were both alive, even if they weren't quite standing. The alternative had been too horrible to contemplate.

Her hair felt as soft as ever through his fingers; softer even, if his memory wasn't playing tricks on him. Maybe it was because of the intensity of the moment, their excruciating brush with death, but the very feel of her against his skin made his own come more alive at the touch.

A not very polite cough broke their exchange, attracting Claire's attention. She spied Sylar standing near them for the first time, but if she was repulsed or irritated, none of it showed in her eyes. Admiration for her rushed through him. "What –?"

"I'll tell you all about it later." Peter shushed her, knowing explanations were due.

But he didn't know what had happened with the others and if they needed help, then he would be there for them, just like she had been for him. "I have to see whether the others are okay."

Truth be told, the plight of Matt and the others had escaped him for those minutes between finding himself on the ballroom floor and seeing Claire breathe again. But now that the thought had returned to him, he couldn't suppress the urgency and onrush of guilt. What if those minutes spent with Claire had been the difference between life and death for the others? Had he effectively sacrificed all their lives for Claire? Nathan, Matt, Mohinder – friends he had come to love and respect, gone in the blink of his eye because he had been too distracted in his grief?

"Relax." He was no longer repulsed by Sylar, which was odd. Claire grimaced as she struggled to get up in Peter's arms, unconsciously taking the hand offered to her by Sylar. If anyone had told him a few days ago that this scene would unfold before his eyes, Peter would have laughed – then promptly smacked some sense into that person.

Because it was crazy, but the undeniable fact was that Sylar/Gabriel – he had to decide one of these days who the guy actually was – had saved both him and Claire from certain death. Which meant Claire's trust in him and thereby Peter's trust in Sylar by default had been absolutely right.

"The others got out safely. We regrouped in the grounds and Niki really let loose. Guess she got pissed when they attacked." The memory made Sylar smile, which Peter still found a little creepy. He wasn't sure what was particularly happy about Niki going berserk on a bunch of people. "She and Nathan organised the others into offense outside the gates, used the weapons we had stocked at the base. Took out Linderman's people with some … I think they were rocket launchers or something. After we took care of the key people, taking out the rest was easy."

Peter wasn't exactly sure what taking people out actually meant, but in the afterglow of finding Claire alive and breathing, he really hoped that Sylar meant merely putting them out of action without killing them. There had been enough death and destruction for one day.

"Did everyone make it?" Claire's voice was still raw, her tone uneven. Peter's hold on her instinctively tightened.

It was strange that he chose to notice anew at that moment just how beautiful she was. Soft skin, luscious blonde hair and brilliant green eyes, fully focused on him. "What?"

"Nothing." He shook his head, bemused by his own sentimentality. He had always hated Nathan teasing him about being girly when it came to feelings and emotions, but he found the feelings refreshing now. He had been so angry and out of control the past few weeks and feeling like this – feeling love and hope rush through him, as corny as it sounded, felt like home.

Even Sylar skulking about wasn't going to ruin this feeling for Peter. Not right now, anyway.

"Everyone except Audrey." Was Sylar's simple response to Claire's question.

That brought Peter back to the present. Not that he didn't trust Sylar (well, maybe he didn't), but he needed to see that everyone was okay for himself.

"Can you walk?" Claire nodded gingerly as she tried out a few steps, still leaning on Peter's arm. When he was sure she was able to walk unaided, he hurried a few paces in front, eager to see Nathan and the others were all right.

Claire sensed his urgency, pushed him forward. "It's okay, I'll catch up."

He spun, reigning in his impatience as he waited for her to draw alongside him. "Like hell. I'm not letting you out of my sight ever again." He drew her to him to emphasise the point.

They made their way together to the front of Linderman's compound to find the others, with Sylar leading the way.

Author's Notes: I can only offer humble apologies for the long (long!) time between updates. Real life, etc got to me, plus the muse left. I must admit I've had this chapter sitting on my hard drive for a while, but I wasn't happy with the emotional resonance at all. I took a break and rewrote heaps of it, so hopefully it rings a bit truer.

There are only 2 parts left to update - Part II to this chapter, and the Epilogue. I make no promises about the time, but I do promise it is at the top of my writing priorities!