After the humidity of Lousiana, the air in New York was a cool relief. Out of habit, Peter looked around after they arrived. He came here once a year, every year; Hiro's visit and the events it set in motion had prevented him this time. These visits usually all followed the same pattern. He materialized on top of the Deveaux building, or among the ruins still waiting for reconstruction, and made himself remember every moment of that day. Then he left again. He never came more often than once a year, and there were places he never visited.
The one he transported himself and Nathan to from Louisiana was a case in point. He hadn't been sure it was still there, but then again, if it hadn't been, finding themselves up in the air wouldn't be a problem.
"That's several states out of Parkman's mind-reading range," Peter said, and let go of Nathan. It was what Nathan had asked him to do, a request buried in a myriad of convoluted thoughts which reminded Peter of the treasure hunts Nathan used to plan for him, several lifetimes ago. Briefly, he wondered whether he should feel guilty for trying to read as much of Nathan's thoughts as he could. He would have tried not to, in that other life. At least that was what he wanted to believe.
But that was before. Hiro must have felt like that, seeing Ando again, thought Peter, and watched Nathan take in their surroundings. They were on the rooftop of the building Peter had jumped from to prove he could fly, where he had made Nathan tell him the truth a day later.
"Good," Nathan said distractedly, looking around, and the sudden sharp pain coming from him made Peter flinch. He had forgotten that Nathan wasn't familiar with the rest of this; with New York rising from the ashes, with the utter devastation, endlessly replayed on tv, and shown again every time Congress passed a new law against their kind.
When I killed Nathan, he had already turned against his own kind.
Sylar was a liar. Nobody knew Nathan the way Peter did. Nobody. And now he had him back.
"Is Ma still alive?" Nathan asked suddenly, still taking in the view. Peter shook his head, realized Nathan couldn't see him, said "no" out loud and was hit by a sudden image of their mother talking to Nathan in Nathan's office, the old campaign office, saying something about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, asking Nathan whether he could be the one they needed.
"Doesn't matter now," Nathan interrupted him, turned away from the sight of the city and looked at Peter again. "Peter, they won't expect Parkman to show up for another hour, considering he'd have to take the helicopter to make his report. Which gives us some time. I need to talk with you about the plan. He was right, you know."
The increasing certainty he sensed from Nathan felt positive, not negative, so Peter didn't immediately protest, but waited.
"Of course we have to take out Sylar, but there is no way Nathan Petrelli will remain President now. Besides, I very much doubt that he currently looks like this-" Nathan gestured with vague distaste at his jacket and shirt, both of which showed every sign of having been worn for days now, and the subconscious vanity of it was so achingly familiar that it made Peter's chest feel tight – "so unless you can brainwash everyone who'll be in the room along with freezing time, they'll notice the switch immediately." Frowning, he added: "You can't, right?"
"No," Peter said. "The Haitian and I cancelled each other out. It was the one power I was never able to absorb."
He didn't miss the expression of relief in Nathan's eyes.
"It still scares you, doesn't it?" Peter asked quietly. "What we are. What we can do." He swallowed. "What I am."
Nathan stepped towards him and brushed hair that the wind had loosened from Peter's face. "You scare the hell out of me," he said. "You've done so since you first fell in a coma on me. The powers are just an added bonus. But I get it, Pete, I get why people are afraid, and that's why I know we'll have to approach this differently."
There was a lot Peter could have said in return. But he limited himself to asking.
"What do you have in mind?"
Nathan hesitated for a heartbeat. There was a sense of standing on a precipice from him, but no more than that. Then he said: "Take a look", and Peter did.
The current "safe and secure location" deemed fit for a President recently impersonated by a superpowered terrorist was a silo in Texas. Matt Parkman had to name several code words before being allowed to enter; having a combination of telepathy and illusion at your disposal was definitely helpful there, especially when one knew what the people in question expected to hear and see. So far, they were nervous, but they all believed they were seeing the head of Homeland Security arriving. He didn't sense Sylar yet, though.
Just jumping in the middle of the compound and then searching for Sylar while invisible would have been possible, but invisibility didn't block infra red sensitive cameras. That was how most of their prison breakouts had fallen apart in the past. Following the guards, Peter kept scanning the compound and noticed that for all the jeeps outside, there weren't nearly as many soldiers or Secret Service men here as there should have been.
He held himself ready to jump at any moment. But he had to try a while longer. If Sylar had disappeared already, they would never find him again.
There it was, hovering at the edge of his consciousness; that presence. It was the first time he was actually looking forward to finding it. Sylar felt like a multitude of voices twisted into a single strand by force, and Peter wondered whether that was how his own psyche came across as well. He also wondered whether that was why Sylar had never killed Parkman; because it was one gift he didn't want, for a change. To know how other people saw you wasn't exactly a blessing, most of the time. Sylar had an image of himself, something glowing and splendid and far superior to anything else, with others as just the fuel he needed to keep glowing. He probably didn't care about seeing anything else.
In any case, he was here, and they were coming closer. Guards again, stepping aside after a few words from the guard guiding Peter, and then they had arrived. It was Nathan's shape that greeted him, again, still, and the hate in Peter was nearly overwhelming. It didn't matter that Nathan was alive now, miraculously recovered from the past and another time line; Sylar had killed him, and Claire, and only he knew how many others.
"Mr. President," he said in Parkman's voice, and stopped time.
The first thing he noticed was that the illusion of Nathan broke, but it didn't reveal Sylar. In fact, it didn't reveal anyone. The guards who had come in with Peter were real, but nothing else was; he was in a cell full of lead.
The second thing was that he could still sense Sylar's presence nearby. It was just impossible to discern individual thoughts.
"Peter Petrelli," Sylar's voice said, amplified by loudspeaker. "Always such a slow learner. And such a limited imagination. It's not shape-changing, understand? You can make people walk in circles forever, and they'd never notice. If you know how things work, and I do."
Peter tried to tune him out and focus on the thoughts. Not Sylar's, everyone else's. But the other people in the compound were too far away to read their thoughts, except for the guards with him, and they didn't think anything; time did not exist for them right now.
"I made a deal, Peter," Sylar said. "A deal with those wonderful people out there in the dark. You see, they were really interested in the story I had to tell. The story about two brothers with superpowers. One who committed mass murder, and the other who covered it up. Especially after Matt Parkman verified I was telling the truth. They knew they needed someone like me to capture someone like you, but I dare say they'd have offered a pardon anyway. Call me a state's witness for the coming trial of the century. Don't you love justice?"
He could expand the radius of the area he had frozen time in, but not without unfreezing it first, and not by much. The loudspeakers were everywhere in the compound, which was why he heard Sylar's voice; there were no soundwaves in the room he was in, where Peter was the only thing that moved.
"Of course you could just teleport out of here. But you're really interested in killing me, aren't you? Took you long enough. Still, I sympathize. Decisions, decisions. Me, I could have left for greener pastures, too, but no. Duty calls one last time, I guess. Want to know how you'll die, Peter? Let me tell you about the sad tales one hears these days. Why, there was one about a little girl who sucked the oxygen right out of her class room, killing every single person in it except for herself. That's the thing, of course. Our powers never harm ourselves. Still, she felt terribly guilty. Until I visited her, I suppose. Oxygen is such an essential thing. Even in zones where time is currently frozen. So, Peter, I guess this is it. For you and everyone else here not in possession of a gas mask. Unless you manage to find me first. Tag, you're – "
There was a strangled cry. Then Peter heard Niki's voice over the loudspeaker, hissing:
He found her thoughts, focused and jumped.
She had gone for the heart first, had plunged her fist into Sylar's chest and ripped it out, was still holding it, pumping, when Peter materialized. Sylar was on his knees, staring up at her in disbelief. The heart kept beating in Niki's hand. At another time, Peter would have thought about the implication for himself; whether this was what regeneration truly meant. Right now, he had other concerns. He didn't bother keeping up his Matt Parkman illusion any more, and as he let go of it, he revealed what else he had been hiding; the sword Hiro Nakamura had brought with him. Not the Hiro Peter had known and become friends with these last years; the Hiro of yesteryear, belonging to another world, whose sword had been taken by Matt Parkman while that Hiro had taken his future self's sword back to the past.
Peter didn't say anything. There were no clever words that could make this anything but what it was; a long delayed execution, performed by one killer for another. He pulled back his arm, swung and felt the impact as Hiro's sword hit and cut through Sylar's neck in one clean stroke.
The alarms didn't start ringing until Sylar's head hit the floor. Niki picked it up with her free hand, still not having let go of the heart. "I'm burning these myself," she said. "Now let's go."
He had found her in the midst of getting the truth out of Matt Parkman when he had teleported back to Lousiana after setting Nathan's part of the plan in motion. As furious as she was, she had agreed once he had explained. When entering the silo, he had used his illusions to cover her presence entirely. After making certain there were in fact no guards behind them, not many people there at all, she had fallen back and once outside of his shielding had started to search for Sylar. Once Sylar began to talk over the loud speakers from the central communications room, it had been easy to find him; he had to use the video monitors to watch Peter. He might have accounted for Peter possibly bringing Nathan along, but apparently, he had never thought of Niki.
"Let's," Peter said, feeling oddly hollow instead of relieved or triumphant, put his hand on her shoulder, and got them out of there.
You once told me we could make a difference, remember?
And I told you I was already trying to make a difference, the best way I know how. Sometimes you can make a difference with superpowers, Peter, I get that now. But not in a world where people have every reason to believe superpowers are there to harm them. More to the point, it's not what I really know, or what I'm good at. You know what I'm good at? Being a lawyer. Being a politician. And you know what a politician does when things are utterly and completely screwed up for him? He tries a spin. He makes a speech.
When the President's press secretary demanded broadcast time on all channels, he got it. When the President arrived in the studio with only a small escort for reasons of security, this claim was accepted, even though the security people withdrew and, if anyone had been watching anyone else but the President, later dissolved into thin air.
The presidential speech started as expected; it wasn't that dissimilar from the one shown on national tv just two days earlier, before the speaker had shocked everyone by flying away: "My fellow Americans," "five years of sorrow", "five years of battle".
"At least this time, he can't fly anywhere," one of the camera crew whispered. They still didn't know what to make of the Sylar story. Then the man in front of the cameras continued:
"Five years ago, we started to change. Only some of us, we thought; and confronted with the terrible loss this change caused, we blamed them. We sought to contain; we hoped to win. In winning, we lost. My fellow Americans, we are one nation under God. That has been our pledge, that has been our goal. No more. Today, we are two nations, divided."
"He's not going to go liberal on us, is he?" the soundmixer commented. "Must mean he is one of them, after all. The ratings are going to go sky high."
There was some commotion outside of the studio, as if someone was trying to get in, but then it grew quiet again. As quiet, in fact, as if someone had wrapped the studio in a self-contained bubble of time.
"But not tomorrow. Tomorrow, we will be one nation again. There is a time for discretion, and there is a time for truth. And only the truth can set us free. My fellow citizens, these last years every one of you has been tested, as well you know; it was a sacrifice you made. The results that our scientists have discovered are so overwhelming that all my advisers, without exception, pressed me to suppress them, to hide them, to keep them from you. After today, they might attempt to continue this deception. But my duty is to you, to the people."
"Okay," said the cameraman. "This better be…" His co-worker glared at him and put his finger in front of his mouth.
"We all carry the gene that allows for change in us. Every single one of us. Yesterday, we struck against our brothers and sisters, trying to separate what should never have been divided; tomorrow, it will be ourselves. Some might live out their lives without experiencing this change; for others, it will come in the next hour. But come it will. We will be one again, and the choice will be ours; to be a nation tearing each other apart for what is in every single one of us, or a nation that tries to help, to heal the wounds we carry. I believe we still can. With our love, with our compassion, and with our strength, we can heal it."
There was complete silence. The President held it a moment longer, then he added:
"Today, I resign from the office of President of the United States. Tomorrow, I will be one of you again, with no more rights than any other citizen who has in him or her the potential to destroy and build alike. Here I stand. I can do no other."
The commotion outside started again; phones began ringing, as if they, too, had been blocked for the last thirty minutes, cut off from the outside world completely. A SWAT team stormed in, and while the cameras were transmitting, committed the unthinkable: arresting the President of the United States. He did not offer resistance. Instead, he followed them quietly, while the shocked silence inside the studio gave way to whispers, then murmurs and finally a cacophony of shouts. Nobody could quite believe what they had just seen, just heard, but there it was; transmitted for the country to see, for the entire world.
"That was unbelievable," Peter said after dropping the SWAT team illusion and transporting them to a trailer park in Kermit, Texas, which for some reason had been Nathan's idea for a hideout for the night. By now, Peter was starting to feel the exhaustion. He really did need a break.
"You didn't get to hear my election speech," Nathan replied with a crooked smile. "I borrowed some material, but then I did have to come up with this one on short notice."
"Yeah, I noticed. 'Here I stand, I can do no other'? That's Martin Luther. Pater Ricardi would turn in his grave," Peter said, and realized that the hollowness inside was transforming its quality; it was starting to make him feel strangely light. "Also, you lied to all and sundry. Again. There wasn't any such discovery, but every denial issued by the government will just make people believe it more. They really will think they're all going to wake up with superpowers sooner or later. The gall. You really are a born politician."
"In other words, you're impressed?"
"Yes," Peter said, and hugged Nathan so tightly that some of the dried bits of blood and gore from beheading Sylar rubbed off and ruined what had been a new jacket hastily swiped from the Gramercy house. "Yes."
They were still holding each other when Niki came back from renting a trailer. Her hair still smelled of smoke; she had not been kidding about her intentions regarding Sylar's heart and head. They were both burned now, and she had flung the ashes into the wind.
"Sorry I missed your speech," she said to Nathan.
"Are you?" he asked back with one raised eyebrow, letting go of Peter. Niki shrugged.
"Not really. I'd have missed something if I hadn't personally cremated what was left of that freak."
"We're all freaks," Peter said seriously. "But he needed to go."
"Speaking of going," Nathan said, and Peter felt a shiver run down his spine. "What happened to Parkman?"
"I wanted to leave him to the alligators," Niki replied. "You have no idea what that man has been responsible for during the last years. But you know, I believed him when he talked about his son. Jessica – I killed people. I nearly wouldn't have had those last weeks with Micah because of that, but DL believed in that other part of me, and he gave me a chance. So. For what it's worth, Parkman is in an overcrowded Lousiana hospital."
She gave Peter the keys while telling Nathan, "I wouldn't have thought you'd even know what a trailer park is."
"It's good to know one can still surprise people," he said with an expressionless face, and Niki smiled, for the first time in a long while that Peter could recall. There was no bitterness in her smile, though there was some irony and sadness.
She stepped to Peter and kissed him, mouth warm and familiar in its mixture of sharp and sweet. His lower lip bled a little when she let him go.
"I'm done," she said. "Take care of yourself, and remember, if anyone kills you, it's still going to be me, so better stay alive."
Then she turned towards Nathan and kissed him as well; briefer and less intense, but it wasn't a short peck on the lips, either.
"And you, I guess, are still screwed," she continued. "But you know, I think you actually might have managed to make this world less fucked up today. I hope. So. Good luck."
With that, she left them behind and sauntered away, with the precise, elegant movements of a woman who spent a lifetime dancing.
"I know you don't go on the internet except for articles and polls," Peter said, voice a little husky, "so you probably don't know the expression. But I believe we've just been pwned."
He was up a little before sunrise the next morning, which wasn't difficult. There was a decision he had to make, and he spent most of the night thinking about it. Despite this, he felt oddly rested. The people in New York had still died because of him, five years ago; America was still a country in which people with the wrong genetic code could get locked up at a moment's notice. But he had hope, not as something hidden somewhere in the back of his mind and drowned in guilt but something that filled him, all of him, and made him look forward to the next day.
"So," Nathan said; he was up as well, leaving the trailer they had rented behind him.
"You want to leave, don't you?" Peter asked. "You want to go back."
"Yes," Nathan said without hesitation, and the quickness of the reply stunned Peter until Nathan continued: "And I want you to go with me."
This was a possibility Peter had not even considered. He did now; he imagined living in the world he remembered. The world before. No, the world after, but different. A saved world.
"Nathan," he finally said, "I already exist in this world."
Nathan shrugged. "You told me yourself Hiro was here, and lived here at the same time. And that your Hiro was in the past as well."
Peter shook his head. "Briefly. And he was afraid that if he remained too long, he'd cause damage. As it is, I think he caused the different timelines we have. If I went back with you and stayed there, for good, it would be – well, a permanent paradox. Might cause another explosion. Or something else. The point is, I can't risk it, and I don't want to. I caused one apocalypse already, Nathan. That's more than enough."
Nathan looked at him, and Peter expected him to point out the obvious; if Peter's permanent stay in the past could cause damage, wouldn't Nathan's permanent stay in the future, especially a future not his own, do the same thing? But Nathan, who had been heading the debate team in school and used to wipe the ground with his opponents at court, didn't say anything of the sort.
"Okay," Nathan said. "Okay. Then I'll stay."
It was all he had ever wanted. That other Peter might have been saved from becoming death, the destroyer of worlds, by his brother; now Nathan had given Peter his life in another way.
There was, of course, only one way to respond. Peter had never managed to save the world, prophecies and predictions be damned. But he had saved Claire, only to lose her again, and he would save Nathan, now that he finally could.
"No," he said gently.
"You'll go back," Peter said. "Back to your sons and Heidi. And your daughter. Who are all alive, and need you. And your life, Nathan, your own, not Candidate Petrelli's, or whatever Mom and Dad wanted you to be. And to your brother, because I know exactly how it feels to lose you, and trust me, you don't want to let another me who's found that out loose on the world."
He felt Nathan's hand on his shoulder, fingers digging in almost painfully. Peter didn't move. "But what about you?"
"I didn't lose you. I finally got you back."
They were silent together after that, watching the sun slowly appear on the horizon.
"Have you ever flown into a sunrise?" Peter suddenly asked, and Nathan shook his head, still silent.
"Then let's do that. Together," Peter said, and in reply, Nathan took his arm and rose with him to the sky.
Nobody else was up at this hour, which was just as well. They wouldn't have trusted their eyes anyway; two men, flying into the sun, becoming nothing but black points until they suddenly dissolved into thin air.
It was a beautiful morning.