Plan Bennet from Outer Space
The beginning after the end – isn't that what they call it?
After the dust has settled and the debris has cleared away, we are left with nothing but a faint, thinning aroma of what was – of a brush with the extraordinary.
Maybe a brush is an understatement.
It's been three weeks now – three weeks since the explosion meant to annihilate half of New York painted the sky with bright, hypnotic colors - three weeks since the apocalypse was derailed at the last possible moment.
Three weeks since Peter and Nathan Petrelli disappeared without a trace.
But life moves on, an unstoppable cycle, set - without bothering to ask for anyone's thoughts on the matter - on resuming a normal course.
Well, as normal as it can be, under the circumstances.
Which isn't, as a matter of fact, very normal at all.
It's a delicate balance to keep - a tightrope walk with a scorching fire burning underneath, a predatory presence with no pretence of subtlety.
And even such fragile normality doesn't last long, these days.
All it takes is the miniature flutter of butterfly wings on the other side of the world, a minor shift in the wind, a lurking change set in motion…
And the cosmic whole is affected – yourself unfortunately included.
Of course, it chooses the most inconvenient moment it can find. Specifically, the precise moment in which you exit your morning shower.
It announces itself plainly enough, with a simple knock on the door.
Just like that, destiny is back on your doorstep -
And it's wearing horn-rimmed glasses.
"I see you've learned how to knock."
It's not that I intend the greeting to be impolite, but the man's presence makes civility hard to come by for some reason – occasionally on the side of impossible.
He doesn't respond straight away, instead just standing there and… measuring, by the look of things.
He has a way of making even that simple act appear malicious - as if he's analyzing every fiber of your being and filing it away for later use.
I suddenly wish I hadn't opened the door while wearing nothing but a bathrobe.
This is bad enough as it is.
"The door wasn't locked last time," he finally says, offhandedly; must be a habit he picked up while working for the Company – when in doubt, lie through your teeth. He's not putting much of an effort into it, either. I don't know whether I should be insulted by that. "This is New York, Dr. Suresh - you should try to pay more attention to that sort of thing." And because clearly he's incapable of making a statement without having it sound like a vague threat, he appends - "For your personal safety, of course."
"Actually, it was locked," I correct, finding my supply of patience exhausted after a full minute of speaking to him. "I'm quite sure of that."
"Really," he acknowledges with a faint raise of the brow, as if this piece of information is barely worth registering.
More of his unsettling measuring. Then a mild-mannered sigh.
"I hadn't noticed," he replies without a trace of apology.
Of course he hadn't. How would one notice such a small, insignificant detail?
"I didn't know you could walk through walls."
A cryptic hint of a smile pays a brief visit to his lips.
"There's a lot you don't know about me, Dr. Suresh."
I point my finger at him, "You mean you can-"
His gaze travels slowly to my hand – I promptly lower it - and back up before he severs the sentence with a blank -
Well, that's a relief.
He's difficult enough to stomach without any abilities; though perhaps the ability to be this unnerving should be considered a significant evolutionary leap in its own right.
The air seems to stand still, held in a field of static around us – well, around him, mostly.
He looks away for a moment – a gesture that in another person might've been interpreted as uncertainty, but in him looks simply like a brief pause to consider possibilities. Possibilities of what, though… I think I'd rather not know.
"Can I come in?"
The question manages to catch me off-guard in its earnest simplicity.
"Uh – yes. Yes, of course." I fight my automatic reluctance – I believe it's the one called survival instinct – and move away from the doorframe.
There are several ways in which I could and possibly should complete the sentence -
Make yourself at home. Try not to wreak the place or plant any bugging devices while you're at it.
Are you here by yourself, or have you brought any bodies to dispose of?
Is that a gun in your pocket or – alright, that's one direction I'd rather not go in.
But I keep the sentence properly censored.
Apparently we can manage civility after all.
We'll just have to wait and see how long that lasts.
Five minutes and no attempted murder through verbal jabbing.
Actually, no attempted murder, period.
I consider that an accomplishment – it's been a while since I could enjoy the lack of such interaction, especially in here. It's a welcome change of pace.
However, its absence leaves room for a great deal of uncomfortable silence. At least – I find it distinctly uncomfortable. I'm not entirely sure whether the term even exists in his lexicon. The man is an expert at generating discomfort, so it's not entirely out of the question for him to be immune from it altogether.
The shrill whistle of the kettle interrupts the strain of the moment - tea, the universal savior. I take the three steps necessary to bring me into the kitchen, and pour the hot liquid into two cups.
Three steps back and I clear my throat, attempting a grin, "The last time I offered someone tea, it was drugged with curare."
He looks up from the table, awarding me with a deadpan glance.
Perhaps this isn't quite the icebreaker I've been looking for.
"Thank you for the warning," he answers evenly, accepting the cup with little hesitation. "In my day, we used tranquilizers."
"Well, I had to," I resist the impulse to clear my throat again – he might take it as a nervous gesture, and I feel that displaying any signs of weakness isn't the wisest course of action in his vicinity, "improvise."
He holds me under a fixed gaze for a prolonged moment. "I see."
With that thread of conversation apparently done with, I take a seat across from him, and spend the next minute or so alternating between sipping the curare-free chai, watching him do the same, and contemplating the strange idea that, had Peter and Sylar still been around, we could've had the perfect mad tea party – the only problem with that particular arrangement is that it would've probably put me in the shoes of a fictional Victorian girl, and that would've been a bit more than even I could handle.
I manage to keep my thoughts from wandering into even stranger lands – because honestly, reality is more than strange enough as it is – and focus on him.
He doesn't project the exact same aura of intimidation without the dark suit, but it's only a slight improvement. Even in casual clothes, he still manages to look as if he's stepped fresh out of a black and white spy movie, and the glasses complement the image perfectly.
For a brief moment, I consider the possibility that this is, in fact, the case.
Then I'm forced to remind myself that despite all recent evidence to the contrary, life is not science fiction. For the most part, anyway.
And the man with the horn-rimmed glasses has a name.
It's not like many people are named 'Mr. Horn-Rimmed Glasses', after all. That I know of.
I place my cup on the table, leaning forward.
"I'm not sure what it is exactly that you want from me, Mr. Bennet."
He puts his cup down as well - somehow, when he does it, it's a far more definitive gesture. I wonder how that works.
"We've played this game long enough," he says, locking his gaze on mine with a steel-laden resolve. "It's time we started working together, Dr. Suresh."
I get a dusty feeling of déjà vu - at least this time he isn't trying to emphasize his point with a gun. I suppose I should call that progress.
"Work on what, exactly?" I try to keep my tone at a minimal level of confrontation, but come up a little short – can't say I feel particularly bad about it. "I thought you only cared about protecting your family."
"It is what I care about," his response arrives instantly, without any breathing space to precede it – none of his usual option-weighing or cold calculation. Stark, unmasked emotion slips through, its ragged edges tearing through his cool façade - and I suddenly realize exactly what it'd mean to stand between this man and his family; Thompson obviously failed to make that realization.
The tension lingers in the motionless air of the apartment, containing energy that bears uncanny similarity to that of an impending nuclear explosion. I hold his gaze, even though the intensity of it has grown frightening – not the familiar iciness he so effortlessly emits – that would've been almost comforting, at this point - but something much deeper rooted – I probably wouldn't be able to look away even if I wanted to.
It passes as quickly as it arrives, though, and he levels his voice, smoothly sliding back into his room-temperature demeanor as he leans back in his chair, "But it's not as easy as it sounds. There are… obstacles."
"The Company," I utter without much thought.
It's more than a little ironic - not long ago that entity was tied to him so directly in my mind that I couldn't even tell the two apart.
I doubt he could.
His face reveals nothing, or maybe the change is too subtle for me to notice – a motion detector would be a handy device to have, around him. "That'd be an obstacle, yes."
"So they're still after you."
"Well, not as actively as before – they're having some," he pauses, allowing a slight smile, "organizational issues."
"I can see why they would."
His smile mellows into a determined line, "It won't last long. They'll be back on their feet soon enough. We need to use the momentum, establish a counterbalance."
"A counterbalance," I repeat, since the word appears to bear some significance. "Do you have anything particular in mind?"
He leans forward, drawing a prolonged breath before speaking.
"The world is changing, Dr. Suresh - a little too rapidly for some. We were supposed to help people adjust to it – to protect them." Again, more feeling goes into the last few words than he usually displays throughout an entire conversation. This is getting rather disturbing. "Obviously, somewhere along the way that vision was lost - corrupted." His gaze wanders sideways as he takes a measuring pause, "I was a part of that - at least, I was too blind to see what was it'd turned into," he lands on a grim note, a fracture in time providing a glimpse onto an almost pained expression.
I'm not the only one weighted down by regrets, apparently.
It clears away, making room for his deeply intent look, "I want to start over, do what we were meant to do to begin with." He shades his next words with a humorless smile, "Running them out of business would be a bonus. And I need your help to do it."
The echo of his voice hangs heavily, surrounding us, filling every corner of the apartment, every pore of skin. I can't explain it in any rational manner – it's not as if he has much of a track record for conversation skills, and yet I'm sure even the cockroaches have stopped to listen.
Maybe it's simply about conviction - it's clear that he believes every word of it – unless he's a much better liar than I suspected.
I shift in my chair, suffering from a brief bout of claustrophobia. Or possibly Bennet-phobia. It's a condition that ought to be medically recognized.
"I'm not sure what help I can offer, really. The list is gone," it sounds like a bad excuse, and the admission incites a numb, hollow sensation throughout my chest. "I had to destroy it – to keep it from Sylar's reach."
I expect a harsh response – a reprimand of some sort. Instead I receive a mild nod of acknowledgement.
"That's unfortunate. But I'm sure you can recreate it, with time."
"And how will I do that?"
"I'll provide the resources," he replies simply, as if there's nothing to it, "you'll do the rest."
"You have the resources," I fail to keep the skepticism from my voice – rogue agent isn't exactly a high-income occupation, to the best of my knowledge.
"I didn't say I had them," he corrects impassively. "I said I will."
I manage to stop an upcoming snort – there are levels of impoliteness I'd rather not stoop to, even in rare cases like this - transforming it into a disbelieving grin.
"You're a very optimistic man, Mr. Bennet."
He responds with a look, the corner of his mouth rising in something that's yearning to turn into a smirk, but ends up being much worse - it's not quite condescending, but far beyond that. It's the kind of look that makes you feel like an idiot for even thinking of questioning him – which could potentially explain how he manages to get away with so many questionable practices.
"Optimism has nothing to do with it."
Well, truthfully, he really doesn't seem the type to have much common ground with anything optimistic.
"So I take it you have a plan, then?"
His posture exudes nothing but absolute confidence, "Of course."
I'll have to take his word for it, but while we're on that subject -
"Why should I trust you?"
It's the key question – one I've yet to receive a satisfactory answer to.
And he knows that.
He sighs, letting the accumulated exhaustion show itself through an overly controlled exterior – we've all been through a lot, and I admit I've never really considered him in that equation.
"I'm not your enemy, Dr. Suresh," he states plainly. "And I think I've done enough to prove that I don't work for them anymore."
"I…" I try to search for the most diplomatic manner of putting this - not sure it's even worth the effort, with his concept of diplomacy – "have gotten that impression, yes."
He pulls his chair back and stands up. I mirror the action a little too quickly - instinctive nervousness kicks in, no matter how hard I try to suppress it.
"I know we started off on the wrong foot," he begins with an understatement – no, actually, calling it an understatement would be an understatement, "and I realize I haven't given you much reason to trust me. But we need to put that behind us now – there's too much at stake."
He looks at me expectantly, extending his hand over the table.
"Can I count on you?"
He's surprisingly difficult to say no to, when he isn't trying to back his stance up using thinly-veiled and oddly-phrased threats, or excessive artillery.
He's right – he's not the enemy, no matter how good he is at giving that impression.
And I can hardly refuse on the grounds of his being socially challenged.
"Yes," I take his hand, accepting a firm shake. "You can."
"Good." He smiles, and a not-quite-subtle whisper in my subconscious tells me that I've just made a big mistake. "Then you should get dressed. We need to get going."
"Wait – go where?"
He looks at me as if he barely understands the question, or the point of its existence. "To gather resources."
He raises an eyebrow. "Do you have anything better to do?"
"I," I release a sigh; this is a fruitless argument – I've obviously already lost, "I suppose not."
And still, I can't believe I just volunteered for this. Whatever this is.
I'd have thought the last couple of months would be enough to deter me from making further deals with the Devil.
I go to get dressed - a minute since I've agreed to work with him, and I'm already following his orders – though I suppose it's better than tagging along in a bathrobe. I pick a pair of jeans and a purple sweater my mother sent me a week ago – she still doesn't seem to trust me to dress myself - haven't gotten the chance to try it on yet.
When I come back out, he gives me an odd glance, squinting for a second. But if he has some judgmental comment for my choice in clothing, he keeps it unvoiced.
That's something, at least.
Curiosity then makes a sudden appearance, shoving tact out of the back door.
"If you don't mind me asking – what happened? Between you and your employers, I mean."
"They wanted me to turn in my daughter," he answers blankly. "We had a slight disagreement on that point."
"Your daughter-" it's all connected - snippets of information pieced together in a deranged yet somehow perfectly fitted jigsaw puzzle, "the cheerleader."
His smile comes with a weary undertone, and I can understand why – it's one thing to be a witness to an absurd prophecy, and something else altogether to be at its very core.
Save the cheerleader, save the world.
It still sounds positively insane, but now, whether I wish it or not… I'm fully a part of the insanity.
"I have to admit," I tell him, even though he's highly unlikely to care either way, "I'm still struggling with the concept of… destiny."
He watches me briefly without much focus, apparently weighing the issue, before heading for the coat rack.
"I wasn't exactly thrilled by it myself," he gathers his coat, and I follow in his track. "But you see, Dr. Suresh, the thing about destiny is that-"
He opens the door, glancing back at me.
"- it just doesn't care."
The beauty in four hour drives is that they tend to eliminate old feuds and reasons for antipathy… while creating brand new ones.
"Are you sure you know where we are?"
"And are you sure we didn't pass this very road sign twenty minutes ago?"
"I'm," he glances out of the window, unconvincingly attempting to disguise hesitance with an air of casualness – it's even less believable considering that he has a very limited idea of what casualness actually is - "sure."
"Of course you are."
He could be right, though - following a rough translation, all the signs here would read 'Middle of Nowhere'.
Several minutes pass without much of a change in the surrounding environment, and I wonder if we haven't gotten trapped in a loop in the space-time continuum, somehow. Wouldn't be very surprising in the present company.
I open my mouth -
"If you're planning on asking 'are we there yet?', Suresh, I'd reconsider it."
I close my mouth.
I try to enjoy the never-changing view, but give up after a minute or so - no offense to trees, but there's only so much repetition the human eye can perceive before the human to which it belongs begins to consider poking it out with a sharp stick.
"Why exactly do you need me for this again?"
He sighs, giving me a sideways glance.
"This sort of thing works better in pairs."
"I realize that. But why me?" It may sound a bit on the childish side, but it's a more than valid question.
"Parkman is still in the hospital, Sanders and Hawkins have enough problems of their own -" he turns his head to me, mild impatience radiating from him like an odd breed of electromagnetic pulse - "I could've brought my teenage daughter along, but she is in high school."
I suddenly come to an unpleasant realization.
"So this new organization of yours, does it consist of just of the two of us?"
"At this point," he replies nonchalantly, tapping a finger against the wheel, "yes."
I can't believe this.
"That's," I manage a sharp prelude to a laugh, "that's just wonderful."
He glances at me, pretending to be fully immune to sarcasm while putting on a thin smile.
"It always starts with two."
"Yes," I lean back in my seat, shaking my head, "we're a regular Adam and Eve."
I close my eyes for a moment, hoping to locate some inner peace -
"Which one are you?"
Inner peace is not an option.
"Adam or -," luckily, the question, strangely bearing his usual clinical detachment, doesn't reach a point of completion, as he apparently notices something I don't, pulling the car over. "We're here."
We exit the car – my body tries to veto the motion, still entrapped in the static collected during the last four hours, but I manage to wrestle it into reluctant action - here turns out to be the sort of place you'd put in the encyclopedic entry for Civilization, as a counter-example.
The house… shack, or whatever a place like that deserves to be called, doesn't look like it has a remote connection to human architecture, unless it was built somewhere around the Stone Age.
"There's an evolved human living here?"
"Yeah," he responds blandly, giving the place a visual appraisal of his own. "As far as I know."
"Might as well be Bigfoot."
"Well," he shrugs, expression immobile, "we never did catch that one."
"So this… person - what's his ability?"
"I don't know, exactly."
"You don't know exactly or you just don't know?"
He turns to look at me, apparently less than pleased with the question.
"I don't know," he finally admits with a somewhat acidic undertone. It's obvious this is not a combination of words he enjoys using very often.
"So it could be something dangerous," I point out.
"Could be," he drawls, not sounding worried in the least.
Blatantly disregarding my slight lack of confidence, he gets a distant look in his eyes – it's odd, to say the least – comes with a touch of surrealism, on him; he doesn't seem the type to lose connection with reality, for whatever reason.
It's almost startling when he speaks.
"That's the fun part, never knowing what we're gonna get."
"The fun part," I repeat with mild astonishment. I find it hard to believe he's even familiar with the notion of fun. Unless of course, stalking people in taxicabs is what he considers an enjoyable pastime – would hardly put that past him.
It takes him a few moments to regain his normal, overly-focused expression.
"Just something an old friend of mine used to say," he explains, lips curving upwards.
"An old friend – like Thompson?"
And any semblance of a smile becomes buried under an avalanche of icy steel.
I swallow - putting my foot in my mouth might be a good idea at this point – maybe surgically plant it there, even.
"No," he says in a mechanical monotone – it scrapes across my spine unpleasantly, like a dull nail. "Nothing like him."
I've clearly gotten under his skin somehow, and much deeper than I'd intended – not that I've even intended much - God, I can't believe I'm actually worried about hurting the man's feelings. Which he apparently does, in fact, possess.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to imply-"
There's no harshness or even much of an edge to the words, but it's undoubtedly an 'end of discussion' brand of fine.
I take it as a cue for a rapid change of subject.
"So what if something goes wrong? What if-" I sigh, "Bigfoot doesn't think our intentions are entirely honorable?"
"Don't worry," he smiles reassuringly – I don't mean to be critical, but it's not one of his strong suits – reaching into his coat - "I've got that covered."
"You brought a gun?"
"It's called taking precautions, Suresh."
"I think it's called a gun."
Irritation crosses his features, looking very much at home there. "I know what it's called."
That's funny. I'd have thought he called it 'boomstick of diplomacy' or something to that effect.
"That's how you're planning on helping people? With a gun?"
"No," he speaks extra-slowly, as if he's trying to establish communication with a mentally-challenged child, "that's how I'm planning on staying alive while helping people." He takes a step towards me. "Believe me, I'm not exactly trigger-happy."
I contemplate whether I should bring up the small matter of Thompson and Molly, but he takes two more steps, leaving little breathing air between us - and it rapidly loses priority.
"Suresh," he holds me under an unyielding gaze, and conflicted sensations begin to play a mismatched tune – there's annoyance, of course, which never fails when it comes to him, and that old wariness that has lost most of its edge by now, but still fights for survival, and then there's something that isn't quite fear, but still makes the hairs at the back of my neck stand… I'm not sure I want to know what that one is. He's too close for comfort, at any rate. "Do you trust me?"
There's no good answer to that question.
But there is a true answer, and it's even more unfortunate than any fabrication I could come up with at this point.
Before I manage to insert the dozen of buts that ought to accompany this ill-advised statement on a permanent basis, he interrupts by giving me a quick pat on the shoulder.
"Alright then," he tilts his head in the direction of the house, "Let's go say hi."
He doesn't wait for a response – apparently the matter is settled as far as he's concerned – and simply heads for the door.
"Wait, what should I–" I call after him while attempting to catch up, "What am I supposed to do in there?"
"Just follow my lead," he replies with aggravating calm.
"And that's it?"
Doesn't seem like a very encompassing use of my skills.
"Yeah," he says without a tad of remorse. "And be sure to tell me if you think he's a serial killer. You seem to have a nose for these things."
"You-" I just can't find the right word for it.
That's just low.
I'll be sure to tell him when I do find the right word.
I haven't found the right word yet.
Unfortunately, at the moment – that's the least of my worries.
"Do you still think it was a good plan?"
I attune myself to the agitation I've gathered in the last few hours in his company – there's quite a bit of it, luckily.
Agitation is good right now – productive. It helps me focus - helps me keep from running the car off the road – and it helps distracting me from the fact that I now quite possibly owe this man my life.
As if things weren't bad enough already.
"It was a good plan," he near-hisses. "The execution was lacking."
Is that criticism?
I can't tell - it's so subtle.
"I was just following your lead."
"Is that what you were doing?"
I can't really beat him at agitation right now, that much is obvious.
"Well-" It doesn't mean I can't try. "I'm still not sure how a human porcupine would've been a valuable resource to your cause, anyway."
He lets out a long, frustrated breath – I'm certain that if he could, he would have released it in the form of steam - possibly from his nose. Or ears. That would've been an interesting sight. "I told you - I didn't know what his ability was."
"So - why do you think he shot at us?"
"Maybe he doesn't like purple."
That was uncalled for.
As I prepare a retort, a revolutionary idea comes to me – maybe endless arguing isn't the best way out of this predicament.
"Alright, look," I turn to him, managing not to wince at the sight this time, "we need to get you to a hospital. It's not looking too good."
"A hospital, Suresh?" he raises his brow. "And how exactly do you propose to explain this?"
"Uh," I return my gaze to the road - the 'this' in question happens to involve five rather vicious-looking quills sticking out of his shoulder – it could've easily passed as an unpleasant encounter with the local wildlife, if they weren't about twice the size any animal could hope to produce, local or otherwise.
A Giant Porcupine invasion sounds plausible enough. If this was the plot to a B-movie from the 50s.
Not that the truth is much better.
"Uh," he mimics, and I can't help but detect a mocking note to it. "I'm not sure they'd be very satisfied with that explanation."
"So what do you want to do? I don't think it's going to just…" I give him another glance, trying not to consider how easily these things could've found their way straight into my neck if he hadn't… gotten in the way - "go away on its own."
"You'll have to do it."
"Do wha-" …No, that's just not fair. "No."
"Why not?" his impatience doesn't scratch the surface of the words, instead providing a far more lurking presence.
"I'm a geneticist, not a doctor."
"It's close enough."
"It's about as close as you are to a paper salesman-" apparently resistance is out of the question here, since even without looking at him, I can sense his eyes taking on murderous shading.
I sigh, stopping the car on the side of the road. "Fine, but you will regret it."
"We'll see about that," he replies in that even, all-too-pragmatic manner of his, and not for the first time today, I wish I had sworn off road trips for about a lifetime or three.
We get out of the car – this time he's the one who has trouble with it, giving a pronounced wince as he automatically sends the wrong hand to the door handle, but promptly correcting the motion and making a careful, deliberate exit, his breathing too tightly controlled to be normal – I hurry over to the trunk, digging into it in search of the first aid kit, hoping to accidentally stumble across a portal to an alternate dimension or something of the sort, just so I wouldn't have to deal with this.
No such luck.
Not that I'd expect any sort of luck to want much to do with me with him around.
He settles down on the ground, leaning against a tree – his forehead is coated with a thin layer of sweat, lips pressed together in a harsh line – it only now registers with me, the amount of pain he must be in. Even though he doesn't let it show, obviously.
Though I doubt he'll have much choice in the matter, soon enough.
I crouch next to him, taking a deep breath.
It shouldn't be too difficult – veterinarians do it every day, after all.
Pull out – disinfect – bandage. Try not to get killed in the process.
Piece of cake, really.
Maybe if I survive this I can go and have a career pulling splinters out of alligators.
"Alright, I need you to relax," I instruct. I'm not entirely sure which of us it's meant for, though.
"I am relaxed."
It's less than convincing, for some reason.
"You know," I try to lighten the atmosphere – right now it's a bit on the suffocating side; "usually a muzzle is required in these cases. You might bite."
He turns his head to me, in slow motion that could either be attributed to his wound, or an innate desire to unnerve me. I suspect the latter.
"I have a gun, Suresh. I think biting is the least of your worries."
"I was joking."
I stifle a cough.
I should keep talking. About something - anything. To distract him. That's how it works, isn't it?
Any distraction would be good about now, regardless.
"So," I go for the first topic that comes to mind – a long unanswered question, "why were you stalking me? Back in the…" it feels absurdly distant now, like an odd, faded childhood dream, "good old days."
"I was doing my job," he gives his blanket-response.
"I see," I study the quills – there's a certain decorative quality to them, though I'm not sure he'd appreciate that way of thinking at the moment - finally picking out the one located in the most harmless area, getting a steady hold of it. "And spooking me out of my cab, was that a part of your job?"
"I was just making conversation. I didn't think you'd take it that hard."
"That wasyour idea of conversation?"
He sighs as his gaze travels over to where my hand currently is, turning a touch apprehensive.
"What do you want, Suresh? An apology?"
That'd be nice. But I can hardly expect him to provide one – I'm still trying to maintain some hold on reality.
"How about an explanation?"
"I don't know what y-" wherever that sentence was heading becomes destination unknown as I pull out the quill in a sharp motion – it comes out smoothly enough, though judging by his reaction, that's largely a matter of perspective.
"Sorry," I place the bloodied quill on the ground, giving it a brief look-over. "These things have barbs – to make extraction more difficult."
His response comes a few seconds later, and several decibels bellow his usual speaking voice, "So I've noticed."
"So," I need to get this over with quickly, before he starts losing blood - "I take it you don't want to tell me?"
"There's nothing to tell."
Before he manages to gather a response, I lean in and remove three more in rapid succession – the first two are quick, and inspire only teeth-gritting on his end, but the last one gets jammed on the way, requiring additional maneuvering and causing him to make a sound trapped between a gasp and a moan.
Once I'm done with that round, I wipe my brow - apparently I've worked up a sweat along the way, too.
He draws a few shaky breaths before speaking. "You have an impressive sadistic streak, Suresh – I can see how you and Thompson got along so well."
"What, you think I'm making this painful on purpose?"
I firmly believe that if anyone was foolish enough to try and apply torture to him, they'd be the ones ending up scarred for life.
"I hope so," I think he intends to put more bite into this, but he doesn't succeed in keeping his voice even enough to produce a decent effect. The effort is still impressive, though. "Otherwise you're even worse at this than you pretend to be."
I shouldn't find that insulting – it's not as if my professional pride is on the line here, considering this isn't even my profession – but with him, I have a tendency of taking a lot of things personally.
"Well, you're not exactly the quality spy I thought you were, either."
I ignore him while conducting another inspection of shoulder. There's only one quill left – it's larger than the others, and buried deep.
"I mean, you should at least consider turning your cell phone off during assignments."
"I'm not a spy."
"And I'm not-" it takes three yanks to get this one out, and he lets out a near-howl at the last pull – there's something… disorienting about him making a sound like that, and I barely keep my hand steady enough to finish the job - "a doctor."
He stays quiet for a while after that – breathing heavily, the back of his head pressed against the tree trunk - it takes him almost a full minute to regain some manner of coherency.
He turns his head halfway in my direction, working his way up to a grin – it becomes partially enwrapped in a grimace, lending him a conflicting appearance.
"I got that."
I manage a weak chuckle in response, glad to finally be able to relieve at least some of the collected tension.
"There are more direct methods to kill somebody, you know," he adds. "I could point some out to you."
"You honestly think I want you dead? I'm just starting to-" like - "tolerate you."
He gives a tired half-smile – it conveys more wry amusement than anything. "That's good to know."
Well, as nice as this is, sharing warm and fuzzy feelings for each other isn't exactly on top of the priority list at the moment.
"Okay, I need you to-"
"Yeah," he catches on right away, straightening up and beginning to remove his coat, wincing a bit in the process.
The shirt turns out to be more of a challenge, and I recall that his arm was in a sling only a few weeks ago, on top of everything.
"Let me help."
He doesn't seem terribly enthusiastic about it, but doesn't actively protest, and in a shared effort we manage to slide it off him – this however has the side-effect of a very unsettling proximity, and I draw back a little too abruptly, wetting my lips.
"Is something wrong?"
That's a very good question.
He's the one who's down to his undershirt – so why am I feeling exposed?
"No," I answer, hoping to sound absolutely normal, because clearly, this – all of this – is absolutely normal. "Everything's fine."
"Good," he says calmly. If there is a skeptical note there, it's well-hidden enough. Which somehow makes it even more suspicious.
I choose to ignore it and get back to the matter at hand - it's not a very aesthetic sight - five uneven holes of varying size and messiness - but there isn't any serious bleeding, at least.
"I'm going to apply an antiseptic now," I warn him. "It'll probably sting a little."
"I know what an antiseptic is, Suresh," he notes dryly.
He flinches at the initial contact, but keeps still – frozen, almost – after that. He stays disturbingly quiet throughout the entire thing - eyes shut, biting on his lower lip -
I'd ask him to relax again, but he'd likely end up pulling a muscle trying.
It doesn't take too long, luckily, and the bandaging – while lacking the distinct charm that accompanies the act of pulling out sharp objects out of people – is actually fairly straightforward.
"Alright," I tell him once I'm done. "That's it." I valiantly battle the urge to append a shaky 'I think' to the sentence – nothing wrong with a bit of falsely placed self-confidence. I'm sure he'll appreciate the sentiment.
He opens his eyes, setting me with a rather dazed look - as if he's not a hundred percent awake.
"Thanks," he breathes the word out, and it's matter-of-factly and barely audible, really, but there's something about it – a stealthy, ticklish undercurrent, making its way to my stomach and… other places.
There's something very wrong with me.
I'm not sure why, how, or what my justification is – I highly doubt there is any - but the extension of that sentence decides to take a turn for the physical.
All it takes is a mild alteration of angle, a slight tilt in his direction – it's only a light brush at first, weightless enough to make it easy to pretend it isn't happening – nothing but a highly evolved sensory illusion.
Then my experimental side gives me a push, demanding that I put more pressure and I do and suddenly – it's real.
In an odd clutter of mental and… somewhat less mental threads, one thought is prominent -
After all, there's no risk at all involved in kissing a married man.
A married man with a gun.
A married man with a gun and five fresh holes in his shoulder.
A married man with a gun, five fresh holes in his shoulder and highly questionable morality.
Though at least the last part might actually work in my favor, on this very special occasion.
Every part of me still capable of rationality is screaming at me to stop this madness, to get away while I have the chance – but… it looks like there aren't many rational parts left.
I blame the human porcupine.
It's all his fault.
It's possible that it's not the fairest way to assess the situation, I suppose, but it's a conviction that might help preserve a portion of my sanity, so I'm sticking with it.
Now that I've come to reluctantly accept the reality of the matter, everything comes into focus, sharper, more vivid – texture, taste, touch – the warmth of his skin as a contrast to the cool weather – I hope he's not running a fever - but I can ignore that for a few stretched-out seconds.
There's sweat involved – quite a bit of it, actually – but the salty taste isn't just that – apparently he bit on his lip hard enough to draw blood. I try not to think vampiric thoughts as I smooth my tongue over the injured area – and I try not to think any thoughts regarding the stifled intake of breath – not quite a sigh or gasp, but something much more subtle – that it draws from him.
Attempted lack of cerebral function doesn't change the reaction my body decides to provide for the occasion – and it's anything but subtle.
I need more – no point in denying it now – I can always do that later. I press closer, tilting my head - and the frame of his glasses scrapes against the side of my face, almost getting into my eye – I pull back abruptly.
Whoever designed them must've had the perfect mood-killer in mind.
Yes. Wonderful. It's all fun and games until somebody almost loses an eye.
But maybe that shouldn't be my chief concern this very moment – I try to regain a normal breathing rhythm –
He seems mostly unperturbed by recent developments, watching me with detached interest.
This isn't right.
He's… too calm.
Panicking suddenly appears to be a very smart, pragmatic notion.
"I'm so sorry. This was -" oh God, this is how I'm going to die, isn't it? On the side of the road in the middle of absolute nowhere, killed by the man in horn-rimmed glasses while wearing a purple sweater – it's like a grotesque, highly surrealistic version of Clue. "A mistake."
"We all make mistakes."
"Right. It's –" he doesn't appear particularly murder-inclined – more lethargic than anything - but I'm still not discounting the possibility, "human nature."
He gives a slow, sideways-tilted smile.
He's taking it entirely too well, and I decide it won't hurt to remind him of a few things -
"Thanks for letting me know."
"And you're injured. Your judgment is impaired-"
"My judgment is just fine. How's yours?"
I don't like this question. At all.
"Is there any particular reason why your hand is on my thigh, then?"
Because the laws that bind the universe insist on making the situation even more mortifying, clearly.
But for some reason, I can't find the will to move – it might have something to do with my inability to break eye contact with him.
He raises an eyebrow neutrally.
"What do you really want, Suresh?"
There's nothing particularly complicated about the question in itself, but the implications that arise – they struggle to find a definition, feeble reasoning, something to grasp onto -
And in the meanwhile, I'm kissing him again.
This is simply a natural evolution of events – it can't be helped, really.
God, what a terrible excuse.
I try to find a more comfortable position – somehow that involves straddling his lap – and since his gun is most definitely located elsewhere, I can be certain that I'm not the only one who wants something here.
I take my time exploring his neck with my tongue – there's considerably less risk of impaling myself on his glasses there.
When I start to get the impression that he's fallen asleep – now that would be awkward – hands close over my wrists, introducing a tactical shift of weight - and I find myself on my back, with an inconveniently-placed rock digging into a carefully selected spot between my shoulder blades – and I decide to stop worrying about taking advantage of his condition, since he's clearly very selectively injured.
He leans closer, his breath landing on my mouth – warm and thick, and unexpectedly tranquility-inspiring - I close my eyes, giving in to loss of control – it hasn't been the best of days, to say the least, but this isn't the worst outcome it could've had – quite possibly the strangest, but not the worst.
There's a distracting ticklish sensation, and I open my eyes to discover a caterpillar of unusual size crawling into the leg of my pants.
Of course. Why wouldn't there be?
I attempt to move my foot in a subtle fashion to shake it off, but it refuses to take the hint until I employ near-violent air-kicking.
"I don't think I'm familiar with this technique, Suresh."
I look up, meeting Bennet's bemused gaze.
"It's," I lick my lips, "avant-garde."
Bits and pieces of reality take this opportunity to sink in.
"Do you think we should be doing this here?"
"What's the problem?"
"Well," other than the invasive wildlife issue, "we're not exactly transparent, you know."
"Right," he sends the road a quick glance, as if only just registering its existence. "Of course not."
He's obviously still a bit disoriented from the wound.
"We should probably be getting back," I elaborate.
"Yeah." He releases his hold on me and regains a vertical position with surprising ease – winter air turns out to be poor substitute for body heat, and I suppress a shiver.
At this rate, anticlimax will be the only thing we end up with.
He helps me to my feet and we return to the car, now accompanied by a thick cloud of uneasiness - though again, I'm seemingly the only one affected by it.
I start the engine – it gives an unimpressive, choppy roar, like a rodent pretending to be an impressive predator - consider turning on the radio, but realize that might incite a lengthy argument regarding musical tastes and the lack of thereof, which would probably be too much for me to cope with, at this point.
"I was bored," he says, jolting me out of my distracted state.
"You asked why I followed you that day."
"You were," I struggle with the numbing disbelief that uttering those words entails, "bored."
"Try having half a dozen transatlantic flights in one week and see what you would do for a little entertainment."
I don't know whether I should laugh, be offended, or feel sorry for the man.
"I don't even know what to say."
"Don't say anything. I can live with that."
I'm not sure what he's trying to imply with that, but…
Here it is. The word I've been looking for.
"You're a compost head, Bennet."
"A compost head."
"I see," he replies mildly. "What does that mean? Is that some kind of Indian slang?"
"No. I'm not sure what it means, exactly." And it makes roughly the same sum of sense that this entire day has amounted to. "But it fits you."
"Thanks," he shakes his head, "you too."
I don't know whether he would share the viewpoint –
But I think this is possibly the most fruitful conversation we've had in some time.
The sun is beginning to set, draping deformed shadows across the open road – the unborn children of the night.
My mind wanders, deciding this serves as an improvised Rorschach Test, and begins summoning up associations – the majority of which are unpleasant.
Sylar is a recurring theme – after all, the shadows have always suited him.
One in particular reminds me of the pool of blood in Dale Smither's garage – it's dark, sticky, mocking – drawing me in, almost… seductive - and I have to restrain myself to keep the wheel steady.
The chill passes, leaving emptiness in its stead.
I tighten my grip on the wheel, taking a steadying breath.
This is one nightmare I doubt I'll be able to wake up from anytime soon.
Looking for a distraction, I turn to check on Bennet - his eyes are closed, chest moving to an even rhythm.
If he was someone else, I would've assumed he was asleep, but with Bennet, assumptions lead only to a dead end.
For all I know, he could be practicing some innovative spy meditation technique.
"How is it?" I ask quietly, feeling the need to breach the dense silence, even if I am only talking to myself.
"Hurts. Numb," he answers without opening his eyes, the corners of his mouth drawing upwards slightly. "I've had worse."
Goes with the job description, I suppose.
"I'm sorry I wasn't very," I seek out the most neutral word, "efficient back there."
"It was your first assignment – you did fine."
"My first – wait, you're planning on more?"
He's definitely awake now, watching me with an amused look. "Of course. Why, were you planning on going on vacation?"
"I just thought… after this, you'd reconsider."
"Why would I reconsider? That went pretty well."
"You call that 'pretty well'?"
"We're both alive, Suresh. In one piece, mostly. Considering the danger level, I'd say that counts as pretty well."
"The danger level," I repeat, trying to avoid growing agitated – I've had enough of that for one day. "You mean you knew this would be dangerous?"
"Well, an isolated house is never a good sign," he replies with unshakable calm, "but in this line of work, you have to learn to take calculated risks."
I'd comment on his slightly unorthodox calculation skills, but a more pressing question comes along, uninvited yet far overdue -
"How did-" I inhale, trying to keep my mind as blank as possible – clear it from the taunting memories. "How did Eden die?"
Silence engulfs the car interior, vacant and sterile.
The exact same qualities apply to his voice when he finally speaks up. "What did they tell you?"
"That they pulled her out of a lake – shot in the head," I glance at him, looking for a reaction – shockingly, there isn't any. "They said it was a suicide. But it wasn't, was it," it's not really a question, but it still needs to be said.
"No," a trace of emotion invades his voice – a light fluctuation, like a blip on a monitor - easy to miss, "it wasn't." He continues, sliding back into his perfectly adjusted, dry and factual tone, "She was going to put Sylar down. Something went wrong – she had to shoot herself to prevent him from taking her ability."
He might as well be relaying the results of the latest football game, but something shifts in the atmosphere, causing it to tighten – making breathing difficult, somehow.
"She called me before-" I begin, running into an invisible barrier. "She said she was going to make things right." I do my best to ignore the shadows on the road, struggling to voice an admission that I've been avoiding for far too long - "She died because of me."
"No, Suresh," his voice slices through the air – still outwardly calm, but now carrying a concealed edge. "She died because of Sylar. She died because she wanted to do the right thing." He pauses, and it feels as if the world skips a beat. "She died because she was a hero."
"I know, but–" even though I realize that arguing with him is borderline dangerous at this point, I just can't stop myself, "I should've done something."
"There was nothing you could have done."
"How do you know that?"
"Because I was there, Suresh. I held her body," I feel his unnervingly intent gaze closing in on me, and prefer to turn and meet it, effectively risking driving into a tree, rather than have it drill a hole through my temple. "So unless you have some impressive teleportation skills that I'm not aware of," he lifts his brow, "there was nothing you could've done."
"Yeah," I reply with a delay, a jagged sensation in the back of my throat, "I- I suppose you're right."
I study the road extensively – the shadows have now overrun it, turning into a murky, indistinguishable mass.
"Did you love her?"
"What?" the abruptness of the question catches me off-guard, as does its nature – but most of all, the fact that it's coming from him. "No – I don't know," I'm not going to win any prizes for consistently here – and why does this suddenly feel like an interrogation? "I hardly knew her."
"You knew her well enough."
"I didn't even know her name."
"Names only carry a subjective meaning," he says, without a trace of irony.
"Do they?" It's easy for him to say. "Come to think about it, I don't even know yours."
"Well," there's definitely a smirk hidden in his voice, even though there are no outwardly signs of it, and it's carefully coated in a bland, smooth monotone, "I hardly think you're in any danger of falling in love with me, Suresh."
I snort, shaking my head.
"Yes, there's definitely a very low risk for that."
I believe it'd take a very… special kind of person to be in love with him.
Still determined on playing the vicious association game, my mind tosses me into my personal lion's den - the dirty, dark corner of my consciousness.
It's a subject we're bound to breach at some point – might as well be now.
"Zane Taylor," just saying it feels like dragging a piece of broken glass across my skin, "now there's another subjective name."
He allows a mild pause - a necessary reconstruction of ambience.
"Sylar's names are all subjective."
"Yes, I've noticed," I draw a breath, and the air tastes of contamination. "A lot of things about him are."
I'm not sure where this conversation is supposed to lead.
Am I seeking absolution? Understanding?
Clearly I'm looking for it in a very odd place.
"You couldn't have known. Sylar is very good at pretending to be something he's not."
There's something comforting about the factual detachment he projects – as if emotion has no say in the matter - and something disconcerting about the near-omniscient gaze that accompanies it.
I wonder how much he really knows.
Though on second thought, I'd rather not find out.
There's a dim irony in the fact that in a jumble of decision that range from bad to worse to downright catastrophic, there is one 'what if' that keeps nibbling with a relentless insistence –
If I'd trusted him earlier, maybe none of this would've happened.
Of course, he wasn't doing a remarkable job of appearing trustworthy, but - appearances clearly aren't the best indicator in these matters.
"The man killed my father. I didn't even suspect something was wrong."
He exposes me to yet another dose of the Bennet-visual-evaluation, and I employ the vacant time conjuring up the image of him summoning an army of microscopic beings whose sole purpose is to conduct a thorough inspection throughout my body. That would have been considerably less discomforting than this.
"Suresh, blaming yourself will get you nowhere," he says finally. "Guilt is easy to get lost in." He places his hand on my shoulder, and I expect some prolonged speech, but instead he just frowns, "Don't."
Something about the plainness of the suggestion – or is that an order? It's hard to tell with him – serves as a makeshift solution to the Gordian Knot I've been dragging along for a while now.
It really shouldn't be this easy, but maybe… it just could be.
"I wasn't planning on it."
"Good," he removes his arm.
And since we're in a sharing mood - or something of the sort – there's one thing that I haven't told anyone, and now it's right on the tip of my tongue -
"I tortured him with a tuning fork."
Once I say it, it strikes me that this is another one of those less-than-perfect icebreakers.
Then again, Bennet's idea of a healthy conversation often involves menacing movie references and the use of firearms - so this might not be that far off.
"Good for you," he manages to look amused without moving a muscle. "That's pretty inventive."
"I hope you're not feeling guilty about that."
"Not one bit."
"I'm glad to hear it."
My thoughts drift away from the clinging grasp of the past, floating aimlessly amidst white noise for a while, before wrapping around recent reality.
"You remember Molly Walker?"
It's about as stupid as a question has the potential of getting – of course he remembers; he held a gun to her, for God's sake - but I need to raise the subject somehow.
He doesn't answer that, sparing me the biting remark, instead simply glancing at me with a raised eyebrow.
"Well, I'm thinking of," that's not exactly accurate phrasing, the thinking stage is definitely sealed – not that it was especially prolonged on this matter, anyway - "I want to adopt her."
"Yeah," he says after a light delay. "I thought you might."
The excessive casualness of his response makes me irrationally wary – he ought to be more argumentative – and I start on a line of defense I've been preparing for a while -
"I have to protect her - she's my responsibility now."
I wait for the inevitable cross-examination, but it fails to arrive. No extensive list of reasons detailing why I'd make a terrible father, no comments questioning my sanity - not even a simple 'you're an idiot for even considering it'.
This is… slightly disappointing.
"Are you sure about it?" his tone is tranquil, direct. "Having children changes a man."
I don't even need to consider the answer.
I've never been more certain of anything in my life.
"Yes, I am."
He watches me for a moment, then nods mildly. "Well, proper legal channels aren't the way to go. You'll need to get yourself a new apartment – unlisted, to keep out of the Company's sight. She'll need a fake name, false documents–"
Throughout his business-like lecture – I've barely even registered his approval - a rush of panic slips in -
"How am I supposed to handle all that?"
"Don't worry," he smiles. "I've already made most of the arrangements."
I try to make sense of that sentence, but fail rather miserably.
There must have been a miscommunication of some sort.
"It'll probably take another week or two to make it official, but you should start getting prepared, just in case."
"But-" this isn't right - I must've missed something. "How did you even know I-"
"You weren't being very subtle about it, Suresh."
The man has a gift of leaving me speechless.
I make sure that my mouth is closed, just in case I've been gaping at him like an oxygen-deprived fish.
"You'll manage," he carries on without my contribution, "She'll drive you completely insane, but you'll manage. Just don't expect it to be easy."
I finally succeed in breaking out of the stupor he's induced. "I'm not delusional."
"Neither was I."
My newfound speech disability returns, lingering for a minute before I manage to trap feelings into words.
"For," it's not a sentiment I'd ever imagined associating with him, but stranger things have happened. Repeatedly. "Everything."
He gives a simple nod – I don't think he's accustomed to displays of gratitude – those are probably difficult to come across in a job that consists of kidnapping and spying on people.
After a brief pause, he reaches into his pocket – I don't even get the familiar self-preserving impulse to jump out of the car; we've definitely come a long way – and takes out his wallet, going through it.
"That's Claire," he hands me a photograph, "when she was around Molly's age."
I take a look at it - the little girl is smiling winningly at the camera, accompanied by a faithful, extra-large teddy bear - her features aren't clearly defined yet, but the resemblance to the teenager I saw in Kirby Plaza is strong nonetheless.
"She's adorable," I grin at him, trying not to act too startled when he returns the grin in full.
"Don't let appearances deceive you. They can be vicious."
He sighs, settling on a knowing look.
At least he's back in his ominous comfort zone – I'm sure it's like oxygen to him.
I'm about to hand the picture back when I notice another photograph stuck to the back of this one – accidentally, I presume, but curiosity takes the better of me and -
It's a high school picture, depicting a couple on what appears to be prom night.
The girl is beautiful, with a certain shine to her – I'm guessing that's his wife, which makes him significantly luckier than I'd imagined - while he looks…
Lacking a better definition, I appropriate the word fluffy.
"What's that?" I ask casually, unable to tear my eyes from the photograph.
It's a good thing the road is mostly vacant, or this wouldn't end at all well.
"On your head."
He presses his lips together in not-particularly-well-concealed annoyance.
"I think that's my hair, Suresh."
"Really?" I give it another look, just to be sure. "I thought it was a comatose beaver."
He sets his jaw, looking as if he's preparing to shoot laser beams out of his eyes - I don't know whether he's capable of blushing, but that's quite possibly his personal variant of it.
"Give me that."
I release my hold of the picture, letting him snatch it away.
"I don't know why you're acting so upset," I say innocently. "I think it's cute."
He remains silent for the remainder of the ride.
I grin like an idiot throughout most of it.
I don't know whether destiny had anything to do with this little incident, but if it did –
I think I'm beginning to like destiny.
"It was 1980."
While I'm well aware that sentence can fully rationalize a vast number of atrocities - I'm not planning to let this go quite that easily.
"Well, that's no excuse for beaver abduction. And the dyeing – that's just animal cruelty."
"I didn't dye my hair," he grits out. "It was just - lighter."
"Who said anything about your hair? I was talking about the poor beaver."
There's dead silence on his end as we go up the stairs - if chemical compounds were affected by moods, he would've been surrounded by a thick layer of poisonous gas.
"Did you carry tranquilizers back then, too, or did you just use a baseball bat?"
"Don't push it, Suresh."
"Or you'll do what?" Cleary, I've lost whatever little survival instinct I started out with. "You'll knock me out and put me on your head? I don't think it would have quite the same effect."
"You were alive in the 80s, weren't you?" he employs his so-casual-that-it's-anything-but voice. "Around high school age?"
I don't like the direction he's taking with this.
"High schools tend to keep records," he continues nonchalantly. "Records that can be accessed. Even put in such a place where others might stumble across them."
He gives me a blank look. "Wouldn't what?"
His innate inability to sound remotely innocent no matter the circumstances definitely works in his favor this time.
"Fine," I shoot him a sideway glance. "I can take a hint."
"Glad we could see eye to eye on this."
We stop at the apartment door, and I can't avoid the feeling that I've been chaperoned home. By a strange older man - my mother would be proud, I'm sure.
"I should be getting back to my hotel."
"You could stay here, if you like. I mean, you're not in the best of health, you should probably - save your energy."
I'm not exactly speaking in code, here.
At least I'm not offering him to stay for coffee.
"Thanks," it could be just my imagination conjuring up optical illusions, but I notice a sly edge to his smile. "I appreciate it."
I unlock the door and we enter the apartment.
While saving energy is admittedly a relative concept, I'm not sure that what follows falls under the definition – coats discarded – his hands on my waist, pushing me back into the desk – the lamp gets knocked over, an innocent victim of circumstances – I can't say it's a terrible loss, exactly, but I also can't help but suspect that he still harbors a subconscious desire to sabotage my apartment.
He doesn't seem to be in any particular hurry, every motion premeditated to the extreme -
I wouldn't be surprised if I could time him to a waltz rhythm.
His breathing rate doesn't change, maintaining a steady consistency - and I feel like I should be offended by that, because - this isn't exactly a business meeting we're having here.
Unless one of us is very confused.
He doesn't project a particularly confused aura, though -
Lips brushing against the slope of my ear, tracing down my jawline – a methodical tickle on the edge of perception -
In a state of orchestrated distraction, I accidentally think back to a certain photograph, and this time it isn't his hair that bothers me.
"Wait-" I place a hand on his chest, lightly pushing him back. "I don't- I'm not sure we should-"
"I love my wife, Suresh," the way he pronounces it makes the statement one you wouldn't question if you valued your life - or at least the structural integrity of your face. "We're both adult enough to recognize this for what it is."
"And what is this?"
He tilts his head sideways, for a second looking like a highly analytical breed of dog.
Well, that's definitely new terminology.
"I've studied science, Bennet - extensively. I'm almost sure this wasn't in any of the lectures."
"Science is a wide field."
I can't really dispute that fact – though technically, I'd say mad science is more his style.
"Suresh, if you're looking for an excuse - or a way out of this-"
"I'm not. It's just-" I attempt to locate the suitable explanation - the bodily proximity and the associated warmth that's coming through in waves not making it any easier, "it's a bit odd, don't you think?"
"I think we can handle a bit odd."
His voice is infused with calm and certainty - a cool antithesis to the slowly heating atmosphere.
"Science," I appraise the word, feeling it take shape against my tongue –
There's something almost rational about it.
"Yeah," he confirms with a clear, clean-cut inflection that slips past the last surviving barriers of common sense – though the fact that we're within breathing space of each other – a space that's beginning to bother me, to be perfectly honest - that might have something to do with it, too.
Well, if he puts it that way -
I suppose can live with science.
I eradicate any thoughts still straying throughout my consciousness and relocate my hand to the back of his head, pulling him closer - press my lips to his lightly - before proceeding any further with this, though, I decide that I'm not willing to risk any extensive ocular damage –
I reach out and snatch the glasses off of him before he can prevent the outcome.
So he doesn't disintegrate upon removal of the glasses.
There goes one perfectly good theory.
He does look a bit irritated, though.
"You could've asked me to take them off."
"I thought you might be -" there's no good explanation here - "attached to them."
He lifts an eyebrow.
"Something like that, yes."
I place the glasses on the desk with extra care, slightly concerned that any damage inflicted upon them would be returned proportionally to the responsibly party – then I recall my first encounter with them – the placement was similar, even if the circumstances… weren't.
It's funny how things turn out – a cycle designed by an entity with an excessive fondness for the absurd.
"I'm still here, Suresh."
And my hand is still placed on the back of his head – maybe I should've moved it at some point, but -
"You know, your hair is still a little-"
I don't get to complete the sentence – though I can't say I regret it.
There's more bite to his kiss this time – literally - and his hands sneak under my sweater and shirt – they're cold, but there's something interesting about the contrast - and the light shudder that goes through my body has nothing to do with temperature fluctuations.
I break the kiss off - it's getting far too warm for winter wear – or any brand of wear, really – and pull my sweater off while he watches on dispassionately.
He's more helpful with the shirt, at least, and soon he's back exploring my mouth – hands across my back, traveling downwards at a leisurely speed -
While I have nothing against attempted transformation into a giraffe, I think one of us is going to pull a neck muscle at this rate.
"We need something more - horizontal."
He doesn't provide an argument, and in a sequence of events that's too quick for the naked eye to follow, we end up on the floor.
I wonder whether he's had any formal ninja training.
Though as far as I know, this isn't what ninjas are supposed to do to their victims.
Not that it isn't… stimulating - but third-degree carpet burns are not what I had in mind.
He stops, giving me the sort of look a high school teacher might give a troublesome student for interrupting a class.
"-I was thinking more like," I hate to bring orthodoxy into the mix, but this really adventurous enough without any outside help, "a bed."
He nods, getting up and casually brushing his pants off while I scramble to my feet with marginal dignity.
"Try being more specific next time."
I'm not even sure I'm coping with this one.
"Well, I didn't think you were going to tackle-me-to-the-floor first, ask questions later."
"That wasn't tackling."
"Really?" We reach the bedroom, and for the first time I can be truly grateful for the limited space of the apartment. "What was it, then?"
"Mild physical persuasion."
I'm guessing overly-flexible definitions are something he picked up during his time of employment at the Company.
"You mean like that?"
I place my hands on his chest, and in an abrupt motion push him down onto the bed.
He inhales sharply, face briefly twisting in pain –
I feel like personally acquainting my forehead with a large, blunt object – it might do my mental processing capacity some good.
Shoving injured men onto beds is never the brightest idea, no matter how many inhuman attributes they happen to present.
"God, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to –"
I stop talking when he puts on an expression – it's one you could dissect under a microscope for years and not get to the bottom of.
Before I manage to process it properly, his fingers hook around the waistband of my jeans, pulling me towards him - and I end up awkwardly positioned on top of him, my face a few centimeters away from his.
"Yes, like that, Suresh."
I'm not entirely sure which of us initiates it – mutual collision is another possibility - a harsh encounter of lips and tongues – and there's a smile forming on his end, I'm almost certain of it.
His undershirt is beyond redundant at this point, and I help him remove it – employing caution in the area of the bandage.
Paper sales are clearly a very risky business - several faded scars are scattered across his body - one on his abdomen looks fairly recent – I move down, taste it with the edge of my tongue – it has a jagged, irregular texture, and I can feel him trapping his breath momentarily at the contact – can't be from pain, it's not that new - I glance up, meeting a blank gaze.
"Does your wife know? About what you do?"
"This isn't the best time to be discussing my wife."
"Yes," it's not as if I have much experience in this particular field, "you're probably right."
He watches me for a moment, immobile in every possible way.
"She knows," he says eventually. "Just not," his gaze drifts to the side, "everything."
Well, that much is obvious.
It's a thought I'd rather not linger on right now, though – and I believe he shares the sentiment.
I resume the scar-research – this one must have come from a bullet wound.
Not very surprising, considering his track record -
After all, it wasn't long ago that we were holding each other at gunpoint.
I recall the associated sensations - that impossible, razor-edge tension - my hands sweating, heartbeat racing out of reach – the absolute certainty that I would do whatever it took to keep Molly safe – anything –
And I reach an unpleasant realization.
"I could've shot you back then."
He regards me with a coolly inquiring gaze, likely questioning my point.
Do I even have one?
"I'm just – I'm glad I didn't."
"So am I," he replies dryly, fingers slipping into my hair, pulling lightly until our mouths meet - his other hand advancing towards the front of my pants – somehow, I doubt his intentions are honorable.
I lock my hand over his wrist -
He's used to being in control - but I'm not going to let him do all the work.
The last thing I plan on being is an innocent victim of circumstances.
"I want to go first," I inform him.
"Are we taking turns?"
I disregard the sarcastic undertone of the question.
He concludes a sigh with a light smirk.
"Alright then – go right ahead."
I struggle with his belt buckle until it decides to cooperate – nothing about him seems to give in easily, or it's just me he likes to make things difficult for –and tug his pants down to his knees.
Sadly, his boxers are a plain grey, and not patterned with little horn-rimmed glasses, like I'd hoped they'd be.
Life is full of disappointments.
I position my hands at his waist, lingering over his stomach for a few moments before pulling the boxers down as well.
We've had enough preparation time, making this the perfect occasion to engage in some… oral science.
A few minutes become lost, his breathing slowly growing less regulated, sweat building up - among other things -
This may not be the perfect timing for brainstorming, but an idea comes to me anyway – it's not a very sensible one, but – it could work.
I stop, rising back to face him.
"What are you doing?"
There's a hint of impatience in his voice – can't blame him, really, but it's likely the only chance I'm ever going to get for this.
His gun is out of reach –
And in this line of work, you have to learn to take calculated risks.
"I changed my mind," I lean close, my mouth nearly touching his ear. "I do want an apology."
"You want -" there's a note of disbelief hidden amidst the neutral layers of his voice, "an apology."
"For stalking me, for threatening me with a gun – twice," and there was something else – must've been - or at least, there really should've been. "And for – not paying cab fare."
"You were supposed to get me to JFK - not a random alley."
Suits him, to try and calmly rationalize it.
Unfortunately for him, I'm not feeling particularly rational at the moment.
"Well-" I breathe in, level my voice - "you were being a problematic customer."
He has no verbal reply for that – instead he closes his eyes, chest heaving in a silent chuckle.
"You think that's funny?"
"Not at all."
I don't think he's taking this very seriously.
Looks like I'm going to have to demonstrate the gravity of the situation to him.
I put my hand where my mouth was - establish a firm grip, start with a few slow strokes, just to get his attention.
What I receive instead is a cold, hard glare.
Well, I didn't think it would be easy.
I keep going, finding an unhurried pace – a rhythm that elevator music would be proud of – a pressure that isn't too light and isn't too strong – the kind of impartial balance he should be right at home with.
He maintains unwavering eye contact, making me wonder whether we're having a staring contest – maybe I have a chance of winning this one, for a change.
I adjust the speed a little, gradually increasing it - when I start thinking he's achieved some sort of plant-like state of enlightenment – an impossible disconnect between mind and body -and I'm just wasting my time with this, he looks away - closing his eyes for a second, wetting his lips – so maybe we're getting somewhere after all.
I stop, letting go.
He gives a frustrated intake of breath, stopping just short of making a sound.
I definitely have his attention now.
"Fine," he says, intonation striking a smooth balance between amused and metallic, "I apologize."
He can't seriously believe I'm going to let him off the hook that easily.
"No, Bennet - a real apology. Like you actually mean it."
"You do realize I could just get you out of the way and finish the job myself?"
More rationality – it doesn't belong here.
"You could," do-it-yourself is a fine solution for many problems, "but – it wouldn't be quite the same, now would it?"
In case he decides to argue that point, I get down and test a little tongue trick that I picked up during an experimental era in the university – never failed before.
He is no exception.
Hands clenching over the sheet – he forgets to breathe until I withdraw, leaving him with nothing but empty air and a muffled groan.
I rethink my stance - maybe nothing is a bit unfair – and at the moment, he's probably more inclined to see the empty half of the glass anyway. I move over to his nipple – give it a brief tongue-evaluation; close my teeth over it, applying steady, gentle pressure.
"God Suresh – you -" the continuation of this sentence would've likely been a curse word, had it managed to see the light of day – instead, it becomes drowned in a grunt – raw and rough around the edges and not particularly controlled - as I reach down, taking hold once again and pressing hard - it's an innovative method of censorship, but surprisingly efficient.
I come face-to-face with him – his gaze slowly leveling on me, not entirely focused - it's like looking into a pool of ice that's beginning to boil on the inside – cracks forming on the surface at a rapid rate – my heart speeds up – I lean in, pass my tongue over his lips – bitter with sweat – then draw back.
"That's not an apology."
I emphasize with a flick of my thumb in a strategic location -
He gets a hold on my shoulder, fingers digging into it painfully – the hiss is mutual.
Well - no pain, no gain – I'm sure that's an approach he'd agree with.
Other than attempting to tear my shoulder off, he gives no response - breathing through clenched teeth, but otherwise maintaining radio silence.
I start moving my hand again - the neutral method won't do now – he's far beyond that – I make the rhythm unpredictable, the touch rough, alternating - it's still perfectly calculated, though – wouldn't have it any other way, with him.
I probably should've mentioned it to him earlier.
When it comes to science –
You don't want to mess with a scientist.
When he's almost there, I decide to take a break.
He makes a sound – trapped at the back of his throat without any chance of escape.
"I didn't hear that."
Yes, I fully realize that I'm tempting fate but –
Right now, I don't really care.
Amidst a jumble of erratic breathing and concentrated heat, it takes me a moment to register what he said – and the fact that I wasn't imagining it.
Well, that's - that's much better.
But still not good enough.
Maybe he was right – maybe I do have a bit of a sadistic streak –
But - I like to call it scientific curiosity.
He grits his teeth, struggling to form words -
There's a look in his eyes – different than anything I've seen him display - desperate – feral, almost.
It could also be interpreted as murderous.
Maybe he doesn't need a gun.
But backing away now is not an option.
He finally manages to breathe something out - I can't be a hundred percent sure, but it sounds like "Cab fare."
I've heard that combination of words more than enough times, but… never like that.
It's not exactly a complete apology, but asking him to be more elaborate that that would be downright cruel at this point.
And at least I can trust him to pay cab fare from now on.
I resume the motion - it only takes a minute or so to get him to the point of completion – he shuts his eyes, punctuates it with a sharp gasp that goes straight into my subconscious - and goes completely still, apart from the rapid movement of his chest.
I roll to my back next to him, wiping my hand over the sheet.
There's a strange and encompassing sense of accomplishment -
It's almost better than an orgasm.
Though I highly doubt he's ever going to let me go first again.
If I even survive this night.
My hand feels numb. So does my shoulder, as a matter of fact – but I suppose that's a fair trade.
I listen to him breathing, slowly regaining his methodical rhythm - begin to lose track of time and space -
The world returns to focus with touch against my skin - his finger trailing lazily across my chest, drawing an invisible pattern.
I think now is the time to start getting nervous.
And I'm not wrong.
He moves. His face above mine - a ruthless, dangerous twist to his smile - his voice framed in cold steel -
"You'll pay for that."
I take a deep breath.
I hope so.
The fundamental truth about the nature of universe is this - no matter how much of the grotesque, the ridiculous and the downright absurd you're willing to put up with for its sake - it still manages to remain quarrelsome enough to refuse to produce hot water.
This cuts my attempt of a soothing shower tragically short.
My body is still stiff from last night's science experiment, and this doesn't serve to help matters.
I wrap myself tightly in a bathrobe before returning to the bedroom.
While he possesses many impressive, potentially extraterrestrial qualities, he definitely fails to look intimidating while sprawled on the bed, with his face pressed against the pillow.
Though I'm sure he does his best.
"Bennet, are you awake?"
He responds with something that could be interpreted as either an incoherent mumble or a too-advanced-for-human-comprehension method of communication, sluggishly rolling onto his back.
I'll take that as a no.
That should buy me some time, at least.
I spend the next hour on chores, and on attempting to fill my head with white noise.
After all, nothing has changed.
I'm still trailing in my father's footsteps. Still searching for an invisible shadow to reappear – the bogeyman doesn't stay hidden forever.
The lizard and I are still not on speaking terms.
The apartment is still infested with a cockroach legion.
Only – it's not going to be my apartment much longer, is it?
I have a new… I'm not sure job is the right terminology, considering the distinct lack of a salary - but it's a purpose.
I'm going to become a father –
And I'm not even going to touch the subject of last night's adventure.
Nothing has changed. Except for… everything.
The redundancy of my thinking process is interrupted as I notice a certain silhouette in the doorframe.
I get a strong sense of déjà vu. Only – he was wearing more than just boxers the last time.
It's an interesting view.
"Where are my clothes, Suresh?"
"Your what?" Luckily, I can feign innocence much better than he could ever hope to.
"My clothes," he repeats calmly – though the calm before the storm seems to be an appropriate connotation. "The ones that I wear."
"I have no idea."
"I don't know."
"My gun?" he puts a careful emphasis on that word, transmitting an acute subliminal warning.
I attempt to maintain casualness.
"What do you need your gun for?"
He takes a step in my direction, and I resist the urge to step back. "Oh, nothing specific."
While the rules of Chekhov's Gun make this a highly ill-advised move, I decide I better provide some answers before his intentions become more specific.
"The gun is in the drawer – the glasses are," I reach for a nearby shelf - "here."
Before returning them to him, the leading cause of death in cats strikes again - it's possibly a sacrilegious act, but curiosity has always been a much stronger motivator than fear.
There's an instant blurriness, but other than that, I don't seem to suffer any irreversible damage - nor am I struck by lightning.
Curiouser and curiouser.
"How do I look?"
The world has grown too fuzzy for me to make out his expression, but his voice relays it well enough.
"Do you really want an answer to that?"
I take the glasses off, handing them over.
"No – not really."
He slides them on – it's possible that they're genetically attuned to him, since he's the only one with the capacity of making them look… good.
Well - good in a strange, disquieting, Bennet kind of way, at any rate.
"What about the clothes?"
"Well, they weren't in very good shape – I had to throw them away."
He offers an unblinking, vaguely reptilian gaze. Maybe that's how he knew about the lizard's eating habits – species solidarity.
"You could borrow some of my clothes," I offer helpfully.
The look in his eyes doesn't change, and there's very little genuine gratitude when he intones a chilly "Thank you."
I retreat into the bedroom, searching for suitable attire – I settle for a button-up shirt with a flowery pattern – one of my best.
"Here you go," I hand it to him as I return.
He accepts it with a dubious look – I don't see why – but puts it on anyway. It gives him a vigorous struggle, though – far too tight around the shoulders, and refusing to button up all the way.
"It doesn't fit," he points out, in case I'm suffering from temporary blindness.
"Well, it's not my fault you're – large."
"Large," he echoes dryly, making me reconsider the phrasing.
That's… not much better, really.
He shakes his head, apparently washing his hands from the subject.
"I'm going to go look for pants," I tell him.
"Actually," he turns his hand into an improvised stop sign. "I think I'll manage."
I can't believe this actually worked.
"You know, I'm surprised you didn't cover my face with toothpaste."
That would have been my next step, but I unfortunately didn't have the time for such an effort.
"I'm not that immature, Bennet."
"Of course not."
He shifts his look to the window – currently filtering pale rays of sunshine.
"What time is it?"
"It's-" I glance at my wristwatch, "one in the afternoon."
He gives me a bemused look.
"That can't be right."
"No, it's - definitely right."
There's a note of alarm to his features.
"I never sleep this late." Somehow, I think he'd have the same reaction if it was eight in the morning. He pinches the bridge of his nose with bewildered concentration - then his gaze starts gradually transforming into one of keen suspicion.
I might as well come clean now, before he starts applying unorthodox interrogation techniques.
"You're injured - I thought you could use the extra rest."
"What are you saying, Suresh?"
Confession is supposedly good for the soul – though it's not my soul I should be worried about right now – as far as I know, souls are bulletproof.
"I put a mild sedative in your tea last night - I hope you don't mind."
There's a prolonged pause.
"You drugged my tea."
"For medical purposes."
"That's not very ethical of you."
"Well, I never took the Hippocratic Oath." One of the advantages of not being a doctor. I append an argument he can't possibly disagree with - "And the end justifies the means."
He keeps glaring, and since both his means and his end aren't in my favor at the moment, I make a rapid subject-switch - "I made pancakes."
"I'm not sure I should touch anything you had a hand in making."
I'm not sure what I did to justify this brand of paranoia.
"I didn't drug the pancakes. It wouldn't be very practical, anyway."
He keeps his gaze locked and loaded for a few prolonged moments.
"Let's have some pancakes."
I breathe out.
Death averted by pancakes.
I should file that for future reference.
We engage in truce negotiations through pancake consumption – a highly effective method, as it turns out. The UN doesn't know what they're missing.
"So what's our," I pause - though I'm mostly out of the denial stage, I still can't quite believe I'm actually working with him, "next assignment? Track down the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?" We seem to be on an animalistic theme.
"Find Peter Petrelli."
He can't be serious.
Finding Peter - we'd have more luck finding Waldo.
"And how do you propose to do that? Go stargazing?"
"Not quite," he gives his I-know-something-you-don't smile, "but close enough."
He gets up, goes over to the coat rack and returns with a rolled-up magazine of some sort, placing it on the table.
"A comic book."
"I can see that. How is a comic book supposed to help us?"
"This comic is the last one painted by Isaac Mendez. I visited his loft after the explosion – it was lying on the floor."
I give the cover a more thorough inspection.
"Hiro in the Future?"
"Turn it to the page before last," he instructs. "It has an epilogue."
I do what he says – pause to make sure I'm not experiencing a momentary hallucination.
"Looks that way."
It starts with him at my doorstep, progresses throughout yesterday's various events with startling precision – the car ride, Mr. Porcupine, his injury - a few panels are left empty – I don't even need my imagination to fill them.
"You knew about all this all along?"
"Well, not all of it," his expression takes a turn for the deadpan. "It is PG-rated."
"And you didn't think to tell me?"
"No," he replies, breaking new grounds of offensive minimalism. "What difference would it have made?"
I try to think of an answer, but can't seem to stumble upon one.
This is beyond unbelievable.
I turn to the last page –
Still us – driving by a forest at night - something that looks like a falling star – then nothing.
I look up – he offers a fixed, certain gaze.
"It's good enough."
"We have no way of knowing where or when this is supposed to happen. Or what this even is."
"We have a road sign," he answers with casual assurance, pointing to a specific panel. "As for when – we're just going to have to wait and see."
Wait and see – well that's a creative solution.
"So you really believe in it?" I place my elbows on the table, leaning forward - I need an answer. "Destiny?"
He frowns, actually appearing to contemplate this for a brief while.
"No, Suresh," he finally says. "I believe in whatever gets the job done. I don't really care what you call it."
I wait for his words to sink in.
There's no sense to be made here – but then again, there is none to be made anywhere.
The universe is clearly constructed through organized chaos.
And amidst it, there's a strange breed of hope to be found – it just needs a little blind faith. And possibly a touch of insanity.
Being the voice of reason is a tiring job, anyway.
"Alright - we find Peter."
He rises from the table. "We start today – we shouldn't waste any time."
I get up as well, approaching him. If I'm done with reason, then I better find something else to voice.
"Today you're not doing anything - except resting." Feeling exceptionally daring, I add - "Doctor's orders."
He steps forward, coordinating an invasion into my personal space – not that I have much of that left.
"You're not a doctor."
"I'm close enough." Two can play this game. "Also - you have no pants."
He stares at me – with an almost stunned blankness at first, then slowly acquiring a smile.
I wasn't expecting that.
"Okay - good."
"Then we go tonight."
I nod – I'm sure destiny can take the day off.
"So what are we supposed to do until then?"
"Don't worry -" he advances – one hand closing over my chin, the other hand finding its way into my bathrobe – leans closer, setting a numbing breath against my mouth.
"- I always have a backup plan."
The beginning after the end – isn't that what they call it?
Does it even matter?
It's hard to tell beginning from ends – and names only carry subjective meaning.
Life is a chaotic turbulence – always ready to catch you unguarded and sweep you off your feet – preferably while you're wearing a bathrobe.
Normality is nothing but a thinly veiled illusion with far too many cracks.
As for destiny – it lurks all around us – sometimes methodical and calculating, sometimes wild and unpredictable – but never without a sense of humor.
And whether you like it or not -
Destiny always has a plan.