Disclaimer: Heroes owned by NBC, Runaways concept invented by Brian K. Vaughan and owned by Marvel.
Thanks to: Wychwood, for beta-reading; Futuresoon for fantastic artwork.
Angela Petrelli decided that the whole thing was solely and exclusively Kaito Nakamura's fault. It was Kaito's whimsical decision to bring his nine-year-old son along that set the entire regrettable series of events in motion. Admittedly, at the time Angela thought this particular whim could be useful. Her own oldest son had turned up in New York against expectations, and she needed something to distract him. Nathan was supposed to be on his way to Bosnia already. But after what he believed to be the death of Meredith Gordon and her child, he had asked for a leave of absence to go to their burial, and now he was in New York, saying he needed to talk to her and his father. Nothing could be more inconvenient, not because Angela knew the truth about the supposed deaths – her conviction that a parent who couldn't lie smoothly to their child was a hopeless incompetent was well tested – but because the toddler was here as well, waiting to be handed over to her foster family. Of course, the odds of Nathan finding out about this and somehow spotting the girl were slim, but still, they existed while both were in the same city, and Angela didn't like playing the odds. Which was why Kaito's offspring came in so handy.
"Nathan will take care of your boy," she told Kaito. "He's brilliant with children."
This was bending the truth somewhat – Angela's true opinion of Nathan's skills in that department was more along the lines of "Nathan tolerates his younger brother who hero worships him" – but if Kaito chose to believe her, it was clearly his fault, given their decades of acquaintance. In any event, one glimpse had shown her Kaito's son was bound to be positively exhausting, which was just what was needed.
"Nathan is?" Charles Deveaux asked, sounding interested and somewhat sceptical. Then his eyes crinkled in a smile. "In that case, I shall entrust Simone to his care as well while we talk things over. She has been a bit despondent since her mother's remarriage, and it would be selfish of me not to encourage her social life, such as it is at her age. Besides, my dear, isn't your younger son bound to feel neglected if his brother is focusing on someone else? That way, the focus will spread."
Trust Charles to go for the benevolent angle while foisting his useless daughter on them. The way he was able to make everyone believe he was doing them a favour while exploiting them was something Angela immensely admired. Besides, the girl might not show any signs of having a power, but in this particular case, she would serve well enough as a distraction.
"But of course, Charles, dear," Angela replied, matching his gentle smile with one of her own.
Daniel Linderman coughed. "In that case… you know, I didn't come alone from Vegas."
They all looked at him.
"Dan, you didn't," said Angela, who had her own reasons for taking the prospect of a new Linderman offspring somewhat personally.
"Oh, no," he said hastily. "I simply decided it was time to study one of my projects a little more closely. Hal Sanders' daughter. Sixteen and already in juvenile detention, which admittedly might come in useful in the long term, but I thought I might as well make an entrance as a benefactor. She seems to think I have unsavoury designs on her, so putting her together with a couple of children will hopefully prove I see her in quite a different light."
Under other circumstances, Angela would not have agreed to let a sixteen-year-old fresh from juvenile detention anywhere near her older son who, if Meredith the white trash from Texas was anything to go by, seemed to have a type. On the other hand, if there was any time when Nathan could be guaranteed not to notice this girl as a woman, it would be now. And besides. Distraction was the name of the game.
"Then we're all set," Angela announced brightly, and swept away to tell her son the happy news.
I: Other people's children
Nathan's college education had ensured his familiarity with the Sartre quote about hell being other people. Right now, he felt inclined to modify this to "hell is other people's children". He wondered whether this was some karmic payback for the way he had failed Claire. He should have married Meredith. He should have been there when that fire broke out; he would have been able to save them, both of them.
Instead, they were dead, and his attempt to talk with his parents about the suspiciously convenient timing of those deaths was delayed by having a Japanese boy who didn't speak a word of English foisted on him. And Charles Deveaux's spoilt brat of a daughter, who had instantly demanded access to her own tv, since Peter and the Japanese boy, Hiro, had bridged language difficulties via a video game she wasn't in the least interested in. And a sulky blonde teenager with some connection to Linderman who had started by asking him where the booze in the house was.
"You're not allowed to drink," Nathan said tersely.
"Didn't ask for your permission, dickhead," she shot back.
"Naaaaathan," Peter yelled, "tell him that jets totally don't move that way. My brother's in the Navy," he added proudly.
"I don't understand," Hiro said in Japanese, which was one of the few phrases Nathan actually knew, having read Shogun. Peter made an upward motion with his hand and pointed to Nathan.
"Nathan's a pilot. He flies," he explained. "Like in Top Gun, you know?"
Hiro's eyes lit up. "Top Gun," he repeated. Evidently its fame had made it across the Pacific. "Flying Man," he added, surprisingly in English, pushing his glasses up and looking at Nathan with new interest.
"More like The Great Santini," Simone Deveaux commented, wandering in. "My Dad says you're all Pat Conroy characters. I've read the book, you know. Not just watched the movie like some people. Anyway, my Dad says some of your staff must have talked to Pat Conroy because he's totally describing your family in all of his books."
Presumably, know-it-all thirteen year old girls were supposed to be charming. In some universe.
"Didn't you want to watch tv?" Nathan asked. He had figured she'd be safe to leave unsupervised and had put her in one of the guest rooms.
"It doesn't work, it just shows my Dad's roof for some reason," she replied.
"You people live in a palace and you don't even have a tv that works?" the blonde teenager, whose name was Nicole, said sarcastically. "Figures. Rich people are all cheap."
"Our tvs do work," Nathan said wearily.
"Not that one," Simone insisted. Meanwhile, Hiro pulled at Nathan's sleeve, repeated "Top Gun" and added a lot of incomprehensible Japanese, making the flying motion again. At a guess, Nathan had been asked to whisk the lot of them to the next airport and take them all for a ride. He opened his mouth to say "no," which should be understandable enough, but somehow the expectant eyes behind the glasses were a match to Peter's well-practiced hopeful puppy look. Nathan shut his mouth again, deciding to deal with Simone's tv problem instead. It would be easiest to put her into yet another room with a tv, but he was fairly certain she had lied and just wanted to irritate him, so he said he'd have a look.
"Come along," he told Nicole.
"Going to take me to the booze after all?"
"No, just not leaving you alone," Nathan said tersely, and dragged her with him, followed by Simone and for some reason both Peter and Hiro, who wandered after them.
As it turned out, the tv screen in the guest room Nathan had dumped Simone into did indeed show the rooftop of the Deveaux building with its distinctive architecture, but said rooftop wasn't unoccupied anymore. Instead, Nathan recognized his parents, Charles Deveaux, Mr. Nakamura and Mr. Linderman, who were evidently having some kind of meeting. It wasn't hard to figure out they were watching some kind of security feed, though why on earth a security camera observing the Deveaux building was connected to a tv in the Petrelli residence was anyone's guess. What made Nathan freeze on the spot instead of concluding instantly that watching this in current company was a breach of family discretion, and he should switch it off, was the fact that there was someone else on the rooftop as well. His mother was currently holding a small, very small child, a child that couldn't be more than two years, if that.
It can't be, Nathan thought. But he had a photo, a photo Meredith had sent him, a photo he had stared at just recently during the whole flight from Texas to New York.
"I've gone through the personnel files," Linderman said. "Bennet is the perfect choice, Angela, I assure you."
"He'd better be," Nathan's father commented. "The girl is our granddaughter, after all."
Peter made a surprised noise. Nathan remained frozen. The girls frowned, and Hiro asked something in Japanese which nobody replied to.
"Kaito will handle the transfer, then," Nathan's mother said matter-of-factly. "I'd rather not have your Mr. Bennet meet us."
Mr. Nakamura nodded and asked whether there were any new developments regarding "the prophecy".
"I'm collecting all the precogs I can find," Linderman replied. "There are variables, but they all agree on two things. The explosion will happen, one way or the other. And one of us will rule the country in the aftermath."
There was a short silence; the toddler took this as a signal to start crying, and Angela Petrelli handed her over to Mr. Nakamura. Then she said, voice very serious:
"Then maybe it should happen."
"Angela," Charles Deveaux protested.
"Think about it, Charles," she said. "No more running in circles, working in small steps that get undone just as quickly. We could really change the world."
"The dragon offered Kensai the power to unite the country, and to lead it," Kaito Nakamura muttered, "but there was a price. There is always a price. What will cause the explosion? Is there certainty about this as well?"
"That, too, will be one of us," Linderman said mildly, his eyes not leaving Angela Petrelli's face. "Or rather, one of our children."
She grew pale. Then she pressed her lips together. "Even so."
"This is so like a bad trip. Your parents are all crazy supervillains," Nicole said in disgust. "Let me out of here!"
Only then did Nathan notice he was still holding her elbow, the remote control of the tv in his other hand where Simone had put it earlier. Peter looked at him, wide-eyed, then to the tv screen, then to Nathan again, and said his name. Nathan unfroze and pressed the off switch on the remote. Later, he would regret this, as learning more would certainly have been helpful, but right now, he couldn't bear to listen for another second. His parents and everyone else on that roof certainly did sound like they were insane, or in some Bond movie, or both. Most importantly, though, they had his daughter and intended to hand her over to some employee of Linderman's. Even in his most suspicious moments, he hadn't expected that kind of betrayal.
He was twenty-two years old, but right now, he felt as young as the rest of them. He swallowed, then decided he had to think the full implications through later. Now, he had to act.
"You – you all stay here," he said to them. "I'm going there."
"What are you, deaf?" Nicole asked. "No way I'm staying, I told you."
"Then leave. I don't care. I have to go and get my daughter," Nathan said, throwing years of self-censorship and lessons in lies and discretion overboard.
"That baby is your daughter?" Nicole asked, a note of softness creeping into her voice.
"You can't go there," Simone said unexpectedly. "When my dad has these meetings, nobody is let through security who's not invited. But I, um, could go. I mean, I know all of the security guys, plus if I say I need to see him they'll believe me and let me through. And I could get the baby for you, get her outside our penthouse at least."
This sounded actually both practical and sensible, even to Nathan whose inner Petrelli was telling him he was currently lacking both qualities, and would he wait until there was an opportunity to allow his parents to provide some kind of explanation?
But he had stood and watched an empty coffin be lowered into a grave only two days ago, and he wasn't feeling too sensible right now. Still, some parts of him apparently functioned on autopilot.
"Why would you do that?" he asked Simone, halfway between distrust and numbness.
"Parents belong with their children," she said in a small voice. It was probably a good thing that she didn't know he hadn't adhered to that principle during the last two years.
"You're not going to go away with the baby," Peter said.
"Not alone. I'm coming with you. And this explosion thing they talked about, Nathan, they said one of us would…"
"Ex-plo-sion?" Hiro repeated, and Peter gesticulated with both arms, nodded towards the tv screen where the images of their parents had just faded away, then pointed towards them and exhaled air in what was supposed to sound like something blowing up. The alarm on Hiro's face deepened.
"You should go now," Nicole told Simone. "Before the crazies stop talking and get back. And you," she looked at Nathan, "no way you can take care of a baby alone. You're a lousy babysitter, you know that? Who'd you practice on, anyway, him?" she finished jerking her chin in Peter's direction.
"Hey!" said Peter.
"Plus I'm not going back to Vegas with that Linderman guy if he wants to blow up people so he can rule the country, or whatever. I'm coming with you to look after the baby. You have cash, right? I mean, you're rich."
While she was talking, Hiro had taken the remote control from Nathan and switched the tv back on. By now, his father was speaking, but not in English. He had switched to Japanese, and whatever he said was making Hiro look more horrified by the second. In the midst of reeling from the news that his daughter was alive, his parents were involved in some sort of lunatic conspiracy, his brother wanted to run away with him and he himself was about to kidnap Claire back when the only plan for her future he currently had had originated with some booze-addicted teenager from Las Vegas, Nathan felt a pang. He was an adult. He had a job; he could leave and never come back in this house again. This boy, on the other hand, was stuck with a parent who apparently was as mad and bad and dangerous to know as Nathan's, and would be for the next decade at least.
One of our children.
First things first. He had to focus; had to be useful. Maybe then things would start making sense again. Get Claire back, explain things to Peter; anything else would have to wait.
"Okay," he said to Simone. Somehow, the rest of them interpreted this as meaning them as well, starting with Hiro, whose horror started to transform into resolve, as he pointed towards the view screen, then towards himself, saying "stop". Quite how this led to all of them squeezed in the big limousine, with the Petrelli chauffeur having been told Nathan would drive himself, Nathan could not have said. He knew that if he thought this through, he'd stop, he'd regret, he'd remember there was a reason why he didn't marry Meredith despite having been in love with her, that he had wanted a shining future for himself just as much as his parents had. But ever since he got the phone call about that fire in Texas, he had been going through what-ifs and i-should-haves, and now he was offered a second chance. He had to take it. He had to.
Simone had been right about the tightened security in the Deveaux building, but she was also right about being let through. "I want to see my daddy," she cried, tears rolling, and the guards shrugged and conceded; Simone passed the guards while the rest of them had to wait in the limousine parked in the garage.
"Can all girls do that? Cry whenever they want to, I mean?" Peter asked Nathan, as they watched Simone disappear into the elevator leading up to the penthouse. It was something easier to wonder about than how long their parents had been lying to them and what made two rational beings believe in prophecies, or what "us" as in "one of us" meant; Peter might genuinely be interested or he might have made the question up to distract Nathan, because Peter did things like that, even at 12. Nathan shrugged.
"You should know," Nicole said to him, and Peter, getting the implication, looked mildly offended.
Hiro had been busy scribbling something on a piece of paper the entire time, and now evidently had finished; he pressed it in Nathan's hands. Nathan looked down. It was a series of stick figures. Several of them were standing on top of a skyscraper and were obviously meant to represent their parents. Then there was another group, presumably themselves, standing in front of an airplane, with an arrow drawn between the tallest of them and the plane. This seemed to mean Hiro had taken the Peter's Top Gun explanation to mean that Nathan had his own plane and could fly them away. It got worse from there. Next, the groups were duelling each other with swords, and then, confusingly, they were holding hands in front of a fire and a number of dancing teddy bears. Looking expectantly at Nathan, Hiro hummed the main Star Wars theme. Peter looked over Nathan's shoulder, and the scowl on his face turned into a beaming smile.
"Right," he said. "We have to redeem them! Make them return to the light side! After rescuing your baby and getting away, of course."
Hiro nodded eagerly, humming a few notes from the Imperial March and then switching to yet another melody from Star Wars. Nathan, who had watched all three movies when they were originally released, refused to recognize the third. It was already somewhat embarrassing that he knew the second wasn't actually called Darth Vader's theme. Not to mention that Peter and Hiro seemed to have inherited their parents' insanity full force, no pun intended. Unfortunately, this meant Nathan had to be responsible for them. They couldn't take care of themselves, and Peter definitely shouldn't be left alone with their parents. As for Hiro…
Be sensible, his inner Petrelli told him. You're not going to kidnap anyone, least of all strange Japanese children. Forget your career, you're going to end up in prison for that. Your daughter, fine, that's legal, because she is your daughter, and they sure as hell don't have any claim on her, but none of the others.
"Wow," Nicole said, sounding impressed. "That was fast."
There was Simone. With the baby. And some confused security people first calling, then chasing after her. Nathan pushed the passenger-side door open and began to drive towards her.
"Jump in," Peter called excitedly, but the first of the guards had reached her, and held her by her shoulders. Nathan got out, uncertain what he would do; to his surprise, Nicole did as well, with no hesitation at all. She ran towards the guard holding Simone and punched him. The guy went down, and Simone would have as well, if Nathan hadn't stood in front of her to catch her and the child. He had no memory of taking any of the steps between getting out of the car and reaching her; it was as if he was there in a blink, propelled by nothing but overwhelming need. No time to think about that now, or how no sixteen-year-old girl should be able to punch out a trained security guard. Who didn't move as he lay on the floor.
"Back to the car," Nathan yelled, and they did. By now, the other security guards were only at arms' length behind them, and one of them pulled a gun. There was another odd moment of disconnect, because from one second to the next, the man did not have his gun anymore, and nor did his last remaining colleague. Later, Nathan thought, later, and handed over Simone and Claire to Niki as he got into the driver's seat. Ignoring all caution, he did his best imitation of a 70s cop on wheels. The limousine could take it. His heart hammered as they raced out of the garage.
"That was so cool," Peter said. "Nathan, did you see what Hiro did?"
Nathan had no idea what Peter was talking about.
"He made everyone freeze except us, and then we took the guns from the guards," Peter continued happily. "Right after you did that fly jump thing and Nicole punched out the other guy."
Peter has gone insane, Nathan thought. The whole thing with Ma and Pa has been too much for him.
On the other hand, it hadn't been his parents who had just exposed a couple of minors to a kidnapping, assault and car chase. He'd be lucky if he made it ten blocks without getting arrested.
You won't be. You know why? Because your parents do not want any of this go public, and nor, I'd bet, do any of the others. They'll go after you, absolutely, but not through the police.
Thinking like a Petrelli could be helpful now and then. He still didn't slow down the car.
"Are you trying to get us killed, you nut?" Nicole hissed.
"Shut up, Nicole," Nathan said, as trying to drive fast on a New York street tended to make one lose one's hardly won adult maturity.
"Your kid just peed on me," she replied, and then added another non sequitur. "So I guess you can call me Niki."
"So did you see it? " Peter insisted.
"I can't believe I did that," Simone whispered. "It was so easy, too! They had given the baby to one of our servants to feed and were still out on the terrace, talking. I said I just wanted to hold her, and she let me."
"Your old man is going to thrash the life out of you," Nicole said matter-of-factly. Simone looked horrified, either at the assumption about fathers this statement showed or because she believed it was a possibility. Probably not the latter. The few times Nathan had seen Charles Deveaux at his parents' parties, he had appeared to be a gentle, mild person. But then again, so did Mr. Linderman. Both of whom had helped his mother to fake the death of her granddaughter and hand her over to strangers.
"No, he's not," Peter said and then showed this wasn't a statement of faith in Charles Deveaux, by adding: "Because she's staying with us. Right, Nathan? We're like the rebels running away from the Empire now. We just have to find a good hideout."
Hiro, face covered with sweat as after a great physical exortion, nodded, which Nathan could see in the mirror, then he put a hand on Nathan's shoulder and said gravely: "Han Solo. You. Millennium Falcon?"
There was no way in which his life could get any more lunatic, Nathan thought, and then he heard a noise that made his heart stop. Claire giggled. It was more a gurgle, admittedly, but still, a happy sound from his daughter, whom he had only seen five times in her short life, and then she had been silent each time, not even crying, as if she know he was a stranger by choice and didn't deserve to hear anything.
All his actions today had been insane, but right here, right now, he thought that it had been worth it.