"Most parents aren't even aware of how often they compare their children.... Comparisons carry the suggestion that specific conditions exist for parental love and acceptance. Thus, even when one child comes out on top in a comparison she is left feeling uneasy about the tenuousness of her position and the possibility of faring less well in the next comparison."
--Marianne E. Neifert
"I'm afraid I'm at a disadvantage," Peter forthrightly but slyly bided for time. "I don't know who you are."
The celebrity smugly grinned and demanded, "Don't play this game with me, Petrelli. You know who I am."
"I swear I don't. I don't know what's going on. I barely know my own name. I'm suffering from amnesia."
"Suffering? Ironic choice of words. Nevertheless, it's a convenient story you fabricate and I'm so tired of stories and games."
"I'm not lying if that's what you mean! I don't know anything!"
"Then you are the dictionary's picture reference for ignorance is bliss. Do you really think that I'm stupid enough to believe you know nothing when you're sitting at my dead brother's desk?"
"Please, listen to me," Peter begged, raising his hands to demonstrate that he was weapon-free and intended no harm. "I came here because the only thing I do know is that somehow your brother's life is connected with mine. I think I might have done something terrible to him but I'm not sure. I'm trying to figure things out. Sit with me. Maybe we can work this out together."
"Allow me to refresh your memory. You killed my Gabriel, you little bastard, and it's time for you to pay your debt for taking away the only person who ever mattered to me."
Peter heard the crackle of electricity and, terrified, saw bolts of blue and white current forking and twisting inside Grace's palm, confirming his suspicion that he was not the only person with extraordinary abilities. The little amnesiac needed to appease this justifiably livid woman and the minatory electricity waiting to do its damage with fast, carefully formed words to.
"I want to make peace, I swear! I didn't come here looking for a fight! I don't want to fight you! I just want to make amends!"
"You certainly epitomise naïve beauty, Peter Petrelli. The only acceptable way you can amend what you've done is to die. An eye for an eye and all that type of business."
The bolt of lightning shot from Grace's hand, narrowly missing Peter as he scampered for refuge behind the book shelf near the destroyed desk he had been sitting at seconds before. Pages alight by fire from the electricity fluttered down amid the ashes of documents and desk remnants as Grace stepped farther into the shop.
"I don't want to fight you!" Peter reiterated in desperation, wanting to spare this enraged sibling the truth as he knew it. "There has to be another solution to this!"
"I don't want another solution! I want you to die!"
A second blast of lightning nearly decapitated Peter but the young nurse dove from behind the splintering bookcase and sought new shelter along the side of a second desk. The stink of ozone choked the air and sickened him for he associated it with his impending death.
"Please!" he begged. "I have people who care about me! A family of my own! I can't die! My child will need me!"
This statement piqued the sadistic woman's interest and she paused her homicidal intent.
"A family? You have a family?"
"There's a girl who's carrying my baby! She needs me! Please don't do this! Find mercy in your heart to spare me! Don't make my child fatherless before it's born! It hasn't done anything to you!"
"Its father murdered my brother!"
Panic loosened his tongue and Peter felt there was no other option as the truth streamed from his mouth:
"Your brother was a monster! He had to die!"
Grace shrieked with rage, slammed her hand down and the floor became an electrified death trap. Peter saw the ocean of deadly currents rolling toward him but wasn't fast enough to move out of harm's way. He screamed with all the capacity in his lungs as the indescribable agony of electrocution pierced his thin frame. The force of the voltage convulsed his body and froth dribbled from the corners of his mouth as his muscles seized and the skin frayed away from charring flesh.
The binary choice of remaining passive and dying or fighting to survive posed itself to Peter. Faces of the known loved ones from his forgotten life took shape in his mind: Claire, Nathan, Elle, and the tentative face of a baby; his baby with Elle. Then, in one odd lucid moment, he recalled that he too possessed super powers and, rejuvenated, telekinetically catapulted an enormous clock from the wall across the room to strike Grace against the side of the head. It was enough to divert her from carrying out the intended execution and cease the creation of electricity, giving Peter the chance to crawl deeper into the shop with the hope of finding an exit at the rear.
His wounds tickled and itched as they sewed up but his body simultaneously weakened as he struggled then collapsed hard against the bare floor. Survival instinct compelled him to proceed on his belly but another bolt found its mark on his left calf, setting the leg of his jeans afire. Howling with pain, he stamped his leg against the floor but when that didn't work he patted the fire out with his hands, blistering the palms severely.
I'm not going to make it! She's going to kill me!
"Are you playing hide and seek with me, Peter?" taunted Grace maniacally in a falsetto voice as if she was speaking to a child. "Come out, Peter! I just want to give you a little jolt! Put a spark of life back into you, jog your memory!" Her voice instantly switched to a queenly command as she added, "I promise it'll hurt like hell!"
Too vulnerable in his current state, Peter switched on his invisibility, hoping it would afford him an advantage while he slinked across the dusty hardwood floor. Unable to see him, Grace covered all possibilities by sending a blitzkrieg of electricity throughout the shop that fried and scorched everything it touched. Somewhere another fire erupted and Peter choked on the dark smoke even though he was below it. The overhead sprinklers turned on, showering water down over the room as the fire alarm clamoured its knife-like wail.
I'm going to die in here! Oh god, please don't let me die! Help me!
"Come on, you little freak!" japed Grace. "Be a man! Show yourself! Accept your fate!"
As if obedient to her expectation, he lost control of his invisibility which dangerously exposed him to her again. Spotting him, she decided to conserve her electricity because of its detrimental combination with the water, stomped forward, grabbed him by the jacket collar and hoisted him up off the floor. Peter whimpered in equal amounts of surprise and agony when his clothing brushed against his open injuries and electrical burns. Grace's long fingers securely wrapped around his throat and pressed him almost seductively against the wall where the sprinkler above them wasn't working. His terror-widened hazel eyes found her other hand raising up, sparks zinging ominously from her finger tips.
"Don't do this!" he gasped. "Please! I'll do anything!"
Preferring to listen to shrieking rather than grovelling, Grace seized his crotch and sent a reticulate web of electricity dancing over his groin. Peter screamed until his handsome face contorted and turned red, the muscles twitching violently; the evil bitch took sick pleasure in it.
"You procreate after taking my brother's life? You think you can win over my sympathies because you impregnated some little bitch? How dare you be so insolent?" She eased off with the electricity in favour of acrimoniously kissing him, pinching his lower lip hard enough between her teeth to draw blood. "Know this, pretty Peter Petrelli. After I eliminate you, I will hunt down each member of your family, everyone who's ever meant anything to you, and they will fry beneath the palm of my hand in a slow, horrible death."
Beyond Grace's crazed imprecation, Peter managed to hear a distant thought that he was not at all expecting to hear, a voice that served as a beacon of hope and renewal of strength inside him.
It's around here somewhere, I know it is! What if he's hurt? I need to find him before something bad happens!
Elle! She was near enough for his mind reading skill to tune into what she was thinking. That meant she was probably mere feet away, just outside the shop and unaware of the eminent threat inside.
Grace attempted another electrocution but with a volatile telekinetic punch Peter busted off the broken sprinkler above him, bringing a rain of water spraying down upon them. When the wetness met Grace's self-manufactured electricity the shock produced sent the screeching woman sailing backwards and crashing through a small case containing instruments of the Gray family trade where she didn't move. Free from her hold, Peter toppled to the floor again, inspired to push himself harder toward the exit. Debris from their battle lay strewn about the path to the front door but it was too far and he was too weak to make it any way. He would risk it and head out through the proposed back exit, trusting that once Elle saw the fire and the destruction inside she would be smart enough to stay out rather than be foolish enough to enter in search of him. With the last bit of mustered strength, he lunged for the back door and torpedoed through, stumbling to the pavement outside.
Back inside, Grace groaned and rose from where she landed, shaking the pain and the glass from her body. Glancing around the shop, she became frustrated that she could not locate her prey. Then she coughed and her eyes fell upon the expanding fire; Petrelli must've somehow escaped, leaving her to die in the blaze like the credible hero he was. Pissed, she stalked through the flames, uncaring of what consequences it would yield, and shoved a pretty young blond thing out of her way after she staggered outside.
"Hey!" the girl squeaked crossly. "Watch where you're going! Bitch!"
Grace granted the audacious girl leeway as she reached into her pocket for her cell phone, dialing 911 to report the fire. The last thing she wanted was her brother's precious business to burn to cinder, even if it had been an aid in his death.
In the meantime, Elle identified Grace and quickly piped down, shrinking tactfully into the background.
Peter must be in there! Fuck!
Backing down the street in the direction she came in and away from the celebrity who frantically spoke into her phone, Elle took a sharp intake of breath when an invisible Peter wrapped his arm around her.
"Take me away from here," he requested, leaning heavily against her. "I'm hurt and I need a safe place to heal."
Elle muttered a furtive OK, supporting him as he limped lamely alongside her while she guided him a few blocks away to a small park. They tumbled to the grass like dead weight, Peter groaning miserably. His invisibility lifted and she saw the extent of his injuries. The damage was extensive and hideous: electrical burns peppered his delicate face and hands, burnt skin and raw flesh that hurt her just by looking at it. A large hole in the left calf of his jeans exposed the worst injury of all: the blackened and skinless burn that resembled a charcoal pit.
"Oh my god!" she exclaimed. "She fucked you up big time!"
"I'll be fine," he assured. "Look. I'm healing now."
His body was on the mend and Elle was mystified to watch his physical perfection restore itself at the slowest rate it ever had before.
"It's happening really slowly," she pointed out.
"Maybe because I haven't been feeling well lately," he huffed breathlessly. "All that matters is that it's healing."
"She almost killed you."
"Yeah, she almost did. But she didn't."
Elle threw her arms around him and wept against his neck.
"I don't know what I would do if I lost you, Dave! I'm not ready for that yet!"
"You were what kept me alive, Elle. You and…"
Instead of finishing, he dropped his hand to her tummy and gently stroked.
"I might not be, Peter," she reminded him softly, wiping away her fallen tears. "It's too soon to know for sure."
"I know, I know. But…"
"It's still early and you're anxious and overeager. I just don't want you to be disappointed."
He considered what she said then nodded and kissed her forehead.
"Fair enough," he whispered amicably.
"Your wounds finished healing. Are you sure you're OK?"
"Yeah. Just still a little weak."
"Maybe you should go to a doctor."
He shook his head.
"I don't think that would be wise. We both agreed on that a while ago, remember? Besides, I'm sure it's only a cold or the flu. I'll be fine in a week."
"You'd better be."
"How did you know where I was?"
She shrugged. "Maybe I'm your guardian angel. Or maybe you should've taken the address to where you were going along with you."
"You shouldn't have followed me, Elle. Things have gotten too dangerous. I want to keep you and Alex safe. Especially you."
"Yeah? And I'd like an official Red Ryder carbine action 200-shot range model air riffle for Christmas but I'd just shoot my eye out."
Another pop culture reference lost on him, Peter gave the smile of a bemused person who was embarrassed that he wasn't included on the joke then simply called her silly in response.
"Oh, Christ, Dave," she griped, "don't tell me you don't know A Christmas Story either! The kid who got his tongue stuck to the flag pole? The leg lamp? You look like a pink nightmare? Wow, whoopee, a zeppelin? Sons of bitches: Bumpuses? Fra rah rah rah rah? Awww, geez whiz, Dave!"
"Sorry!" he emitted a faint laugh. "I need a dictionary to figure out what you're talking about. What am I going to do with you, Miss Miasnikov?"
"I don't know. Question is what am I going to do with you?"
He fell back on the cold ground and it was welcomed against his feverish flesh.
"Are you alright?" Elle asked.
"I don't know if I can make it back, Elle. I don't feel good at all."
"I'll call us a taxi. Did you find out anything from psycho bitch?"
"Grace Moriarty is Grace Gray. She's angry because she blames me for her brother's death. As an added bonus she can create and manipulate electricity. And she threatened to kill me and everyone I love. Including you which means you have to start staying out of this mess, Elle. Even if it means my leaving…"
"No! Don't you dare leave me!"
"I was going to say even if it means my leaving Alex's apartment."
"Where would you go? Peter, you can't leave and it's settled."
Peter struggled to sit up and leant against her needfully. Bound by obligation and loyalty, there was no way he could leave the Miasnikov siblings but he knew he had to work out an alternative before they got hurt or worse. Grace Moriarty Gray proved that she meant business.
"I saw my brother last night," he offered for a switch in conversation.
"You saw Nathan? Where?"
"While I was out walking I found myself at Coney Island. I was on the beach but I saw him on the boardwalk. He was just standing there, looking up at the sky. I think…I think he was looking for me."
"I told you it was you that fell out of the sky. And I told you that with all the things you can do that flying had to be one of them."
"But what happened to me? If you found me in such a ravaged condition, what happened?"
"There was an explosion in the sky just before I found you."
"What would I have to do with an explosion?"
"I have no clue, Dave."
"I bet Nathan knows what happened. He has to. He was there. Don't you understand what that means? He loves me. He wants me back. Seeing him was like a fog lifting from my eyes because he was there looking for me, Elle. I know it. I could feel it in my blood. It was like his blood was calling to mine."
Peter's eyes wetted with emotion, his pupils dilating to enormous proportions with sentiment. Yes, he may have been robbed of memories of Nathan but the brotherly bond was undeniably unbreakable.
"He was beautiful, Elle," Peter reminisced, his voice reflecting the dream state he was in. Old feelings of affection for Nathan swelled his idolizing heart while he spoke. "He was so polished and dignified even though he looked like he'd been through hell. His appearance was tousled but he was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. So put together and full of confidence."
"He's full of something alright."
Her cynical vandalism of his brotherly optimism added hellfire to Peter's eyes as he glared at her, repulsed. How could he make her comprehend that shared blood was the strongest bond in existence, even if parts of it was bad? Surely she was completely aware of that, what with her strong connection with her own brother. What made it inconceivable that Nathan was close to him in that same blood tie? Catching a glimpse of Nathan on that pier brought forth a consanguineous summon; his brother's blood did call to him through the bleakness of amnesia and his own blood was prepared to answer.
"Nathan is a good man," he defended vehemently but without foundation to do so. "I don't need to have any memory to know that. He's my brother. I'd be lucky if I turn out to be anything like him."
An uncomfortable silence befell them and though Peter stood strong on his viewpoint about Nathan he felt remorse for coming down so hard on Elle. She was merely trying to protect him, even if the young nurse believed it a backwards effort. Nathan wasn't the one he needed to be safeguarded from. It was Grace Gray.
"Hey," he said tenderly when he saw the wounded expression on her face. "Sorry, I didn't mean to snap at you like that."
"It's OK," she responded in a small voice.
"No, it's not. I can't help it. I know you think Nathan is at fault for whatever happened to me and that my family has disowned me because I'm some black sheep. Maybe you're right. But it's ridiculous to think that Nathan and our mom wouldn't love me just because I don't know which fork to use with salads or how to tie bow ties."
"For the record, Pete, I don't think that's why your family disowned you. I think it's way deeper than salad forks and bow ties."
He sighed and took her hand into his, stroking her palm with his thumb.
"First things first. Right now the only jeopardy we're in is from Grace Moriarty or Gray or whatever her name is," he reminded. "Not from my family. So we need to focus on the trouble at hand and worry about the other stuff when it collides with us."
"Agreed." She squeezed his hand warmly. "How about I call that taxi now to get you back home and in bed?"
"Best idea today."
Huffing and out of breath, Claire found herself at the doorstep of Petrelli Mansion yet again but without any direction for what she wanted to say to her estranged grandmother. The last thing she wanted was put the man who raised her as his own in any worse of a light in the most critical of the Petrelli eyes. Rethinking her motives for being there now that she arrived, she hesitated to ring the bell and instead kicked a small rock that found its way on the porch.
In debate about ringing the doorbell, she shifted her weight from one foot to the other then hopped back down the steps, sitting with a resigned groan. Why did her life have to be so damned complicated? She was too young for the weight of this responsibility. Raising up, she skipped down the rest of the steps and ambled around the corner to the side of the mansion, pausing only as a squirrel dodged her unwary foot. Trudging through the yard, she reached the back and it was then when she stopped short.
Someone was sitting alone in one of the chairs at the table, drinking straight from a bottle of whiskey. With the sloppy state of dress and slouched posture her first impression was that he was a homeless person and a brief pang of fear pierced her. Then the man reached behind him for something lying on the table behind him, exposing a decent view of his handsomely chiselled profile to the cheerleader. It felt as if her breath was ripped from her lungs by a surge of heat. Nuclear heat to be precise.
"Dad?" she addressed in disbelief.
The word wasn't one Nathan expected to hear. Nevertheless he turned completely around to find his biological daughter behind him.
Without waiting for any further preface she charged across the distance between them and threw her arms around him, surprising them both as she squeezed him furiously for a frozen moment. But the most important matter that occurred to her was that of her beloved uncle.
Nathan did not answer; instead a gloomy shadow was cast over his face.
"Where's Peter?" Claire asked twice, more forcefully.
This time Nathan spoke but it wasn't what she wanted to hear.
"I don't know, Claire. I don't know where Peter is."
"What do you mean you don't know? How can you not know? You were with him! What did you do to him?"
"I didn't do anything," he said vapidly despite her increasing anguish. "That's the problem. I didn't do anything."
Nathan's eyes reflected distance as if looking through time itself as he reviewed the tragic events of that night.
Peter's glowing hands and increasing radioactivity, Claire pointing the gun to end his life, everyone bracing themselves for inevitable death when Peter detonated, then Nathan swooping down to wrap Peter into his arms and their fiery exodus into the night sky. He and Peter traveled so far up that the air thinned out and it was difficult to breathe. Idealistically he meant to drop his brother into the East River where the water could douse the nuclear inferno Peter became, hopefully soothing him enough to start the healing process.
His baby brother objected to this sacrifice. He begged Nathan to save himself now that the city was safe, demanding to be released and let him carry the burden of circumstance alone. Of course Nathan protested, telling Peter that he would rather they die together than live apart. But Peter had other ideas and struggled against his brother's embrace.
I don't want to kill you, Nathan! It's all pointless if I kill the one person who matters most to me. Let me go!
He refused and Peter fought against him. The stronger he made his grip the more persistent and slippery Peter became until he broke the hold around him.
The prophesied explosion lit up the night sky and Nathan escaped the billowing cloud of devastation by the skin of his teeth. What was left of Peter plummeted down, lost in the darkness beneath the choking smoke and obliterating fire. He'd spent hours aimlessly but frantically hunting for him on land or waiting for him to be washed up on the beach by the tide. Peter had to be out there somewhere. Nathan just didn't know where and he vowed that he would not leave the coast until he found his little brother.
I promised to bring him home safely! It was my brotherly duty to make sure of it! I failed him! I failed our family!
Many relentless hours were spent searching until he wandered to the Coney Island boardwalk. Denegation was no longer an option. Peter was dead and he was to blame, just as his mother indicted.
Blinded by tears he adamantly refused to spill in front of his daughter, he shook his head, not looking at her but down at his feet. Pride wouldn't let him face her as a failure, not after the authoritative image he impressed upon her from day one.
"I don't know where he is," he continued, softer and more broken. "We need to at least find his body…"
"Listen to me," she said firmly, bravely because she knew his current inability to do so. "We can't give up hope. Peter's still alive."
"You didn't see it, Claire. There is no way he survived that; the explosion and then the fall had to be the coup de grace."
"No, listen to me! Peter is still alive and I know it. I know it!"
"My dad said he was told about something falling from the sky and crashing in Brooklyn. They say it's a meteor but it happened right after the explosion. It's been all over the news but nobody knows exactly what it was because nothing was there when the police arrived. It has to be Peter!"
But Nathan shook his head mournfully.
"It was me that they reported, Claire. I came from the sky too. The blast nearly knocked me out of the sky but I managed to land off of Coney Island."
Claire was persistent in making him understand.
"A girl is wanted for questioning because she left the scene with a person who was badly injured. This didn't happen in Coney Island. It was on Brighton Beach."
Nathan was silent, trying to digest what he was being told.
"That's why I came back," she said, unrelenting though her voice wavered. "I had to! My dad talks like Peter's dead. I come here and it's no different. Everyone's given up and accepted that he's gone but I can't do that! I can't give up hope that he's still out there needing us to find him while we all wallow in our self-pity instead of doing something! Don't you dare give up on him too! I won't let you! I won't let you!"
Nathan peered up at Claire and the warm paternal instincts he didn't think he had for her made him want to clutch his daughter near and solace her. But pride is a stubborn thing that renders one cold even when they are not.
Weeping openly, the frustrated girl plopped in the chair next to him without uttering another word. His guilt went unchecked. She was his daughter and he hated seeing her like this. As the parent, he should've been stronger. It was his obligation but it was also his privilege. Yet he found himself unable.
"Go inside. Get something to drink and lie down," Nathan softly instructed. "You look like you haven't slept in weeks. Don't worry about Peter. My reach may be significantly shorter now but I have a hunch where I can go for help."
Claire stared at her biological father with delirious interest, suddenly aware of the exhaustion she'd been staving off since the explosion and that her body felt like unmoveable lead because of it.
For the first time since her arrival, Nathan gazed at his daughter, who was taken aback by his worn face and bloodshot eyes.
"Go," he demanded more firmly. "Trust me."
Her face scrunched with indignation and she disputed, "How can I trust you after the lies…"
"Now is not the time. We'll wipe the slate clean. This time we both want the same thing. We both want Peter home safe. Go in and get your rest. Leave everything else to me."
He took a swig from the bottle of whiskey, one that was too long and too much for her liking so she complied with his order just to get him out of her sight.
Still seething in anger about Archer's rejection and her lost battle with Peter Petrelli, Grace returned to the hotel, making certain she befouled everything electronic on her way through the lobby. It gave some satisfaction to hear the desk clerk complain to a co-worker that his computer was acting up accompanied by the several successive frustrated clicks of the mouse then bangs on the monitor. The lights flickered and other people shook their iPods or cell phones, all met with equal satisfaction in the movie star. The only time she put her power in check was when she reached the elevators. The last thing she wanted was to trap herself in a stuffy car because of some bull-headed, lovesick detective.
The thought of Archer spawned another tantrum along with a power surge that sent the elevators grinding and moaning. The sounds jolted her from her self-righteousness and her temper promptly cooled. All she wanted to do was escape from the world in a mass of bed sheets and cool darkness and strategise her next move. She helped the elevator arrive faster by giving it an extra oomph with her power and was thankful that she was the only one on it until she reached her floor.
The maid who was cleaning a recently vacated room greeted her hello but she ignored her and continued to her own room, looping the Do Not Disturb sign on the knob outside. Not bothering to remove anything except her shoes, she crawled into bed like a sick person suffering from a debilitating flu and hid beneath the blankets. She wasn't still a moment before there was a thunderous knock on the door.
Groaning, she took no notice of it, wishing it away. Yet it didn't. The second knock was annoying enough for her to release a bellowing, "Go the fuck away!"
The visitor became more persistent and knocked harder still.
"Goddamn it!" she roared, throwing back the blankets and stomping injudiciously to the door. "It says Do Not Disturb! What is your fucking problem?! I'll have your job for this, you third…"
When she swung it open her speech halted upon noticing that it wasn't the maid who was pestering her after all. Instead there was a mousy man with greasy dark hair, a manila envelope in his hand and a telltale Nikon around his neck. This was not a good sign, she summed up with her plenitude of experience.
"Ms Moriarty?" he addressed.
"Yes. Who the hell are you?"
"I think you may want to invite me in for this."
Grace glowered wickedly at the homunculus, taking several uneasy seconds to decide whether whatever he had to say was worth her valuable time. Nodding, she stepped aside to allow him in.
"Don't make me ask who you are again," she advised, shutting the door behind them.
"I'm Dale Samuels," he introduced, extending his free hand to offer it in a handshake that she denied with a scowl. "I work for the Hollywood Spoiler…"
"I knew it was one of those rags. Why should I waste my time talking to you? What can you possibly have to say that I would need to hear?"
"It's not what you need to hear that should concern you. More like what you need to see."
The envelope which she eyed suspiciously was handed to her.
"What's this?" she questioned, taking it.
Opening it, she found several photographs inside. Removing them, her heart filled with rage when she saw the incriminating images of her and Archer getting cosy in the hotel bar and kissing in Isaac's loft. Instantly she recalled the man in the hallway outside the loft crime scene and the flash of light as she entered the elevator.
"Damn it!" she vented. "It was you outside the loft. You!"
"And you didn't give me so much as a second look."
"What do you want from me?"
"Two million dollars."
"Is that all?"
Samuels shrugged and, the sarcasm lost on him, answered, "It covers my debts."
"So you go around and take asinine shots of people in compromising positions and blackmail them to get you out of your compromising positions?"
"No, not of people. Of celebrities who think they are above the rest of us."
"You can keep those as a reminder of your mistake and your predicament. I have plenty of copies safe and sound at an undisclosed location. If I do not have the money transferred to my bank account within two days these will be leaked to more outlets than the Hollywood Spoiler."
"Is that right?"
"I promise you, I may be a blackmailer but I'm no liar. Isn't that the basis of your fear? That I'm honest enough to show the public what you try to hide? I'm sure Detective Archer's wife will be interested in knowing. What's her name? Rebecca?"
Mention of Archer's wife stiffened the actress's body; Samuels noticed and smiled with discretion. But Grace caught the smile and seethed hotter than a furnace. Rather than taking the little snake's life outright in her room where she was sure to draw attention, she walked to the desk beside the bed and scribbled something on the pad of paper then ripped it off and presented it to the extortionist.
"Meet me here tomorrow," she instructed. "We'll sort through the arrangements. Bring every copy that you have and I mean every copy. I am not someone you want to cross."
The weasel gazed at the paper as if was an alien concept before taking it from her. He seemed to have lost his nerve considerably.
"I don't trust you," he told her, distrustful hints in his wary expression.
"Good. You shouldn't. And the feeling's mutual. Now get the hell out."
The paparazzo couldn't back out of the room fast enough. It was just as well: Grace restrained herself until she was turning red to not launch a lightning bolt at his back.
Like a pair of butterfly wings Peter's eyes fluttered open but he squinted in the light emitting from the lamp in the bedroom. He tried to think of when the lamp had been on previously but couldn't think of one. Elle stood at the full length mirror adjacent to the bed, examining her bare midriff in a profiled stance. Her hand brushed over her stomach lightly and he quivered with affection when she stuffed a pillow under her shirt to mimic late pregnancy. He watched her pose and inspect how she looked for a few moments, heart brimming with happiness as she turned one way then the next.
"Looks good on you," he muttered with tender bias.
As if guilty of a heinous crime, she whirled around, tossing the pillow on the bed at his feet.
"I'm just…curious," she excused.
She smiled and sat on the bed, putting the pillow in her lap and fretfully toying with its corner.
"Think so?" she asked.
The pillow, humorously flung at him, struck him square in the face.
"I'm scared, Peter," she sombrely confessed. "I don't even know what I would tell Alex. He'll definitely hate you again. Might even burn the bed. Can't blame him for it either. Think of it: would you want to sleep in the same bed where your sister conceived? Eww."
Peter's thick eye brows arched upwards with amusement.
"I just hope we're not in the bed if he burns it," he joked.
"OK, OK! You have a point," he declared. "But we'll deal with Alex's reaction when or if the time comes. We need to take one thing at a time. When will you be able to take a test?"
"In a few days. I'm not late yet."
"With everything bad that's been happening…this is actually refreshing. It won't be all bad news if you're pregnant. One of us is right about my relationship with my family and if it's you, at least this baby will be a good thing for me to look forward to."
"I'll be honest. I have mixed feelings about it, Peter. I'm scared to death. I'm too young and not ready. Plus I'm not rich, you can't remember anything, some lunatic is out to kill you and you have all these cool super powers while I'm just a Muggle. What if the baby is like you? How are we going to raise a baby with super powers? What the hell does all of this mean for us or for our baby if there is one?"
Remorse stifled Peter like a heavy narcotic. The girl didn't ask for any of this. Her only crime was being a Good Samaritan who tried to do the right thing for someone in need. Now her life was in peril and there was a probability that he impregnated her in one weak moment of need.
"It means we have to live and work hard at everything."
"Why did I touch you when I knew I was ovulating?!"
The frustration in her voice further pained him and he sat up, reaching out for her. She easily sank against him, finding the perfect spot on his shoulder that cradled her head then wept.
"Everything will be fine," he muttered sweetly. "We shouldn't worry about it until we know for sure. We don't need added pressure."
"Easy for you to say!" she spat with a tincture of animosity. "You won't be the one going through thirty-eight hours of labor!"
"I would if I could, Elle."
"You're just saying that because you know you'll never have to! Life is not fair to us women! You get an orgasm and I get labor pains! I feel like Charlie Brown getting rocks instead of candy on Halloween!"
"Look, your fears are legitimate but I'll have troubles too. The important thing is we'll be going through it together. That's more than some women can say."
He wanted to offer additional comforts but a jagged throb in his head forced him to release her and roll away on his side in the fetal position, groaning in misery.
"What's wrong?" she inquired, afraid by this outburst.
"Sharp pain!" he gasped, holding his head. But the ache raced down his body in a debilitating torment. "Hurts!"
Elle was frantic, the animosity diminishing into worry.
"What should I do?!" she cried, scooting to his side. "I don't know how to care for a super hero's ailments!"
Peter's hand enveloped hers, clutching it tight as he requested, "Please! Just stay with me!"
Elle watched futilely as he suffered, his face reddening as he held his breath in a vain attempt to stave off the pain. A light-headedness engulfed him along with a white light that washed over his eyes until his lungs begged for oxygen. As air was greedily sucked in he was pleased that the pain died out. Inhaling a few more breaths to stabilize himself, he slackened his grip on Elle's hand.
"Sorry," he muttered as he uncurled his body and stretched out flat on his back. "I don't know what my problem is."
Rather than releasing her hand from his hold, he intertwined their fingers as if they were long time lovers, placing hers directly over his heart. A lock of hair fell into his eyes, irritating them until she swiped it away on his behalf.
"Let me fix some lunch," she said softly. "I'll bring you some cold water and a painkiller in case that happens again."
He nodded, kissed the back of her hand and watched as she exited the room. The pillow she used for her mock pregnancy was inches from him and, spying it, he reached over for it then placed it underneath his head, imagining with a satisfied smile that it was Elle's baby-swollen tummy.
The future obligations presenting themselves made Peter consider how Nathan's relationship was with Claire. His memory loss robbed him of more than his personal history; all the memoirs of family were gone as well. How many family events were vanquished, how many holidays? He thought of giving Claire Christmas and birthday gifts and pictured her joyous at what was hidden behind the wrapping paper. He thought of the boring Petrelli parties thrown for their proper young lady when the child graciously smiled at them but longed to have a fun party with friends, loud music and cute boys her own age. Peter hoped that he was the kind of uncle to her that would sneak her away to these preferred parties, parties he arranged to make her happy because he understood her better than the others did.
Nathan didn't impress upon his younger brother that he was open minded in the way that a teenager needed her father to be. Peter loved Nathan but the man was a politician and unlikely to loosen his tie for a wild teenage social event. Nor would he condone to his only child having one. He hoped Nathan was never cruel or harsh to his niece, that the girl was spoilt rotten and had a blissful sheltered life of dolls and teddies, naïve of how the world truly works, a benefit only the wealthy could afford.
Peter wanted to provide that for his baby at least for as long as he was able. He wondered if his child would inherit any of his powers and what raising a child like that would entail. He was curious if Claire or Nathan had powers as he suspected. All he could do was hope for the best and if reconciliation with his family was possible then perhaps they could supply pointers for raising a super baby.
The rattle of flatware and porcelain opened his eyes, finding Elle rejoining him with a tray of sandwiches, fruit and glasses of water in her grasp. He sat up and helped her place the tray on the bed so she could settle down next to him.
"Here you go." She tossed him a bottle of aspirin that he caught with one hand. "Take a couple. It'll help break any fever or infection you might have. I guess it would, any way."
He did as instructed, swallowing the chalky, bitter pills with a swig of water. Elle pitched an apple to him and that was when he realized how hungry he was. He thanked her and they ate in silence and profound thought.
The bedridden hero required more attention than what his young female friend was able to give. She would do her best to act as his nurse, ironic since he was in the health care profession but couldn't recall a damned thing usefull to help himself. A pregnant Elle would need to be nurtured too and his health needed to improve so he could give her that courtesy. With pending tension mounting between the Petrellis and Miasnikovs, he was in dire need to prove himself to both.
Reptilicus the fire breather had an ambivalent secret. He wasn't just a freak on the outside with his bizarre tattooed appearance. It wasn't that he was a sexual deviant who indulged in odd fetishes of the flesh either because as Fate would have it, he was as vanilla a lover as they come and grateful that Randi was the same way. Reptilicus was shrouded by a secret that not even his dear Randi knew.
Stepping discreetly into his empty and pitch dark performance area to practise his fire-breathing act, he took a quick glance around to make certain he was alone. Outside on the boardwalk was the usual busy bustle and he didn't want to risk having a nosey viewer spy on him. Squinting, he scruntised intensely the darkness with his keen eyes and when he determined that indeed nobody else was around he did the impossible.
Reptilicus spit a fountain of fire from his throat that bridged across the width from his mouth to the torch held in his hand, lighting it and the room up. The burst of volcanic illumination unveiled an-up-to-that-time dark-cloaked face floating a few feet from his own.
"Nice trick," a deepened voice complimented smoothly, startling him. "Like a human dragon. Oh what I could do with that!"
Reptilicus did not have the opportunity to respond, but the quizzical expression across his tattooed face spoke volumes in the stead of words. That expression soon transformed from one of shock to one of agony as a razor-sharp, unbearable pain seared across the fire-breather's forehead and all he could hear was the sound of his own screaming.
Author's Note: Yes, it certainly has been quite a while. A recent review for this story made me realise that I had this chapter waiting to be posted for a very long time, so I spent a few hours editing it yesterday. If you are curious/concerned about what's been going on with my reason for not updating, read my profile page for further details. As an FYI, this story will be second for finishing in that mentioned queue. As always, thanks for your time and readership!