Title: Surprise (Chaos Theory 2/14)
Rating: PG-13 (language)
Beta: gidgetzb and dreamingwriter - they make me look good, seriously, and any mistakes here are completely mine!
Pairing: Peter/Claire (building up the connection), and a few minor others
Characters: Dude, seriously, think clowns in a clown car, okay?
Timeline: Follows "
Beneath," includes dialogue from some episodes - AU as of "Fallout"
Disclaimer: Nope, not mine.

Teaser: Angela's never been a fan of surprises.


Angela Petrelli
Paris, France - Sixteen Years Ago

"What in the world are we supposed to do with her?"

"I don't know, give her to someone."

"You haven't exactly given us any warning—"

But the younger woman snorted, and continued to furiously brush her hair, tugging it hard into some kind of painful-looking knot at the back of her neck. "There are probably all kinds of people who'd love a little girl. You're probably just not looking hard enough."

The maternal part of Angela couldn't help but feel slightly warm at the child sleeping just a few feet away, little breaths making her fuzzy pink blanket rise and fall slowly.

The rest of her, though, was descending into a mix of fury and panic.

Mind scrambling to find a way out of this, Angela awkwardly gave the child a comforting palm to the back, eyes settled on the blonde woman now stuffing her clothes into her bag. "Should you really be on your feet already?" she asked, irritated by her own worry, but the blonde woman ignored her, completely focused on her packing.

Unnerved, unprepared for the surprise that had been sprung on her, Angela glanced back down at the newborn, took the little shape in with raised eyebrows and a tiny frown. The baby was surprisingly small, a slight lump of wrinkled skin and tightly fisted little hands, eyes scrunched closed.

She hadn't woken up since Angela had stepped into the room nearly an hour before and it was, perhaps, the only thing in Angela's favor at the moment, that she didn't have to comfort a wailing baby.

"You really think nobody is going to be suspicious of this?"

"You really think I don't have a plan, learning from you?" and the look the blonde gave her was impossible to ignore, the slightest hint of a smirk darkening her gaze and twisting her lips. She looked her age, Angela decided, and it was a rare thing— she was aging better than the rest of them, but still, the usual bright glitter in her eyes was dim.

That, Angela was sure, had more to do with the sleeping baby in the bassinet than anything else.

"Her father is going to figure it out eventually."

"He trusts me."

"He won't after he finds out about this."

The blonde woman paused in mid-packing, hesitated, licking her lips and staring hard down at her possessions. She looked small suddenly, small and too helpless, and Angela disliked it after all the years the younger woman had spent becoming stronger than she had once been. "I know what I'm doing."

"Like you knew what you were doing when you got yourself knocked up?"

"Says the woman with an irritating little ten year old at home? You know, the one who jumps off stairs because he thinks he can fly, and runs around wearing that stupid red towel like a cape— that child waiting for you at home?"

"I've always told you to do as I say, not as I do."

"I didn't set out to get pregnant, if you'd like to know, but now that I've had her, I need to get rid of her."

"You could have just not had her—"

"Just get rid of her," the blonde woman blurted, the sudden way her voice rose to a pitch making Angela hesitate, pursing her lips.

It was a plea and a desperate one at that, but Angela was too flustered now to worry about it.

Instead, she watched unhappily as her old friend finally shrugged into her coat, closing it and tying it with a vicious jerk that made Angela wince slightly. She grabbed up her bag and crammed her feet into her shoes, stepping forward to look down into the bassinet with an emotionless glance. "You could take her home with you," Angela suggested, and the blonde woman shot her a chilly glance, lips quirked into a slightly brittle frown.

"Now's not the time for jokes."

"I'm not joking."

There was a long silence, the blonde woman staring down at the baby silently, that tiny frown on her face and something bleak in her eyes. Angela didn't know everything about her life before she had joined their ever-expanding little circle, but she knew enough to put the rest of it together, knew enough to be completely sure of why her friend was acting so edgy right now.

"You could raise her," she whispered, and watched the way the blonde woman licked her lips, fluttered her fingers awkwardly at her sides and shook her head the smallest bit. "She's cute, probably has your eyes, already looks just like you and her father—"

"I'm not you; I'm not going to spend my life wiping noses and kissing boo-boos, Angela."

"You did once."

And the blonde woman froze, tilted her head back and stared at Angela with a bleak kind of self-awareness. "No, I didn't," she finally said flatly, and turned away from the child, eyes hard and lips tight in a smile that wasn't a true smile. "Do whatever you want with her; I really don't care."

And she walked away, strode out of the hospital room and never glanced back.

It left Angela to stare down at the sleeping newborn, a fragile new life suddenly dropped into her own.

Jesus, she hated surprises.


Manhattan, New York - Present

Angela Petrelli had decided to stop smoking some years before.

Occasionally, however, she dug a pack out.

The night her youngest son finally got back to New York, a silent body in a hospital bed, Angela lit up a cigarette on the roof of the hospital, grimacing at the effect it had on her.

A nerve-wracking two days of preparations to get him back home (as far away from Texas as she could get away with) and he was still gone, only the barest flicker of movement beneath an eyelid promising her that her unhappy suspicions were right. Sometimes a finger twitched as well, but only when she was near him, never when anyone else was watching.

Wasn't that always how life was?

Peter had been one of the truly big surprises in her life— after years of certainty that she didn't want anymore children, there he'd been, a dark-eyed baby boy who peered up at her and knew her. She hadn't expected him, hadn't been prepared for him, and by the time she had realized what he really was, what he knew with those dark eyes of his, she had already loved him.

And now—

There were only a few people in her life that Angela truly let herself care for, truly let herself accept even if they didn't always deserve it. Whether or not her acceptance was a good thing, she still wasn't sure, but she was who she is, even if some around her didn't realize it… or like it if they did.

And there were, she had quickly discovered, even fewer who actually knew her.

Her husband had been one of those few, her fragile husband with his haunted eyes and rough voice, but he had turned from her long before he physically left her. Closed his eyes to her and pretended that he didn't really see her, as if disregarding what she was could keep her from being what she was. She still wasn't sure if she had forgiven him for his forced ignorance but she knew that she still cried during the worst moments of silence in the nights.

Linderman was another one, possibly the only person in the world to understand it the way she did.

For a long time, the blonde woman had been a name on this mental list, had a place in Angela's heart, a strange foster sister among the chaos. And while she still had some of Angela's respect (a shared devotion to Linderman kept that last connection from being splintered) she had long since lost Angela's trust. Her old friend was becoming unstable, uncontrollable, and this latest little stunt was enough to start a steady ache in the back of her skull.

Decades of planning, of trust, and it was all suddenly breaking down when they needed it the most.

She'd somehow become weak over the years, had come to depend entirely too much on those she trusted, those she shared her secrets with and this was the result, the bitter sting of betrayal cutting deep into her. To add insult to injury, her old friend had proceeded to abandon her outside that damn police station, leave Angela to get her son breathing again because he had stopped. Deserted her as if she was nothing, left her there to panic as she realized what was happening, why Peter was staring up at her and not seeing her.

Angela had gotten weak, had grown to trust somebody other than herself, and this was the result.

"I hate you," she whispered finally (she felt like angry child, a spoiled little girl that had lost her favorite toy) and stamped her cigarette out beneath her shoe with more force than was actually needed.

And then she went back into the hospital to see if Peter had come back to her yet.


Odessa, Texas

They had lost Eden— jewel-eyed, graceful Eden, who had made a new life for herself.

When he'd gone into the room after the guards and stared at the body, though, Mr. Bennet hadn't seen Eden.

All he'd been able to see for a heartbeat (a long, horrible nightmare of a heartbeat) was bloody blonde hair and blank green eyes staring up at him, Claire's body limp at his feet. Claire and Eden couldn't be more different— Eden had been tall and slim, nothing like Claire, and yet it had been a firm image, an unshakable snapshot that burned itself into his mind.

Four days since his mind had created the image and it was still there, a cold spot in his thoughts.

It was easier to focus on a psychopath in a white cell than it was to think about the blonde woman, easier to comprehend the little watchmaker that had lost his mind because of some inferiority complex than it was to think about the woman that Claire got that look of determination from.

He worried about Sandra, forgetting her days, but it was Claire that woke him up every night in a cold sweat.

Brave Claire, with her green eyes and blonde hair that was just a little bit darker than her mother's.

In a matter of days, his entire world had tilted, fractured with a sudden paralyzing panic, bringing back the one time he'd met Claire's mother, realized who she was and that she had no real grasp of who he was. It had been a nerve-wracking week, the one he'd spent with Claire's mother, and while he'd been a good liar before, he'd been a better one when he came home after that trip.

Ironic, perhaps, that Clair's mother had helped to hone his ability to bend the truth as well as he did now.

That experience hadn't prepared him for this, though, for what the sight of her had done to him when he'd glanced up and found her staring at him in that police station. He hadn't seen her since that day, hadn't had any luck in finding any sign of her, but there was no doubt in his mind that now she knew.

Knew who Claire was, knew what family had gotten her daughter sixteen years before.

How she knew, he couldn't figure out, but there it was, a brutal truth that he couldn't deny.

Mr. Bennet wasn't sure what it meant, wasn't sure what was going to happen, but he knew what he needed to do, grateful that he had someone he could trust in his corner, an ally that he could depend on.

He added Claire's mother silently to the list of people he needed to protect Claire from, and started planning.

The fact that Claire seemed too unnerved by the gruesome things she couldn't remember to leave the house made things easier on him, made it simpler to balance the sudden way everything around him seemed to be coming undone. It was all buckling under the unexpected pressure of a blonde woman in her fifties with no past and a smile like broken glass, falling apart at the seams in a way that left him scrambling for foundation.

Claire had no urge to go out, though, so he was grateful for his blessings.

"Want some more?" he asked, gesturing down at the pan that held the remainder of the bacon, but Claire just shook her head, eyes focused on her almost empty plate. "Are you sure?" he prodded, and she finally looked up, giving him a 'if I say something, I mean it' look.

It was enough of a Claire look that he chuckled and set the pan to the side, quietly relieved.

She'd been off since the Haitian had wiped her memory but he'd seen it before over the years, the same absent-minded glances that Sandra would send him as she frowned to herself. Exhaling quietly, sleepless nights leaving a steady ache in his temples, he glanced at her lightly and hesitated as he watched her flutter her fingers across the tabletop, a determined look on her young face as she gazed down at her plate.

Unsettled, he moved closer, dropping a palm to her shoulder and feeling her jump beneath it, head snapping back to study him with wide green eyes. Smiling slightly, hoping it was comforting, he tucked a strand of blonde hair from her face, brushed a thumb across her cheek. "Are you okay?"


Mr. Bennet dropped his hand to hers, stilling the restless movements as he peered at her from behind his glasses, and took her in carefully. "Is something the matter?"

"I'm going to steal Lyle's X-Box," she said flatly, pulling her hand out of his and dropping it into her lap as she pushed her plate away with the other, making a face. "And then I'm going to finish off the last of the ice cream when Lyle leaves for practice, with the chocolate syrup that he wanted for tonight," she added with a defiance that made his lips twitch in amusement even as he found himself shifting awkwardly under her gaze, unnerved and not sure why.

"If you want to talk—" he started but she just shook her head, twisting to her feet and smiling thinly, looking pale and small, not like herself. It was understandable, though, and one of the things he couldn't control, how the town would handle her experience the night of Homecoming. He watched her shuffle across the kitchen, the ears on her bunny slippers flopping a bit with each step. "Claire?"

"I'm fine," she assured him, offering him a brittle but sincere smile that eased something inside him the smallest bit, loosened as he smiled slightly back in response, and watched silently as she trudged up the stairs and disappeared. It left him to process and plan in an attempt to get control of the situation again.

Which he was doing when his cell phone suddenly went off, buzzing angrily in a way that he didn't try to ignore.

He flipped it open, and he didn't even manage a word before Thompson's sharp voice greeted his ears, cutting with a dark humor that only Thompson seemed to possess. "The telepath's going to be a problem."

"He's been handled—"

"Not very well, Bennet," he chuckled and Mr. Bennet paused, stilled, before he finally frowned as he headed to the back door, pushing it open and closing it behind him after he stepped out. "I understand you've got your hands full with the watch guy but you're usually more capable than this."

"I don't understand."

"He's bringing in the Feds, him and Hanson," he said flatly and there was no humor in his voice, nothing but a quiet force that Mr. Bennet had learned to recognize over the years. "You need to handle this, Bennet. Handle it better than you handled Parkman, especially considering who he is."

He hesitated for a long heartbeat, aware of the fact that Claire was safe for the time being and aware of the fact that she wasn't, not really. She wanted to know her real family, seemed to become more obsessed about it as time went by, and he had no doubt that she would eventually see right through the facade he had set up with Hank and Lisa if she hadn't already. It was just a matter of time, and if her mother stepped forward first—

"I'll take care of it," he finally exhaled, feeling truly torn for the first time in ages.

"Good to know— Oh, and Bennet?"


"Don't make me get involved."

No, Mr. Bennet decided as he silently hung up and swallowed roughly; no, he didn't want that.


Women's Correctional Facility, Nevada

Jessica had found that she responded the most strongly to stress, especially Niki's stress.

It was like coming back to life when it hit her, a rush of heat that seared away the nothingness she found herself trapped in. It was a tightening inside her, fractured pieces clicking back into place like a well-oiled gun, leaving her sharp-smiled and graceful in a way that Niki could never be.

Other things pulled her out, but nothing felt the way stress did, not even fear, Niki's constant companion.

Niki was stressed and getting worse and Jessica felt it, felt the flex of it above her (that was the only word for it, the only way she had of explaining it) where she sulked silently and struggled to put together a plan to get them out of this. She could just break herself out, she was strong enough and smart enough, but it would be a short-term escape and while it wasn't a happy understanding, it was something she'd been forced to accept after just a few hours in here.

What Jessica needed was a real escape, one that wouldn't be snatched away if she slipped up.

Luckily, subtlety was Jessica's strong point.

Niki didn't have subtlety, couldn't use it and didn't understand it, and it was a weakness that left them exposed.

Jessica didn't know much, acted on instinct and emotion, but she was aware of some things, remembered things that Niki couldn't or didn't want to remember. She didn't know the physics of it, or even what she actually was, but she knew with complete certainty that there was only one person she could turn to now. She wouldn't be able to trust him but he was fond of her, liked her despite what she was capable of.

Jessica was completely fine with being found useful.

Niki and her newfound spine, however, were severely hampering her ability to be useful.

It was the only true problem with sharing a body, she had found, the fact that only one of them could be there at once, She was aware of everything, even if it was a dim awareness buried in shadows and wrapped in lies, but when Niki was awake she was powerless, a scattering of consciousness in the back of Niki's mind, an unformed existence. It was exhausting, draining, but it only gave her more motivation to get control and keep it, tuck Niki some place where she would be safe and where Jessica could protect her.

But Jessica was creative, always had been.

Creativity, she had found, bred survival.


Manhattan, New York – Twenty Years Ago

Daniel Linderman adored Peter.

While it didn't come as a surprise to Angela, it amused her greatly, especially since the feeling was mutual.

It also gave her a few hours of blessed freedom from Peter's tendency to follow her around the house—Linderman was almost frighteningly good with children, far better than she was, and while Nathan had always given him a cold shoulder, Peter would be ecstatic for days before he came for a visit. He seemed to be one of the few people in the world who didn't mind Peter's exhausting penchant to cling to anyone he cared about. Nathan put up with it, and she could deal with it (she loved him that much) but Linderman seemed to be the only one who truly enjoyed it.

It was strangely heartwarming.

"Go, faster—faster, faster!"

Loud, too, she found.

Angela looked up from her reading just in time to spot Linderman running through the front room, Peter clinging to his back tightly, arms looped around his neck and bouncing to the tune that Linderman hummed, something that sounded suspiciously like an extra fast version of the theme from Bonanza. It was only a lifetime of control that kept her from collapsing into giggles as they noticed her watching them, and they turned toward her, wicked grins blooming across their faces.

As it was, she watched with lips that twitched as the two males headed for her, stepping into the adjoining room.

"Your child is insane, Angela." Though his tone was solemn, Linderman was anything but, his eyes alit with boyish glee and face animated with something delightful that she'd never gotten to enjoy as a child. "You've got yourself a tiny terror," he added, and then chuckled shamelessly when Peter made an annoyed expression and dug his knees hard into Linderman's sides.

"You bring out the worst in him."

Peter peered curiously at his mother over Linderman's shoulder, arms still wrapped tightly around his neck even as Linderman pulled out the free chair and turned, dropping the boy with a graceful sort of carelessness into the seat. "Sit there and let me catch my breath," he said immediately when Peter went to get down again, and wagged a finger in the boy's face until he obeyed, flopping back exhaustedly with a pleased sigh.

"You two look like you've had fun."

"We did," Peter chirped, swinging his legs as he watched Linderman, clearly counting down the minutes until they went back to their play. "We can keep having fun," he added, and gave Linderman an extremely impressive pout.

Pouting never worked on them but it worked on Linderman and even as Angela watched, her friend grimaced, heart in his eyes as he gnawed a lip with a nervousness that took years off him. "Maybe you should have a snack first," he finally sighed, and the slight glance he shifted to her made her straighten, watching him even as he added an impossible-to-miss hint about cookies for Peter.

He wanted to speak to her alone, in private—

When the boy had finally bounded away, promising to bring something back for his playmate, Angela focused on Linderman, watched as his face went cool and his back went straight, impressed despite herself. She'd watched him find control over the years and she'd helped in quiet ways herself, in ways that Michael himself had never let himself learn.

For all that Michael had forced him to grow up years before and on the other side of the world, stolen his innocence, Angela had been the one to shape what he had grown up to be.

It was a unique bond, frightening at times and yet steady, sure.

Angela would still be able to count on him when everything else broke down.


"How is he?"

She considered playing dumb but thought better of it; he knew her far too well for that, he'd just laugh at her.

"We think he'll be fine," she finally sighed, flipping a few of the pages she was glancing through at the moment, her husband's furious scrawl growing more and more hysterical as he neared the end of this journal. "We'll be able to bring him home this time, but he's getting worse," she admitted slowly, and passed him the journal, watching his face as he read. "Nathan's getting extremely upset about it, wants to know why he can't see him."

"He's nineteen—"

"He shouldn't see his father like this," she interjected quickly, grateful when he shrugged as if he didn't care and simply went back to reading the nonsense that filled the journal. Well, it was nonsense to them but not to Michael, that she knew but still, some of the things he wrote were ridiculous. "Besides, he needs to focus on college, not fret about this."

"That boy's too grown up for his age," Linderman snorted, passing her the book and leaning back with a grimace, a neat pop matching his movements. "Any day now he's going to wake up gray."

Angela didn't let herself think too much about the fact that, when he had been Nathan's age, he'd had already had blood on his hands, Michael's sins staining Linderman's young heart.

"Peter keeps him young—"

"Peter would keep anyone young," he snickered, eyes warm even as she thoughtfully underlined a passage about walking through fire, coming out without being burned. It was difficult to read her husband's notes, the things he saw, and she was never sure if this was how he saw them, as scattered images made of shadows and colors, or if they only became nonsense when he tried to explain them.

Either way, they gave her headaches.

"You spoil him more than we do."

"He's a brilliant child."

Angela smirked and shook her head, fighting back laughter as she picked up her red pen and circled another passage with extra force. "One of these days, you'll get yourself a child and then you won't give a damn about him."

"That's not true, and besides, I'm working on it," he snorted and glared childishly at something behind her head, blue eyes murky with a foolish sort of want. "Even offered to adopt but she won't hear of it…"

"She has her reasons—"

Linderman waved his hand shortly, shrugging and dismissing it, changing the subject even as something wounded flickered behind his eyes. He wasn't a boy anymore but he was aging well and spent entirely too much of his time staring longingly at every child he passed on the street. She had always wanted children herself, but only one and Michael, she knew, had never wanted any children at all, although she still didn't know why.

Daniel Linderman, she knew, would happily take an entire flock of them and then turn around and ask for more.

It was the only time she ever saw anything truly innocent in his gaze anymore, when he played with Peter with a glee that bordered on insanity, brought the boy treats and gifts of every kind, spoiled him rotten just on the semi-annual visits he paid to New York.

She and Michael had stolen his virtue and this was how he got it back, as annoying as it sometimes was.

Angela paused as she flipped a page, and frowned at the words in confusion. "What?" Linderman asked, but she only shook her head in bafflement, opening the red pen again and underlining it three times. "What?" he prodded more furiously, and she finally shrugged, still staring at the words in fascination.

"What in the world is an exploding man?"


Manhattan, New York – Present

Nathan understood control, understood why his mother depended on it as much as she did.

Angela Petrelli could be sharp or funny, wonderful and even loving but the real Angela Petrelli (whoever she had been before his father had gone so quiet) was not a woman that would have easily survived in the real world. The real Angela Petrelli, he knew, was a woman who would have been destroyed within a few years of being born into the brutal honesty of life.

He could count on one hand the number of times he'd seen the real her, watched her eyes go soft and her mouth tremble with a fragile kind of hopelessness that made his heart quietly ache in response even though he didn't want it to. He saw Peter in those rare and unsettling moments; saw what his soft-hearted brother would look like when he finally saw the realities of the world, when he finally accepted them.

One day, a part of him was sure, Peter would—and Nathan couldn't help but hate the thought of it.

Right now, though, his brother was silent as death and almost as still, looking even smaller than he actually was in his hospital bed. Just the sight of his brother like this was unsettling, brought back every moment of panic he'd felt just a little while before, the day his hopeless dreamer of a brother had dropped himself right off that building.

"I should have been there."

"You were needed here."

He raised his head from his silent study of his brother, found his mother polishing the handful of photo frames she had set up by the bed in the days since they had brought Peter back to New York. "I should have been with you," he said quietly, pushing Peter's ridiculous hair back from his face for the hundredth time. "If you had let me come with you—"


It wasn't just a name but an order, and he exhaled silently, watching as his mother settled back down into her seat, flipping open her novel and going back to her reading, glasses perched elegantly on her nose. For all intents and purposes, she seemed to be a pleasant woman past her prime reading a favorite new book, but Nathan wasn't fooled.

Nathan thought of the dreams he had when growing up, before Peter had been born, dreams of taking off up into the sky when he felt the world's pressure trying to crush him, flying away from his mother's fragile-eyed secrets. His father's private grief had been worse, though, and he remembered his father every morning and every night, thought of his father on a level that probably wasn't healthy.

He had never known what it was his father always seemed to be grieving for, still couldn't figure it out.

So Nathan obsessed over it, and tried to keep Peter from seeing it even though that was useless, seeing as how his brother seemed to see everything—he tried to track down every one of the friends that had always seemed to surround his father, people that seemed to have disappeared off the face of the planet. Linderman was there, though, and while other things from his childhood were strangely blurry, nothing about Linderman was, every memory of Michael Petrelli's confidante etched in perfect detail in his memory.

Linderman was the only connection he had left to track and yet, it was something.

But Nathan still didn't know what his father had been grieving for.


Odessa Texas

Claire didn't kid herself.

Alone and overwhelmed, she could do nothing at the moment except keep her new secret from her father.

Mom was being ditzy (and maybe that was why Mom was ditzy sometimes when it made no sense, maybe because Dad was sending in some weird guy to steal her memories and wouldn't that make anybody ditzy?) and she was unwilling to bring Lyle back into it and Zach was giving her the cold shoulder even across the phone because he didn't even know her anymore…

Claire couldn't trust her father—she didn't know what he was capable of, didn't know him.

That, possibly, was what hurt the most.

It left her alone, all by herself, and feeling smaller than she ever had in her life.

Claire didn't even have the option of calling Peter Petrelli in some hope of figuring out why this was all happening, what the hell she had to do with saving the world, why she mattered the way he said she did.

The guy that had saved her, the guy that had fallen off that auditorium even though he didn't know he'd survive, the guy that would have willingly died for her, the guy that actually had died for her— that guy was apparently some kind of knock-off Kennedy or something in New York and, to her great and utter distress, he seemed to have fallen into some kind of coma before even leaving Texas.

All she knew was what she had seen on the news, a five second segment and nothing else.

Claire was indestructible but she was still helpless, and had no idea what she could do about it.

It didn't leave her in the best of moods, as her father picked up—she had no real grasp of why the man who worked for her father had let her keep her memories and while he had given her an excuse (said that she needed to keep them to stay safe) she had no idea what he had actually meant. Was he working against her father, some kind of double-agent; did he need her to remember, to have some kind of ally when he went after her father? Was he trying to keep her safe, like he said, or was he just as much of a liar as her father?

Did it have anything to do with that guy that had killed Jackie?

Claire had always seen paranoia as something to avoid, a reason for a straightjacket but now she knew better, felt like some fragile baby bird that had been thrown out of the nest to fend for herself—just because you were paranoid didn't mean you didn't have an actual reason to be, right?

Alone and overwhelmed, she knew she couldn't hide in her room with her bunny slippers forever.


The blonde woman hadn't thought, after she saw the painting and realized with a spike of uncontrollable emotion inside her who the girl in the painting was, that it would be this simple to track her child down.

It hadn't been truly easy and yet it had been far less exhausting than she'd expected it to be. She'd expected months of long searches and careful questions and instead there had been that train wreck, a blessing in disguise when she realized who the brave hero of a girl must have been, the only girl it could have been.

Jackie Wilcox hadn't been adopted, but fresh-faced Claire Bennet had been adopted, the small girl that had perfectly matched the image on the canvas, a girl with her eyes but not her height. If she wasn't so pissed off about it, she'd have laughed at the insanity of it all, that Bennet should be the one that had been taking care of her daughter for the last decade and a half, him and his whacked-out dog-obsessed big-haired wife.

Finding Claire had been relatively easy, considering everything that had been involved in keeping the girl secret.

The hard part, she knew, would be actually making the girl trust her—

Angela had taught her many things over the years, not just how to lie but also how to mean it when she did, how to use her emotions and not let her emotions use her. Angela's teachings had gone far beyond teaching a nervous young housewife how to mingle with every social class known to man and yet it was surprising, how powerful simple societal knowledge could be in the correct situation.

Even with that, however, she had found herself at a loss as to how she would actually get the girl.

It had been stupid to show herself and scare Bennet like that; all it would do was make him more paranoid and yet, even as she regretted it, she savored it, the way his eyes had flared wide behind his geeky glasses, the way his face had drained of all color for just a few seconds. She'd been fond of him when she'd met him, passed on some of the things she'd learned in a long life of truthful lies and watched his own instinct for deception bloom before she had left him to his new partner, that young man from Haiti, the one that had always unnerved her so badly.

Bennet may have softened over the years, the fact that he was working so hard to keep her safe was proof of that, but his softening was at the same time a sharpening of his already quick intelligence, the reason he had started doing the work he did in the first place— there was no way in hell he would hand Claire over and simply turn away.

In her mind, it was pure luck, having such an easy lure to use to bring Claire to her.

All she would need were a bunch of fresh flowers.


Manhattan, New York – Six Months Ago

Angela's husband wasn't aging well.

He'd gone gray too early in life, stress taking its toll in ways too numerous to count, but the last several years had seemed to truly drain him, exhaust him, leave his brittle eyes hollow and his rough voice empty. He'd always seemed to bear the weight of the world on his shoulders, even before she'd realized what he knew, what he could do. The pressure had only seemed to increase right along with his age. He had started to go quiet finally, would sit and stare at things only he could see with that bleak look in those dark eyes of his.

He had that look now as he sat and cradled his Scotch in large hands, knuckles white as he focused on some spot on the wall across the room. He knew she was there, he always did, but he paid her no mind, dark eyes impossibly scattered as he kept every drop of his attention on the things only he could see.

Angela worried about him, fretted over him, even as a tiny part of her hated him for it, for being so… fragile.

"It's almost time to leave."

His eyelids fluttered the smallest bit, his fingers flexed around the glass, but he didn't respond in any other way.

She exhaled quietly and wished the sight of him sitting and staring like this didn't cut at her the way it did. She stepped closer and brushed her fingers awkwardly across his shoulder, something jerking painfully inside when he still didn't react to her, kept on ignoring her. "It's time to leave," she repeated, and although he finally moved, it was just to reach up and push her palm off his shoulder and withdraw from her in ways that made her breath catch in her throat.

It had never been this hard to pull him back before, not like it had been these last few months.


He jerked his head up to stare at her, blankly at first and then with a slow shake of his head, stiffening in his seat and grimacing when his back cracked in protest. "What?" he asked, and she almost couldn't hear him, his voice was so uneven, so worn with disuse. "What do you need?"

"It's time to leave."

"I'm busy—" he started, but she dug her fingers into his shoulder, something like panic flaring inside her.

"We have to go," she snapped raggedly, but he shrugged her hand off and shook his head before taking a slow swallow of his Scotch.

"I have more important things to do."

"More important than Peter's graduation party?" she demanded, irritated and not sure why.

"Yes," he stated flatly, and went back to staring at that spot on the wall, all of his attention on something only he could see. She had gotten used to it over the years, the way he withdrew into himself, went quiet and still but it was approaching levels she simply didn't know how to handle. She had once been able to reach him, pull him back, but she couldn't do either anymore, not without causing him to bite her head off in frustration.

"Peter wants to see you—"

"I'm busy," and he had the tone he rarely had with her, as if she no longer existed for him.

She'd known there was something breakable in him when she'd first met him, picked up on it the way she had always picked up anything that could be used as a weakness against someone, but it had been a good few years before she'd been sure, put the pieces together with her own suspicions. "Michael, it'll only be a few hours—"

He didn't even respond, and she closed her eyes for a moment and took a breath before slowly letting it out.

She straightened and gritted her teeth before smoothing a palm down her blouse and shrugging as well as she could. "I'll tell Peter you were busy," she finally sighed but his only response was a short nod, the barest bob of his head as he took another sip of his Scotch and went back to ignoring her, falling back into his silence.

It would be the last time he ignored her.


Manhattan, New York – Present

Peter's eyelids flickered.

The movements were so slight, so minute that only a trained eye could have seen them.

Angela knew what to look for, though.

"Maybe you should go home."

Nathan was a good son, did everything he was supposed to with a false sincerity he had seemingly been born with; a false sincerity that she suspected came completely from her. It was still real though, raw, and it was Peter that brought it out the most, Nathan's biggest weakness. He sat restlessly just a few feet away and watched as she absently brushed those stupid bangs away from Peter's face, and she could easily make out the sheen of fear in his eyes, the quiet panic that left his voice rough.

"I just got here," she sighed, and watched Peter's face, saw his eyelids flicker violently before he went still again.

"You've been here since we got him home."

"I'll go home when he wakes up."

"I should have been there—"

Angela stopped listening, sick and tired of the same words over and over again, and cursed the blonde woman with silent but heartfelt intensity. There'd been the sickening sound of a body hitting the ground, not just dropping but throwing himself back and she remembered it too clearly, the one other time she'd seen it, another dark-eyed man with the same look of bleak shock on his face.

Her son had fallen five stories and walked away fine and because of what she knew, the secrets she knew, she believed it, that he had died and come back—

But it didn't change the fact that he wasn't there now, he was somewhere else, somewhere she couldn't reach him.

"It's been a week and a half."

"He's still breathing on his own," she snapped, and he must have picked up on her tone because he went quiet. He awkwardly began to fiddle with the flowers that the Deveaux girl had bought and looked like the restless boy he had once been, the restless boy who had looked up at the sky like an eagle with broken wings. He'd learned to hide the look well, she had made sure of that, but she saw it always, a quiet shadow in the depths of his eyes, his father's heavy unhappy gaze. "As long as he's breathing on his own," she continued quietly, "we need to worry about helping him recover, not fret about what might happen."

Angela still had Peter's bloody shirt, the one he'd been wearing in that cell and it was a silent testimony; proof that her suspicions had been correct. The girl was a healer, not any surprise considering who she came from, and Peter had healed from something truly horrendous—but when she searched him for wounds where there'd been the most blood, there were none, not the barest hint of a bruise to be found.

Angela had no idea what this meant, not in the long run, but she knew what it meant now— Angela had experience.

This was something they hadn't seen and hadn't been prepared for, her son's apparent ability to die and come back. Even past the guttural terror, her control willed out, insisted that his body would recover the same way from this - whatever this was. It was a quiet certainty, a silent conviction, she just needed to be patient for her son.

Even so, she could have used Charles now, her secret weapon when Michael had been at his worst.

Gentle, brave Charles, the only one who could understand Michael.

"They want to give him another MRI."

"I know," she exhaled and wanted to shake Nathan for his restless movements, the tiny ways he shifted that she was aware of, even across the room. It even irritated her when Peter did it, but it was downright aggravating when Nathan gave in and started wriggling around like some kind of nervous animal. "Stop fidgeting," she snapped and she closed her eyes at her own spike of frustration, a jolt of exhausted emotion deep inside.

Angela hated surprises and her son dying and coming back to life, that was a big one, one she never could have expected— not after all she had done to keep that girl out of their lives without losing what that girl could give her. Thankfully, she had experience with dealing with big surprises.

It was the only thing in her favor at the moment, so she took it gladly.


Las Vegas, Nevada

DL Hawkins had several choices at hand, one of which included running to Louisiana with Micah.

He had family there, but this was home, where he had first fallen in love with Niki.

This was where they had gotten married, where they had bought themselves a house and created a life. Where they had Micah.

It had taken more than a week after the ordeal in Utah for things to calm enough for he and Micah to finally head back into the house, stunned to find not a single door broken or photo frame crooked. Three hours later when Linderman's assistant came by for the money, she'd explained with a slight smirk that it was the least Mr. Linderman could do, keep their house in good shape for when they finally came back to it.

Only Daniel Linderman, DL had found, could be so comforting and so disturbing at the same time.

It had taken everything he had not to go to him, ask for a way to get Niki out, but no— he couldn't drag them all in deeper, not after everything they had just survived. Even so, even as Micah began to glare at him as if he wasn't doing enough and stopped talking to him with any warmth, he waited for Linderman to pull something or ask for something anyway.

It couldn't be this easy, wasn't possible and yet, it seemed to be.

DL had always been suspicious by nature, always been good at looking over his shoulder—he'd supported his mother when his father had walked out on them and worked his hardest to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. It wasn't easy, however, especially not when Linderman had always been there, needing him to handle special jobs— jobs that DL had never thought about too deeply.

It was how he had met Niki in the first place, doing work for Linderman and the irony wasn't lost on him, that he had only found Niki because of Linderman's constant presence in his life—Linderman has always been there it seemed, a disturbingly steady presence— so constant he'd long since stopped hoping to escape the older man's shadow.

No, he decided after Linderman's assistant had left he and Micah in peace—no, it couldn't be this easy.

DL Hawkins, realist that he was, waited for the next horrible thing to happen.

As fate would have it, he only had to wait three more days.


Manhattan, New York - Nineteen Years Ago

The young Haitian could admit it— he was intimidated.

He was stronger than the intimidation, however.

The two men who paid for his plane ticket and escorted him from his home to this sprawling place didn't speak except to inform him that he was to be completely respectful, confirming his suspicions that they knew how to use the pistols they carried with slightly mocking smiles. They seemed to like him well enough though, since they brought him a milkshake at one point, and even got him two extra cherries.

He didn't speak to them— not because he couldn't but because he knew full well words didn't matter.

Whomever they were loyal to, it was clear they wouldn't be swayed by a sixteen-year-old boy's pleas to let him go.

He'd tried, early on, to use his power on one of them but nothing had happened and he'd been left with a migraine for two days, one that grew to be so bad that they'd been forced to rent a hotel and allow him to rest for a day and recover. They didn't seem to be able to do anything but he was helpless against them all the same.

After a week of this traveling, six days of movement and one day of rest, they seemed to finally reach their destination, an unnervingly beautiful mansion with shining glass windows, a silent testimony to someone with not just power but money.

They were going to kill him, slaughter him, maybe because of what he could do…

So this would be his end, a murdered boy that no one would remember, that no one would mourn.

He hoped he would at least manage to die with dignity as he hefted his bag more heavily across his shoulders and trailed after the two men up the steps, startled when one dropped a fatherly palm to his head. An odd paternal pat to the head followed as the door was slammed shut and locked behind him. "Like we said," the same man sighed in French, leaning forward to stare at him hard. "Be respectful, and use common sense— nothing impresses her more."

And for the first time since the two men had snuck into his home and taken him hostage, he wondered if he wasn't actually going to be killed.

Down a hall with shining floors and through several doors (the house seemed to be completely empty, no sign of anybody despite his glances around) and finally through one last door, a massive one made of glittering glass in a dark metal frame. The house was beautiful, he had to admit and even bigger on the inside than it had seemed to be from the outside.

He glanced at the older woman sitting at a glass table and froze, eyes flying wide open.

This was a surprise.

She was small, seemed to be about the age his father had been when he had died, dark hair worn short and dressed in a silk robe that she appeared to be completely comfortable in. She was beautiful in a way few people were, tand here was something quietly powerful in her gaze as she flicked a glance over at him, cocked one eyebrow and took him in with sharp eyes.

"I thought you'd be taller."

And she spoke perfect French.

He looked over his shoulder cautiously but found the two men were now gone, the glass door was closed behind them and the curtains were pulled, effectively shutting him in here with a woman who smiled like some kind of wolf. When he looked back at her, she was striking a match against a box and grinned when it ignited. "They're horrible," she admitted as she raised the match to the cigarette dangling from her mouth, her accent flawless but slightly muffled as the cigarette finally caught and flared bright red. "I'm trying to stop, my husband hates them, but they help with some of the stress."

When all he did was stand and stare at her with widened eyes, she narrowed her own in a slight glare.

"I know you can talk, so don't play mute."

Somehow, he knew she did—although he was at a loss as to how.

"I don't know who you are."

"Of course you don't," she chuckled as she pulled out the chair to her side and patted it. "Sit and relax a little bit, you've clearly had a long week."

"Because those men kidnapped me, those men who work for you—"

"It was better them than others."

He jerked his head toward her and waited, but she didn't say anything, just continued playing her game of Solitaire with the pack of cards in front of her. His father had always liked the game, had kept a pack of cards with him wherever he went and had gone over that cliff with them tucked in his pocket.

"My father liked that game—"

"I knew your father a long time ago," she exhaled bluntly, and reached out to give his necklace a quick jerk as her lips twitched in a strangely sincere smile. "He taught me the truth about who I was, and I taught him this game." He sat and gaped at her, startled into a true silence, she rolled her eyes and looked away again, she seemed uneasy with his shock. "They won't dare touch you now; not now that you're with me."

"Who are they?"

"None of your business," she stated flatly, and set a tall glass of some kind of juice in front of him. "I've already purchased an apartment for you, and you'll be staying with a friend of mine, learning how to use that lovely power of yours without driving yourself insane in the process."

"I still don't know who you are—" he protested, confusion leaving him panicked, feeling younger than he had in years and helpless in a way he never had before, not since he had come to understand his power. He was locked out here with this woman who had known his father, this woman who knew what he could do and had sent men to get him that he couldn't use his power on.

"For now, I'm just Mrs. Petrelli," she sighed, and pushed the glass toward him again. "Now drink your damn juice, you're still growing and you're too skinny."

He glanced at the glass, heart beating fast, and then glanced at the woman again only to find her completely focused on her game of Solitaire. There were noises all around, living people working around them, and those men were gone, the ones he couldn't use his power on. He hadn't felt any real fear when he had been on his way here, not anything more than a momentary panic, but he felt it now, a sudden jerk in his middle of true apprehension.

She knew what he could do— and she didn't want any protection, didn't want anyone to protect her.

"I want to know who you are," he said slowly, and he couldn't help but be proud of the way his voice didn't waver in the slightest. "You say my father knew you, but he never mentioned you, never talked about anyone…"

And she simply stared at him, gazed at him with a tiny little grin on her face, as if he were doing something that she found hysterical. When a few ashes drifted down onto one of her cards, she jerked in surprise, grimacing as she tapped it against the edge of the table, allowing more of the fine particles to fall to the ground beneath them.

"I want an answer—"

"If I told you, you wouldn't believe it," and there was not the slightest bit of humor in her face.

It was an odd line, should have felt like a joke and yet he froze at the words, at the tone, at the faint, helpless look in her eyes. There was something like fear there, the barest glimpse of understanding beneath everything else in her gaze. He'd seen that look in his father's eyes at the very end, that same sheen of horrified self-awareness and it left him still and silent.

Left him, somehow, calm.

When she dropped her gaze and went back to her game, he saw that her hands were shaking the smallest bit.

Too dazed to be scared, calm in a way he shouldn't have been, he did what she said and drank his juice.


Manhattan, New York – Present

It had been thirteen days since her son had passed out, and Angela was quickly coming undone.

"Those aren't good for you, Angela."

Mid-way through digging out another cigarette, the matriarch glanced up from the carton and studied the man standing a few feet away with a deceptively calm look on his face. He'd learned it from her, the ability to look like anything except what he really was, and he didn't even seem to realize he was wearing those masks most of the time.

She couldn't help but feel a twinge of pride at it, at how loyal he was.

Angela remembered that twinge and dropped her gaze against it, irritated at herself for the way her heart wavered, for the way her control weakened in remembrance of her— of that strange bond they'd formed. Out of all twelve of them, they had been the only women, the two deceptively delicate-looking wives with secrets of their own. Angela had been an only child, a lonely child, and it was after having her own children that she'd finally found an equal, a match, in some fragile-eyed young woman who crashed into their lives and so easily fit into their group.

And this was how it ended, in utter betrayal.

"Shouldn't you be in Texas?" she demanded, and went back to trying to strike the match.

Her hands were trembling though, long nights of panic taking their toll on her old bones.

When had she become this old?

When had she become this weak, this fragile?

"There's nothing else I can do," he said flatly, and when he came forward to strike the match for her, light her cigarette for her, she didn't have the strength to be irritated at being treated like an old lady. "The girl knows everything you wanted her to know and nothing else." He paused as he blew out the match and dropped it carelessly to the ground. "We both know that if her mother wants her, I can't stop her."

The Haitian couldn't handle the blonde woman, not like she could—he could block her power easily enough, basic mental talent that it was, but she had more weapons than her own power and Angela knew how good the younger woman was with her beloved .45, an unerring aim that Angela had seen a handful of times over the years.

No, the Haitian couldn't handle the blonde woman, but she could and that was what he didn't say, not aloud.

She was old, past sixty and getting older every day, but she was still who she was and she could still—

"I want you back in Texas," she muttered, and didn't look him in the eyes.

"I came to check on you, to make sure you were okay."

Angela thought of Nathan, her firstborn, growing increasingly desperate, looking more and more like her dead husband every day that Peter was in that hospital bed. The first time she'd truly looked at Nathan, she'd seen her own weakness looking back at her, a soft but fierce heart and she'd worked so hard to protect him from it, to save him from it. She'd always thought that he would be the one she would be able to depend on in the end, but that was before she'd had Peter, before he'd surprised her the way he had.

Before she'd looked at the great surprise of her life and had seen her own weakness twisted into strength.

Peter had her eyes and her husband's crooked smile, and he had been such a surprise.

Angela glanced at the Haitian, took him in and remembered the nervous boy that had sipped his juice, the boy she'd allowed to see the real her. He knew her, was one of the few who did, and it was a sign of her weakness, that she had allowed him to know her, see her and understand her. He was loyal to her, cared about her even, had worried enough to come and check on her because he knew how terrified she was.

Her husband had known her before he'd closed his eyes to her, before he'd left her the way he had.

Her old friend had known her, her green-eyed friend she had shared herself with, the younger woman that had grown to be her weakness. It had been nice to be looked up to like that, a role model for somebody that had stared at Angela with an awed kind of delight.

It had been nice, to play the role of an older sister.


Linderman knew her; she still had someone who saw the world like she did, the horrors of it.

Angela still had Linderman, and that would have to be enough.

"It's Mrs. Petrelli," she snapped, and stamped out her cigarette with more force than was needed. "I want you back in Texas, watching that girl, like I told you." She paused and swallowed, wanted to look at him but didn't let herself. "I don't keep you to light my cigarettes."

And she went back down into the damn hospital to see if Peter had come back to her yet.


Odessa, Texas

Claire wondered if she could go to school in her bunny slippers.

They had been her constant companion for the last two weeks, peering up at her as she fretted over how she was going to lie to her liar of a father and dwelled on the fact that the one person she might have been able to trust was in some coma.

She couldn't even freak out over her nightmares of Jackie, because she wasn't supposed to remember.

She felt vaguely disjointed, as if something inside her had come loose and had yet to slip back into place; it felt the same as it did when some bone hadn't settled just right or when she hadn't popped a joint back in the correct way after a long fall. It was familiar but not comfortable, left her twitchy, restless, staring down at her bunny slippers and waiting for them to reveal the secrets of the universe.

So far the bunny slippers, while comfortable, had yet to share any secrets they may have known.

Can you keep a secret?

Claire closed her eyes and pressed a palm to her head, regretting her choice in mental wording. She let out her breath in a long sigh, hating how sore her throat suddenly felt. She had always prided herself on her ability to not come completely undone at anything that may set her off but all she felt like doing now was finding someone to scream at until they helped her find a way to make her life make sense again.

Claire didn't like her life not making sense—it didn't feel real when it didn't make sense, felt as if someone could just take it away without any real trouble at all.

"I can't deal with this," she mumbled into the heel of her hand, her eyes so tightly scrunched shut that she saw stars.


For a heartbeat, her panic was so intense it felt like that Homecoming all over again, she was bloody and rushing through the halls. Shocked into silence, she dropped her hand and found her father (but he wasn't her father, not really) peering at her worriedly, confused innocence on his face as he pushed his glasses up with one finger.


"Are you okay?"

She sat on her bed in her old pajama pants and her bunny slippers and took him in with wide eyes, seeing him for the first time, as a sudden chilling thought pierced her panic, leaving it too still and quiet as it settled inside her.

Where had he gotten her?

He wasn't her father, not really, but she must have had a mother and a father, that was how things worked—

What if he had lied about that, too?

What if they were out there, looking for her?

What if—

Claire knew for a fact that her heart stopped all the time, that she had died often enough and it was almost second nature but it still left her dazed as she felt her heart stutter and stop for just a second, felt the abrupt new thought curl inside her, curl and settle.

Can you keep a secret?

What if they weren't looking for her?

Claire had thought a lot about what her life meant over the last two weeks, what other lies her father could have told and yet it was only in that moment, staring up at him, shocked speechless with a sudden wrench of emotion, that it hit her.

What if they weren't looking for her?

What if he had— done something— like what he had done to Lyle and Zach—

Can you keep a secret?

"Fine," she said, not sure how she was speaking but sure of herself somehow. "I'm fine," she continued, pulling a teddy bear into her arms and playing with an ear as she smiled slightly up at her father, feeling something painful tighten inside her at the way he smiled back. "I'm just nervous about tomorrow."

"You don't have to be."

"I know, but… you know…"

"You don't have to be," he said more firmly and when he reached out to smooth a large palm across her face, brush hair from her cheek, it took everything she had not to flinch back, picturing some couple somewhere that might not even know she existed, more people that her father had lied to.

Claire had done it in the years since she had found out she had been adopted, imagined who her parents may have been, maybe some young couple just out of high school or maybe a single mother who couldn't have taken care of her. She'd always pictured some beautiful blonde woman as her mother, some graceful woman she could see some of herself in, see her own nose or chin or even her own eyes staring back at her.

Can you keep a secret?

"I'm fine," she said shortly, stunned at how calm her own voice sounded, and she pulled away slightly, leaning back and scooting up the bed until her back rested against the headboard. "I'm thinking about wearing my bunny slippers back, though."

"I don't think your mother would let you get away that." He paused, lips twitching and then cocked an eyebrow playfully, looking for all the world like he was about to share some great secret with her. "We could always sneak them to school under her nose, though… maybe hide them in your backpack?"

Claire almost threw her bear at him, but resisted— she couldn't throw it but she didn't want to hold it anymore either.

It felt like it was burning her.

"Maybe," she finally smiled, and settled for putting the bear in her lap, ignoring the way it peered up at her cheerfully. "I should sleep," she added a long moment later and tilted her head back to meet his gaze and found him smiling down at her with a vaguely relieved stare that made her palms feel sweaty. "What?"

"I love you."

Claire didn't believe him and for a moment she panicked but then she found herself grinning nervously, the big stupid grin that was always giving her away when she felt all emotional and didn't want to show it. It was a shock, the way she felt her face settle into it, the way she tilted her head back the way she would have if she hadn't known he was a liar who worked with creepy guys who could steal memories.

"I love you, too."

A relieved look lit up his face again and he bent and pressed a kiss to her forehead as she closed her mouth and gritted her teeth, a quick peck that once would have made the world feel better and now only made her feel ill.

She sat awkwardly and watched him leave and click the door shut behind him.

Only after his footsteps faded away, only after she could hear him talking in quiet murmurs to her mom downstairs, did she throw the bear violently across the room, watching it strike the wall before it fell to the floor in a way that was too reminiscent of her own slam against the school wall two weeks before.

She watched it for a moment, unnerved, but there was no blood and it didn't get up and pop any bones into place, so—

Tell me, Claire, can you keep… a secret?

"Yes," she murmured, and watched her bunny slippers peer up at her like they knew the secrets of the universe.


Notes: So concludes the second part of the epic - also, the last semi-smaller part, heh. From here on out, the updates are gonna be pretty freaking huge, so, yeah, I will not say no to nice big amounts of feedback, heh... come on, give me a little bit of feedback, eh?

Make me a happy girl, eh?