-1Five Times Shanti Suresh Didn't Die (an AU)
As a general rule, clerics in the City Council weren't supposed to read the paperwork they filed away. But rules were meant to be broken.
Death certificates were especially riveting. They could detail a heroic struggle with a debilitating disease, or a cautionary tale of excess and vice. The one he held now, however, was more sad than anything else. She had been just shy of her fifth birthday, a tiny little thing at the start of her life. She'd come from a good family too- he recognized the name Suresh from the University Newsletter he'd sometimes read- and would have, in all likelihood, led a charmed life, had not this 'unknown virus' taken it away.
Sighing slightly, he moved onto the next bit of paperwork.
The way they usher her inside, all false smiles and eye contact avoidance, has her worried. Normally, she's treated as either a potential recruit, or, as the years went by and it became apparent that she was a mother first, a wife second, a doctor when she had time and a Company woman never, an unavoidable hindrance. They were never accommodating. They never asked her if she's like some tea, or perhaps to sit down. And she hadn't even seen Mr. Monroe since he'd come to her with that thrice damned offer- her daughter's life for her freedom.
It's always the same: uncomfortable grey room with a one-way mirror set stereotypically against one wall, two plain chair and a table, some times set with a pitcher of water and two glasses, as though even that pale comfort was an afterthought. The only thing that changes was whether or not her daughter would be ready and waiting for her, or if she would be waiting for her daughter.
So when the words come- the words she'd half expected but never really believed would come- the news that Shanti had died, that something they'd done to her had finally worn through her still-fragile defense and she was gone forever, she doesn't react. She lets all of Monroe's slippery words- half-truths and outright lies about how had they tried to save her, comforting words that don't bother to try and sound sincere- details, really- slide over her, and merely nods mutely when she is handed an urn.
Walking away from the Company, she consoles herself with the idea that her daughter is still alive in some form, somewhere. And if she notices the small brown face pressed to the window when she turned around, she gave nothing away.
He really wasn't expecting this. He wasn't entirely sure what he was expecting- some sort of afterlife? Ninety-nine virgins or hellfire or pearly white gates or something else he didn't really believe in?- but this was not it.
"Shelley," he said, as calmly as he could, "What just happened?"
"Bennet shot you," she began. He winced- he'd known that, but that didn't make it any less painful. "He shot you, and you fell over the side of the bridge."
"Ah," he said. "Why am I still alive, then?"
"Adam owes me," she answered, tucking an empty syringe into her pocket. "If it makes you feel better, you were definitely dead when I found you."
"Loads, thanks," He answered, hauling himself up. "They'll be looking for me."
"And they'll find you. Or what's left of you, anyway," she pointed to a small, bloody pile on a nearby rock.
"What the- is that-" he spluttered.
"The tracking device? Why, yes it is," she answered smugly.
"I was going to say a toe," Claude replied. Shelley remained silent. "Is that my toe?"
"It is! You cut off my bloody toe!" he yelled. "I can't believe this- how on earth- why on earth-"
"It grew back," she replied defensively. "And I though it would be a little suspicious is they only found your tracking device at the bottom of the falls."
Claude took a deep breathe, before the full implication hit him. "You cut out my tracker."
"Now he gets it," Shelley replied. "Granted, the blood stopped working towards the end, and now you have some pretty horrific scars on your back…"
"They can't find me. I'm free."
"And about twice as thick as usual."
"I'm free!" He lifted her up in the air, swinging her around in celebration. "Do you realize what this means? We can-"
"No," Shelley said calmly, disentangling herself. "We can't do anything. You're going to get as far away from here as you possibly can. I have to stay here."
"What are you talking about? I'm not-"
"Oh yes, you are," Shelley said firmly. "I still have a tracker; I'm stuck here. You're, as you just pointed out about seventeen times- free. So you're leaving, and if you're smart you won't give me a second thought."
"But- Shelley, they got me. They found out about what we were doing. It's only a matter of time before someone gets an order to take you out and-"
"Correction: they found out about what you were doing. I've disavowed any knowledge of your betrayal, and have pledged to help uncover any and all evidence of your wrongdoing. The Company doesn't like the idea of traitors; they'll be more than happy to pin it entirely on a dead man and let it collect dust under a carpet."
Her voice had gone gentle towards the end of this statement. It didn't help.
"As far as I can get, eh?" he said at last. "Is that a subtle way of asking me to check in on your family in India?"
"Don't bother. My mother will eat you alive, and my father will want to dissect the remains," she replied.
"Take care, Shanti," he said. "I won't be seeing you."
"And I better not see you, James." She smiled, and he disappeared.
He wheeled around. Looked mildly surprised at her angered appearance. Kept his cool even as she marched right up into his personal space.
"What is the meaning of this?"
"I'm afraid you're going to have to be a bit more specific, Ms. Rice," he answered. "I have quite a few ongoing projects at the moment and-"
"Just tell me about the one that involves you injecting a little girl with my virus," she snapped, face flushing.
"It was by accident, I assure you," he stated calmly, raising his hands in a no threatening manner.
"And how, pray tell, do you inject a kid- your prized tracking system- with a fatal disease on accident?"
"Perhaps sabotage would be a better word?" He shrugged. "We've always had problems with elements of the Company going rogue. Unfortunately, young Miss Walker was caught in the crossfire."
"Yes, I'm sure that will come as a great comfort to her on her deathbed at the age of nine. Why wasn't I informed when the vials went missing?"
"Vial," Linderman corrected politely.
"She was targeted specifically? Great, just great. Doesn't change the fact that if any sample of the virus goes missing I'm supposed to be informed, though," she snarled.
"You're to be informed of any containment issues, yes. But one willful contamination of one subject hardly counts as a breach," Linderman protested.
"You've been stuck in your casino for too long if you really think that. There's no cure- she's going to die, and if we have subversives running about with any amount of the virus on their hands then-"
"We have a cure."
"No, you don't have a-" she stopped suddenly, eyes widening in horror before narrowing in rage. "You leave him out of this."
"You said it yourself, if we don't obtain the cure somehow, Miss Walker will-"
"My family is to be left alone. You promised. And you kept that promise, even after Sylar, even after my father died-"
Linderman staggered back; Shelley's eyes had gone dark. He felt his throat tighten and his vision begin to obscure. Fred upholstered his gun and fired, hitting her in the stomach. His vision cleared, and it became easier to breath again.
"There wasn't a need for that, Thompson" Linderman said quietly, bending over her prone form.
"Whatever you say," Thompson shrugged. "Shall I go on ahead, then?"
"I think it might be better if you went on a solo mission this time, Mr. Thompson," Linderman said.
Fred nodded, and left.
"If it makes you feel anymore calm, Ms. Rice, your brother will only be employed for as long as it takes to cure Miss Walker. He will be allowed to leave at any time. And if she wasn't so important, I wouldn't have violated our agreement."
"Yeah," Shelley gritted. "You need her, so you'll heal her. Sound familiar?"
She'd been grounded after that; after Linderman and Thompson's death, after Bishop had taken over. Perhaps it was because she'd been very vocal in her opposition of Elle- perhaps it was because she had, until recently, been a much more esteemed member of the Company than he was, but Bob Bishop did not like her. And he showed it.
First, he refused to call her by her chosen name of "Shelley Rice", always using her given name instead. Secondly, he went out a recruited her brother to work on her virus of all things. Mohinder had supposedly vowed not to rest until every strain of the virus had been destroyed, and Bishop had, apparently given his consent. She wondered, sometimes, if Bishop planned to somehow manipulate her brother into killing him. It seemed to be the sort of ironic, twisted, thing he would do.
And then, one day, he called her to his office.
"Ms. Suresh," he said, all used salesman and snake oil charm. "I have an assignment for you."
"Am I being put back in the field?" Shanti asked.
"No. With both you in Mohinder working here now, and with him oblivious to your existence, that probably wouldn't be wise. Instead, we have a training assignment for you."
"We feel your very well suited to train this individual."
"We. There's a 'we' now?"
Bishop didn't answer, instead leading her down into the holding area. The doors opened, to reveal a young, Hispanic woman struggling to maintain her composure as her eyes darkened.
"Oh," Shanti replied. So this was his game. She would train her own successor, and when that was finished, so would she be.
Well, it could be worse. She'd certainly survived worse; she'd survived the Company under Monroe, and under Linderman. She'd survive this too.