Mohinder is smart. Brilliant, his professors would gush. Top five percent of his class, youngest tenured faculty member at the university, awards and accolades at his feet.
Mohinder is smart and he's always been smart.
He hasn't always been able to lie. It was a talent that came to him perhaps too late, but one he quickly mastered. He was brilliant and charming and handsome and he could not only lie, but lie well. And just like his intelligence it was a gift, a skill acquired painfully over time and now one he used everyday to survive.
But he'd made one great mistake and it had cost him everything. He'd underestimated Matt Parkman. Lied to him. Hurt him.
Matt was an innocent victim in his machinations, a kind, generous, dedicated family man he'd shamelessly taken advantage of.
He'd taken in all of that bluster and good cheer, Molly's perfect protector, a giant teddy bear, no deeper than a birdbath with all of his emotions written across his wide sincere face, and he'd assessed the situation as not a threat, or at least as one easily neutralized. Matt was too stupid to lie or to spot a liar, even with all his abilities.
But, as Matt had so eloquently put it, the joke was on him. It turned out Matt was a better liar than he could ever hope to be. He'd lived with Matt for months, slept in his bed, and he doesn't think he ever truly knew him.
But it's already been established that Mohinder is smart, or at least smart enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to take newly acquired information and reassess the situation.
He sees his little girl on weekends. And he's pathetically grateful for even that. After all, where had his much discussed concern for Molly's interest been when he was scheming and planning? Where had she ranked in his priorities? Nowhere. She'd been a toy, a treasure to be kept out of less deserving hands. It's only because Matt is a far better man that he is that he even gets to see her at all. There are 168 hours between his visits. He counts down the seconds and when she arrives, he makes small talk with Matt as they pass her off like a prisoner exchange at the DMZ. Civility for her sake and also because Matt is a puzzle his brilliant mind can't figure out.
He wants to, though.
He wants to be able to justify himself. He wants there to be some other explanation besides I couldn't stand the idea of you taking what belonged to me. He wants Matt to not be so uncomfortably spot-on in his assessment. Matt called him a whore and he's only just realizing he's been playing that part in every aspect of his life. Just now realizing that while Sylar may have put on the finishing touches, he was damaged goods long before 'Zane Taylor.' He's sold his soul piece meal, for what? High marks in exchange for pats on the head? Academic curiosity? His father's approval? At the Company he's conceded to one moral compromise after another for the sake of some greater truth he's not even sure matters anymore.
He'd had a good life. A daughter who loved him just because, a kind loving partner whose interest in him extended beyond just how useful he was. Had he at one time thought Matt being simple a character flaw? How he longed for simple now.
He's brilliant enough to know the magnitude of his loss, but he wasn't brilliant enough to prevent it.
He wants Matt to forgive him, wants Matt not to hate him, wants them to possibly be friends someday. He wants Matt to stop treating him like a polite acquaintance and say one real thing to him.
He can't help thinking that if he can find the real Matt, it might help him find the real Mohinder.
It's in the middle of the 72nd hour of his 168th hour without Molly-and yes, he can admit it, without Matt, when he gets the phone call.
He makes hasty arrangements for Molly to go home from school with a friend and rushes from the lab.
Matt looks up at him, his expression blank, exhaustion fairly radiating off of him, dark circles under his eyes like smears of black ink.
"There was no one else to call and they won't let me sign myself out."
Mohinder can't help wincing at the ugly angry bruises already forming around Matt's neck under the harsh glare of florescent hospital lights.
How big must the suspect have been to be able to inflict that kind of damage? Mohinder pictures the chain from the handcuffs wrapping around Matt's neck, tighter, tighter as he struggled for air…no. That's not how it happened at all, is it? Matt's commanding officer told him as much. That's why he's here.
When they enter the apartment, Molly's presence everywhere, a stab to the chest that almost doubles him over, Matt studiously ignores him and moves to the kitchen downing a handful of aspirin.
His body language screams 'Don't want to talk about it.'
Mohinder thinks that's just too damn bad.
"You must have seen it coming, Matthew. Some kind of warning. A man doesn't try to kill a police officer without thinking about it first."
"Fuller's worried about you, you know. He thinks you to should talk to someone."
More than thinks. The words used had been 'strongly suggest.' Mohinder suspects if Matt continues down this path, the matter will not remain voluntary for long.
"He told me you didn't even fight back. Why?"
Still no answer and that in itself is all he needs to know. He's suddenly very angry at Matt. He expects Matt to be better than this. One of them has to. One of them has to think of that little girl who has already lost more than enough in her short life. But more than being angry at Matt's selfishness in willingly leaving Molly alone, Mohinder is angry at Matt's stupidity for ever thinking him worth dying over.
Matt's laugh is like the rustle of dry leaves.
"Don't flatter yourself. This goes so far beyond a bad break up."
Crossing the room to place a hand on Matt's back seems to take a thousand years, he feels as if he's walking through water.
"Then why don't you tell me what it is?"
Another ugly laugh.
"So you can store it away in your secret file on me? No way. Sorry doc, but you and I have serious trust issues."
"Be that as it may, I'm not leaving until you talk to me."
Matt spins around so suddenly, Mohinder's outstretched hand still hovers between them. Matt glares at it as if he expects it to become a fist any moment. Or maybe he just wishes it would. Matt clearly wants a fight and his next words land as sure as any punch.
"And then what, Mohinder? Are you going to fix me? Make me all better? Hoping I'll cry on your shoulder? That we'll bond? That we can say bygones be bygones and we'll bury the hatchet like you didn't lie to me? Like you didn't betray me? Like you didn't hurt Molly?"
Matt's voice takes on a tense and dangerous tone and he looks more than a bit satisfied when Mohinder instantly steps back. This realization has Mohinder stubbornly digging in his heels. If he didn't intend to leave before, he's certainly not going to do it now and let Matt think he's afraid of him.
"No, it's just that if you plan on killing yourself, I'd like a bit of fair warning so that the proper arrangements can be made." he snaps. Matt flinches and Mohinder ruthlessly pushes forward.
"Could you perhaps sign the lease on the apartment over to me? The commute from here is much better than from my own place. That's what this was, Matt, wasn't it? Not a suspect that overpowered you, not an off day, not misjudging a situation. It was a suicide attempt."
"It would have gone down as an accident, though. You can think what you want about me, but Molly would have been taken care of and she never would have known."
Matt sinks against the counter, all the fight gone out of him. There. It's been said out loud, dragged into the light and they can't take it back. And even though Mohinder knew it, he still has to close his eyes, brace himself against the sick feeling in his gut at the naming of it.
"Why?" The word hurts when it escapes from his throat.
"Why what? Why am I so weak? Why take the easy way out? Maybe I'm just crazy. I mean, gosh, who would ever want to give up all of this?" He throws his arms out in a sweeping motion that encompasses the entire apartment.
Mohinder has seen Matt angry, he's seen Matt sarcastic, but even at the worst he doesn't think he's ever recalled the other man this bitter. The sound of is scrapes against his skin.
"Do I have to pick just one reason?"
"How tragic for you. You have a beautiful little girl you get to see every day and watch grow up and a job that helps people. My heart bleeds for you."
Mohinder's voice is just as harsh because anger is easier than admitting he is afraid. He wants to run. He desperately wants to escape Matt and Matt's pain.
It's too much. Too big, too ugly, too complicated, too messy, too real. Too much like his own.
Instead of rising to the bait, Matt suddenly turns on a conversational dime.
"Do you still have nightmares?"
Every night. When he manages to sleep at all.
"No, not anymore."
"Liar." Matt gives a thin smile which is actually more like a twisting of the mouth. "Trust issues, Mohinder. Do you need a self-help book?"
As if Matt is the one who should be lecturing anyone about emotionally healthy behavior.
"The reason I asked it because I have 'em too and I thought we could compare notes. Mine are pretty varied actually. About Kirby Plaza. About Janice. About waking up scared and confused with three days of my memory gone. About watching Nathan bleed out. About becoming my old man. Sometimes I even have nightmares about other people's nightmares. Isn't that just the coolest thing ever? You know what I dream about on good days? Crime scenes. Nice, ordinary, run-of-the-mill homicides. Because at least I can talk about that stuff with the other guys, compare war stories. Can't really drop a crazed power stealing psycho into polite conversation, now can I?"
"Molly. What about Molly?" Mohinder offers her up as a talisman, a ward against the ugly truths of Matt's revelation.
"Oh, don't worry. She's in there, too. Asking me why I couldn't protect her from the boogieman. Hooked up to machines and monitors, trapped in her head because of something I forced her to do. Running away from me because I'm just like him. You may think of it as abandoning her, but I see it as getting out while the getting's still good. While she still thinks I'm her hero. Give me enough time and I'll fuck that up too, eventually. It's kind of what I do."
Matt's crowding him again. And why does it seem all their ugliest moments are doomed to occur in this tiny little kitchen? However, this time instead of feeling trapped, he closes the last sliver of distance and kisses Matt. He kisses Matt because it's either that or laugh at the complete absurdity of how spectacularly off the mark he still is. How had he ever thought this man was anything close to simple?
Matt may be kind, generous, and loving. And he most certainly was a victim in Mohinder's charade. But the man is far, far from innocent.
Matt is hidden strengths Mohinder will reluctantly concede are more than comparable to his own, a snapping reply, having to think twice as fast so as not to slip up.
Matt is sharp. Matt is jaded, a walking hall of mirrors, refracting and reflecting back everyone's expectations of him. And just like glass, even if it might hurt, Mohinder wants to touch him.
Matt is all of these things, and at the same time he's still the man who would bring home flowers for no reason. Stranger still, all these traits don't seem to contradict each other.
Kissing Matt right now is stupid and selfish, but they both know stupid and selfish. At least this time it's because he wants to. And that's progress, isn't it?
Matt is fairly strumming with tension, it seems to sizzle and hum beneath his skin making Mohinder's palms twitch. When they pull apart, Matt stares at him intently. It isn't the harsh angry look he's become used to. It's calm and collected, still confrontational, just a different kind.
"What's your angle, Mohinder?"
He doesn't have one. He kissed Matt because he wanted to. Because Matt shouldn't be alone right now and this is the only thing he has to offer.
And that's so wrong and at the same time, not.
Matt initiates the second kiss, wasting no time turning it rough and punishing, bordering on obscene. He fucks Mohinder's mouth, rocking against him, and palming the front of his slacks.
"Is this my almost died pity screw? When I'm not in danger of eating my gun anymore, do we go back to the status quo?"
Mohinder squeezes his eyes shut.
It's an out and he knows it. He can walk away and they'll never mention this, it will go on top of the towering pile of other things they never talk about. Or he can let Matt make this as meaningless as he chooses.
This is different, scarier than it was before. It was easier when it was all instinctual, the new biological imperative, the fight or fuck response. Now he's being given chances and choices and he's not sure what to do with them.
"This can be whatever you need it to be, but you have to tell me why you didn't fight back. Why now, Matthew? You've survived the worst of it, why end it like this?"
"Because I saw an opportunity and I took it. Because I'm tired, Mohinder. Tired of doing the right thing. Tired of wanting what I can't have. Tired of hoping things get better. McAvoy wanted me dead, he wanted me to struggle, to beg him to let me go. He was so pissed at me when I didn't. I couldn't breath, I was starting to black out and I wasn't even scared. And then practically the whole squad room was on us, pulling us apart and all I could think was, 'I was so fucking close. A few more seconds and it would have been over. I could have just let go.' Do you know what it's like to feel like that all the time?"
His voice is heavy with it, and Mohinder realizes for the first time just how tiring it is to be Matt.
Broken, wounded, occasionally spiteful, and so very angry. Angry at the world around him, at his circumstances, at himself for caring so much. Matt talks and jokes, is in constant motion, because if he stands still the weight of his demons would surely crush him. All the criminals he can't catch, all the missed opportunities, the thoughts of everyone around him, all that pain and suffering jostling and elbowing for attention.
Is this what Matt had been trying to tell him all those times sitting on the couch together? Struggling to make some sort of sense of the world while he did his best not to roll his eyes?
Why hadn't he seen it?
Why hadn't he listened?
He's listening now. To what Matt says and more than that, to what Matt doesn't say.
Now the question isn't why Matt didn't fight back, but why he didn't stop fighting sooner.
Another kiss. Mohinder can sense everything, doesn't know if it's Matt's power or just tied to this moment of recognition, all the passion and rage and barely contained self loathing. Despite that, he feels utterly safe. He pushes his tongue into Matt's mouth and tastes coffee and exhaustion, Matt's hands bunching and tensing in the fabric of his shirt. Mohinder can't be sure if he's pushing him away or pulling him closer.
Mohinder works a palm under Matt's suit. A graceful shrug of shoulders-and why is he only now noticing Matt's odd grace?-and the jacket hits the floor. Matt's hands are tracing his ribs, counting along each ridge of his spine.
Mohinder's chest hurts, a vague clawing ache like the thrill of his research, the sudden euphoric moment of discovery, the rush of a good lay--or a really good lie.
No, possibly better.
He pulls away with a gasp, trying to find his footing again in foreign lands.
"Why are you still here?"
And how long before you leave, too?
Matt's voice cracks slightly and Mohinder can see the room suddenly filled with all the ghosts of the people in Matt's life who didn't stay.
Mohinder considers the stakes and for the first time wonders if the rewards are worth the risk. After all, what does he have to lose besides facades and fronts, a detached grey life he's come to loathe?
"Because you haven't asked me to leave yet. Are you going to?"
"I don't know. Should I?"
Mohinder licks his lips. He wants to say he'll stay if Matt does, but he doesn't think he's earned the right to make such demands.
"Probably. I'm still fucked up, you know."
This time Matt's smile looks like something more resembling an actual smile.
"That's alright. As sexy as I look in pearls, I'm not exactly June Cleaver myself. I just do a hell of a better job at hiding it."
Matt steps back slightly, giving Mohinder plenty of room to move away if he chooses to. He doesn't.
"Not as good of a job as you think."
Matt's mouth brushes against his temple.
"Hmm, got me all figured out do you?"
Not at all. Not even close. But he's beginning to and that's a start.
Mohinder doesn't know who initiates the next kiss. This one is different than all the others, soft, gentle, almost chaste.
Apology and absolution, a promise that if things won't always be better, they'll at least be different this time.
It's the closest thing to truth Mohinder's ever known.