A/N: I'm finally going to bump the rating up to M. I really don't feel I've written anything very graphic in this fic, but what with the occasional language, violence, and sexytimes, I think it's better to err on the side of caution. Maybe a bit silly, this close to the end, but I'm doing it.
As it turned out, Micah had done some dirty dealing back in the day. Purely financial and all technological, nothing violent or excessively sordid about it. The end result is what he and Molly affectionately, yet dismally, termed the Isle of Last Resort—or, for the sake of brevity and levity, The Resort.
The Resort is your ultimate destination when it becomes clear that no option exists for living safely or comfortably among the rest of mankind. When you have sought out, or been sought out by, the Sanders, who made it their mission to locate, educate, and assist those often frightened and bewildered people in possession of extraordinary gifts. Many who habited its rocky shores over the decades have been like Sylar, in that they tended towards mayhem, yet very unlike him, in that they did not tend that way on purpose. Still more have been shunned or traumatized due to their functioning in society, plagued with disorders like PTSD and agoraphobia, unfortunate side effects of their uniqueness. These souls, keenly aware that in a darker time they might have been burned as witches, have seen the old pitiless hatred on modern faces. Some who have entered The Resort have managed to heal there and make their way back to humanity. Some have spun their lives out and been buried in the little cemetery which lies in a clearing beneath a high mountain. Some have thrown themselves into the ocean and drowned.
No one is ever forced onto The Resort. For its size, it is quite sparsely populated, which suits those dangerous or hermitic individuals. Because of its availability—and taking into account mutual history, friendship, and the novelty of the situation—Claire is allowed to retreat there with her son.
"Only for a while," Micah sternly said, looking at the baby asleep in the bassinet. Claire recognized his concern for the boy, that he should have a normal childhood. He and Molly had numerous children and grandchildren, and he ought to know best. Still, she had to admit that living "normal" lives among "normal" people certainly hadn't granted either she, Micah, Molly, or, for that matter, Gabriel Gray a normal childhood. Quite the contrary.
It's been five months now since she birthed a screaming, healthy, happy baby boy. She did a fair amount of screaming herself, relishing the labor after being so long benumbed to pain. She supposed it was because the cramps were natural, not the result of damage but the process of motion within her body, that she felt them. She almost savored the agony.
Then he was laid in her arms, and when he latched onto her breast, she hiccupped a sob and called him:
"Noah. . ."
It should be mentioned that Noah has no hooves, though Claire was quite prepared to love him, all the same.
  
"Micah died . . . finally."
These are the words with which Sylar greets her after their separation of more than a year.
Not so much as a how-do-you-do, she chided him once before. However, she can hardly blame him for launching straight into the issue. Truthfully, she isn't all that surprised—nor nearly as horrified as she should be—to see him standing there when she throws open the flimsy door to her seaside abode. He has that trademark way of turning up uninvited, after all, and as for how he got here. . . Perhaps he skied across the way on a couple of stiffened corpses, or maybe he's a glorified merman now, thanks to a recent kill. Who knows, and frankly, who cares? For the moment, he's background, boring in comparison with the blow he's just delivered.
"Died?" Claire lifts a hand to her mouth on reflex, but it migrates slowly downward, to cover her heart. Her oldest friend—the only one left from the old, natural portion of her life—gone. Irrevocably gone.
"Died," Sylar confirms, shouldering past her into the little cabin, which, in the tropical heat, might be more accurately called a shack. "Kicked the bucket, bought the farm, gave up the ghost, what have you . . ."
God, she's glad it isn't his job to deliver bad news in hospitals.
"Well, you have to admit he had a good run," he consoles her, as she shuts the door and turns to face him, her grief stunted by his brash entry. "Look at this place."
"I'm sorry, why—why are you here? Micah died, and . . ?"
"Oh, that. I impersonated one of his kids. Or maybe a grandkid, I don't know. The Sanders mate like oversexed jackrabbits, apparently. Anyway, I got into his records. Easy enough. I almost felt bad about it, but—"
"But then you found what you were looking for and congratulated yourself instead."
"You know me so well." He shoves his hands in his pockets. He has rolled his black sleeves up to his elbows.
Of course, he would wear a long-sleeved black shirt to a tropical island. Claire reflects that it will probably have to come off soon, and her mouth suddenly floods. It isn't the only part of her body wet at the sight of him.
How long has it been, again?
Nor does it appear she's alone in her appreciation. He's looking her up and down with a scowl and a slight shake of his head, clearly trying to impress upon her what a spoiled little brat she is, out here on the beach on dead Micah's dime with her tanned legs and her sun-bleached hair and her hot pink bikini top, and her—and her—
His eyes are glazing a bit.
"The truth is, Claire Bear," he says, his voice oddly strained. Quickly, he blinks and lets his gaze roam about the room, taking in the décor. She's been collecting seashells. Of course she has. "I needed to get away for a while. Guess who the feds are looking for?"
"Do I have to?"
"Play along . . ." he cajoles her.
"Okay." With a sigh, she crosses her arms over her chest. "Could it be . . . you?"
"Not just me. Say the name."
"Sylar, what the hell are you—" She breaks off as she gets it, and almost laughs. "Oh, you have to be shitting me. Sylar? They're looking for Sylar again?"
"They finally went public with the name. They're only hurting themselves, of course. Look like complete lunatics to everybody except conspiracy theorists and the Sanders. Still, I thought now was as good a time as any for a vacation, what with Micah biting it. Why not look you up and bury the hatchet?"
The hatchet, yes. And other things . . . Claire has opened her mouth to acquiesce (after a bit of heated dithering), but she doesn't get the chance. An interruption arrives in the form of an infantile whimpering from the next room. Noah stirs.
Now arrives the revelation which has been niggling the back of Claire's mind, crawling beneath her discombobulation like a live insect seeking trespass through a mesh screen. For Sylar, the effect is surreal: the humid air sitting on his skin goes momentarily glacial. He freezes.
What is that? His lips move, but his vocal chords are still paralyzed. With a rough shake of his head, he amends, this time audibly:
"What the hell is that?"
Claire hesitates, lips parting pointlessly. No explanation, no polished introduction can ease this shock. Tucking back a strand of hair that has escaped her bun, she disappears into a side room. He watches her go, frowning at the drop of perspiration running down her spine to the linen wrap skirt sitting on her hips. His lust has been annihilated, or put on hold, or something.
After a moment of fussing with Noah, tugging off the tee shirt he has attempted to remove himself, Claire hoists him into her arms and returns to the living room. She first switches on a solar-powered fan to cool her son, who is overheated rather than soiled or hungry. Then she comes to stand a foot or so from the boy's father, who can only stare. She looks from one to the other, waiting.
After a near century of knowing Claire—knowing her in as many capacities as he might reasonably hope to know her—their dynamic changes in a heartbeat. The heartbeat of an infant, to be precise. For him, the baby was always an abstract idea, a chain of sorts. Not a chain to be lamented, as some men might have seen it, but one to be celebrated, one which would bind Claire to him. Even when hoping the child would love him, it was this way. To disentangle the threefold cord—
-on the one hand, he and Claire—
-on the other, Claire and the baby—
-is unthinkable. These are things which could not possibly exist separately. And yet they have. And they do.
So what is this thing in her arms, which is not him and yet seems so much like him as he once was, brown eyes as yet unhaunted, hungering for little more than milk? What is this . . . this boy-thing which has never contributed one single goddamned advantage to his life, which has utterly failed to tie Claire to him, and yet exists with its own feelings and its own admittedly limited perspective of the world?
"What is that?" he asks once more, but his voice is faint and he finds himself falling backwards, barely feeling his haunches strike the wicker sofa.
"Noah," Claire responds, swimming dimly in his vision.
Is he fainting or crying? Can he do the one, ought he to do the other?
"He is Noah," she states again, subtly correcting his pronoun usage as she jounces Noah gently in her arms. "He's my son . . . He's our son."
Sylar puts his head between his knees, just to be safe.
  
He has a margarita in his hand, expertly crafted by Claire and three-quarters finished by the time he finds his voice again. He's still seated on the wicker sofa—which really looks as if it belongs on somebody's deck, but he's never claimed to be a decorator—only now Noah occupies the middle space to his left. Claire is at the other end, turned inward with her legs crossed so she can quickly reach for Noah should he wriggle too near the edge. Sylar can see up her linen skirt to the hot-pink bikini bottom, but all he can think about is how Noah came from there. Except—
No, it is sexy. The potential for excitement is still highly present, to say nothing of insistent. He will not be able to repress it forever, and he is repressing it, along with other feelings. Fury is high on the list.
"How old is he?" he asks. A good, neutral question, so long as one isn't keeping an account of lost time.
"Five months last week," says Claire.
So he files five months and a week into the account.
"And you named him Noah . . ."
Sylar thinks better of the biting comments that rise in his throat, each of which are highly unflattering of the former paper salesman turned secret agent (turned lying bastard turned corpse). Instead he opts for another good, neutral question:
"Didn't Larry name one of his sons Noah?"
"Lyle," Claire sighs. "For god's sake, my brother's name was Lyle. And are you kidding me? The way Lyle felt about Dad, I'm surprised he didn't name his firstborn after you."
Another victim of the Father of the Year Syndrome, Sylar assesses. He extends his index finger to the baby. The baby cordially removes its fist from its mouth and wraps its slobbery little hand around the digit. Sylar smiles. It's only slightly disgusting.
"Why didn't you?" he asks her.
"Why didn't I what?"
"Name him after me." Not a good, neutral question. A bad, loaded, kind of all around ridiculous one.
"Oh, you know," she replies with sardonic dismissal, "name your kid after a celebrity, and they go through life feeling overshadowed."
"You could've named him Gabriel." With every passing second, the repressed feelings writhe harder, threatening to unrepress themselves all over the hideous wicker furniture and shell-spackled walls.
Claire hasn't met his eyes since sitting down, but even with her face averted down at the baby, he can see the slight twist of her lips. After a beat, she says what they both already know:
"Get serious. Gabriel didn't father this little guy."
True story. But Gabriel's not here now, either, not even in his incorporeal popup form. Right now, it's all Sylar, and he's a better, more brutal bookkeeper than the watchmaker ever was. Mentally, he skims the account again.
She named him Noah. Okay, no biggie. So she named his son after a man whose sole purpose in life was to see him six feet under. He can live with that.
Five months. And a week. Don't forget the week. All that time after New York, chasing a high he couldn't catch, trying to wrap his mind around the way they left it—Till we meet again, and all that angry, immortal crap—and all the time, here she was. Nonchalantly, contentedly stealing five goddamned months from him!
And a week!
"Did you even-?" He doesn't finish the question, which was winding in a way neither good nor neutral, because he feels Noah wrap his mouth around the tip of his finger. The baby applies a surprisingly strong suction before whining and releasing Sylar's hand.
Empty, the baby seems to complain.
Sylar wipes his hand on his sweat-dampened shirt. In his periphery, he watches Claire take up their son and pull loose the knot at the back of her neck. Her bikini top falls.
"I missed you," she says, maybe answering his question.
Their eyes meet—his vaguely accusatory in the swirling storm of conflicting emotion, hers serious but unapologetic. He wonders how much of Claire Bennet is his making, whether he can forgive the steel in her even knowing he necessitated it.
"Did you miss me?" she returns. Sits back against the wicker arm rest. Uncrosses her legs and puts her bare feet in his lap.
Happy little family.
Sylar watches Noah latch onto her breast, not even bothering to wonder how inappropriate his own primal response might be. Claire is clearly enjoying the exhibitionism on some level, and Noah—well, Noah's doing what babies like best. Nobody's complaining. Still . . .
Slowly, he grasps Claire's narrow ankles, moving them from his lap as he stands. With a gentleness he doesn't feel, he places them on the now-bare cushion and leaves the cabin, emptying his margarita into the sand.
  
He sits on the shore for what feels a long time, knees up, chin resting on his forearms. Stripped to the waist. Staring into the surf and being hypnotized into inaction by the come-and-go slosh of the waves, trying to imagine the swell starting along some distant shore and working its way back. It's therapeutic. He can only guess how many minutes or hours he's passed in the same position when she comes to him. The sun has begun to dip toward the horizon, closing in on its mirror image of red glory.
Claire's knees sink into the dry sand, and she boldly wraps her arms about him from behind, following the bow of his posture to rest her chin in the bend of his neck. The entire beach smells like salt, but when she gets close enough, there's the masculine scent of him, that barely-there pheromone smell she's missed on her sheets and on her own skin.
"You're a thief," he accuses her.
"Mmm," she responds, pressing her face more firmly into his neck, where she can feel the vibration from his speech.
"I want you to remember that from now on," he continues, intent on micro-analyzing his way into a fight like always.
And he wonders why she cut and run, marvels Claire.
"Next time you're tempted to hold my crimes over my head like you love to do . . ." he trails off. "Thief."
"Not sure it evens out, babe," she replies, kissing the shell of his ear. "I only took what was mine."
Sylar barks an incredulous laugh.
"Five months," he reminds her. "And a week."
"Oh, lord . . ." Fine, let him be that way. Like she was really going to ring him up between murders. An absurd image pops into her mind: a set of blue It's a Boy! balloons tied to the various joints of a headless cadaver. Absurd, yes . . . and yet he probably would have appreciated that.
"Why don't you come back inside?" she recommends. "Rest on it a bit. You know, I'd just as soon talk about it in the morning . . ."
She works one hand over his heart and feels its pace pick up.
"You really think you're hot shit, don't you?" he remarks with forced disdain. If his heart rate, now apparent through his back, is any indicator, then he thinks so, too. "You've been working that same angle since you were fifteen. Smile and pout and shake your pom-poms and take whatever you want, huh. I'm not that easy."
He is, though. Claire knows he is. He knows she knows it, probably. But motherhood has a way of making one wiser, to say nothing of wearier. He can't get a rise out of her as easily as he has countless times before. There simply isn't time for it; Noah won't sleep through the night. As for Sylar, she supposes it's his decision. The beach or the bed. He'll wind up in her bed eventually, now or fifty years from now.
But, damn it all, she'd prefer now.
"Have it your way," she states, keeping her tone calm despite the desperate demand in the region of her womb. "Except . . . you remember that time you asked me how long I ever waited for someone?"
"Mmph," he grunts in surly affirmation.
"Our last time was my last time," she informs him. "Feels like it's been a while. If you know what I mean."
He knows. In fact, it's all he can think about when she draws away from him, when he sees her linen skirt strike the sand beside him, when he cranes furtively over his shoulder to see her bikini bottom, then the top, dispersed evenly between himself and the cabin like a sparse trail of decidedly scintillating bread crumbs. What can he do? He follows them.
But, god damn it, when he reckons up the account, when he tries to conceive of his own foolishness, showing up after all that resentment and hoping they could pick up where they left off . . . Where they left off! Hell, they'd never left off. That was an illusion he'd fallen for. She had simply left him off, as it turned out.
He shakes his head and laughs quietly at his stupidity. Something of the grim smile still lingers on his lips when he finds her in her room, and she misconstrues that dark, smoldering smirk, having perhaps seen it one too many times. Or, hell, maybe she really doesn't care.
"Noah's in the next room," she says, shaking her blond hair out of its bun, as unabashedly naked as the day she was born. "Let's try to keep all the caterwauling to a minimum."
Caterwauling. Here before him stands a short, shameless little bitch who made off with his child and who uses the word caterwauling in sexual context.
And he wants her so much he can barely stand it. Wants her more than he wants to kill her at this very moment. Which is saying something.
No accounting for tastes, he excuses, nevertheless ridding himself of the smile with a grim tightening of his jaw muscles.
Claire is on the bed now, on her back. Sylar crawls after her. Any resolve to deny her has utterly deserted him.
But dear god he's angry. Angry. Cheated. More wound up than he's ever been in his life. And here she lies beneath him, Miss Mellow Yellow, with her sun-bleached hair and salty-sweet margarita mouth.
She bends her leg back, running it against his jeans. Roughly, he grabs her upper arm and flips her onto her stomach.
"Feeling adventurous?" she teases, tilting her bare backside up into his groin.
"I don't want to look at you," he snaps, and it's sort of true. Her face has been tattooed in his mind's eye for the last year, and he's just about half-sick of it.
It hardly makes a difference. No matter what angle he's viewing, no matter what part of her he's gazing at, the sight of her skin makes him shake. Somehow, the thirty years she spent married to Rutherford feels like nothing compared to the one since she left New York. Despite the generally sweltering nature of the atmosphere, Sylar can't be bothered to waste another thirty seconds undressing. He merely unzips.
Oh, god. His lips move to utter the words, but he doesn't quite have the breath. In fact, he and Claire are a full minute into their thrashing before he discovers speech again. Bending over her, he tugs at her hair, craning her neck back so he can breathe into her ear:
"I missed you."
Claire, fairly breathless herself, reaches back to stroke at his hair. Irritated, he grabs her hand, pinning it to the mattress. That's not what he meant, damn it.
"I hated you," he clarifies.
Claire makes a noise, a cross between a laugh and a pant.
"And here I thought you loved me," she shoots back. In response, he rocks them a bit more violently. It seems to have the opposite effect he desired; Claire mews and clutches the sheet.
"I wanted to hurt you," he expands. "Some days I wanted to k-kill you. But you already tried that. It was—mmm—it was the most frustr—"
He stops, and a short, silent scuffle follows. Claire, behaving as though he's saying nothing of particular importance, slides her hand beneath her body in search of a spot he isn't hitting. He scrambles to beat her to it, leaning on one elbow, and she arches, shoving her hair up under his chin, when he finds her with his fingers.
They lapse into a rhythmic frenzy. Neither of them speaks, and the only sounds to be heard are the slight creaking of the bed, their rough exhalations, and the subtle testament to the friction of their bodies.
He can tell Claire is close, grinding back into him with increasing pace. She tries to moan his name and only manages the first syllable. He doesn't even know if he wants to push her over the edge. He supposes he does. Grudgingly. She doesn't deserve it.
Anyway, it isn't as though he can stop.
She loses it a split second before he does, and it's her climax that rushes in his. He wraps his arms around her waist, catching her hips, driving into her wildly.
"Oh god, oh my god you thief, you horrible evil woman," he pants. Groans.
When it's over, he relaxes the weight of his torso against her back. Nuzzles into the nape of her neck. They lie there for minutes, simply breathing.
"Finding you again like this—finding him . . ." he speaks at last, allowing the hurt to seep into his tone. "Why would you do something so stupid? So spiteful?"
"It wasn't spite."
"Then what the sweet fuck—"
"Hush," she replies, her voice filled with satisfied exhaustion. "Don't ruin it by talking. Just go to sleep, Sylar. The hatchet, remember? Burying things . . ?"
And at sleep, his lip curls.
"Oh, hell, yes," he growls in sardonic self-contempt. "I wish I had a hatchet."
"What the hell is it now?"
"You know that thing you got? Where you whine about not feeling pain? Well, now I have one, too."
"You can't feel pain?" She sounds ready to nod off.
"I wish. I can't sleep. Which is your fault, if you don't remember."
"Um, I don't recall impregnating myself, so . . ."
"I recall having help. Enthusiastic help." He emits an annoyed growl. His appetite for Claire-sex being temporarily satiated, he's now overcome with cruel nostalgia for the lazy, sleepy part of the afterglow. "And then you didn't even need the damned ability. Do you have any idea how much trouble, how much absolute weirdness I went through getting that thing?"
"Hush up," she suggests. Now he's ruining her afterglow. "Listen, not sleeping . . . That's gonna come in handy, trust me."
He supposes she's right. Noah is still very small, very needy, and very inconsiderate of adult sleep patterns.
"Fine," he agrees, with one condition. "But you're my pillow. If I'm just going to lay here waiting on the baby to cry . . ."
He makes himself comfortable.
"Agh." Claire makes a mild noise of protest. "Mind the boobs."
"That's the pillowy part."
"That's the cafeteria, until he's a little older. Just . . . aim for the middle, at least."
With a disgruntled noise, Sylar sits up.
"Maybe I'll go for a walk," he decides, smoothing his rumpled hair. "Explore a bit."
"Don't go too far," she cautions, her words becoming more and more slurred as she approaches the first stage of sleep.
"Worried I'll get lost?" he flatters himself.
"Worried you'll kill someone."
"Oh, right." With a quick motion, he swoops down and plants a kiss on her cheek. Thus bidding her goodnight, he first checks in on his sleeping son, peering for long minutes into the cradle, watching with unblinking eyes for the terrifyingly imperceptible rise and fall of the boy's chest. The stars have taken over the sky when he finally retrieves his shirt from the beach. Afterward, he follows the shoreline for a mile or four, occasionally straying into the dark foliage and once winding his way up a steep cliff to survey the surrounding area. It's quiet here at the Resort. Safe. A paradise, really.
He takes this impression back to Claire's cabin with him. By retracing his steps in a meandering manner, he arrives a little before morning. He stops in to check on Noah again. Still breathing, still sleeping—a good thing, since he'd have to cry rather fervently to be heard over the surf. The sea is louder at night, somehow, like a boisterous lullaby.
Sylar wonders how long he'll have to stay before it becomes apparent he's not leaving. Maybe she already knows. She ought to, he thinks, when he climbs into bed and spoons her.
  
Claire is unsettled for two reasons when she wakes. One, a great big man is wrapped around her. This she works out as soon as her memory kicks in. Two, she has awakened of her own accord. More troublesome. Noah generally demands breakfast an hour or so before Claire would like to provide it.
"Hey, loosen up," she mumbles, nudging Sylar's arm. He removes himself from her and stretches.
"I thought you'd never wake up," he remarks.
"Yeah, I don't understand it," she replies, hastening to pull on a gauzy red robe, her nipples pearling in the morning chill. "He always cries in the morning."
But she can't explain now. She has to assuage that worst of all fears before she can do anything else. So she leaves him on the bed and flies into the next room, simultaneously cursing herself for putting the cradle in a separate space and trying to remember how long it takes to drive her little-used ATV to the medic station.
What for? You can't doctor a missing baby.
"Ah, shit," Claire breathes, digging her fingers into the cradle's rim. The mild profanity does not quite encompass the terror closing vice-like about her vitals. There is Blue Bear, Noah's gummed-upon, terrycloth companion. So where is Noah? He can't have climbed out. "Ah, shit!"
Her second, more frantic exclamation draws Sylar, who joins her with his shirt half-buttoned and a state of alarm on his brow.
"Do you know where he is?" Claire demands, whipping around to face him.
"What?" Complete mystification.
"Noah!" she shouts, ripping the blankets from the cradle and flinging them to the floor, along with Blue Bear, to demonstrate its extreme state of emptiness. "Do you know where he is?"
"No," he assures her, thoroughly stunned.
With another cry, she pushes past him, her face highly colored and tears of worry standing in her eyes. Sylar stares for an incomprehensible minute at Blue Bear lying plaintively, motionlessly in the floor. Like a dead—
Then he hurries to join the search, turning into the living room and sweeping his sharp eyes over the furniture, the varying nooks and crannies, over to the open window which houses the solar fan.
Claire is ransacking the cabin. She utters a frantic exclamation when she sees Sylar standing stock-still, misconstruing his immobility, in her mother's panic, as disinterest. But through the open window, in the distance, he has glimpsed a figure standing in the edge of the water, edges blackened by the rising gold sun. And a memory is trickling back into his brain like a water-drop down an ice cube.
Laughlin was a year ago, at least. A year since he visited Nokturna, and a year since the palm reader, Shawnda, forecasted disaster. That was the word she used, precisely:
The child spells disaster.
He omitted it from his memory, as he omits so many unpleasant details of his ventures. It seemed superfluous after Claire left. Because he expected her to miscarry . . .
Now there is a child. And now, looking at the window at that tall figure in the water, he remembers another detail, a mere fragment. Something else Shawnda said.
Something about a beach.