A/N: First of all, thanks to smithsbabe65 for giving me this *lovely* quote that gave me the idea for this one shot. Second of all - OMG I'M SORRY! I swear I'm still working on AFDF, but with all the really great Season 4 fics out there I just couldn't resist! I'm going back to work now, I promise =D Please enjoy and review /love
I don't own Heroes or anything remotely related and I bow humbly before the television gods, please have mercy on me. Rated "K+" for some language. Please to be reviewink!
Ordinarily, she would've found it very difficult to concentrate.
It was October, fresh on the tailwind of turbulent mid-terms, and she was in a state of uneasy truce with just about everyone in her life, with the possible exception of her roommate. Although… she supposed she still hadn't quite satisfactorily explained the presence of a sinister, floating man who occasionally liked to darken their windowsill… but she hoped maybe Gretchen was starting to catch on that Life With Claire was sometimes… just… well, weird. She wondered if she'd eventually be forgiven for spreading her contagious strangeness over to the other side of the room, but Sylar was never going to understand, 'hey, this is Gretchen's window too," right?
At the moment, she was perched at Noah Bennett's kitchen table, elbows grinding into the wood under the weight of her mushed-up face, allowing the sound of her spinning laundry to drown out the conversation taking place in the living room between her father and his… Lauren. Just Lauren. They were discussing said part-time stalker, and she couldn't be bothered to pay attention. While he had, admittedly, been instrumental in ridding the world of Samuel's threat, since then she had put her worries about the man aside – she had bigger fish in her life to fry. Like learning to forgive her dad. Like not letting Peter's emergent… unpredictable tendencies – presumably a symptom of continued grief – cause her un-due stress. Like reconciling her wounded heart with her parents' failed marriage and their subsequent… relationships.
Like getting good grades.
Halloween was hunched around a shadowy corner, ready to sink its claws into her world, and her English Lit class had just started what she thought was a pretty exciting section. After a thoroughly mundane, wrist-slitting dissection of Fyodor Dostoevsky's 'Crime and Punishment' (which she was dismayed to find being leisurely flipped through one night when Sylar had snuck through her window – she'd wanted to tell him that only psychos would read that shit, but thought better of it, opting not to give away the illusion of sleep lest she be sucked into what would ultimately prove to be an eye-gouging discussion), she was very pleased to discover the next few weeks of class would be spent studying Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein.' She hadn't been able to put it down, finding herself far ahead of her peers' progress, having so much to talk about and no one yet to talk with. Not that she would – no one would understand her rather unique point of view.
She understood that the point behind her instructor's focus on the story was to draw the ethical perpendicular between God and man, and also explore the subtle allusion warning against the dangers of plunging unheedingly into the throes of the Industrial Revolution. Sure, that was all great and stuff. But she read the story for the monster. She was the monster – the Pariah, the perennial outsider who could never be understood for her true identity. She was condemned to eternally walk the earth either working tooth and nail to live her life in secret, or spend her time dodging torches and pitchforks from a population who could only see her with contempt, sinister scientific interest, malevolence, intent to manipulate, and envy. She knew the story wouldn't have a happy ending, but that didn't slow her pace. It didn't matter to her – she wouldn't have an ending at all.
"It's just that he always, every single time in the past, has had an ulterior motive of some kind. What on earth, in your long drawn-out history with the man, would make you think he'd do something like this, just out of the kindness of his black, shriveled heart?"
So much for concentration. It was no secret in their exclusive little inner circle of circus freaks and the nutjobs that chased them that Sylar'd been a little… off lately. More so than usual. What did he do this time…?
"It's not that, Lauren, it's just -"
"Noah, the man is breaking into your daughter's bedroom. I'm just saying… I think he's making his intentions pretty clear…"
"Well… maybe we've got an advantage here -"
"Tell me you are not thinking of using your little girl as a pawn."
The 'little girl' in question left the table. She really wanted to hear an answer to that. She padded into the living room and leaned against the archway, separating the space from the kitchen. She crossed her arms over her chest and glared at her father accusingly, at which point he dropped his eyes and sighed.
"That's not what I meant. Obviously he needs to learn some boundaries. And I still definitely want to kill the killer, but maybe we've been going at it the wrong way this whole time."
"You want to kill him with kindness," Claire muttered disbelievingly.
"I'm not saying the man doesn't have something up his sleeve – I'll never trust that he doesn't. What I'm saying is that I do think he's sincere in his actions… but he's going at it with this kind of… I dunno, sickly zealous obsession commonly associated with the mentally ill. I'm afraid his own psychosis is gonna blow all of this up in his face and…"
"He's gonna take me down with him."
Noah stood and paced the room to where he could place his hands on Claire's shoulders, the same way he'd done every time he was about to try to convince her she was some sort of fragile waif in need of his usually harmful protection.
"He needs help, and I don't think -"
"What did he do?" she asked before he was allowed to cock his head to the side and speak another word, staring down her own reflection in his infamous glasses. From the couch Lauren rustled the morning paper and held up a headline, boldly recounting the tale of how a woman and her young daughter had been rescued from their overturned vehicle by an unnamed hero. But that wasn't the interesting part – the manner in which he'd provided their escape was... nothing short of supernatural.
"You sure that's not Peter? He's been -"
"Claire, who does Peter know that can give him the obvious telekinesis described in this story? Someone he'd actually hang with..."
It was an excellent point.
"So, lemme get this straight. You two are getting all worked up because Sylar's out there... saving people... ?"
Their eyes met before they turned back to face her.
"We just don't think it's that simple."
And then a thought popped into her head that she never would've entertained right after her biological father's funeral: why didn't someone just ask the man what he's doing? The answer stared her directly in the face, etched into each growing line under her father's eyes and across his forehead, by his mouth where he smiled. These people were mortal, and they were rightfully terrified of the murderer – too terrified to risk interrogating him. It was safer to speculate.
But Claire wasn't mortal, and he couldn't hurt her – she certainly wasn't afraid of him anymore. Maybe her father was right… there was a better way to do this.
Claire flipped a finger to the world and lifted with her back, not her legs. She hoisted two heavy baskets of clean clothing into the back of the little vehicle (she liked to call it 'the Breadbox' for its rectangular shape) as a part of the deal: she could borrow Gretchen's car if she did her laundry. No problem. Claire would've taken her own car, except that it used to belong to her dad and the trunk wouldn't open. She didn't want to imagine why. Seriously.
Snapping shut the hatch and fastening herself into the driver's seat, she took a moment before she started the ignition, staring down the waxing autumn setting sun while she deliberated. It was Sunday. Peter always worked long Sundays. Apparently people hurt themselves more often when they were off work. He wouldn't be out playing Sylar's vigilante twin, and more importantly, he wouldn't be at home. And she had a key, gifted to her in case she had nowhere else to go. Her mind made up, she turned the engine over and headed that direction.
She loved Peter's apartment – it was absolutely huge. Or maybe it just seemed like it because he chose to furnish it so sparsely… she didn't know. All she did know was that she appreciated the wide, open space – perhaps the yearning was some small remnant of the girl who grew up on the dusty plains of Texas, where it wasn't uncommon to see more of the sky than the earth in some places. Somewhat of a mother hen when it came to her uncle, given that they shared a common scar, she peeked into his refrigerator, thankful to see that it was stocked. At least the man was eating. She supposed she owed the small miracle to the woman he'd been seeing, Emma.
Tiptoeing across his hardwood floor, unwilling to leave so much as a footprint to alert him to her entry, she made a bee-line for the object of her visit: his police scanner.
She flipped on the device and shrieked as the static blasted her eardrums. Apparently he'd been listening to it in the shower again… She squinted her eyes and twisted down the volume before turning her attention to the knob that flipped through the frequencies. She rolled it gently between her fingertips, meandering through the channels, ears straining for the first sign of a likely situation. There were a few minor fender-benders, a slew of domestic disputes, a couple calls requesting animal control, and an armed robbery in progress that piqued her interest, but then – then she heard it.
"Unit 16, requesting a 952 on your 11-71, copy."
"This is Unit 16, 11-71 is a 955, corner of 115th and Alameda. We've got a few WITs here with some pretty unbelievable stories about a possible 10-107, over."
"Advised, Unit 16, over."
Claire recognized the '11-71' – it was a structure fire. And she knew a thing or two about 'unbelievable stories.' Perfect. She snatched her keys from where she'd left them lying on his bare fireplace mantle, and she raced out the door.
She could see the smoke blocks away, billowing into the deepening night, flinging feathery wisps of ash, soot, and other detritus into the air to create a silent, foul-smelling sort of snow. She parked at an appropriate distance, pocketed her keys, and marched her feet down the pavement.
She approached the scene with her hand over her mouth, staving off the acrid burn threatening to singe her nostrils. The building still glowed an angry red, but it was plain to see that the blaze had long since subsided to the inner cavities, where jets of water couldn't reach and pockets of air still fueled it. She could make out silhouettes of figures milling around the cordoned area: some huddled together in blankets, shocked by the brisk October chill after having been raged by such searing heat; some still guiding high-pressure hoses like daring and courageous snake charmers; others doing all the talking, giving accounts, taking dictation, filing reports. Flashing rescue and police lights only served to add a sort of discotheque energy to the disarray. She touched her fingers to the yellow tape just in time to watch the ambulance queue up its sirens and tear down the roadway. Off to her right, officers were interviewing a pair of cloaked survivors.
"Can you describe the person you saw?"
"I don't know… it was so dark, but so bright… does that make sense?"
"Was it a man, a woman-"
"Definitely a man. I think he was tall, slender, had dark hair… I dunno. But he just lifted his arm and the beam… it flew away – just flew! You should've seen it! She'd be dead if he hadn't gotten her free!"
"Did he have any other distinguishing marks?"
"I'm really not sure, it all happened so fast…"
That was all she'd needed to hear. He had been here, but was gone. Leaving the swelter behind, she crossed the street to an abandoned playground, illuminated by the glow of the surrounding commotion yet far enough to allow a blessed breeze to cool her stinging cheeks. Beyond the swing set was a walking trail that led to a shadowy duck pond, ringed with park benches hidden by tall, bare trees, digging skeletal fingers against the belly of the sky. A sudden movement caught her eye and she peered curiously into the dark. Unconsciously, her feet carried her forward.
She crested a dewy, grassy hill and left some of the fierce ambient light behind her, plunging into a blue-black world of moonlight and watery reflection, watching a few remaining fireflies blink out their last little love songs before they slept for the season. There beyond, just at the water's edge, stood a lone figure.
One she'd know anywhere. One that carved gaping holes out of her life. One that continuously haunted her nightmares. One that simply had to intrude upon the sanctity of her private living space on an unfortunately regular basis.
She wished she'd had the foresight to bring a gun – not to harm him, obviously, but to draw attention to herself if she needed to. She had come here for a reason, however, and she wasn't going to back down. She wasn't going to let him make her feel afraid.
Her ankles brushed through the damp, whispery lawn until she reached the bench behind him. The wind carried his scent to her – leathery, sickeningly clean, laced with some sort of spice. She wasn't going to gag. She chose not to address him, well aware he knew she was there, but instead had a seat and waited him out. Too slowly, he turned to face her, smoothing over a brief flash of surprise with his usual mask – dark brows lowering over gleaming, predatory eyes.
"Hello, Claire," he purred. He stalked to the bench and lowered himself beside her, draping his arm over the back of it, leaning toward her just a tiny bit too close, enough that he'd rile her. On purpose, of course. She stayed perfectly still and fought to maintain her calm.
"If it's attention you're after, you've got it. What the hell are you doing?"
"Uhh… saving people…? You know, I gotta tell ya, college's been rough on you – your powers of observation are -"
"Why NOT," he growled, shoving his face toward her, suddenly seething. "What, you and your uncle, and daddy – you guys suddenly got a monopoly on helping people, is that -"
"Some folks think you want something," she sneered, meeting his glare out of the corner of her eye, "we just don't know what it is yet. Think you have a plan." He sat back away from her, turning to look out over the lake, pressing his mouth against the fingers of his other hand. His chest was heaving. "Others," she continued, "think you're too psychotic to pull off any kind of real change… think the only place you belong is a loony bin."
He flew out of the bench and stormed off, just a few paces, tugging his hands at the back of his neck and barking a cruel chuckle.
"Never gonna be… never what they want…" she thought she heard him mutter through gritting teeth.
Manically, he whirled back around and closed the distance between them to tower over her, placing his hands on either side of her and bending to meet her eye to eye.
"And what, exactly, do you think?"
Looking past the ridges of his teeth, barely exposed behind his trembling lips, she started noticing things she'd missed initially. His eyes were red, his stance tight but exhausted, and while she'd anticipated his mood to be fickle, he seemed much more agitated than she'd really expected. Of course, he'd just spent half the night inside of a burning building… but if she didn't know better, she'd think he was almost upset. Like, upset before she arrived. There was something wrong here, something she wasn't seeing… something she'd interrupted…
"I don't really know what to think, that's why I'm here. I want to understand what you're doing."
He straightened, his ferocity only mildly diminished, stumbling backwards a couple steps on legs that weren't weary enough not to stand, but certainly wouldn't mind sitting. He rubbed at his eyes a bit.
"I… I'm just…" he tried to begin but fell short. "You have absolutely no idea, Claire, you don't know anything about…" In frustration, he turned his back to her, ashamed of his uncharacteristic inarticulation and unwilling to impart any weakness to her. "Fuck. I just… I need…" A sigh drained him.
It occurred to her that the man'd probably never had a living soul in his entire life that he could just sit… and talk to. No one could possibly ever understand him, condemned to eternally walk the earth viewed with contempt, manipulative intent, mistrust, malice... she didn't like how familiar this was sounding…. although she'd never denied that he truly was a monster. And now, here she was a rapt and willing audience, and he had no idea what to do, stunned into silence like a timid and vulnerable adolescent. Empathizing in a way that made her queasy, she spared him the awkward moment and spoke for him.
"I want to believe it's all true. I want to believe that you looked in the mirror and what you saw scared the shit out of you. Whatever happened to you that turned you into this, I want to believe that you're trying to turn it around. I want to believe that you're trying to save ten people for every life you've taken – I want to believe you're trying to make up for everything. I want so badly to believe you're trying to take it all back. I would give anything to think for one second that you're actually sorry!" The final word she spat at him, directing the force of her voice between his shoulder blades, almost wishing she could blow him over. Instead, he put out a hand and leaned against the thick trunk of an old tree, shifting his weight and hanging his head, letting the light from the pale moon's misty halo shine softly off the back of his neck. "And it's selfish – all selfish," she continued. "I admit it. I want it because it plugs the holes inside me. Believe it or not, Sylar, people want to forgive you – they just want you to earn it and they don't think you will. And I want to be wrong. Because if I am… then this pain in my heart… it goes away. It takes all this ugliness and turns it into something… better. All those people you killed… all the people who miss them… it makes it so it wasn't all for nothing. If you can live at peace… then so can I…"
"I miss her…" she thought she heard him say, but she didn't understand.
His hand slid away, trailing dry, scaly bark that dropped in small crumbles into the pillowy piles of crunchy leaves underneath. He kicked at them as he wandered a slow path back to the bench, eerily lacking the animosity he'd displayed earlier. His broad shoulders slumped slightly, as if they carried an immense invisible weight. He quietly placed both knees on the bench and leaned over the back, gazing up the hill at the orange glow that crowned it, exhaling shimmering fog with a small shiver.
"If that's really true… then…"
"We've never lied to each other, Claire." He dropped his cold nose to warm between his thumbs.
His eyes returned to the spot that'd held him so entranced. What was it… what was she missing here? Was it sincerity? It was so foreign a look for him that he might as well have been wearing a dress. But it was true, she did…
"I believe you."
That snared his attention. His face spun to meet hers, lips parted with a breath of desperate hope. He made a quick movement that sent Claire to her feet, reeling away in instinctual fear, leaving him behind with his hand still outstretched. She'd been afraid he might try to kiss her again…
Dropping his empty fingers to his side, he returned to his feet, traditional Lucifer smirk firmly back in place, doing a poor job of concealing the sliver of naked rejection that lurked behind the apparent tiredness in his swollen eyes. Raw, empty, and aching over something he'd still left unspoken, he tipped an imaginary hat as a snide mockery of a gentlemanly gesture.
"G'night, Claire," he whispered as he flew away, barely audible until his wake carried the words to her, adrift amongst the other sounds of the night. Feeling strangely accomplished, she pulled at her elbows, warding off a sudden chill as she slowly walked back to the car, lamenting the loss of the cricket song to the roar of fire hoses and police radios.
Claire was thankful to find her room pleasantly vacant when she returned. She had too much on her mind to share her presence with her roommate, who was locked into a rigorous comparative vertebrate anatomy class, still knocking out heinous lab reports even after midterms. Given the likelihood the girl was to spend another night in the lab, deep into the wee hours of the morning, elbow deep in animal cadavers (which wasn't so bad considering what the formaldehyde did for her nails – holy crap!), Claire was anxious to settle in for a cozy evening curled up with snacks and Mary Shelley.
Having deposited the laundry baskets, two unbearably long car trips later, she exited the elevator one more time to make her way into the dormitory commons, smoothing out her wrinkled dollar bills with every step, full steam ahead to the vending machines. This was going to be a job for Cheez-Its and Mountain Dew. A news story on the constantly droning television, however, snared her focus while she was scanning the rows of bags and bars behind the backlit glass. Her hand hung in mid-air when she saw the same burning building she'd visited earlier, except this was before… it was completely engulfed. It was another sighting of the city's anonymous hero, capable of things only written about in comic books and certainly not in credible news sources. An enormous section of the building had collapsed, making it impossible for its denizens to escape, trapping them all inside an incinerating coffin, certain to seal their fate. And then… he'd appeared, as if from nowhere, a messenger from God. An angel. A grateful community pulled together to send out a heartfelt thanks to this man, without whom something so much more precious than property would've been destroyed forever. He'd gotten almost everybody out –
Oh god… Almost. And there it was. That thing she'd missed. The picture of a small, cherubic face – chubby-cheeked, dimpled, no more than five years old with long, curling eyelashes – filled the screen. He'd been the only casualty. It wasn't so difficult to imagine that in the haze, the confusion, and the thundering cacophony, someone so tiny would've been impossible to find. There was no guarantee a thing so fragile could've been spared even if he'd been discovered. The boy was probably already dead before he got there.
But she knew Sylar. She knew his imbalance. She knew his tendency toward fixation. What she'd missed earlier was self-loathing and heartache and it was eating him alive. This was a set-back. Of course, someone as mentally and socially troubled as Sylar would never have anticipated set-backs. In many ways, he was still a baby in the world – he would have absolutely no idea how to deal with this. She was terrified of the consequence – would he become a modern Frankenstein and lose his faith in humanity, bitterly exacting his wrathful vengeance against the cruelty of his reality, smearing a bloody trail behind him across the face of the earth? She felt like she needed to do something… but she didn't know where to start.
Like a mindless, empty-handed zombie she ended up back in her room. Sitting on her bed, decorated with the evidence of a prior existence previous to her college life, she remembered being filled once with excitement and anticipation – standing before the building, cradling her entirety in a cardboard box. This next chapter was sure to promise her many experiences, but above them all was the hope for a second chance. A second chance for acceptance, a second chance at forgetting, a second chance at belonging and friendship and love. She stared at her roommate's bookshelf, her desk, her bedspread, her X-Men action figures, her pictures taken with family in Mexico, her Star Trek poster… At the collage they'd made together out of magazine clippings one night after a party, a trophy of their kinship – the one she'd finally found…
And none of it seemed easy. She had to fight for it every day, and she'd never committed a single crime with which to reconcile that struggle.
She absolutely flat despised the parallel that existed between her and her enemy. And she couldn't deny it. Because they'd never lied to each other, least of all to themselves.
Eyelids heavy, but mind still racing too fast for sleep or reading, she settled on making some sort of action. Perhaps afterwards the night would leave her alone, grant her a restful sleep. She put her pencil to a piece of paper, scribbled the short, clipped note, then slid it into an envelope that she placed outside their window.
In the middle of the night, approximately 3:03AM, two hours after Gretchen had dragged her bag into the room and flung her dead weight onto her mattress to immediately collapse into slumber, Claire awoke to a sound, like a soft brushing, against the glass.
She lay as still as a fawn in the forest for a moment, not entirely anxious to see his face on the other side of the pane, fogging it with his crazed panting, but eventually her curiosity mastered her, betraying her like a puppeteer. She turned over to find him cradled in the branches of the tree outside, attention fully devoted to the note lying open in his lap. As the sleep left her eyes and she adjusted to the low light, she was able to make out then pen pinched between his fingers, metering a loosely curled response. When he tumbled from his perch to take to the air, she surprised him by opening the window.
He froze, spearing her with a wide-eyed, youthful, yet unreadable expression, waiting for her to abrade him with her lacerating tongue, scraping against his private hurts the way no one else in the universe could. But the words wouldn't come. They were two ships passing in the night. Seizing the opportunity before she gathered her wits, he slowly rose his hand. Tucked protectively within it was the folded piece of paper.
Cautiously, she reached out and grasped it – she was as hesitant to receive it as he was to let it go. So, for a silent, reverent moment in the still yawning hours before the dawn they paused, each with their hand placed resolutely on a common tie that bound them. And then he pulled away, his eyes reinforcing the unspoken truce between them before he rose and disappeared into the twinkling starlight.
"Close the window…" Gretchen mumbled grumpily before tossing onto her other side, drawing her blankets up to her ears. Obliging her, Claire pulled it shut and returned to her own bed, resting her back against the wall and drawing her knees up to her chin. Squashing the butterflies in her stomach, she opened the lined sheet of stark white, illuminated by the spectral light of the waning moon swinging low to the far horizon, and read the words.
'It wasn't your fault. Please don't give up,' she'd written him.
'I won't,' he'd responded, followed by a quote… uncannily familiar, having read it earlier that morning at her father's kitchen table:
'I do know that for the sympathy of one living being, I would make peace with all. I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other. – Mary Shelley's Frankenstein'
She bit her lip in an angry attempt to suppress a reflexive smile. She had the perfect reply.
'I'd be a lot more sympathetic if you'd learn how to knock.'