Chapter One: Of Moths and Flames
I had been many things: a watchmaker, a serial killer, even a company man. But one thing I had never been, was a voyeur. Do not mistake me, I had stalked, and watched… but I had never taken the sort of sick pleasure in it that was welling up in me at that moment. When I watched her though, and the face through the window matched the face etched in ink beneath my skin—I couldn't help it.
It had been that way for a week. I hadn't been able to drag myself from her window during the night and was a little more than surprised that no one had noticed and reported me to campus security. I was grateful for it though, when I confronted the cheerleader, I wanted it to be on my own terms. Besides. I was having too much fun just watching her. I could hardly believe how much she'd grown from the headstrong—and I do mean that literally; her skull was hell to drill through—teenager I met before.
She must have been eighteen or nineteen by then, and her body showed it. When she striped down at night before the insufferable roommate of hers returned, I found my breath catching. She was small and thin, and the swell of her breasts and hips was in perfect proportion to her petite waist. And her skin, it was smooth and aching to be touched.
But it wasn't just her body that had developed nicely. I watched her struggling through homework, forcing herself to work things out and do that same calculus problem over again until she had it right, and that wasn't even where her passion lay. When she read silly books like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, I could see how much she loved them, how devoted she was to soaking up every word. And it was arousing, the obvious delight in learning, her need to know and commitment to education.
And her ardor wasn't confined solely to school work, no. The way she cried in the dead of night when the brunette was asleep, her whole body shaking and tears streaming down her face; that too was beautiful. The cheerleader's passion permeated every area of her life.
Despite it all, I still wondered what had taken me there. The tattoo, of course, but what could it possibly mean? Why was I here, watching this appealing young woman through a darkened window and feeling myself grow closer to her night by night? I didn't try to fool myself into believing anything so trite as we were 'meant to be' with one another, but something Lydia had said to me had rung true. I was lonely, and I certainly wasn't daft enough to try to lie to myself about it. But was being there, a voyeur just outside of the girl's life, making me any less lonely?
I pushed those existentialist thoughts away as she moved, turning beneath her blanket so that she was facing the ceiling. Her eyes were open and staring.
I tilted my own head to the side. She didn't usually wake up during the night.
I could hear her sighing from where I hung in the air, not with the use of any power, though it would have been useful if the virus hadn't stolen it from me, but because she had left her window open for air that night.
"What is it, Claire?" I whispered, making sure to keep my voice barely audible. Of course, I had extraordinary hearing even without the use of abilities, so I didn't much worry about her hearing me. She was decidedly oblivious for someone who had gone through so much, and I didn't delude myself into thinking she hadn't. After all, I had been the one to attack and cut open her head.
"Gretch," her voice was high and clear in the little dormitory. Across the room from her, the other girl shifted, turning in the bed to face her.
"Is everything okay?" she asked, sleepily.
"Yeah," Claire turned on to her side and faced the other girl now, hands pressed together beneath her cheek. "Just a bad dream."
Gretchen snuggled into her pillow. Letting her eyes drift closed. "Wanna tell me about it?"
Claire smiled, a sad smile. "No, it's cool. Sorry for waking you up."
"Mhm," Gretchen nodded, her breathing steadying quickly once more as she fell back to sleep. I doubted she would remember the conversation in the morning.
Claire continued to lay there, breathing slowly until it didn't seem she could take it anymore. She sat up swiftly, swinging her legs onto the floor. They were long and bare. She slept in men's boxer shorts and a ratty old t-shirt. It was fascinating how at home she looked in them. I wondered who she had gotten them from.
She crossed the room quickly to sit by the desk and I moved to linger closer to the wall. I could see her out of the corner of my eye, turning the small light above her desk on and pulling out a battered old leather book from one of the drawers.
A journal? I arched a brow and couldn't keep myself from smiling. What a perfect opportunity. After all, understanding things was my specialty.
When she was done writing, she looked tired, worn. I watched her open the drawer and set the journal carefully inside.
She got up after that, crossed to the little sink in their room and ran the tap for a few seconds, filling a cup with water and dumping it onto the plant above her bed before climbing back between the sheets and letting herself fall asleep once more.
I watched it all, moving back so that I had a good angle. And then I waited. I waited until her breathing became even and then I came in through the window, feet settling soundlessly on the floor as I bent over her desk and let my fingers trail down the wooden face of it.
Her desk was neat, but not obsessively so. A planner lay open on one corner, her schedule written neatly out for each day. I studied it for a while until I was positive I could recite it from memory.
Beside the planner various books and highlighters spilled across the surface, and on the edge her binders and notebooks lay stacked neatly.
I retrieved the leather-bound book from the drawer quickly and turned my back to the desk, staring at the sleeping girl in her bed. The covers were drawn up to her chin and her blonde hair stuck to her cheeks. She looked vulnerable like that.
Lydia's words from a week ago rang in my ears. Impotent my ass.
I turned uncomfortably, forcing myself to look away from the prone figure and make my way out of the room.
And I flew, rocketing so high into the air that I could feel ice forming around me. I raised one arm, fist clenched to face the stars. I felt like superman.
And then I let myself plummet back towards earth, plummeting down. The wind rushed by my ears in a deafening roar, and I didn't stop myself until I'd fallen past the first skyscraper. I settled on a park bench beneath a streetlight, invigorated, and let Claire's little book fall open in my lap, cracking the ice on its spine.
The first page was faded and smeared, written in a childish scrawl using a number two pencil.
August 21, 2001
Daddy got me a jurnal for my b-day. Im so exsited! He said it is so that when hes not hear I can still have someone to talk to. He has to go away tomorow for a confrinse. I don't want him to go, but mom says its real important. I gues it is. Anyway. I want to tell you all my stuff that goes on, so I can always remember and tell daddy when he coms home. Today was a good day. I turned 12 and got some dolls and a teddy-bear from daddy, and mom got me a neklase and lyle didn't get me anything but mom put his name of the neklase. I got some books to, I really liked them. Got to go!
I smiled, letting the journal close on my lap and looking up at the street lamp. Countless bugs swirled around it and zapped themselves on the bulb.
Claire Bennet. Twelve years old and writing inexpertly in a sturdy leather journal her Daddy had brought home to her. I could see her in my minds eyes, small and blonde, sparkling green eyes taking in every untidy word and stopping finally, satisfied with her work.
I remembered my first journal, a notebook really. It hadn't been filled with pretty things at all. I'd written awful things. "I hate Jacob Wright," "Dad's drunk again," "I want to run for student body president," "Mom's crying," "I wonder what other people's blood feels like." No wonder I'd turned into such a head case.
I pushed those sordid thoughts from my mind and watched the moths flying frantically in the circle of light.
English 222 on Tuesday's and Thursday's, 10:00-10:15. Math 142 Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, 11:50-12:40.
I'd never been to a four year college, and I figured it was as good a time to go as ever.
I looked down again at the ink on my skin. She looked back up at me. I remembered how I'd felt about her before. Desire—clearly not sexual, I am not a child molester—hatred, envy, curiosity. I remember realizing just how special she really was when I looked into her head and saw what she had hidden there. And my path had taken me back to her. God only knew why. If she saw me she'd try to kill me, and I couldn't say I regretted what I'd done to make her feel that way.
But like I had said before, we could always build bridges, and it appeared we were meant to. Now if only I could convince her… and maybe do so without getting a pole shoved through my head or a god-damned Petrelli riding my ass… everything would start to make sense.
I fell asleep on the park bench, planning the next step.