A/N: Wheee new story time! Ahhh this feels good. Like a rebound fling after a hard breakup. Just what the doctor ordered. I really hope you guys enjoy!!! A little warning ahead of time, the beginning has a little graphic non-con going on, but it's what happens after that makes it.

I don't own Heroes or anything remotely related and I bow humbly before the television gods, please have mercy on me. Rated "M" for language, some violence, some blood & guts, and eventually some sexual imagery (just like the last story). And please review! If I've massively screwed something up, I'd like to know =D

1) The Journal

The wet splash of her footsteps was echoed by the sentinel brick walls, shadowed in misty, damp, moonless springtime lamplight. As Claire marched absentmindedly across campus, feet soaked as she unsuccessfully dodged hidden puddles, she let her freshly written first draft preoccupy her, the lengthy essay's fledgling words buzzing through her carefully plotting brain, already mindful of particular edits and amendments to which she'd need to devote further intensive study. She paused when a sound, out of place next to distant laughter and typical collegiate drunken whooping, met her ears from an alarmingly close proximity. Something was in the bushes to her left, concealed in the black created by a harsh yellow glare from above. Tugging at her elbows, pressing the corners of her books into her ribs, she attempted to ward off a chill that had nothing to do with the ambient temperature. Beginning to come to terms with her indestructibility was still a slow process, but she did manage not to be daunted – she threw caution to the wind and pressed on.

She'd become a creature of habit. She spent months walking her old routes hounded at first by press, then later by curious mediaphiles hoping to catch a glimpse of what the talking heads on TV and the internet had been going on about so rabidly. By the time the nation's discomforting fascination about 'specials' like her had filtered down to her immediate classmates, she knew it was time to change something. So… she started walking a different way. And started going out at different times. And stopped studying at the library, opting instead to beg Gretchen for the use of her car, promising only to take it to her dad's house. It was either that or take the bus, like she had this evening. The combination culminated in her current circumstances: a poorly lit walkway late at night, alone, and a long way from home. The situation wasn't ideal for anyone, even an unbreakable girl with no real offensive ability outside of a can of mace she'd probably have to dig for. Looking up as a looming, solid shadow blocked her path, she began to really think for the first time that maybe this wasn't the best plan.

"I know you," he spoke, breaking a dank silence she hadn't noticed had become so oppressive. He stepped into the light where one half of his illuminated face kept the other half in darkness. She halted and rocked backwards on her heels, and despite how affable and handsome the visible parts of his features appeared to be, primal instinct pushed her heart up into her throat where she could truly hear it sound its alarm, pounding against her trachea.

"I'm sorry, I don't – ha-have we met…?"

"You're the girl who jumped off the Ferris wheel in the middle of New York City."

Great. Maybe she ought to start thinking of a different college. Her dad had been right all along, the smug bastard. It was better, sometimes, just to cover it all up.

"I think you have me confused with someone -"

He clamped a hand onto her arm. Hard.

"No. No, I don't think I do. I mean, we can find out, right?"

With a resounding clatter like a flock of noisy birds, her books and papers flew in a grand arc over her head when he jerked her wrist and slammed her body to the ground. Stars flashed behind her eyelids and the wind was knocked from her lungs, crashing her teeth together and narrowly missing her tongue. She didn't get the chance to suck in another breath – he was on top of her, crushing her, one hand smothering her mouth and the other wrestling its way inside her shirt, latching without invitation onto her right breast. Chunky bile burned her esophagus when she felt his sickening erection force its way between her legs. She wasn't going to give him the satisfaction of crying, but she sure wanted to scream. A second assailant crept up from behind, beyond her narrowed field of vision.

"I'll hold her arms if you can get 'er pants off – remember you promised me a turn!"

Shit… now the tears were coming…

"You'll heal if I hurt you, won't you. Tomorrow, no one's ever gonna know." Her arms were yanked over her head and pinned in place. She tried twisting her legs to kick but the other man was faster, stronger, and heavier – he immobilized them easily under his knees while he made a grand show of sitting back and stuffing one lascivious hand down his own pants to masturbate.

"You think you're so special, bitch? You ain't special til you've had some of this." Stroking himself faster he leaned over to lick her face. His labored panting reeked of stale beer. Without interrupting his frenzied ministrations, he used his free hand to pop the button on her jeans. "Mmmm gonna feel so good…" Her airway finally free, she attempted to cry for help, but all she could do was sob.

"That's right, baby, we're gonna party – we're gonna party all ni-"

With a sudden vacuous whoosh her attacker disappeared into the sky. She heard footsteps stomping up to her, but she squeezed her eyes tightly shut, the nightmare overloading her senses. The man restraining her arms issued a mighty wail before stumbling backwards, spraying her with the grass, dirt, and stagnant rain water lining the bottoms of his shoes. She curled the freed limbs against her chest and pressed her face into the soaked lawn. There was a short scuffle, consisting of wild grunts and heavily thrown punches before it came to an abrupt end. Gurgles of choked panic piqued her curiosity, and she flipped over onto her butt when she heard the two muted 'thuds' that silenced them.

And then his voice split the night.

"See, all this talk about being special makes me really cranky. I've learned a thing or two from being special…"

Oh, these guys were so screwed.

Feeling a lot like a victimized mouse who'd just been rescued from a couple house cats by a huge and hungry lion, and it was only a matter of time before he noticed she was just as tasty a snack, she unconsciously kicked and clawed at her escape, heels digging and fingernails chewing at the mud, not able to get her brain to do much more than crab-walk and fall.

"And I can tell you," he went on, "contrary to common belief, it's not something you get by," he accentuated his point with a firm, bone-bending shove, "PICKING ON GIRLS." Shoulders taught, he stalked closer like a crouching panther, his eyes gleaming with unpredictable mental instability. "You wanna get to know her insides? Maybe she'd like to get to know yours." He lifted a deadly finger -

"Sylar don't!" He paused, tilting his chin toward her, but his glare never left his prey. "Please… please don't…"

He smiled a devilish smirk that didn't go a long way toward reassuring anyone.

"You're lucky the lady has mercy – some of us freaks come with extraordinarily high body counts… and I bet you believe me, don't you."

They both nodded, hurriedly.

"Or maybe," Sylar continued as Claire managed to get her feet underneath her, and coax her wobbling knees into supporting her weight. "I could do some… preventative maintenance and just put your balls on the ground. That'd keep you off the ladies, wouldn't it?"

"Sylar I really don't want to see any balls tonight… please…"

"Yeah, she doesn't – she doesn't wanna see 'em. She doesn't."

This incited a cruel chuckle.

"Yeah… I don't really wanna see them either. But you should run before the lady changes her mind."

Their legs were pumping before they hit the ground. Hurtling bushes and rounding the corner, they hastily disappeared. Sylar held his stance for a few awkward moments – tall, dark, and straight as a rail, fists white-knuckled at his sides as he stood in stark contrast to the surrounding ambiance, crickets resuming their singing now that the show was over. He had a way of taking up more space than his body had a right to. Her senses catching up with her, Claire shook herself out of a stunned stupor and bent to pick up her scattered belongings.

"I'm sorry, Claire, I don't know what came over me…" She figured now was not the appropriate time to remind him of his psychosis… he'd just rescued her from a nasty gang rape. "But those guys just really pissed me off." The rest came as a hushed whisper that she could barely hear, carried behind him on a light breeze. "I haven't wanted to hurt someone that badly in a long time…"

Holding her books to her chest, still dotted with healing bruises, she winced as she reached for her purse and a couple notepads. The adrenaline was draining, leaving her quaking with shock, her hands trembling too badly to be of any use.

The tiny hiss made him pivot and face her as she bent at the waist, her shaking arm outstretched to collect her things, unable to get her fingers to work. She wept with frustration, unspent rage, and humiliation. She didn't look at him, but she could feel him humming with a renewed bloodthirsty need for murder. Amazingly, he didn't leave her.

"Stop," he murmured softly. "Stop, stop. Here."

A twirl of his fingers landed her remaining items in her waiting arms. Even though he knew better than to mistake her shivering for cold, he removed his jacket and draped it over her shoulders anyway. Its scent reviled her – a cross between cinnamon, leather, and sandalwood – the same one that she associated with death, torture, and pain… just the thing she needed to top off the night.

"I think I'm going to throw up," she managed to grind between pursed lips, like a ventriloquist. She almost hoped she got some on the garment.

"That's uh… probably a natural reaction," he replied, oblivious. "We'll walk slow."

Walk…?

"Where?" Her teeth were chattering.

"Your… room…? I'll take you back there. It's alright – nothing bad's gonna happen."

She was being escorted by a psycho killer to protect her from rapists, and 'nothing bad' was going to happen? Right. She could only blame herself. She made her life weird like this. She used to blame her dad, but she was wrong. It was all her. She wished she'd never seen that damned Ferris wheel.

"Okay."

She chose to keep her focus ahead of her, putting one foot in front of the other, recovering. The space between them was modest and oddly companionable – he paced her, shoulder to shoulder, but kept his hands in his pockets, affected by the brisk air in a way she hadn't felt all winter. She let the cool, moist air fill her and leave her reflexively, on autopilot. She wanted a shower. She wanted Gretchen. She wanted to cry – wanted to pour out her weakness and shame in a way she was never going to show this man. She wanted to curl up in a nest made of blankets and bears and drift away through time to a happy, innocent, safe childhood place where danger was completely foreign. She wanted to be clean, warm, and dry. She just wanted to forget... didn't want to think about what would've happened if he hadn't been -

What had he been doing? She stopped and turned to him, looking at him for the first time, not just seeing him or seeing around him. She snarled.

"What the hell are you doing here?"

His eyes dropped, obscured behind thick, dark lashes, and his lips worked without saying anything. She'd caught him of guard, although she couldn't imagine why – did he really think she wasn't going to ask?

"I came to talk to you, but…" an uneasy hand brushed the back of his neck, "I, uh… I haven't figured out how."

"So you were just gonna settle for being creepy until the right moment presented itself?"

He shrugged imperceptibly and she wanted to palm her forehead in exasperation.

"Look, I'm getting a little tired of being stalked – and I know it's my fault, okay? I know I brought this on myself – I'm not trying to dispute that. But that doesn't mean things haven't been rough, and I've had a really hard day, so if you've got something you want to say to me, then please just say it and go."

His face hardened, masking a tiny piercing streak of dismissal behind a stony indignant visage.

"It's not that I don't appreciate what you did," she backpeddled, not wishing to tempt his famously fickle temper – just because he couldn't cause her pain didn't mean he couldn't hurt her. "But you're still the man who murdered Nathan. And Meredith. And that's just two, out of a number I really don't want to guess. And don't forget, you've attacked me too." His expression fell as he angled away from her, opting to let her truth slap the other cheek, bracing himself for the impact. "What you did to my head isn't any different than what those guys were going to do to my… to the rest of my body." She shifted to free one hand, using it to rip the jacket away from her and thrust it square into the chest of its owner. He accepted it with reluctant fingers. "So please… just say what you wanna say then leave me alone."

"I came to try to make peace with you, and tell you that I'm sorry."

"You're sor- you're…?" Oh, the night just wouldn't end. She thought she might fall over. "Are… are you kidding…?" She sighed and shook her head. "You know? I'm going to bed, I can make it from here. Please promise me you won't hunt them down and have them drawn and quartered or whatever your sick imagination was gonna come up with…"

"Only if you promise to call the cops and report what happened."

"Call the – call the cops…?" she repeated as if she didn't hear him correctly. Exhaustion clouding her judgment and her recent violation stoking a fire in her chest, she met him toe to toe and shoved her face incredulously toward him. "You. You want me to call the cops."

"They're gonna do it to someone else, Claire – it needs to be reported."

"YOU. Want me to call the cops." He was beginning to catch her drift.

"Yes. ME. I know."

"You're aware they're more interested in protecting people like him against people like me, right?"

"Not you. Me." He pulled an about face, ready to take flight. "Bet that little prick'll bleed like a stuck pig, which is funny. Did you know charred flesh smells like pork -"

"Oh my god, okay, I'll call the cops! Deal?!?"

"And you should call your dad."

"Call my -" She pinched the bridge of her nose in irritation. "Sylar, what the hell do you care about my dad?"

"I don't. Personally, I hope he drowns in a freezing river. But if I were him, I'd want to know."

"Yeah… so I can beg him not to hunt them down and kill them too?"

"Claire, we both know your dad doesn't kill the people he hates." He drew his shoulders toward his ears as the previous drizzle began to return. "He'll just make sure they're locked up and blindfolded where they can be waterboarded naked on beds of nails for days on end, or something like that. Your dad'll just make them wish they were dead."

He was right… but if she agreed, maybe he'd go away.

"Fine. I'll call the cops, and I'll call my dad. Are we done here?"

Chafed by her brusque demeanor but completely unable to blame her, he pointedly gestured toward the open expanse of sidewalk leading to the front door of her dormitory, slowly becoming saturated by the growing rain. Eager to separate herself from anything remotely male she immediately turned and began to walk. When she reached her building and slid her fingers over the door handle she risked a backwards glance to find that he'd gone. It was the second strange encounter she'd had with him since that day in the classroom, when he'd shown her Lydia's tattoo of her face on his arm. She didn't want to be thankful for it, but it sure beat the alternative.

~*~*~

*** three months ago ***

"It's a brave new world…"

The promise hanging in the air was as clean as the impending springtime. Breathless, he was standing at the precipice looking out, watching history unfold in the flesh as Claire Bennett made a mockery of contemporary scientific and medical marvels. Footnotes and edits would be forged in textbooks in her honor. Idols in her image would be erected by which to pay her adulation: web pages, movies, comic books… maybe even action figures. Those who were content to hide could continue to do so, but those who weren't were free – she was the liberator of the oppressed. They could be whoever they wanted to be.

And so could he.

At least he'd like to think so. He was aware Peter was the only human being alive who'd had the good fortune to bear witness to his transformation. Their brief albeit forced conversation with Matt Parkman was a perfect testimonial to his detriment, however, depicting exactly how far he had left to go. The five years he'd spent isolated in a private mental purgatory was fiction to the outside world – it never happened. Parkman had even taken the risk of peering one last time into the muddled mess of broken clocksprings that composed his mind, clumsily pushing them around with the stubby tendrils of his psyche, and he wasn't able to find a single shred of evidence that his ordeal had ever existed, despite the fact that he was the one who was responsible for it. Or maybe he just didn't want to admit it.

In the end, it didn't matter if it was real to anyone else – it was real to him.

His resolution, however, shook like the tremors that still rippled through her broken body when she stood, snapped her bones back together, brushed off her clothes, and spoke winsomely to the cameras and journalists. Through the throng of mobbing bodies she managed to lock eyes with her uncle… and then him. Something indecipherable and unpleasant flashed across her face before she was distracted by frenzied questioning and blinding flashes. Behind and to his right he caught the clipped, yammering jibberish that heralded the approach of an enthusiastic Hiro, joined at the hip, as usual, by his friend. Sylar ducked nervously behind Peter's shoulder when Noah Bennett - ahead and to his left - turned away from the crowd, his blond girlfriend at his elbow, obviously intent on making his way over to engage Peter in an animated conversation. His daughter had just cut the final tie that bound him to his duty as her father and he desperately needed to vent his heartache… he looked like she'd stabbed him in the chest. His expression halted as curtly as his feet when he got a glimpse of his daughter's old nemesis ineffectually hidden in Peter's shadow. His eyes widened in horror and a protective arm shot out at his side, preventing Lauren from progressing any further.

Sylar instinctively staggered backward two or three steps in automatic retreat, begrudgingly exposing himself to an unimpeded line of sight. Hiro had drawn up short as well, tensed for flight, his typically jubilant cherubic face set in a grim line.

"Brain man…" he muttered through the still, thickening atmosphere.

Peter turned a slow circle, ignoring how Emma's smile faded into confusion as the pervading unease seeped into her – he was prepared to diffuse a potentially volatile situation. He held his arms out, evenly bobbing his hands around him in appeasement, trying to inject some calm into the amplifying tension.

Sylar squared his shoulders and lifted his chin in dignified surrender. He knew he wasn't welcome here – whether or not he was prepared to face it, he knew these people hadn't spent the past five years of his life with him, and he knew he was starting from scratch. He had a massive due to pay.

"Gabe," Peter caught his attention, "it's alright, it's okay buddy. I can -"

"No Peter, you can't. It's not right." He could easily let Peter solve all his problems for him – no one would disbelieve the boy scout, he was a cherished member of their inner sanctum, to know him was to trust him. But Sylar fought his own battles, having vowed long ago he would never again allow another person to dictate what routes his life would take. "I have to do this. I need it."

"Where're you gonna go?" Peter asked, dipping an ear toward his shoulder in an amicable display of genuine concern. Sylar fought hard against feeling patronized; he knew that wasn't the man's intention but it was habitual.

"I'm in New York," he returned, bending at the waist in a shallow half-bow. "I'm going home."

He spared a parting glance to Bennett, whose wild west trigger finger was itching to show him just how fast he could draw. His spitfire lady was one step behind, not hesitating to display exactly how lightly she rested one hand on her scarcely concealed holster in anticipation. Neither of their eyes left him, imaginary crosshairs glued between his eyes. Their world wasn't ready for him and certainly held no desire for his presence… so why did he want them so badly? He had no interest in forgiveness – he needed that specter on his back to remind him why he'd changed. Was it absolution? A mechanism by which to achieve inner peace? Is that what they represented? He could easily pack up his life and leave them all behind forever, start over with a clean slate where no one knew anything about his disgracefully repulsive past… but the idea ran a charge down his spine that he just couldn't reconcile – it felt like a lie. Maybe what he was after was more punishment.

He could no more move ahead than he could move back. He'd exchanged one limbo for another. He was just as alone as… he always had been. All of his life. With ironic contrast to the sinking sensation in his heavy heart, he took to the sky and left them behind to relax and revel in his blissful absence.

His feet touched pavement again in Queens, already certain the venture would be fruitless, but since he'd spent the past five years in the abandoned building he had to see it for himself – had to see what had become of it since Sylar was born. He stood on the sidewalk across the street for a long time, staring at where the sign used to be, trying to recapture forgotten nuances in the brick, the paint on the windowsills, the neighboring structures… the way his skin crawled with creeping memory. Eventually he swallowed the melancholy knot in his throat and entered the Starbucks that had taken the place of Gray & Sons.

Masterfully conquering a weariness that still threatened to tug at the corners of his eyes, he employed a bit of roguish charm and made small talk with the barista behind the counter while she twisted at the waist, nimbly preparing a double shot of espresso with the kind of efficiency that only came with a lot of practice. According to her, after the owner of the building had befallen an accidental death (rumored to have been impaled by her own pair of scissors) and the beneficiary, her only son, had gone missing, the estate came under the ownership of the woman's ex-husband who then sold the property. When asked if he knew the previous residents he merely smiled and stated flatly that he'd been interested in their business. With the tiny, bone-white cup pinched between his fingertips he said his thanks and took his leave of her, sliding into a chair partnering a small table.

He scanned for any sign of the old floor plan – a scuff or a crease where something heavy used to sit. The reconstruction of the interior had gone a long way to erase all indications of prior habitation. The place was spotless… except for the ceiling. Lifting his eyes as he tipped back the warm, bitter liquid he noticed a spreading brown splotch – a water stain. The bathroom of the apartment upstairs was directly over his head. He distinctly remembered creating that blemish when he was eleven years old – he'd accidentally overflowed the bathtub. Mother had been absolutely outraged that he could be so careless… his knuckles still stung from the unforgiving impact of the ruler.

He turned away in favor of a change in scenery, drowning in nostalgia as he gazed at the hauntingly familiar landscape through the alien window. Even in the dark he could see the salon across the street… the bakery, the old theatre… None of these things embraced their prodigal son. He dropped his nose toward the tabletop as he helplessly leaned into it. He was destitute. He had no family, he had no friends. He was homeless. He was buried in a deep, suffocating grave of guilt and shame. He was rebuilding himself from square one and had no idea where to start. He was… so…

"You look lost," a voice interrupted his inward spiral. The barista was wiping down a table next to him. He guarded his discomfort behind a small puff of laughter, fidgeting with his fingers and staring down the last dregs of his coffee.

"I suppose you could say I am."

The girl fisted her towel on her cocked hip for a moment, in thought.

"My mom used to tell me, if I couldn't find the way forward, sometimes it was helpful to examine where I've been."

"Your mom's a smart lady." He bit back against the sudden flare of envy. "How's that working out for you so far?"

"I dunno," she replied, dropping her hand to rest next to her thigh, "okay, I guess. My bills are paid and I'm in school… I'm alright. Can't complain."

Can't complain…? That would be a step up from his present circumstance. Perhaps the advice was sound. He drained the cup and stood.

"Well, I'll give that a shot, thank you."

"Have a good night." Canned spam response, forged by repetition. Nonetheless, he appreciated the distraction the conversation had provided – he stuffed a couple bucks in the tip jar before exiting and leaving the past behind him in piteous empty ruin.

He decided against flight, thinking perhaps a final stroll groveling through his old neighborhood was more befitting of his mood. He caught a street vendor in the middle of packing away his wares for the night, anxious to get out of the street before less desirable elements started sneaking out of the shadows. Easily persuaded into a last minute sale, Sylar soon found himself in the possession of a handful of ladies' costume jewelry… which subsequently was transmuted into solid gold. The items were pawned for a healthy handful of cash which was frugally spent on two weeks' room and board at an extended-stay hotel near the airport, a couple arms full of groceries, a package of inkpens… and one blank journal.

Late that night, after a sparse meal of spaghetti prepared in his modest kitchenette, he sat Indian-style in the middle of his bed, boney elbows digging holes in his knees and his cheeks smooshed against the heels of his palms, staring at the gleaming, open face of the blank paper. He had to remember what happened to him. He needed something from it that was real – tangible. Now that he was once again surrounded by sentience, with its racing pulses tempting him with covetous abilities and secrets to which he wasn't good enough to be privy, scorning him with thinly veiled disgust jabbing a painful rage within him he feared he wouldn't be able to contain… a hunger… he needed the physical reassurance that he'd changed – if he'd done it there, he could do it here. Needed it because no one else was going to do it for him.

And so, tuning out the background warblings of businessmen and philandering politicians with their mistresses, he set himself to the considerable task of chronicling his time spend in perdition, preserving the memory in the hopes it would show him how to move on.

~*~*~

*** present ***

The police had finally left, taking their crisp, indifferent professionalism with them. Puffy eyed but soothed, Claire swaddled herself more tightly with her fuzzy, rubber duckling yellow bathrobe and hunkered down in her nest of wadded tissues while Gretchen sweetly combed her wet hair.

"I… I just feel so stupid… I should've known…" she hiccupped.

"You say that like it's your fault there's sick, evil people in the world."

"I know… but Gretch… he wanted to hurt me -"

"The irony isn't lost on me -"

"Hurt me for what I am. If it's happening to me, then it's happening to others out there and I'm responsible."

Gretchen tugged at her distraught roommate's shoulder in order to catch her eyes.

"Here, look at me. You're just one girl, and you're just a college student. The only thing you're responsible for is taking care of yourself and getting good grades. You only jumped off that Ferris wheel because you wanted to stop keeping secrets and living a lie – is that so wrong? I mean, isn't it the world's fault for not living up to your expectations?"

She barked a harsh laugh. "Isn't that kinda… Maybe I shouldn't have -"

"No, Claire. No matter what you did, there's no good reason why that guy should feel like he could do to you what he did. And there's no way you should feel sorry about that."

"I don't know what would've happened if…" She habitually cringed, loathe to even say the words. "It was so strange… Sylar was there. He saved me."

"Waitaminute… you told the cops you didn't see the guy who rescued you…"

"I know I did, I know. It's just easier that way," she replied, releasing a sigh and trailing her fingers over her sleepy face. "He made me call the cops. And he asked me to call my dad…"

"Wait – Sylar… wasn't… wasn't that the charmer who stole my backpack? Blew out all the windows? Killed your -"

"The very one," she affirmed, flourishing a hand in the air.

"Did you remind him he owes us new bedding?"

"New… what?"

"It rained the next day, remember? Everything was soaked? And I'm still picking glass out of my hair every morning…"

"You know, I gotta say, it slipped my mind." Ready to finish her chores for the evening, she pointed a sagging arm toward her table. "Could you hand me my phone? It's in my purse, on top of my books."

Gretchen was a long-limbed filly of a girl, tall and capable of a graceful, efficient gait but in her youth she was still a tad ungainly at times. The only thing she managed to do was drag the purse to the floor, toppling the neatly stacked pile of books.

"Oh crap…"

"Here, lemme help."

"Shit, I'm sorry, Claire, I just – hey, what's this?" She held up a small, nondescript, leather-bound tome. "It's pretty – is it new?"

"I dunno, I've never seen that before in my life… I don't know where it came from…" Having found her phone, Claire ignored the mess opting to place her final phone call for the evening. Gretchen flopped the book open across her lap but stopped to address her friend before she continued.

"You're not gonna call your dad this late are you?"

"You kidding? He'll come over and keep us up all night. I'm calling mom. I'll visit dad in person tomor- oh hey mom! Yeah I know it's late, I'm sorry – no, I'm alright! Well, not really, but I am… I just…" She didn't know where to start. 'Hey mom – I'm half a nation away and I just got brutally attacked tonight, how're you doing?' seemed a bit harsh. "No, no, we're good – what? Oh yeah we're eating okay, yeah… yeah, the check cleared, I'm good, meal plan's taken care of – no, no I don't need more money, I mean sure I'll always take it but I don't need it… MOM, there's something I need to tell you. Yes, I'm okay, no I'm not hur- oh my god, mom, of course I'm not hurt. I just had a little scare tonight is all, but we called the cops, and -"

Gretchen could hear the mounting hysteria from where she was sitting.

"Yes, yes I'm okay – mom I'm OKAY. YES. The police are taking care of it and they're gonna get the guy." She paused to listen. "Well, there's not much to say, he just grabbed me is all and then someone else scared him off and then it was all over. We think he might've been drinking." She neglected to mention the scrubbing she gave herself in the shower until her skin was an angry, blazing shade of rose or the good twenty minutes she sobbed after the police had asked her to relive the whole event all over again in nauseating detail. There was something about her mother that brought out the understatement in her. By the same token, she could tell Sandra wanted to ask her if the attack had anything to do with her recent state of renown. The question also went unvoiced. "No, no it wasn't anyone I'd seen before, no one I knew. Just some nutjob… but they'll catch him, mom. I gave them a good report. No, no I don't have anything going on this weekend. Oh, oh I'd love to, that would be so great, just to get away! Sure, lemme ask her." She whirled around to her roommate, using a three fingertips to cover the receiver. "Gretch – you wanna come with me to my mom's this weekend? She and Doug are hooking us up with plane tickets – they're cheap right now through Southwest."

"Yeah, that sounds great," came the distracted reply from the brunette who was completely engrossed, flipping through the pages that rested on her knees.

"Yeah we're in, oh my gosh I could really use that right now." Her mother had a way of hearing the strain in her tone no matter what she did to hide it. "You will??? Oh mom, I love you so much, I miss your waffles! She's gonna make us waffles, Gretch! Yes, I know! I can't wait to see those roses! Well, I miss Muggles too. Yes. Mhmm. I love you too. I'll check my e-mail in the morning – yes I have my drivers license, I know. Okay… okay, I'll call you when we get to the airport. Okay. I love you too. Good bye – huh? Oh yes – I got an eighty-eight on the test, which I'm happy with, I mean it's not my best – whuh? Oh yeah, that was easy. And I got my paper done. No, everything's on time. Mhmm, I know. Okay mom. I love you too. G'nite."

Head pounding but realizing that a visit from her dad would've taken much longer, Claire flipped the phone shut.

"Where did you say you got this?" Gretchen's hushed whisper rang between her ears, referring to the object that still held her rapt attention.

"Like I said, I don't know – I've never seen it before."

"And it's not yours."

Claire could only smile and shake her head. "Uhh… no, Gretch. It's not mine."

"This is fascinating… as a criminal justice major I could sit and read this all night long…"

"…uh… what is it? Do I wanna know?" Her mouth ran dry, suddenly afraid it was dropped by her would-be rapist.

"There's some pretty heavy stuff in here, Claire…" Leaving her thumb in the spine to hold it open, she passed it over with solemn respect. "I don't think it's the kind of thing you typically see from your average drunk jock on a power trip. And that's my professional opinion."

Claire gingerly received it and let its covers fall open to softly smack her terry-cloth covered thighs. Immediately she recognized the handwriting… from that day… on the chalkboard…

Impulsively she leapt to her feet letting the journal clatter to the floor, and she clamped her hand over her mouth, squeezing her eyes shut. She didn't even want to breathe, it was like the thing was a coiled cobra ready to gnaw on her hands.

"Oh my god, Gretchen, he would KILL us if he knew we had this!!!"

"So you know who it belongs to!"

Claire whipped around and gripped the girl firmly by the shoulders and gave her a good shake.

"He's murdered for less, Gretch!!! Oh god…" her hands fell away, and she sank her clammy forehead between them.

"I don't understand" –

"It's Sylar's. I think he got in a short fight with one of the guys – he must've dropped it. Oh hell, Gretchen… he'll know… eventually he's gonna figure it out and he's going to come looking for it…"

"So you'll give it to him – so what?"

"So what?!? Gretchen! He'll -"

"He can't hurt you Claire. And look at it this way: he screws up your life and disappears for months, then he shows back up so he can trick you into having… a heart-to-heart in a closet? And now he's rescuing you and defending your honor…?"

"He also tried to tell me he was sorry…"

"Psychopaths don't apologize, Claire, I'm telling you – something doesn't add up here. I've studied killers and I've studied cases. Something is definitely up with this guy. And if I had a psycho mass murderer who made such a huge impact on my life suddenly show up and start acting all weird and stuff… for the sake of everyone I knew and loved I would want to know why. And the answers are probably lying right there on the floor. That's just my two cents."

She could just give it back to him. He'd never have to know she read it. So long as the human lie detector didn't ask outright…

"No, he has ways, Gretch… he'd know. He's spooky like that." She tucked her damp hair behind her ear as she stooped to pick the book back up. Smoothing her hands over the rich, brown bindings she begged them to leave it shut.

"Suit yourself, I'm gonna go get us some Cheez-Its, that'll make everything go away."

"Gretch," she caught her as she turned, "I know it's not easy being the girl with the crazy roommate. I just… I need you to know… I'm not the only person here that's 'special'. You have the ability to heal everything that hurts me, and I don't know what I'd do without you."

"Well… you'd be talking to yourself for starters." Happy to see her roommate smile, Gretchen slipped away to the vending machines, leaving Claire alone with the written manifestation of Sylar's heart and soul, it's hefty weight growing warm between her limp fingers.

He had wanted to make peace and tell her he was sorry. He kept her from harm and… he had been merciful. Before she knew what she'd done a light breeze tickled her chin, wafted from the fanning of the open pages. She needed to receive the peace and the apology as badly as he needed to give it. There was only one way she was going to find out for sure if his intentions were honest and true.

When Gretchen returned, noisily brandishing her crinkly bagged treasures, she found Claire reclined against her pillows with her knees pulled toward her chin, supporting a proper resting position for the text, thoroughly captivated by the words, her curiosity pulling her down every line.

"That didn't take long," she chuckled to herself.

A/N #2: And there's our boy, flirting with baristas again... habits die hard.