A/N: WHEEEE! My life is music, kiddies. All about music right now. Like, I've even dyed my hair and we're getting ready to record. After that, we're all about live gigs. But aside from that? I have no excuse. I was firmly in the steel-trap jaws of writer's block for a long time, and on top of that I've developed a new obsession with the British version of 'Being Human'. Anyone else here ship Annie and Mitchell? GUH! They make my little shippy heart beat, I swear. Anyhoo, knuckled down today (I'm on vaca this week) and just freakin' finished up this chapter al-freakin'-ready. It's crunch time now, though. We're building up to a climax here and I have some serious planning to do, and I feel like I've been caught with my pants down! Anyhoo, this was a fun chapter - great MoNoEd trio action going on, TraLauJen trio is on to something, and Sylaire banter is a-flowin'. OH. And there's someone else making an appearance in this chapter... hmmmm...
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
16) Deep Water (Part Two)
Mohinder probably should've felt a bit more embarrassed having shoved Janice's head into his lap, but he was too busy dodging the bullets he was sure would follow their fish-tailing, mud-flinging escape to be concerned with the unintended sexual assault on his best friend's wife.
"Get down – down!"
Matty squirmed between them in the musty bench-style back seat of the Challenger, but didn't accomplish more than merely rubbing his plump legs against the leather.
"They won't shoot," Noah stated as he squinted that grizzled, Clint Eastwood sort of way that Mohinder had come to notice meant he was talking, scheming, concentrating, and driving at high rates of speed across off-road terrain all at the same time. "Not while we have him."
He was referring to the black-clad occupant of the passenger seat, currently bracing his rigid posture to its fullest strength by trying to remain stoically calm while being comically jostled out of every attempt to do so by the weaves and bobs one could expect from driving a muscle car through a thick knot of forest land. His manicured fingernails digging into the armrest, he squeezed his eyes shut as they bottomed out in another dip that had been camouflaged by shaggy grasses and a half-buried log.
"You're not going to get away, you know," he muttered through stiff lips.
So that was why the holy man was abducted at the last minute – a safeguard against errant shots. Probably not a bad idea with a child in the car. With that in mind, as if on cue, Edgar – the outline of his body a blur amidst a miasmic cloud of dirt and weed pieces – leaned close to the driver's side window from where he ran alongside.
"Give me the baby, mate. I can get him out of 'ere, safe and sound."
"Do it – it's the only chance you'll have," Brother Jacob concurred.
"I said shut up. Mo, pass him out your window."
"NO!" Janice cried, good sense falling hapless prey to the primal maternal instinct urging her not to toss her baby out of a speeding, open window. "No – you'll drop him!"
"It's only gonna get worse from here, Jan, and you know it," Noah replied over the roar of the engine. "They're not gonna catch Edgar."
Caught between panic and protectiveness, unwilling to relinquish the child with whom she'd just been reunited, she cast her wide eyes up to Mohinder, hovering above her, seeking an answer.
"I won't drop him, you know I won't," was all he could manage, but it was enough. With the dogged movements of a lassoed mare she shifted and slid the child into his arms.
"Quickly," Edgar called on the other side of the window, "these trees here are about to be a problem!"
'Besides,' Mohinder reassured himself, 'Edgar would be quick enough to catch him… wouldn't he?'
Fighting a gripping anxiety that threatened to crush the life out of the wriggling boy in his arms with super human strength, he summoned the reserve to be gentle and, in one swift motion, passed the toddler through the window straight into Edgar's outstretched hands. Without another word the two disappeared leaving only a plume of dust to show that they'd ever existed. Janice could only clutch her heart and sob silent prayers. She gasped as she experienced another brief second of zero gravity before the weight of the car crashed against its suspension, clanging Mohinder's teeth together, narrowly missing his tongue.
"Why didn't we just take the road?" he growled.
"Because it's expected. Besides, this is a short cut."
"It's not a short cut if it kills us… what are we gonna do about the van?"
"Report it stolen? I don't care. It's the least of my worries right now."
For the first time, Mohinder found he had to agree with the man. He swallowed, then, the subsequent question to which he didn't want to know the answer – 'what are we going to do with the preacher?'
Just then, like a hungry shark, they burst out of the clinging undergrowth and skidded a gravelly semi-circle across a sudden expanse of back country road before spraying a powdery mass of pebbles into the hazy springtime air as the vehicle righted herself and charged toward the horizon. She was stopped however – brakes squalling and tires sliding on loose rocks – by an eager and rapacious cavalry of gleaming, howling county sheriff blazers pouncing over the hill. Two blocked their path ahead while three more swept up behind to impede any chance at retreat. They were in deep water.
"We've got two guns and super-human strength, and that's it," Noah whispered in the unnerving calm that followed as the dust settled on the rumbling hood. It was a losing game, but he was going to place his pieces in the best way he could.
"OH MY GOD!" Janice cried when the screeching skirl of Noah's phone ringer filled the cabin, splitting the tension like an axe.
"I'm sorry, Lauren," he told the device as he lovingly stroked the ignore button, "can't talk right now."
But then an idea popped into Mohinder's mind, blooming like a dazzling iridescent bubble so simple and succinct that his face warmed with smug satisfaction.
"You mean to tell me you don't know how you're going to get us out of here?"
"Gimme a second, Mo, I'm working on it –"
"No, seriously, it's so easy – you really don't know?"
"Mo, don't be a jackass – if you've got something to share with the class, please – "
"Oh, well, yes, then, in that case, please – allow me to save the day this time!"
Even Brother Jacob peeked over his shoulder in curiosity as Mohinder, with great flourish, produced his own cell phone from its pocket and placed two text messages – one with a phone number, the other with explicit instructions.
"That's it?" Noah groused, watching in the rear view mirror. "That's all you got?"
"Just give it a minute."
"Step out of the car!" hollered a brown and tan clad deputy, bull horn tipped under the shadow of his hat's wide brim. "I wanna see those hands in the air!"
"…we don't have a minute." Car doors transformed into barricades as the troop of lawmen disembarked from the relative security of their vehicles and drew a steady, confident aim on the Challenger while exposing as little vital flesh as possible.
"THEY HAVE GUNS – SHOOT THEM!" Jacob shouted to his compatriots, uselessly. "THE BABY'S GONE – SHOOT THEM ALL!"
"That's not a very Christian attitude," Noah began, but was silenced when a figure appeared in the middle of the road before them, smiling his usual cherubic yet mildly arrogant smile, slurping an ice cream cone while the rest of the world did his bidding and froze in perfect place like bugs fossilized in ageless amber.
"Oh! Hello!" Hiro waggled his fingers while his tongue removed a creamy moustache from his upper lip.
"Told you so," Mohinder couldn't help himself as he disentangled his limbs from Janice's death grip and exited the car. "Thanks for coming," Mohinder told the little Japanese man as he rounded the front of the hood. In his peripheral vision he saw Brother Jacob make a sudden movement, but Noah, unsurprisingly, was quicker. The glint of his cold steel barrel scattered prisms of light across the windshield.
"You can run if you like, but I can make you stop," Noah warned. "Doesn't take a huge bullet to blow out a kneecap. Just something to consider."
"Is no problem," Hiro replied, merrily turning a circle, taking in the petrified surroundings. "Is my duty."
Mohinder picked his way around the motionless police men, trying to ignore the way their seeing eyes stared blindly ahead, doing his best to remember that their interrupted neural impulses weren't actually perceiving him as he circled his arms around the first one's waist to pluck him from his spot and move him out of the way. It was surreal the way the flesh was still warm and yielding, yet completely inflexible. Once the men were clear and the two blazers in front were chucked like Tonka toys to where they cartwheeled to a stop somewhere lost in the woods, he turned to the three blazers behind. Each one took a heavy sledgehammer fist to the engine block.
"Alright," he piped, slapping his palms together indicating a job well done as he climbed back into the Challenger, "we're home free! Thanks Hiro!"
Hiro, mouth full of frozen mush, only held his dripping cone aloft in mock salute.
"He's… just gonna stay there?"
"I suspect," Mohinder answered, "he'll just go back to where he came from."
And with that affirmation, once Hiro stepped aside, Noah put the gas pedal to the floor. Hiro toed the dirt, sunning himself, bathing in affable southern humidity as he whittled his cone down to a soggy, napkin-swaddled nub. Popping the last bit in his mouth, he smiled, winked, and reappeared next to the same table outside a New York City ice cream parlor where he'd been when he'd received Molly's message – a set of coordinates and the request of a favor from her foster father. He remembered well, though, the last time he'd seen his friends… arriving with a certain dead but recovering serial killer. His good mood evaporated as he became concerned. He sent a quick message back to Mohinder, politely wishing to inquire what else he could do to help. After all, a hero's rightful place was wherever danger reared its ugly head, and it was his instinct to seek it out like a moth to a flame.
*** yesterday morning ***
The old man had just finished buttering his toast – leaning weakly on the counter while fishing in the refrigerator, deliberating over the choice between strawberry jam or blackberry preserves – when he briefly lost his mind. He had no memory of the trek he most certainly had to have made, navigating the dense maze within his home constructed from his hoards, the fruits of his macabre hobby – trophies of snarling predators and life-like grazing hoofed or winged mummies that somehow managed not to occlude the large picture window facing the field of wildflowers outside, its austere frame decorated by a flock of happily beckoning bird feeders. He also noticed with great disdain that he'd left hastily enough to have neglectfully dragged his life-sustaining oxygen supply through the grassy, scarcely-used driveway dirt behind him completely forgotten. This was quite unlike him.
Bending on wobbly knees to gather the thin tubing and collect the tank in his arms, bemoaning the fact that the cart that carried it had been lost somewhere inside in the journey, he had enough time to wonder what had summoned him so insistently before the wind began to alarmingly howl. Gusting hard enough to topple him over onto his brittle hip, he rolled against the hard-packed gravel in a manner that deprived him of any dignity while his robe twisted around him like a terrycloth python.
A helicopter was landing on his front lawn.
A vicious scowl curled his lips as he labored to climb to his feet, slapping the dust from his pants with a bit too much vigor while the great propeller on top of the unwelcome behemoth began to crawl to a stop. A typical curmudgeon, he did not like visitors. An a-typical curmudgeon, however… he had absolutely no single need for a shotgun. His ways were much more effective. At least the ones he could remember. He flexed the stiff bones in his wrist as a stout man in a grey suit ducked out of the vehicle and crossed the scrubby grassland he called his 'yard'. He held out his hand as he approached with brazen risk.
"Howdy. Sorry 'bout the unannounced visit, my name's Jim. You must be Sam Gray, yes?"
Sam. Not 'Samson'. He hadn't been called that since… oh hell, it didn't matter, his youthful memories were just as vacant as half of every ragged breath he took. Irritated, he lifted a warning finger that was very capable of murder and just as eager to commit it. The 'Jim' character stopped abruptly as if he were mysteriously aware of just what that finger could do, and he raised his hands peacefully into the air.
"If I know who you are," he began, "then it stands to reason I know what you can do. I've had the opportunity to look through a lot of old secret files…" his voice trailed but his meaning was clear. "I'm just here to ask for your help." The fingertips of the man's left hand twitched a tiny command and two more figures emerged: one pressing the barrel of a gun against the temple of the other – a slim, pretty blonde woman. And suddenly he was painfully reminded why he chose to sequester himself to life as a bird-watching hermit in the middle of a nigh-impenetrable forest (except, evidently, by air). He wanted to ask, 'how did you find me,' but the question hung as a lump in his choked throat.
She was different from the other two… well, aside from her obvious difference in gender. Something about her… ticked oddly. She awakened ancient desires and a buried demon. His periphery burned away to fuzzy shadow, he tunneled into her like an x-ray machine, following the circuits and pathways inside her skull until they led him to something… extra. Something no one else had… except him. It would only take a slight nudge in the right direction and he could see how it worked… then he could open her up and take it…
"So," Jim's voice broke him from his lethal trance (how long had he been staring?), "if you wanna get dressed or something, I can explain on the way –"
"I'm not going anywhere with you until you tell me what the hell you're doing here and why there's a helicopter in my front yard!"
"I'm here because I didn't have enough time to make you come to me, just like I can make you get in that chopper right now whether you want to or not." He must have been referring to the woman. Either that or she was brought to bait him. Either way, Samson had to give them man kudos for his balls. "Why don't you lower that finger and we'll talk. I need you, I told you already, I'm not about to open fire or anything."
If there was one thing Samson Gray had worked hard to build, it was his civility. For decades the struggle to cage the beast within him and foster his own humanity had been his only reason for living. He lifted his chin with decorous amenity and let his arm sink to his side.
"You got ten seconds to tell me what you want."
"I told you already, just some help."
He was about to start slicing.
"Yes. Well, I guess I was just fishing for something more specific…"
"Okay, fine. There's a gentleman we plan on… liberating. He's particularly dangerous… and necessary –"
"Necessary for what?"
"– and we need the help of someone equally powerful to keep him under control."
"You need a babysitter. Right." Mussing fingers through greasy, bed-matted hair, he nodded with surly sarcasm. "So, you just 'dug through some old files' then. Dug until you found me. Yeah. That sounds like a load of shit. I think you need to be gettin' off my property."
"We had someone else in mind, but… he slipped through our fingers. Because that man was your son, we figured he might be a chip off the ol' block."
Gabriel. His eyes leaped from his toes and he joined the conversation with renewed interest.
"So why don't you just go FIND him, then? Leave an old man alone to die in peace?"
"We're working on it. Finding him, that is."
"And what makes you think I'd wanna just help you anyway? Willingly? Just like that? This old heart ain't got no kindness left in it. I really hope for your sake you weren't stupid enough to come here and beg without bringing something to offer… or are you offering her?"
"Sam," Jim chided, "I told you, I don't need to offer anything. But… there is something. If we can get your son back, he's got someone with him who might interest you. You could have her instead."
This had better at least be amusing, for his trouble.
A wolfish grin split the man's face as he practically salivated, preparing to offer that one irresistible bribe that would unquestionably close the deal.
"An indestructible girl… who will live forever."
A piercing vision shot through his brain like the arrows that had pinned his wayward son to the wall inside his home… yanked away to reveal nothing more than woundless smears of disembodied blood… like the slice on his hand that cleanly zipped itself back together as neat as a zip-lock baggie. He had to have gotten that ability from somewhere… He took in a deep sigh, as deep as he was allowed by the ache from the invasive tumor in his breast, able to feel within his very cells, like clockwork, the rate at which the malady was metastasizing. He remembered how very easy it had been to control people once. Control one man, find his son. That's all he had to do, and he'd be free from this cadaverous prison once and for all.
"What do you say, Sam? Will you help us?"
Since when did he have these inhibitions anyway? Didn't this guy know who he was?
"What do I have to do."
"Just come with us and be ready."
"I'd like to get my cart. And my breakfast."
"Whatever you need. You've got ten minutes."
Later, wirey grey hair combed and a fresh pair of pants donned from the dryer, he hauled his bent body and his accoutrements into the back of the waiting aircraft… to be seated next to a chubby bald man who amiably passed a hand across his body in an affable gesture of greeting – the same one Jim had made earlier. What was it with common humans and their incessant need to bond?
"I'm Doyle," the man introduced himself. "You met blondie up there? Cute, huh? You should hear her play the cello – amazing for a deaf woman. So, you here for revenge too? What did the guy do to you?"
Confused but not interested enough to inquire, he gave only one solemn response before he turned his attention toward the panorama outside, shrinking away as the helicopter left the ground.
"No, I'm just here looking for my son."
*** back to present ***
A thick haze of particles twirled like myriad miniature ballerinas hanging in the dusky light of the rattling projector, as a spotty bright square plastered itself to the far wall where a hair-raising scene had just played itself out. The chasm in the middle of the Arizona desert shown gaping wide on the film they'd watched – deep enough to flood with a distant subterranean water table – no longer existed. The fact that someone could manipulate the very earth beneath her feet, to the extent that he could not only rip it open but could also sear it closed as if the great fissure were nothing more than modeling clay, frightened her to her shivering core. Especially given that the man responsible would happily siphon from her her abilities – her essence – in order to wreak such havoc.
"I need to double check my facts, but isn't this the same guy, in Central Park last year…?" Jennifer asked, her pale-faced fears threading her voice into a trembling monotone.
"The very one, yes," Tracy answered hauntingly.
"Samuel… Sullivan, it says." She prodded a file that matched the one Tracy still held loosely in her hand.
"Yup, that's him." The same man who was able to shove an entire trailer home deep enough underground that only a sentient trickle of water could reach it to rescue the pair entombed within.
"So, looking here… it's faded and the graph is hard to read but…" While Jennifer sussed it out, Lauren was in the corner, fingertip plugging one ear, feverishly trying to reach someone named Virgil on the phone. "It looks like the study wasn't done on him as much as it was conducted on everyone else. Like, the result his ability had on the rest of the people who lived here."
Tracy flipped open her own file and scanned its contents, concurring with her claim.
"Yeah… it looks like they were studying the potency of their abilities."
"I don't understand…"
"Samuel's ability only worked this well by drawing power from other people with abilities, people like me. It's looking like his power actually has a side effect on the people from which he draws… hardly noticeable in small doses, but when he does something big, like this, it would appear that all of these people saw their powers greatly diminished for a significant period of time. But no one would've felt anything – they might not have ever even known unless they tried to use their abilities. A big enough cataclysm could have potentially rendered them permanently powerless. And the only person who could really corroborate this is Angela Petrelli… but her ability is so passive she may know nothing about it."
"Dammit," Lauren hissed, "Virgil's not picking up. That's not like him – something's wrong." Frantically she began jabbing buttons, dialing another number. "Pick up, Noah, pick up, Noah, pick up, Noah…"
"The man Noah and Lauren called to have Samuel incarcerated. He's supposed to be his jailer... Are these all the files?" Tracy asked, indicating the two boxes they'd pulled from a safe concealed in the aging rubble.
"No, there are some missing – the safe was open when I found it. I'm assuming Culbertson took the rest with him – he probably has the really good stuff, and this here is just the beginning."
"SHIT!" Lauren yelled, frustrated by the repeated lack of response, raising her fist as if to throw the phone, then thinking better of it. "Samuel's free, Tracy, he's free – I just know it – and there isn't anything we can do about it!"
"We'll find him," she responded firmly. "We've done it before, we can do it again."
"That's what he wants then," Jennifer whispered conspiratorially, "Culbertson. He's an oil guy. He's going to open a huge crack in the world over a great big oil deposit, and the Preservists are going to help him because, in return, all the para-humans he would need in order to draw that kind of power are going to end up losing their powers for good."
"And if they have a para-human registry… they'd know exactly which people to kidnap. They'd have an entire nation's supply in the palm of their hands!" The file clapped against her thigh. "They'd be ridding the United States of the para-human threat while making Culbertson an extremely rich man!"
"Son of a bitch…" Lauren breathed, "don't they know what he can do? With that much power, don't they have any idea what he would have to do to this planet in order to wipe out all those powers? He could destroy us ALL –" she jumped when her phone buzzed, singing loudly in her hand. "Yes! Yes!" she shouted with glee before she answered. "Hiro! I – yes? No – no, I haven't been able to get a hold of Noah either, although I haven't tried Mo… you can't what? Why wouldn't you be able to get a hold of Peter, he should be… yes. Yes, I know Sylar's with them, but… Yes! Yes, there is something you could do to help! Hiro, I need you to find Molly. Find her and tell her about Samuel Sullivan – everything you remember about him. Yes, yes butterfly man, yes. Yes – tell her about him – find him online, get pictures, news articles, the whole works – then ask her to find him, and call me back, okay? That would be an enormous help. No, we're fine, just fine, just trying to keep this from blowing up. No, we got it. Okay then – thank you so much!" Flipping the phone shut, her face beamed in triumph. "Fuckers are NOT going to get away with this!"
"But what I don't get," Tracy added, "is what on earth would ever make them think they could? I mean, since they're plainly aware of at least half of what Samuel can do, even if it's just the basic premise – what makes them think he'll just… help them? Just… go along with it like a good boy? They've gotta have something he must want, but what? Or do they really think they can control him? I guess what I'm saying is… there might be something we're not seeing here. We should be careful."
"Sylar," Jennifer supplied. "Maybe that's another reason why they want Sylar so bad. To use all his powers and keep a lid on him."
"I hate saying it," Lauren admitted, "but I'm not sure Sylar's enough. They'd have to have more than Sylar to make sure Samuel would go through with it – I mean, once everyone loses their powers, essentially he loses his, doesn't he? He'd fight Sylar to the bitter end before he'd ever let that happen, and… I think he'd win."
"Maybe Samuel doesn't know what his powers do to others – the files make it sound like the only other people who knew were scientists…"
"Or maybe," Lauren answered, "they have more than Sylar. I agree. There's something we're not seeing. We need a plan – a good one… as soon as Hiro tells us where the hell we're going."
The young African American girl had finally stopped whimpering and had settled into a complacent sort of trance, crumpled in a dispirited heap on the floor with her forehead resting against the glass, watching the ocean tumble away into infinity on all sides. Shadowed by sea-legged gunmen, Jim set the piece of the gun he'd been polishing onto a velvet cloth that held it in place while the ship moved, and picked up the satellite phone deciding now would be a good time to include his gracious benefactor in his good fortune. Usually he preferred to conduct his correspondence through Brother Jacob, having respect for the integrity of the relationship between the Preservist movement, the Church, and his employer – he wanted to do his best to preserve that solidarity. This time, though, he was too giddy and impatient to speak with the middle man.
Sylar and the dead senator's daughter had come back.
It took longer than usual for Neil to answer the phone. Unease rankled, Jim began to worry that karma might be doing her best to keep the universe in balance… at their expense. When the big man did come on the line, however, he was already shouting above the pandemonium of other voices and two sobbing women. Something had happened.
"Jim! You better be callin' with good news, you asshole, because I'm really fuckin' pissed at you right now!"
Suppressing an icy wave of childish indignance, he gulped and found his voice.
"As a matter of fact, I am calling with good news. I got our killer back. And the blonde. And not a moment too soon, too – we're about to go get our guy –"
"You dipshit – Sylar would sooner slit your throat in your sleep than give you one ounce of help!" Jim didn't want to temp the man's foul mood by reminding him that there weren't many people he couldn't coerce, even the renowned predator – every man had his price. "Just leave him locked up, and keep an eye on him this time! He can still be useful, which is a damned good thing for you! So how about that tail, huh? The one Jacob told me not to worry about? Because YOU were supposed to have taken care of it back in Midland?" And then sometimes that solidarity was like a lead weight tied to his waist… and his eardrums felt like they were being punched. "Just an 'old man, an Indian, and a little girl'? Right! Well, they just broke into this house and stole our collateral! Now, does that sound very 'taken care of' to you?"
"No, it doesn't but –"
"And THEN they took off with –"
"Neil! Calm down a minute, buddy – you're gonna give yourself another heart attack – listen! Let 'em go – we've got everything in place! We've got a shipload of freaks, I've got one of 'em to keep the crowd under her control as long as I let her sister live, and I've got two – potentially three – strong telekinetics to keep this 'earth-shaker' of yours nice and quiet until you get here. The plan is still working!"
"They took Jacob, Jim! Don't you see? These people! They're fuckin' mind-readers and voodoo witches and shit like that! They're gonna get information from him! The only registries I have right now are for California, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi – we need more time – time to get enough people to really make this work!"
"Now, stop – it's gonna be fine, alright? Everything's gonna be fine. Besides, you're missing a fine opportunity here."
"How you figure?"
"Don't you think the public would like to know just what kind of people these freaks are?" Jim flicked his silver tongue like a rattlesnake's tail. "The kind of people that would barge into a good, Christian family home and kidnap a preacher?"
"You make a good point…"
"Of course I do. It's my job to be good with points. That gets out, and I bet we get ten more states to pass that bill by the end of the week."
"Yeah… you're right…" There was a stabbing, scratchy brush as Neil presumably muffled the receiver with his palm. "Sally! Tell Rosa to put them kids down and go get me my power suit! Daddy's gonna be on television!"
Claire assumed it was probably pretty rare when someone consciously knew they were dreaming, so she didn't complain about having been unwillingly sucked back into Sylar's dank, chilly, ashen grey psycho dreamscape yet again. Not that there would've been anyone to complain to… after all, the whole point behind his private hell was that he was stewing in it alone. But she also found it particularly disturbing that her fickle brain would have the audacity to not just conjure his image into her subconscious thoughts once now, but again a second time… Still, though, she didn't say anything. Begrudgingly curious, she was willing to roll with the punches this one last time.
A biting wind turned tattered leaves in corkscrews through the rustling branches in the park, setting her feet to a determined pace, attempting to pump warmer blood to her extremities. When her toes touched pavement, however, her bewildered gaze slung from one building to the next, overwhelmed by the spotlight stare from a colossal audience of watching windows seated in rows and aisles like a crowded theatre watching a play. They were waiting to see what she would do… which way she would go. She wanted to laugh at her absurd moment of stage fright, but she really had no idea where to start looking for him in such a maze, and she truly didn't appreciate the scrutiny. And it was scary the way they loomed over her, so tall they appeared to curve like claws.
But the breeze carried with it an ingredient that hung in her senses, tangy and not quite pleasant, like the smell of… the smell of fish. The sea was upwind, and she was certain the scent was a sign, that she would find him there, so she ran in search of salt water. She skidded to a sandy stop, however – heels grinding into the mushy earth – when she reached the beach and found, tilting down at her with the same surprise, the last face she ever expected to find within the same repugnant vicinity as Gabriel 'Sylar' Gray.
"Claire?" Peter breathed, almost sleepily. The sky above them twinkled a drowsy, almost drunken sort of swaying dance, and deepened into a languid, somnolent moonlit midnight blue. "What're you doing –"
"Peter – what are you doing here?"
"The same as you," he smiled his trademark lopsided smile, the one that endeared him to her, "I'm here to save him."
"Because we're heroes, Claire. Because he needs to be rescued. Because he needs us and he's not going to ask for help."
"But Peter, he –"
"I know what he did Claire. He knows what he did. But if we can save him … if we can show him… then we'll all be healed." In spite of his cryptic words, his message rang clear as a bell in her head. He was talking about finding a way to move on. "There's good in him, Claire," he continued, "I've seen it. And there's love in him. He just doesn't know what to do with it. And he's scared. We can show him."
"It's hard," was all she could manage, even though there was more she wanted to say.
"I know. He knows. You know, it's funny," he began, stooping to examine a half-buried shell, "he told me not long ago that he was afraid I would hit him."
But that's who he was, beneath it all… just lonely and angry, and afraid the world would hit him again.
"Where is he?"
"Out there," Peter pointed as he nodded his head toward the placid rolling surf, rising and brushing the sand from his knee. "He's lost... lost sight of the shore. He comes and he goes like that. Sometimes he's here, but other times he loses his way and he gets frightened."
Frightened of what he might become.
"But how do I reach him?"
"That's a tough one, I haven't been able to figure that out, either." He stepped toward the water's pitching edge, letting the swirling waves slosh around his ankles as he eyed an object bobbing in the halo's pale reflection – a derelict craft. "Maybe if we just open up, make ourselves available to him…"
"But what if he hurts us…?" Peter didn't have an answer for her. Feeling stupid, Claire realized she didn't need one. Cavalier with her own invincibility, she squared her shoulders and waded out into the surf where she opened her arms wide like a siren calling her driftwood sailor home. A dizzying sensation of weightlessness swept her into the sky and she squeezed her eyes shut out of instinctual reflex until her feet touched down on something that would've felt solid had it not been fluidly rocking. When her lids parted, she found herself seated with both hands gripping either side of an old, weathered row boat… with no sign of an oar.
And there he was, coiled in a ball at the bow of the dingy vessel, bound tightly in a hooded sweater that appeared to be doing very little to ward off a chill in the humid air that Claire couldn't feel. He was thin and shabby, and judging by the bearded state of his jaw he looked as if he'd been lost at sea for a week or more. And he was deeply submersed in a frigid, troubled, hungry sleep.
Unsure of how best to awaken the beast she knew him to be, she began by nudging a foot. When that didn't work, she summoned the courage to crawl over him, poised above his still form as she landed a purposeful hand firmly on his shoulder. A couple good shakes brought him around – he blinked twice and flexed his crooked spine before fully opening bleary eyes that seemed to lack any real focus.
"Claire…?" he yawned, voice groggy from neglect. "…why are you here?"
She found it interesting the question wasn't 'how did you get here'.
"I'm here to help you find your way," she told him.
"But…" He grappled against his surroundings momentarily, weakly trying to heave his body into a sitting position but failing miserably. Claire leaned away, suddenly feeling uncomfortably close. "… but you hate me."
What could she say to that? The feelings she had for him that were once like a frozen razor had thawed into something tepid and dull and confusing. It was still easy for her to berate him and find criticism in his actions and mannerisms, easy to lay blame on him and hold him up to unattainable standards… but she couldn't claim to hate him. Not anymore. Not if he was sincere.
"I don't…" the words were jealously snuffed by her bitter pride. She swallowed as the water lapped a tranquil echoing lullaby against the hollow metal hull of the boat. "There's no way I can possibly forgive you," she began again, "but… I think I can understand you."
His eyes, waxy and dry from malnutrition, still managed a pained mahogany as they bore into hers. And then, like a feral animal who only took what he could steal, he reached for her, quick enough she couldn't back away. The whispery tips of his fingers barely brushed the velvet of her cheek…
Claire woke up with both her hands pressed beneath her face as a makeshift pillow… and Sylar's zip-tied wrist mashed precariously against her lips. Did… did she drool…? Dear lord. Between the quick jerk of her chin and her startled breath, there was no way he wasn't going to notice she was awake, but she risked a glance up to him anyway. Stiff as a rod, he made no indication he was aware of her change in status… a status that she realized completely mystified her.
"I… I must've fallen… how long was I out…?" She sat up and rubbed at her eyes with her free hand.
"Only twenty-three minutes," he replied without looking at her. "Give or take about sixteen seconds."
"Uhh… wow." Freak. "Yeah. But why would I need more sleep, I'm not even tired…"
"I wonder if Monique zapped me…"
"You were probably just bored."
"Did you sleep?"
Okay. The distracted fixation on some unseen spot across the room was starting to get annoying. What was with his sudden aversion to eye contact, anyway?
"What the hell are you doing?"
"Nothing, I'm just –"
"You know, I'm getting a little sick of your mood swings –"
"Shit's sake, Claire, I'm eavesdropping!" he admonished out of the corner of his mouth.
"… from here? Don't you have to be, I dunno, a little closer to be able to – oh my god, do you have super hearing?"
"Not anymore. It's sign language, stupid. Shut up."
"… tell me to shut up…" she groused, settling into a posture that was more beneficial to her circulatory system. "Don't have to 'shut up' if it's sign language, who's stupid now…" Leveling her chin with his shoulder, she followed his line of sight to where it landed on an excitedly nervous conversation taking place between Emma and Peter. "What's going on? What are they talking about?"
"There's people waiting for us at our destination. She… I think she said she was blindfolded when she got there…"
"That wouldn't surprise me."
"Yeah. They… they got there by helicopter, I think… either that or she's talking about angels."
"Angels. Yeah. I'd go with the chopper."
"Because I really don't want to think about death and heaven at a time like this."
"There's no death or heaven for us, Claire. Okay, they picked up two men – that much I can tell for sure. They… heh. Yeah. That's great." He finally turned and met her with a flat stare that was completely droll with acrimony. "Just great. Thank you."
"I sure hope you guys can honestly appreciate now that there are just some people who need to be killed, or else they just keep coming right back."
"Oh, no – no no no –"
"Like some stupid retarded game of whack-a-mole…"
"No – you don't rationalize that – who? Who is it?"
"Doyle. Doyle is over there waiting for us."
"Ughh, oh god, for real?"
"You know, in hindsight, maybe tying him up in Christmas lights wasn't exactly the best plan…"
"No. Don't you dare. It's okay. We've dealt with him before, we'll just deal with him again. Just like you."
His eyes swung back around, narrowed in petulant accusation.
"Uhh, what? Just like what?"
"Please! Don't tell me you think you've got the patent, or something, on being the cockroach of our species?"
"I am nothing like him!"
"Oh come on! You both do that, that, that… full body thing, or whatever –"
"Claire, our powers could not be any more different."
"And you're both completely whacko!"
He spun away from her dramatically. "You know, I'm getting a little sick of…" She didn't notice how the words died.
"Oh, don't even start with me. Just because I can concede that you're not 'technically' a psychopath doesn't make that anything more than just a technicality. You both have issues that absolutely just fly in the face of serious – bats in the belfry, my friend. Not to mention, neither one of you can seem to decide if you want to be good or evil, and you both have crazy eyes –"
"Claire, wait –"
"Neither one of you can seem to leave me or my family alone –"
"It seems like the only stuff you don't have in common is the fact that he's fat and bald, and you're a," she flapped a hand at him, "… a string bean with, obviously, a lot of hair –"
"Claire! Please! Shut up! One minute!"
Before she could protest, their bound wrists flew into the space that separated them, presenting to her the pinched fingers that clamped her lips shut involuntarily. He was watching Emma again… but this time he was gaping, his quivering lips as pale as smoke. His gaze slid slowly until it returned to her, but the face that bore it was drained away of any of the effortless banter or sardonic humor that had graced its admittedly handsome features only seconds before. It was haunted by a breathless, unspoken, and contagious terror that she tried not to feel, seeping watery tendrils of creeping doubt deep into her bones and joints.
"What?" she whispered, though her brain begged her not to ask, his hold on her released.
"There's someone else there, too."
But who on earth could make Sylar this palpably afraid?
He pivoted on his sitbones, and her right hand flapped against her chest as he grasped both of her arms. Her eyes widened out of familiar, unrestrained habit, but the fear that drove it was different this time. She wasn't frightened of him… she was frightened of sharing fear with him. And suddenly she could read him – his meaning was etched across his face as clearly as the lines in the book that secretly filled her pocket. He wasn't afraid for himself.
"Claire…" Her stomach twisted. "I know that I have wronged you. So I need you to believe me." She hadn't even heard it yet, but she could plainly see by the fervent sheen in his eyes and the grim set of his jaw that whatever was to come next was sure to be swear-on-your-mother's-grave, holy bible gospel truth. "Please believe me when I tell you that I will not let any harm come to you."
She wasn't sure what scared her more.
"Who… who is it…?"
A/N #2: DUM DUM DUMMMMMMM!