Chapter 29: Sacrifices
Claire drew in a sharp gasp as she lurched from death to waking, coughing up a mixture of blood and bullets. The speed of the transformation from death to life was near instantaneous and overwhelming. She felt no pain, so nothing distracted her from the sensation of bones growing, muscle rebuilding, and arteries sealing their gaps. Her eyes, dulled by the film of death, blinked rapidly then focused.
"Welcome back," Sylar said, his dark eyes serious. He'd lain her down on a deserted parkade rooftop, then released his hold on the nerve bundle that composed her kill switch.
Ignoring Sylar for the moment, Claire looked around rapidly to get her bearings. It was still only early afternoon, though Claire felt that this day had already lasted several months. The sun had heated up the blacktop she sat on and the sky was a hard blue, with no sign of clouds anywhere on the horizon.
Claire rose to her feet, shook some of the blood of her shirt and stuck her finger through one of the bullet holes with an irritated sigh. Finally, she turned her green gaze back to Sylar, who had also risen to his feet. Her blood coated his shirt and glistened red on his neck, but he'd grown accustomed to blood long since and seemed untroubled. His expression was impossible to read, but to her experienced eye he did not look like a current inhabitant of crazy town.
"Did it work?" Claire's question was abrupt, but not unfriendly. They definitely needed to talk – probably at volume – but there was no time for it now.
"Do you want the good news, or the bad news?"
"Spare me the humour, did it work or not?"
"Koehn was definitely convinced, but Danko managed to escape."
"How the hell did he manage that? We were in a room full of federal agents!" Claire exclaimed incredulously.
"He is very capable. I could have caught him, but given that you'd just taken a bullet to preserve our secret, I let him go. For now." Sylar had said that Danko would die today, and his tone implied that his mind had not been changed on that issue.
Claire accepted that with a nod, she was not in the mood to defend Emil Danko from Sylar. "We have to get back to my Dad's place, change clothes and figure what to do next."
"Agreed." Sylar moved toward her, but just before he could pick her up she took a half-step backwards.
"You did a good thing in there, you know. People like us will be safe from people like Danko." Claire's eyes were steady on his.
Sylar was not used to praise. Even before he'd become a killer, there had been few compliments. His mother's empty headed platitudes had never acknowledged what he had done and what he was, but what he had yet to do and could become. Claire's words made him feel slightly embarrassed, almost bashful. To hide it, he took her in his arms and pressed her head against his shoulder, breathing in the smell of her hair. Even the rank stink of the blood drying on their bodies could not hide it.
"Thank you," he said softly, and pressed against his chest Claire could feel the vibration of his deep voice thrum through her. She reached up her arms and wrapped them around his neck as he lifted them into the sky.
"Claire!" Noah and Peter exclaimed in one breath, and Claire hastened to them to receive her hugs. She wrapped her arms around her father's broad chest and breathed in that familiar Old Spice aftershave, allowing herself a moment of paternal comfort. When she pulled away from him, she met her grandmother's eyes and leaned in for a kiss on the cheek.
"What the hell is he doing here!" Matt's eyes were deadly cold as he regarded Sylar.
"I could ask the same of you, weren't you dead?" Sylar's taunting tone was designed to irritate Parkman, and succeeded.
Claire stepped away from her father's hold and interceded with a quelling glance at Sylar before she turned her dimpled smile on Matt. He always reminded her of one of her teddy bears and gave him a squeeze.
"I don't know how it's possible, but it sure is good to see you, Matt," she smiled, and he dropped her a wink, a little of the twinkle in his eye restored. Considering that he had invaded her home and shot her the day they met, they got on very well.
"It's good to see you, too, but that still doesn't answer my question." Matt returned his hostile glare to Sylar.
"Haven't you heard, Parkman? I'm one of the good guys now," Sylar drawled.
Matt snorted disbelievingly, but refused to respond to Sylar directly. "You don't actually believe you can trust this guy, do you?" The question was directed at Noah, a trusted ally in this issue if in no other.
"About as far as I can throw him," Noah replied, the light flashing off his glasses as he tipped his head toward the erstwhile villain. "But he has been...helpful in all this," he finished with a certain amount of ill grace.
"Stop it," Claire snapped, and Matt's eyes snapped to her in astonishment. Claire Bennet had grown up a lot since the day they'd met, and not just physically. That command had the ring of unquestioned authority to it.
"We don't have time for this," Claire continued, "we have to find Danko. I'm telling you, he's lost his mind in this freakish paranoia about people like us, and he will stop at nothing to make sure he gets his way."
"Even if we're sure he's trying to assassinate the President, how could he even get to him? You know how tight security is, they'll have that whole hotel locked down." Peter was, as was his habit, pacing, his hands helping him talk.
"Do not underestimate him, Peter," Noah warned. "He has been getting into places he should not be his entire life. He could disappear now and be gone for good, but I think he'll do whatever it takes to stop Building 26 from being shut down."
Angela Petrelli had watched all of this, a silent witness. She had said only as much as was absolutely necessary to Matt after finding him, despite his repeated, and increasingly frustrated, questions. Many times in her past she had tried to force the events she saw in her visions, or force a change to them, and nearly every time the results had been catastrophic. In this, she'd learned to favour a scalpel over an axe. The seer had drawn in a deep relieved breath at the arrival of Claire and Sylar. So far everything was going the way she'd hoped. When she finally broke her long silence everyone startled.
"Whatever we do, we have to do it fast. Danko is going to the Stanton and time is running out." The absolute desperate truth of this rang out in her voice drew her son's eyebrows together. Once again, Angela was holding her cards close to her chest and her tone suggested she would offer no further information.
"You two," Noah gestured at the by now sticky and aromatic Building 26 escapees, "need to go clean up, and then we need to get to the Stanton."
"What are we supposed to do when we get there?" Matt asked. We have no identification, no credentials – they won't have any reason to let us in,"
"We should split up. Peter, Matt and I -"
"Matt's coming with me," Angela said with iron finality.
"What? Why?" Matt was clearly not thrilled about the idea of spending more time in Angela Petrelli's company.
"I can't explain it right now, but you need to stay with me." Angela replied, and that was clearly all she was going to say on the subject.
Noah hadn't been planning to bring Angela along at all, and like everyone else he wondered what she was up to. He'd wanted Matt to get them by security, but since Peter could use the Haitian's power to get around it, it was only a minor inconvenience. It was pointless to ask Angela why it was so important that she stay near Matt, he knew that, but he wondered just the same. "Okay, Peter and I will go in the back to see if we can find Danko."
Noah looked consideringly at his daughter, wondering what the chances were that she would obey an order directing her to stay at home and out of trouble. Given her expression of steely expectation, he decided that the attempt would be futile. Claire was going to be a part of this, whether he liked it or not.
"Sylar is going to shift into Nathan's body and then you two can go right through the front door. With luck Nathan is already in there, and you can invent some excuse about fetching your daughter so that she could meet the President. You find Nathan, and tell him what's going on." And stay out of trouble.
Noah leaned his hands on the kitchen table and looked around at the group, meeting each pair of eyes with his steady gaze. "No matter happens, we have to find Danko before he can get to the President." When he received a nod from everyone, he straightened. "Let's get moving."
Sylar and Claire walked into the fabulous foyer of the Stanton Hotel, and Claire's small town Texas eyes widened at the luxury of it. The space was filled with people buzzing hurriedly back and forth, like so many bees in a hive. The hallway leading towards a bank of elevators was blocked off by a formidable security checkpoint. Large men in black suits and radios tucked into their ears watched the crowd with sharp eyes. Claire balked for a moment, intimidated by the checkpoint and guards, absolutely positive that they could never get through, but Sylar's pace remained unchanged and his hand on her elbow pulled her along in his wake. His gait mimicked Nathan's smooth confident stride to perfection.
The secret service agents clearly recognized Nathan on sight and waved him through, though one of them dipped his head to speak into the transmitter on his wrist. A tall man in an expensive suit with curiousity written on his face approached.
"Nathan!" He exclaimed as he shook hands with the not-Senator. "I thought you were already through security."
"Hello...Liam," Sylar returned after a quick psychometric check of the man's identity. "I'd like to introduce you to my daughter Claire. Claire this is Liam..." Sylar trailed off uncertainly, he'd not discovered Liam's last name in the brief contact.
"Liam Samuels, the President's Chief of Staff," Claire finished for him as she shook the hand Liam proffered. At Sylar's startled look she shrugged and said, "I live in America."
"Anyway," Sylar continued with a Nathan Petrelli grin, "Claire came to D.C. unexpectedly, and I cam down here to collect her. I'd like to introduce her to the President."
That Nathan Petrelli had a teenaged daughter came as news to Liam, but he had no reason to doubt him.
"I can't see any reason why not. It's very nice to meet you, Miss Petrelli," Liam returned as he reached out his hand to Claire.
Given the circumstances, Claire did not believe that it would be a good idea to correct him. Instead she took Liam's hand and gave him her most brilliant smile. She had been a woman long enough to know that she usually didn't have to do any more than that to affect most men. It didn't fail this time, and Sylar felt a bolt of jealousy strike him at the bemused smile that crossed Liam's face.
"Great, thanks Liam. I guess we'll be heading up now," Sylar said, moving himself between Liam and Claire. Liam's pocket had just chimed and he shot them a distracted smile and wave as he read whatever text had just come through on his phone.
Sylar took Claire's hand and tucked it into his arm, a very Nathan Petrelli action. Claire couldn't help but be impressed by Sylar's acting talents, if she didn't know better she would have had no suspicion that he was not who he appeared to be. The elevator was crowded and pushed Claire and he closer together. The elevator chimed each floor, and people exited the elevator as it was pulled steadily upward, until only Claire and Sylar were left. Even then, they stood in silence, but she did not remove her hand from his arm and he could not bear to move further away from her.
Just before the elevator chimed its final floor, Claire looked up at him and said, "I'm glad you're here." Her eyes were warm, and he knew she spoke the truth even without his ability.
Sylar almost broke down right there, almost told her he loved her, almost took her in his arms and kissed her until she believed him. Almost ruined her life. Once he had wanted to drag her down to his level, to make her like him, just so that he would not feel so lonely. He had changed since then. Perhaps in a hundred years, two hundred years, longer, he might deserve her, but he doubted it. She was too bright a creature for him, and he would not cast his shadow on her. So instead, he choked on his heart and only nodded. Then he pulled her through the open doors of the elevator and down the hallway.
Nathan opened the door with his toothy smile, a smile that instantaneously transformed itself into a snarl when he saw who stood in the threshold.
"Get out of my body," Nathan growled at his doppelganger, and Sylar couldn't help but smile tauntingly before shifting back to his own form.
"Claire, what the hell -" Nathan began, but Claire interrupted him.
"Danko is here, he's in the building. He wants to assassinate the President," Claire said, the words coming out in a rush.
Nathan's jaw dropped as his eyes widened, but Sylar didn't have time to hang around and enjoy the sight of the usually tightly controlled Petrelli losing his composure.
"Claire, you should stay with your father and explain. I'm going to go find Danko before he can do anything."
"Absolutely she should stay here!" Nathan exclaimed, but Claire ignored him and stared into Sylar's eyes, her jaw set mutinously.
"It will be easier for me to find Danko on my own." It was simple, bare truth, and it stung like a bitch, but Claire could not refute it. Eventually the line of her mouth relaxed from mulishness to resignation.
"Fine." Claire managed a weak smile. "I guess I'm meeting the President after all."
Sylar smiled back and the sight of it startled Nathan. It was not a shuttered smile, a reflection of cruelty and madness, but a bright flashing thing that softened Sylar's dark eyes. He almost looked like someone else.
Sylar spontaneously reached out and took a lock of Claire's hair in his hand, letting it slide through his open fingers. Nathan cleared his throat loudly and Sylar pulled his hand away with a start. A little of the hardness returned to Sylar's face and without another word he strode from the room, still wearing his own face.
The door had no sooner closed behind him before Nathan made his way over to Claire and seized her by the elbow, turning her to face him.
"What is going on, Claire?"
Claire sighed heavily, her eyes still on the closed door. Finally she turned to her father and quickly ran through the events of their day.
"What do you think?" Claire asked when her story was finished.
"It doesn't make sense that he would want to kill the President. I mean, what good would that do? Everyone saw him kill you, right? If no one believes him, it doesn't matter who the President is. Building 26 will still be shut down, nothing will change."
"I know that." The voice came from behind them, and both of them spun to see Danko coming through the bathroom door, his gun in hand. "I'm not trying to kill the President."
"So why did you want me with you, Angela?"
Angela and Matt stood in the foyer of the expensive hotel. Busy people swerved around the pair without seeing them, courtesy of Matt's shield. He wasn't sure how he'd grown it to include Angela, but then he did a lot of things with his power that he didn't understand and did by instinct.
"Why don't you read my mind and find out?" Angela shot back, ignoring his irritated glance. She'd long since found ways to keep intrusive telepaths out of her head, and had already proved it to Matt.
"Just answer the question," Matt growled. "Give me one reason I shouldn't leave you right here."
Angela sought a way to lie, to keep her secrets, but she knew that she was in danger of losing control of the situation and she couldn't take the risk that she would be separated from Matt. That left truth as the only option. "You are the only one who can find Danko before he destroys everything. My dream – it showed me chaos, destruction – the death of everything I love, the death of my sons."
Matt did not trust Angela, but the agony in her voice could not be feigned. "What will happen? Is it because Danko manages to kill the President?"
"I don't know!" Angela's voice broke with the strain. "I only know that Danko is here, somewhere in this hotel, and if you and I don't find him something terrible will happen. Something – unbearable. We have to stop him."
"Why not just stay with Peter and Noah then? Safety in num-"
The violent head shaking interrupted him, and the chaos in her green eyes had only intensified. "No! In my dream you and I staying together was the only way to change – whatever will happen."
Matt remembered the confusing spin of the prophetic painting ability the African had somehow given him, a swirl of visions and feelings almost impossible to discern. At least that power left a physical manifestation of the vision, an image caught in paint or pencil. Her dreams lived only in her mind, with no image to anchor her. The thought chilled him, and he was grateful he would never have to experience that.
"Alright. I believe you – or at least that you believe. What do you want me to do?"
"Danko is in this building somewhere, and he has death in his heart. You have to find him before he can act."
"How am I supposed to do that? There must be hundreds of people in here, how am I supposed to find one man in all that?"
Angela's expression was grave as she regarded him. "You can do far more than you give yourself credit for. Try, Parkman. Reach your mind out and find him. I know you can do it." She didn't add that she needed him to do it, but it was there in her eyes.
Matt had doubts. His power mastered him far more than he controlled it, but the fear in her eyes gave him to option but to try and do as she asked. He nodded uncertainly before closing his eyes and reaching out into the world. Danko's mind was familiar to him already, and he concentrated on his memory of it. He sensed hundreds of minds, lost in thoughts large and small, and sifted through them, looking for Danko's ball bearing mind. Unbearable minutes ticked by as he cast his untrained and unwanted power about, finally finding the mind he was looking for.
There you are! Danko's thoughts were hard and pitiless, and in this moment filled with malice. The man was absolutely furious, furious beyond rational thought, and he was near. Matt dipped into Danko's consciousness enough to get a sense of where the man was and what he was up to.
"Oh my God," Matt breathed.
"What? What is it!" Angela asked, the way that Matt's face paled had tightened the vice of fear that had squeezed her heart since she'd woken from her dream.
"He's not after the President." Matt couldn't bear to tell her Danko's real target, he just had to get there before Danko could act. "Come on, we have to stop him."
"Stop him from here! Make him change his mind!"
"I can't," Matt said as he started moving towards the elevators, Angela trailing in his wake. He made the secret service agents see someone they recognized, convinced them that he and Angela had every right to go through security. "I don't know how."
She balked, forcing him to turn to her. "Your father could do it," she said, knowing it would needle him. Perhaps she thought it would provoke him to action, but she was wrong. If he could stop Danko, he would.
"Yeah, well, I'm not my father, and I'll never be like him. Now come on!" Matt reached to her and grabbed her hand, pulling her into the elevator which had just opened. Once in there, he looked at the panel, and pressed number 32. A thought occurred to him as the doors closed, and he closed his eyes once more and reached desperately out for the minds he knew best.
Peter and Noah were able to enter the Stanton through the kitchen, quietly worming through the outside edges of the security barrier. Noah had to disable a few Secret Service agents to get the job done, but they would not remember anything when they came to. Now they stood hidden in the ball room where the President was giving an address, but they were too distracted by their watch for Danko to pay attention to his gifted oratory. There was no way for Danko to get at the President here, but with no other clues all they could do was stay as close to him as possible and hope they'd see Danko before he saw them.
Peter! Matt suddenly screamed into Peter's mind, and Peter stopped dead as the sending hit him like a fist. Get to the Presidential Suite. Do it now! Then Matt's presence was gone as abruptly as it had come and Peter shook himself as his eyes cleared. He spent half a moment cursing himself for not taking Matt's ability. Without it he could not reach his mind out and reconnect with Parkman to find out what was going on. All he could do was obey the frantic nature of the sending.
"We have to get out of here. Matt says -"
"We need to get to the Presidential Suite. I heard him too." Noah was impressed, he didn't think Matt had the necessary control over his ability to send a telepathic message at such range. It seemed Matt's abilities were growing every day. He made this observation as he was on the move, his long legs moving him quickly towards the staircase. The elevator for this floor had been closed, and he and Peter would need to pound up several flights of stairs to get them to the Presidential Suite. Noah pictured his lovely daughter, and started taking the stairs two at a time.
Claire was up there.
Meanwhile Claire glared balefully at Danko, hatred snapping from her eyes. The gun he held was leveled at her head, and his eyes were blazing. Claire couldn't understand how they could be so cold and so completely insane at the same moment. She stepped forward until the gun was pressed into her forehead. Nathan's eyes widened and he froze in place as he watched his daughter take her life in her hands.
"Take it easy, Danko" Nathan said in what he hoped were soothing tones. "What are you going to do, shoot her again? You know it won't work, and there's no one here to see her heal. You've lost, Danko."
Danko smiled his cold half-smile, his eyes so filled with madness that Claire felt a shiver run through her. "I know that too." Danko backed up from her, though he kept the gun pointed at her head. "You've ruined everything, Claire Bennet. You've destroyed my reputation and Building 26, and there's no way for me to convince anyone that you freaks exist."
"So give it up! You can't kill me," she spat.
"I don't want to kill you," Danko returned calmly. "I want to hurt you."
Danko shifted his aim from Claire to Nathan, and pulled the trigger. Everything suddenly slowed, and time pulled like taffy. Nathan staggered as the bullet hit him, a sharp gasp escaping him. The gun roared again, then again, and bright splatters of blood flew as the impact pushed him backwards. Nathan's eyes locked with his daughter, her pretty green eyes filled with shock and fear, and he tried to smile.
I love you, Claire, he thought as he fell backwards. Then nothing.
Sylar had leaned weakly against the door he'd closed between himself and Claire for a moment before his hunter's mind could prod him into action. It had been a very long, very bad day, and there was one individual he could blame for all of it. Sylar hoped Danko had prepared himself for death today, because that was exactly what he was going to get.
Sylar was far too restless to use the elevator, and instead made for the stair case. He was several flights down when he heard feet pounding up the stairs. Sylar quickly shifted to the first shape he could think of, which turned out to be Liam Samuels. However, when Noah Bennet flew around the banister and into view he dropped the form. Peter was only a step or two behind and both almost crashed into Sylar before they could slow their pace.
"Sylar!" Noah panted. "Where's Claire?"
The note of desperation in Noah's usually unflappable tone widened Sylar's eyes. "I left her with Nathan in the Pres-"
But Noah was already gone, a foul curse spat over his shoulder as he resumed his course up the stairs. Peter started up after him, both taking the stairs two at a time, and Sylar decided that now was no time for questions and followed. They reached the door marked "32" at the same time they heard the gunshots and broke into a full run as they hit the hallway.
"Dad!" Claire screamed as Nathan Petrelli's already dead body hit the floor with a boneless thud.
Claire's mind went blank as she watched her father die, and all she could hear was the gunshots, over and over again. She looked to Danko and saw the maliciously satisfied smile on his lips. Then the rage came and took everything away with it. He'd succeeded, he'd hurt her, but it was the last thing that he would ever do.
The three men pounding down the hallway heard her banshee shriek and redoubled their pace. Sylar waved at the door barring their way and it flew away from its hinges at the same moment Claire began to charge toward Danko.
Danko only had time to widen his eyes in surprise as Claire hit him, pushing him violently backwards. She was small, but so was he, and he was not charged with grief and fury. Arms windmilling, he staggered backwards, further back. Claire redoubled her efforts, slamming the full weight of her body against him and he hit the window, which shattered under the pressure. At that moment Claire hurled herself forward and wrapped her arms around Danko's chest, hitting him so hard that they both soared out through the broken window.
They fell, Danko and Claire, fell all the 32 stories that separated them from the ground, and Danko's eyes never left her as it happened. The shock at her attack cleared from his eyes as they fell and was replaced by a vicious gloating, but no fear. Danko knew he was about to die, but he also knew that he had succeeded. He had hurt her, and now the whole world would see her standing over his dead body at the bottom of a fall that should have killed them both.
I win, he thought.
But the ground did not kill Danko, the pool did. From the height they'd fallen from, it didn't make much difference. The surface of the water received them no more gently than would concrete. Danko died instantly as the collision shattered his bones and crushed his internal organs. Claire, though atop him, did not fair any better. Both of her arms and legs broke in multiple places, her organs ruptured, her ribs punched through her heart, lungs and skin. She died for just a moment before her body regenerated the damage almost as quickly as it had been caused.
Both of the bodies sank into the water, clouds of blood billowing up from them. The courtyard around the pool was deserted, having been closed down as part of the security protocols protecting the President. No one but Peter, Noah and Sylar standing in the shattered window far above saw it happen. Danko had not won after all.
Slowly, slowly Claire pulled herself from the pool, pausing to push bones back into place as needed until she stood at the lip, staring down at Danko's broken body, still sunk to the bottom. I killed him, she thought distantly, popping a few vertebrae back into place. She should feel bad, she should feel guilt at the murder of another human being, but all she could feel was grimly satisfied.
"Sylar said you'd die today," Claire commented to Danko's body, drifting slowly around the bottom of the red-tinged pool. Her voice was calm and cold until she remembered the choking gasp Nathan had uttered as he hit the ground, the light that had left his eyes even as he gave her his last smile. Then she broke down, fell to her knees in front of the pool and began to cry, feeling like her heart was ripping out in great chunks.
Above, Sylar, Noah and Peter looked down disbelievingly, watching as Claire began to pull herself out of the pool, but they whirled around when they heard the sound of more footsteps pounding down the hallway. Matt appeared in the doorway first, and when he saw the body on the floor he tried to pull back in order to grab Angela before she could come around the door.
"You shouldn't see this," he pleaded, but she pushed him away as if he were lighter than air.
Peter finally had time to look at the room they'd just burst into, and saw his brother. As his mother came around the corner, he fell to his knees. His mouth was moving, but he could not force sound past the closure of his throat. Angela's eyes widened and everything in her life fell apart as she ran towards her eldest son.
"No!" Angela screamed, her famous composure completely destroyed. She fell against her son, touching his cooling cheeks with shaking hands. "No!"
Peter struggled to rise to his feet, his mouth still opening and closing. Sylar took his hand and pulled him up. When he met Peter's eyes he shivered. He had never seen so much pain in someone's face, it was almost as if Peter had been taken away and only this shell remained.
"Peter, I'm so sorry," Sylar whispered, then pulled his cousin to his chest. Peter did not respond, he leaned bonelessly against Sylar, his face blank with shock.
Sylar looked down at Nathan's corpse, at his staring eyes and bloodied shirt. Angela was draped over her son's chest, moaning indescribable heartbreak into her son's ear. Noah and Matt stood helplessly by, watching the bereaved mother with compassion in their eyes.
This is broken, Sylar thought, how do I fix it? His first ability, the only one that was ever really his, told him how, and he closed his eyes against it. Denial would not work, but there was something that would. First, though, he had to get rid of Peter.
"Peter," Sylar said gently, then at the lack of response he shook Peter and repeated himself more forcefully. "Peter!"
Peter's eyes slowly cleared, but before he could look back to the lifeless body of his brother, his hero, Sylar grabbed him by the jaw and stared steadily into his eyes. "You have to go help Claire. She needs you."
"But-" and Peter's eyes sought his brother again, but once again Sylar prevented it.
"You're the only one that can help her, and sooner or later someone is going to find her there. Then it's over for all of us." Sylar's voice was deceptively calm. Peter was on the breaking point and if he didn't get him out of here soon he would shatter. And he would try to stop Sylar from doing what he was about to do next.
Sylar gave his cousin another gentle shake, his hands on his cousin's shoulders. "Go get Claire, okay?"
Peter swallowed painfully, then again. "Okay," he finally managed, his voice torn to husky shreds. Sylar all but pushed him out into the hallway and he watched Peter's back until he was on the elevator and the doors closed behind him.
As soon as his cousin was out of sight, Sylar moved to face Parkman, his lambent eyes focused on the telephath's face.
"Make me Nathan," he commanded peremptorily.
"What?" Matt said in surprise, trying not to shy away from the taller man.
"Delete my memories and replace them with Nathan's. I can shift into his shape, and I'll be able to fill in the blanks with psychometrics. No one will ever know he's dead."
Angela looked up from Nathan's body, a terrible hope lighting her eyes. Noah's blue eyes gleamed with approval for the plan; lose Sylar and get Nathan back? He could get behind that.
Sylar moved into the sunbeam flaring through the broken window and looked up to the sky for a moment. The light caught his dark eyes and shone them golden, and his face was peaceful.
"The world would miss Nathan Petrelli much more than it will miss Gabriel Gray. Do it."
"I don't know," Matt said uncertainly, and even in the circumstances Sylar had to curl his lip disdainfully at the man. The problem with Matt Parkman was that he never knew, never acted decisively, never used what Sylar knew to be a devastatingly powerful ability to get what he wanted.
"Please, Matt," Angela begged, her hand curled around Matt's wrist. "He's my son. Please."
Sylar was not surprised by her complete willingness to exchange her nephew for her son, but it still hurt a little. It reinforced the knowledge that there was no one who would miss him, no one would even really know he was gone.
Except one, and she's better off this way too.
Gabriel walked over to Matt, taking the telepath's hand and pressing it against his temple. "Do it, Parkman. Now."
Matt swallowed roughly and nodded, then tilted his head to the side as he gathered himself. Thinking of everything he knew of Nathan Petrelli, which he discovered to his surprise was far more than he should. His monumentally powerful ability was always, whether he knew it or not, observing the thoughts and feelings of the people around him, and that unconscious knowledge gave him the knowledge he needed.
"You are no longer Sylar," Matt murmured, and Sylar fell to his knees at the force of it. Matt followed him, spreading his hand over Sylar's face. "You are no longer Gabriel Gray. That life is over. Sylar's dead."
Sylar's life began passing in front of his eyes as the relentless assault on his identity began breaking him down. Once again he relived watching the money his father had sold him for change hands, once again remembered finishing his Sylar watch at almost the same moment his life as Gabriel Gray ended. He watched himself killing his first victim, the crippling shame that had overcome him at the sight of the bloody body on the floor quickly lost to his insatiable desire to learn how the ability to move objects with thoughts worked. Gabriel's mother, her hand reaching for the scissors buried in her chest. All of it: pain, shame, fear. A life no one wanted or would miss.
"You're now Nathan Petrelli."
New images now, images not from his memory but from Nathan's. Saving Peter – saving his brother – from that idiotic leap from a highrise building in New York City.
"Nathan Petrelli. Son. Brother. Father. Senator." A better life, a far more useful life than Gabriel Gray's or Sylar's had ever been. It was with relief that Gabriel gave it all up, let his own mind dissolve. He allowed himself give way, and soon forgot who he was, accepting himself as Nathan Petrelli without qualm.
The part of him named Sylar did not plan to give up so easily. That part had railed, screamed and fought against the decision to sacrifice himself to preserve Nathan Petrelli, but had been overruled by what was left of the gentle soul Gabriel Gray had once been. Now, with the walls of his mind coming down and his existence in danger, Sylar did what cockroaches have always done: he found a way to survive. Gabriel felt that malevolent force abandon him, clawing its way through Parkman's meager defenses and taking refuge there. Gabriel tried to warn Matt, but his mind was being broken down, melting into Nathan's, and then he was gone.
Gabriel's body spasmed violently, and Matt stepped away quickly. Seizures rattled his body, and pushed him face down into the carpet. Just when Angela began to fear he would be broken by the violence of the reaction, the fit ended. With a long sigh, he rolled over onto his back.
Where Gabriel Gray had lain, now there was Nathan Petrelli. After a moment his eyes fluttered open, and as they did he looked around himself in confusion. Seeing his mother he smiled, a child's smile of relief.
"Mom?" Nathan/Sylar questioned softly, his voice gruff as if he was out of practice with using it. Angela fell back against Noah's chest, relief and horror warring for prime place in her eyes.
While the new Nathan slowly pulled himself together, Matt, Angela and Noah met one another's eyes. The realization of the enormity of the thing they had done began to crystallize, but Noah shook it off before it could paralyze him.
Angela helped pull Nathan/Sylar to his feet while Matt helped Noah pull the cooling body of Nathan Petrelli over his shoulder in a fireman's carry. The new Nathan did not seem to be able to see his own body slung over Noah's shoulder, and Matt's nod at Noah's questioning glance affirmed that Matt was shielding the knowledge from him.
"Come on, we have to get out of here," Noah snapped hoarsely, and the small group started out of the room.
Claire and Peter, their eyes hollowed out with shock and grief, arrived at the car just as Noah and Matt were depositing Nathan's body into the trunk. Peter held his niece's shoulder and they seemed to be holding each other up, as if they could not manage such a feat on their own. A low moan escaped Peter as he saw what the two men were doing and he moved rapidly toward them, batting them out of the way until he reached his brother.
Peter and Claire stood over Nathan's body, still and pale in the trunk of Nathan's car. Both were far beyond crying, lost in devastation so overwhelming that it almost kept them from drawing breath. After an eternity that lasted only moments, Peter blinked and looked around for his mother. She sat in the back of the car beside Sylar/Nathan, but Matt screened her for the moment. He and Noah had agreed that a basement parkade was not the right place for Peter and Claire to discover what they had done.
"It's okay," Matt said soothingly, and pushed thoughts of Angela out of their minds. "You'll see her soon, just as soon as we get out of here." His words were backed with telepathic commands. "You should take a taxi back to Noah's, we'll meet you there."
Nodding vaguely, Peter and Claire turned away from them and headed for the street exit. For a moment, Matt was tempted to clear the events of the day from their minds, to make them forget Nathan. But he had had enough of playing God for one day. Claire and Peter deserved better, anyhow.
By the time Claire and Peter reached Noah's apartment, the daze Matt's commands had caused was gone. Both were furious at him, they knew he'd used his ability to push them away. They sat in the back of the cab and held hands, trying not to think about Nathan.
They burst into the apartment, the door slamming behind them, and Peter immediately stalked up to Matt, pushing a finger into his chest.
"What the hell did you do Ma-"
Peter stopped dead, his question ending in a choked gasp. When Claire looked to see what had forestalled him, she saw her grandmother on the deck. She was talking quietly to a tall, dark haired man. When he turned, Claire saw that it was Nathan.
For a moment she thought the whole scene in the suite had been a terrible dream. Her father was not dead, of course he wasn't, that was nonsense. She hadn't murdered Danko, how could she, she was a good girl. But it wasn't true, and she could not forget the sight of Nathan's expression as the bullets tore into him nor the look in Danko's eyes as she fell with him to his death.
Everyone was here, everyone but Sylar. A horrible feeling settled in her stomach, as she looked out the window at the walking, talking mockery of a dead man. She met Peter's eyes and saw the same sick suspicion taking hold.
"What have you done?" Her voice was quiet, but menacing, a feat she had apparently learned from Sylar.
"We had to do it, Claire, it was the only way to save Nathan!" Noah exclaimed, and Claire shot him a lethal glare. Given that she had no doubt that this craziness had been her father's plan, his opinion was worth precisely nothing to her.
Nathan looked over to her and flashed his trademark grin at her. There was no trace of Sylar in his eyes, none of that penetrating intensity. None of the vulnerable sweetness of Gabriel Gray. Only the warm affectionate glow of a loving father. It repulsed Claire, and she looked away before he could see it in her eyes.
She turned her back on Nathan/Sylar and fixed her marble gaze on Parkman. Completely ignoring her diminutive size in comparison to his bulk, she reached up to grab his collar, giving it a sharp tug.
"Put him back," she growled, and Matt actually felt the hackles on the back of his neck stand up. The little teen aged cheerleader he remembered had irrevocably disappeared, and he had to wonder what the woman who'd replaced her would be like. The word "scary" came to mind.
"Think about what you're saying, Claire," Noah tried again, stepping close to his daughter. His faded blue eyes begged for understanding. "If Matt brings Sylar back, Nathan will be gone forever!"
Claire let go of Matt and turned to her father. Her lips twisted and her chin wrinkled as she fought tears, but only the huskiness of her voice vocalized her grief.
"Nathan is dead, and I killed the man who murdered him. You have to accept that. Killing Sylar, taking away all he is or ever could be, is not going to bring Na – my father back. It's just piling another murder on top of it."
"He's a monster, Claire, and he can't change!" Noah argued. "Think about everything he's done-"
"I am!" Claire shouted furiously. Nathan/Sylar turned to look again at the sound of her raised voice, but Angela distracted him once again before shooting a sharp warning glance over her shoulder.
"I am," Claire repeated more moderately, after taking a deep calming breath. She turned to look at Matt, she was through with talking to Noah. "You haven't been here, Matt. You haven't seen how much he's changed. He's not a monster, he's a person, and people can change. He is changing. I know he can be a good person."
"He's a murderer, remember?" Matt replied. His first experience with Sylar had been two grotesquely murdered parents and a terrified little girl hiding under the stairs. Given their history, his opinion of the man had only worsened since then.
"So have I!" Claire remembered standing over Danko's body, feeling her own shattered limbs and organs heal into place. She'd felt nothing but satisfaction about killing the man who'd murdered her father, and it had changed everything. "Am I a monster?" Claire looked at her father and gestured to her grandmother outside. "These two have murdered God knows how many people to keep the secret of our existence. Are they monsters?"
None of her elders could answer her question, and Claire realized that she would never look to them for answers again. She was an adult now, she would have to find the answers – if there were any – on her own.
"Now put him back."
"I can't!" Matt exclaimed, and waved off Claire's protest before she could give it breath. "No, I don't mean I don't want to – which I don't – but because I don't know how. I'm not even sure how I did it in the first place. All I know is that I convinced Sylar that he wasn't real, that he was and always had been Nathan Petrelli. If I try to reverse that, maybe I erase both of them and leave just an empty shell!"
"That's unacceptable," Claire returned flatly, and Noah was startled by it. It sounded just like something he would say, right down to the tone. Matt could only stare helplessly back at her, and her eyes filled with frustrated tears.
"Are you telling me that I have to pretend that he's Nathan, when I know that it's Sylar? I have to smile, and hug him, and love him just like he was Nathan, even though I know Nathan is dead and this is all some game you all are playing to protect our precious secret?"
"Claire, what is this? Why are you so desperate to get Sylar back?" Noah swallowed harshly and asked the question that had been on his mind for days, though he feared the answer. "Do you love him?"
Claire's eyes widened as if he'd slapped her, and a quick denial almost made it to her lips before she realized that it would be a lie. "I don't know," she admitted quietly as she watched Angela and Nathan speak animatedly to one another. "Maybe."
"Oh, Claire," Noah whispered brokenly, but Claire interrupted him before he could say anymore.
"It doesn't matter anymore, does it?" Claire asked bitterly. Each of them received a look as green and cold and deadly as an iceberg before she turned away and began walking toward Nathan and and her grandmother. Noah reached out to touch her shoulder, but she shook him off and walked away without looking back. Peter, silent through the exchange, hastened after her as both walked into the sun. Peter did not feel warmed by it. He didn't think he would ever feel warm again.
The shapeshifter's body, still in Sylar's form, had been kept in the Building 26 morgue, and in the confusion Noah and Matt were able to gain access to it. Nathan's death had to be kept a secret even from their friends. Only the people who'd been in the Stanton that day knew what had happened. They gathered at Coyote Sands, calling Hiro, Ando and Mohinder to witness the cremation of "Sylar."
Peter and Claire stood apart from the rest, their eyes filled with an equal mix of grief and anger. Claire's arms were crossed over her chest, and she refused to look at or speak to Noah, as she had since their last conversation. She wasn't ready to talk to him, and she wasn't sure if she ever would be. She watched as the shapeshifter's body was consumed by the fire, and all the tears the child known as Claire Bennet would have shed were dried by its heat.
We are all connected, joined together by an invisible thread.
Infinite in its potential, and fragile in its design.
Yet while connected, we are also merely individuals,
Empty vessels to be filled with infinite possibilities.
An assortment of thoughts, beliefs
A collection of disjointed memories and experiences.
Can I be me, without these?
Can you be you?
And if this invisible thread that holds us together were to sever, to cease,
What would become of billions of lonely, disconnected souls?
Therein lies the great quest of our lives:
To find, to connect, to hold on.
For when our hearts are pure,
And out thoughts in line, we are all truly one.
Capable of repairing our fragile world, and creating a universe of infinite possibilities.
End of Volume Four
Six Weeks Later
Kent Harper, former Building 26 agent, opened the door to his apartment and stepped in wearily. He'd been looking for work since Building 26 had closed shop, but he hadn't had much success. When he walked into the kitchen, he was startled to discover that the kitchen tap was running, and to judge from the amount of water on the floor, it had been for some time. Kent hadn't left the kitchen sink running, which meant someone else had. He stepped slowly through the large puddle on his kitchen floor, his eyes warily inspecting his apartment. He didn't see the puddle from the kitchen work its way towards the living room, glimmering and holding its shape like mercury.
Before his astonished eyes, the puddle darted upwards into the air, and began to form the shape of a woman. Slowly the water turned opaque, and moments later a beautiful naked blonde woman stood where the puddle had been.
"You're number four," Tracy Strauss said with a smile.
Kent Harper didn't even have time to scream.
Fourth Mysterious Drowning Baffles Authorities, the headline read. Nathan read the article with chills running up and down his spine, wondering where Tracy Strauss was. If she was hunting down the men who'd caught her and confined her in Building 26, he wondered when she'd pay him a visit, and what he'd do when she did. The feeling of apprehension that knowing a murderer with a far more aggressive power than his was gunning for him did not appear, and he wondered why. He only felt that he had nothing to fear from Tracy Strauss.
Nathan turned in his expensive leather desk chair and narrowed his eyes as he steepled his fingers, his large ring glinting on his finger. He did not see his mother enter his office, dressed in a very smart red wool coat, her pearls glowing at her neck.
"I haven't seen you in weeks," she said without greeting, a thin smile on her lips. "I was beginning to worry."
Nathan did not respond, just continued to stare thoughtfully at the middle distance.
"Nathan?" Angela questioned querulously, her eyebrows furrowed together.
Nathan looked up and observed his mother for the first time with an almost startled expression on his face.
"Sorry Ma. Just haven't felt like myself lately," Nathan said as he rose from his chair and walked toward his mother.
"Don't be ridiculous," she replied, wrapping her arms around his neck for a hug. "This is a great time for you, Nathan. The world's your oyster. You've put all that nonsense behind us, the family's back together. This is your time. Now come on, we're gonna be late for lunch."
Nathan just stared at her emotionlessly, as if her words did not connect, before he smiled feebly, obviously more in response to the sound of her voice than the meaning of her words.
"Nathan?" Angela said with a broad and somehow brittle smile. "Have you heard a word I've said?"
Nathan looked over her shoulder and past her, at the cabinet on the wall. The glass shelves were packed with various curios that he'd picked up over an adventurous and wealthy life. The object of his attention was an old fashioned clock, with a corkscrew pendulum spinning beneath it. The clock was in a glass bell and behind the glass door of the cabinet, but Nathan cocked his head as if he could hear it ticking.
Nathan pursed his lips and opened the cabinet, reaching in to remove the bell. "It's just this clock," he murmured. "It's running a minute and a half fast."
Angela felt her heart turn cold and drop into her belly, and despite her best intentions her expression tightened, fear lighting her eyes. Nathan adjusted the hands of the clock by a minute fraction and replaced the bell.
His customary good cheer regained, Nathan turned from the clock and snagged his jacket from a nearby chair. "So! Lunch. Italian?" Nathan walked out into the hallway, his voice echoing behind him. "Or Chinese?"
Angela didn't hear him, she just stared at the clock with an unbearable grief in her eyes.
A/N: And that, as they say, is that. Some of you might howl at this ending, but I always said I was respinning the season, and seasons rarely end with every bow tied up, Heroes in particular. I may rewrite the fourth season based on this, I already have some ideas, but I want to concentrate on my novel for a little while. I want to thank each and every one of you for your support, it has meant more to me than I can possibly express.