In honor of my least favorite holiday, I decided to actually post this THING I wrote around Christmas. Actually, it wasn't so much about Valentine's Day as it was what just happened with the song this fic was inspired by.
Who doesn't know Taylor Swift? If you don't... I feel sorry for you. This fic is inspired by (NOTE: not a song fic. Though I quote a line once or twice) her song Enchanted, which enchanted me since the first time I heard it. And for Valentine's Day, the guy she wrote this song about, Adam Young, figured out that it was about him. He then decided to reply by doing a slightly-edited cover of her song, which was fantastic and adorable.
It can be found here: [http : / / www . youtube . com / watch?v=aY-mlewf_dA&feature=player_embedded#at=51] Remove the parenthesis and spaces, and enjoy.
Naturally, I HAVE been writing in this entire time I've been gone away at school. This is one of many little Easter Eggs that may be yet to be revealed. Unfortunately, most of them went unfinished. This one might have a second part, itself, if enough people want it.
This could be considered as a "What Happens Next" type of thing for the end of Season Four, albeit a little bit later. So it's not exactly an AU, but not really canon, either. Blahhh. I don't really care, just take it!
Now I'm done rambling, I promise!
Happy Valentine's Day!
She really didn't want to be here.
Not for the first time did she wish she were passed out on her bed- either in her dorm back at Arlington or here, she didn't really care- but her eyes were burning, and she was exhausted.
Claire sighed as she listened to her grandmother speak, her chin rested on her hand as she sat in a large armchair before Angela's desk. She resisted the urge to roll her eyes as her grandmother went on about some benefit dinner that she expected Claire to attend.
Honestly, the blonde girl really wanted nothing less- she'd barely just finished her Master's degree in medicine at Arlington a week ago, and she wanted to catch up on the month worth of sleepless nights spent studying. And, on top of that, the press wouldn't leave her alone, finding it ironic that the girl who had thrown herself off a ferris wheel three years ago and healed on national television was studying to be a doctor.
"Claire, are you listening to me?" The elder Petrelli woman asked sharply. "This is a very important event that you absolutely must be in attendance to."
"Because I'm your granddaughter or because I'm Claire Bennet?" The blonde asked wearily, sitting up straight and rubbing her aching eyes.
"Both," Angela replied with a disapproving frown. "There will be many important people there- good connections for you to have, both as a Special and as a potential physician."
"I'm going to be bored," Claire sighed. "You know that I'm not a fan of dressing up and mingling."
"Oh, hush," the woman said, waving her hand in dismissal, brown eyes narrowing at her grandchild. "Peter is required to attend, also, so you will have someone to speak to. Also, since it is occurring the night of the New Year, I thought that it would be interesting to hold a themed event."
Claire groaned, but Angela ignored her.
"The theme is a Masquerade Ball, so you will not have to worry about the media, so long as you don't draw attention to yourself. Now, I've arranged for your gown already, and it will be delivered on Saturday evening, along with your accessories. You and I will have appointments to have our hair fixed beforehand. It is in two days, so you'll have plenty of time to prepare yourself and catch up on some rest." The woman's eyes softened slightly. "I know how hard you've been working on your finals, lately. There is nothing else planned until Saturday night, so the time can be used to your discretion."
Claire frowned, leaning back into the chair again, her elbow resting on the armrest and her chin balancing again on her palm. "A New Year's masquerade? Well, that doesn't sound so bad, I guess." She sighed softly, rolling her shoulders. "And Peter will be there, so that should make it bearable, at the very least. Emma's going, too?"
Peter had married the blonde woman about a year ago, Claire unable to attend the ceremony due to a midterm and hadn't seen them since. She was fond of the woman, though, and found her to be good company and a wonderful match for her uncle- compassionate and powerful, just like he was.
"Of course," Angela replied with a faint, indulgent smile. "A few Company employees will be attending, just to make sure things stay calm. There will be somewhere around the realm of two-hundred people there, so I'm sure you will be able to find suitable people to spend your time with."
Claire sighed again, this time more heavily, and nodded. "If you say so. But I'm leaving if I get bored."
At that, the woman smiled, a curious and rare occurrence that made Claire wonder whether or not she should look for a flight home as soon as she was out of the office. "Oh, you won't, Claire. You can be very sure of that."
Claire spent all of Friday sleeping, much to Angela's exasperation and, apparently, her uncle's annoyance. When she finally turned her phone on mid-afternoon on Saturday, she had five missed calls and eleven text messages waiting for her attention.
With a roll of green eyes, Claire hit the redial button, listening to the electronic ringing on the other side and wondering what could possibly be so important that Peter couldn't have just come and gotten her himself.
"Claire," Peter said, not bothering to greet her. "You haven't called me back. I've been trying to get ahold of you."
"Sorry," Claire replied with a roll of her eyes and a yawn. "I've been sleeping, mostly- I don't even think I've eaten since lunch yesterday. I've been so tired, and I needed to get caught up on my rest, especially with this whole masquerade thing-"
"About that," Peter interjected again, and Claire could hear an edge creep into his voice that she wasn't used to. "I need to see you before that. I have something to tell you, something that shouldn't have waited this long to have been said-"
It was her turn to cut him off, rubbing her eyes with the back of one hand. "Peter, you know I would, but I only got up now because I have an appointment to have my hair done in an hour, then makeup and getting ready before the ball starts- I don't have time to do anything more than shower and find something to eat."
"But, Claire, it's more important than makeup. Really, we should have told you earlier, it's about-"
"Whatever it is, it will have to wait," the young woman snapped. "Take it up with your mother, Peter. If it's really so big of an issue, we can discuss it at the party. But I have to go, okay, so I'll talk to you later."
"Goodbye, Peter," Claire growled, hitting the button to end the call and turning off her phone, leaving the text messages unread. Though she was intrigued by what he had to tell her, she really didn't have time to be thinking about it now. She had a benefit to get ready for. Peter would just have to wait.
Running a hand back through her hair, Claire rolled out of her large and comfortable bed, not bothering to make up the sheets as she stripped off her dirty clothes, testing the water in the shower of her adjoined bathroom and stepping in. She lathered her hair with a vaguely sweet-smelling shampoo, following up with conditioner while she scrubbed her body down with a variety of sponges and brushes. It had been so long since she had time for anything more than a ten-minute shower, and she took full advantage of the chance to take proper care of her body.
Turning off the shower, she wrung the water from waist-length hair, blonde curls darkened by moisture and dripping onto golden skin. She reached for her towel, drying herself and rubbing lotion into her skin before she crossed back into her bedroom, digging out a comfortable enough button-up shirt and jeans, knowing that she would need to remove her shirt later without pulling it over her head for fear of disrupting her hair.
"Claire," Angela called, her voice echoing faintly up the staircase. "We need to leave soon."
"Sure, sure," Claire mumbled, pulling on a pair of sneakers and a thick wool jacket before she exited, shivering slightly at the cooler temperature of the hallway on her damp hair.
Descending on the stairs and making her way to the front door of her grandmother's mansion, she was handed a breakfast bar and bottled coffee, which Claire accepted thankfully before being ushered off by Angela.
No, she wasn't looking forward to this, but the less she complained, the quicker it would be over.
The quicker she could go home to her empty apartment.
That night found Claire standing in her room, hair tied up in an elaborate twist, brushing aside her bangs as she stared, wide-eyed, at the gown laid out on her bed. At twenty-two, she was starting to get used to Angela's many soirées, but this dress was by far the most beautiful she had been asked to wear.
Stepping forward, she gently brushed her fingers over emerald-colored silk and tulle, over the lace at the soft sweetheart neckline in a shimmering gold. The ballgown was gorgeous, almost enough so Claire was afraid to touch it- growing up as a cheerleader in Texas as part of a mid-class family, this was the sort of thing she only would have ever seen on celebrities and models. If someone had told her before this all started that she would be wearing priceless gowns and jewels, living out in the open with her ability as part of a powerful family, she would have told them to get their head checked.
Now, she could hardly remember life before her ability manifested.
Angela appeared in her doorway in a dressing robe, frowning at her granddaughter and her apparent hesitation to touch the dress that had been bought for her. "Now, Claire, we have very little time as it is. Stop being ridiculous and put on the gown. You still have to do your makeup."
Claire nodded, carefully picking up the dress and undoing the trail of small buttons that led down the back. Angela stepped forward, holding the dress for her as Claire undid her own dressing robe, stepping into the gown and pulling it up, Angela's thin fingers swiftly doing up the back. When she was done, she tapped Claire's shoulder, who turned in place. The skirt twisted around her legs, shining slightly under the light.
"It's beautiful," Claire breathed. "Thank you."
Angela smiled wryly. "Oh, hush. You should be used to this sort of thing by now." Waving Claire over to the dresser, she opened a square felt box, and Claire felt her mouth drop open as strings of emeralds and diamonds were revealed. Angela removed them like they were something she was long used to, fastening the necklace around her neck, the center pendant resting beneath her collarbones.
"I feel so out of place," Claire said softly, fingers moving to touch the large stone that brushed against her skin. "After everything that's happened, it just feels wrong to do something like this."
"Get those thoughts out of your head," the elder admonished, handing Claire two sets of earrings and placing a third in her first holes, thin chains brushing her neck, diamonds clinging to the ends like raindrops. Claire slipped the posts into her second and third holes- experiments, once she had figured out that she could not be hurt, and never so much as twinged the moment after the posts were through- one set of simple post diamonds and another emerald.
"I hope no one scans me with a metal detector," Claire joked quietly. "Or thinks I'm a thief."
"Don't be silly. You're a Petrelli, Claire, and this is what is expected of you. Now, stop worrying and fix your makeup. I'll bring you your mask when I'm dressed."
Claire nodded, swallowing, staring at herself in the mirror as the woman exited the room and left her alone. She hardly recognized the woman staring back at her.
In the past few years, her body had made very few changes, other than allowing her another inch or so of height and the loss of some roundness in her face. She still looked young, by all means, but no longer like the sixteen year old she had been when this all began. She was different now, in all sense of the word.
No longer a cheerleader. No longer a victim. No longer a little girl.
She wasn't sure who she was anymore.
With a sigh, she swept that thought aside, reaching for the bag that held her many compacts of pressed powders and tubes of shimmering gloss. There was still work to be done before it was time to go.
Claire fiddled with the mask in her hands as the limousine pulled up to the building, several others lined up before and after their own.
"Claire, put that on. We need to be ready to get out." Angela frowned at the vacant look on her granddaughter's face, dark eyes looking to the blonde girl through a mask of plum and silver. "Claire?"
"Peter called me earlier," Claire said by way of explanation. "He said he had something to tell me. I said that we could talk about it later, but now I'm worried about what it might be. I mean, the past few years have been so calm compared to before, it's been so quiet. What if something is wrong? What if someone is killing specials again? What if he's back?" Claire's hands clenched. "After the Carnival, he disappeared from the face of the earth. God knows what he's been doing in this time, Angela. Probably looking for other abilities outside the country-"
"Claire," Angela said sternly, her eyes narrowing. "This is not the time to be worrying about that sort of thing. And I will have you know that not everything is the way it was before. Sometimes people change- you just have to allow them the chance."
"He'll never change," the girl growled, placing her own mask to her face, green like her dress with gold swirls around the temples and rimmed around the eyes, tying the ribbon around her head to keep it firmly in place.
Angela did not bother replying to her statement as the car stopped, their driver exiting and walking around to open their door. The two women slid out of their seat as gracefully as was possible in stilettos, plastering on smiles for the photographers waiting on either side of a roped-off carpet, passing them and entering the building.
The foyer was large and filled with people, but beyond that, Claire didn't have time to notice as she was swept up in the crowd. Following Angela was difficult with this many people, but she somehow made her way into the ballroom without getting lost.
The ceiling was high and domed, large windows completely usurping the far wall and leading outside to a terrace covered in lights. White-clothed tables were clustered around the edges of the room, some guests already seated and chatting, small plated before them filled with hors d'oeuvres from a buffet table on a side wall. Masked women in gowns and men in tuxedoes held glasses of champagne in hand, sipping as they conversed among themselves. Others spun in the middle of the room to the sound of an orchestra.
She felt supremely out of place, her irritation from before melting into anxiousness- at least until she noticed the familiar forms of a lanky brunette man and blonde woman, their smiles hardly disguised behind the masks they wore.
"Claire," Emma greeted, her accent faintly strange but familiar, offering the girl a hug. "It's been a long time."
"Definitely," Claire agreed, pulling back and signing swiftly, the memory of a sign language class kicking in from college. "It's hard to believe how long it's been since the last time I was in New York."
"It's good to see you," Peter said, leaning in to embrace his only niece. He glanced toward his mother, kissing her on the cheek. "Hey, Ma."
They exchanged greetings, but Claire noticed the way that Peter's eyes always came back to her, the way he would step toward her and try to pull her aside, always distracted by his mother or wife before he could do so. Claire wasn't sure whether she should drag him aside herself, or if she should just escape and leave him to tell her later, if he could find her.
Quickly making the decision to go with the latter, she excused herself, pretending not to hear Peter as he called her name, slipping through the crowd of faceless people. She accepted a glass of champagne from a waiter, sipping at it slowly as she wandered, making her way to a pillar by the door to the terrace. She leaned back against it, taking most of the weight off her feet and sighing in relief, content to people-watch for a while and get the time away that she needed.
She was nearly done her drink when her eyes were drawn across the room.
She recognized Peter's form among the crowd, his hand on the shoulder of a taller man, leaning in to say something, face serious in a way that she rarely saw. The man shrugged in turn, shoulders falling slightly, hands in the pockets of his suit coat. He shook his head, dark hair falling onto a face covered by a mask that faded black to white from the side.
Claire couldn't take her eyes off him. There was something familiar about the way he was standing, something about the way he straightened up, the way his eyes scanned the crowd the same way hers had a few moments ago.
Something about him that made her heart beat faster when his eyes landed on her.
Claire swallowed, hand moving to place her glass on a table, coming back to link her fingers together uncertainly in front of her. The man turned back to her uncle, saying something in response and sliding away, moving through the group of people with a grace that had Claire staying exactly where she was and yet wanting to move away.
She released her hands and smoothed the front of her dress nervously as he approached, his eyes whispering of recognition and anxiousness, all at the same time. Claire chewed on the side of her lip, tasting strawberry gloss, wondering if she had ever met this man before. He was familiar in an unsettling way, but there was something comforting about his presence, about the way he stopped when he was before her and smiled slightly.
"Have we met?" Claire blurted, hand raising to cover her mouth slightly once the words had escaped.
Dark eyes widened slightly in surprise before the man blinked several times, smile fading from his face the tiniest bit. "Perhaps," he replied in a voice that was so low and soft that she shuddered slightly. "You're Claire, correct?"
Her teeth bit harder into her lip, standing uncertainly before this person that seemed so familiar and so strange at the same time. "I am. And you are?"
The man hesitated for a moment, shoulder tensing minutely before he answered, "My name is Gabriel."
Recognition flashed in the back of her mind, but she couldn't match that name to anyone she could think of, no matter how hard she tried. "You're Peter's friend?"
"That's right." His shoulders started to relax, but his eyes were a tad incredulous, as if she had missed something monumental. She wondered, but couldn't bring herself to ask just what it was. "He talks about you a lot. I thought that I should introduce myself."
"How long have you two known each other?" She asked, tongue nervously wetting her lips and tasting gloss.
He unconsciously mimicked her action and Claire found that she couldn't tear her eyes away from him. "Six years. Well, technically eleven. It's difficult to keep track."
Claire smiled- she knew exactly how that was. "Yeah, sometimes I feel like I've known him for my whole life. Peter just does that to people."
The man relaxed finally, smiling back slightly. "He was there when I needed him the most. I suppose you could say that he saved my life."
"He's done the same for me," she replied, leaning forward, arms relaxing at her sides. "So, uh, which group are you here with?" She wondered if the man was like her, if he knew about Peter... knew about her.
"Ah," Gabriel said, smile widening. "I'm here to keep an eye on things, so to speak."
"I see," Claire answered. "A Company man, huh? Which side are you on?" One of Us, one of Them.
He took a step closer, arm outstretched to lean his weight against the pillar her back was pressed to. "I'm one of Them. Or, if you'd prefer, one of Us, if you catch my drift."
Grinning, Claire felt her heartbeat simultaneously speed and slow, relaxing at the knowledge that he knew, rushing at his proximity and at the effect his voice was having on her. Claire raised her hand to rest on his outstretched arm. "If you don't mind my asking, what do you find to be your biggest strengths at work?"
His eyes flashed with something that made her heart skip a beat, but before she could study it, the look was gone. "I have a certain... understanding, an empathy if used correctly."
"You're like Peter?" Claire asked.
"True enough, but it's more complicated than that."
The blonde nodded, her hand tracing from its resting place on his forearm to his wrist. "Well, it's good to know that I'm in the company of someone who can understand what I'm talking about, as well as keep me safe."
The man let out a breath, finally a true smile breaking over his face. "I'll do all I can to protect you, Miss Petrelli, should you allow me the chance. But I think very little protecting is needed in present company."
Claire's eyes brightened, color rising to her cheeks as gloss-tinted lips pulled up to reveal straight, white teeth. "Gabriel, would you like to dance with me?"
Deep brown, nearly black eyes filled with warmth and nervous hope, leaning back from the wall, his hand moving into hers. "Very much, Claire."
He allowed her to lead him to the middle of the room, carefully weaving in and out of other guests who smiled indulgently at them as they passed. Once still, she moved his other hand to her waist, her own settling on his, their fingers twining together as he took the first step.
Angela had requested Claire take dancing lessons a few years ago, and Claire fell back into step with relative ease, smiling as they twirled together, her eyes catching his and holding his gaze. There really was something familiar about those eyes, but she just couldn't put her finger on what it was- it was disconcerting, but she figured it couldn't have bad, considering how charming and polite Gabriel had been to her thus far.
As the song transitioned into a slow waltz, the couple paused, their eyes both asking the same question. Claire was the first to make a move, her smile softening as she stepped into him, arm sliding around his back and resting her head on his shoulder. Gabriel tensed before his arm hesitantly wrapped around her, his chin resting atop her head as they began to sway together.
Claire bit her lip in an attempt to smother her wide smile, the strawberry taste slowly beginning to fade from her skin. She closed her eyes when she realized she could feel his heart pounding through the press of their bodies, wondering if he could feel hers, also.
She hummed softly under her breath when he started rubbing his thumb over her back, skin touching skin, feeling like electricity and making her breath stutter. Instinctively, she nudged her head closer to his neck, her lips brushing against the skin there as she rested her head in the junction of his head and shoulder. His thumb paused in its slow stroke, and he pulled back just barely to nuzzle her temple, inhaling her scent and embracing Claire like she had never been held by anyone else.
It was absolutely intoxicating.
Then, all too soon, the song was over. Claire opened her eyes, breaking the spell she had fallen into. Over Gabriel's shoulder, Claire saw Peter talking to Angela, leaning close and lips moving urgently, shooting glances toward her. She wasn't sure what it meant, but at this moment, she was beyond caring.
Gabriel pulled away from her with a reluctant sigh, and Claire shivered from the loss of warmth. Her eyes fixed on him and she desperately thought, Please don't go.
His gaze locked with hers, and Claire saw hesitation, along with some sort of guilt that she didn't understand. Claire moved their hands to twine together, nervously chewing at her lip again.
"Claire," Gabriel started, hesitating and glancing over toward Peter, whose expression was unreadable. After a second, he nodded almost imperceptibly and looked back to Claire, squeezing her hands in his. "Will you join me outside?"
"Sure," Claire murmured, finally her time to follow as he led her from the floor and out onto the terrace.
The cold assaulted her almost immediately, but she had to be thankful for it, since no one else dared to brave the night air. Lights dripped from the railings of the porch like icicles, glittering on the snow almost as bright as the stars in the clear sky above. Claire could almost forget about the cold in the face of such beauty- but she lost her breath when she saw Gabriel, head tilted to the heavens and the lights shining in his eyes.
"Gabriel?" Claire asked quietly, her heart stuttering a beat when his eyes turned to her, suddenly darker than she remembered them having been inside.
The man released her hands in favor of brushing his hair out of his eyes, looking mildly irritated at its presence and frowning. "Claire..."
The blonde took a step forward, frown matching his as he stepped back. "What's wrong?"
She watched as he visibly swallowed, his gaze breaking away from hers and looking to the sky. "Nothing, Claire... it's just that this has been one of the best nights of my life."
A nervous look broke onto her face. "Then... why are you acting like this? Did I do something wrong?"
"No, no, don't think that." Gabriel sighed irritably, turning away from her and leaning his weight on the light-wrapped railing. "I'm not good at things like this."
"Things like what?" She asked.
"Things like opening up to others. I thought it would have been easier, at least, since it's you. But I think that makes it harder, if anything."
Claire wasn't sure if her heart would stop or explode. "...Gabriel?"
He groaned, hands clenching in his hair and exhaling sharply, muttering so low that she could barely hear, "I never even thought I would be here. I never thought this was possible, and I can't just say nothing... I can't let her find out any other way..."
"Oh, God," Claire whispered, almost certain that she was dying, her heart speeding up until it would burst, the only thing she would be unable to recover from. Please don't be in love with someone else. Please don't have somebody waiting on you.
He pushed himself upright, turning to look at her, shaking his head slightly and hair falling back into place. His eyes, those dark and terrible and beautiful eyes, were confused for a few seconds before they became full of pain. "Never."
Her eyes narrowed, just as confused as he was until they widened with understanding and she took a step backwards. "You read my mind."
His fists clenched at his sides. "I'm sorry."
Claire chewed on her lip. "I mean, I'm embarrassed, but it's okay. If you don't, it's fine. Have someone waiting, I mean."
His eyes closed and he turned away, muttering to himself, "It can wait. It can wait until next time."
"What can wait?" The blonde asked, taking short, quick steps toward him and wrapping her arms around his waist from behind. She lay her forehead in between his shoulder blades, laughing quietly as she felt his breath catch. "Please don't break my heart, Gabriel. Not when it's just starting to feel whole again."
He made a soft noise as if she'd wounded him, his large hands covering hers where they rested on his vulnerable stomach. "I have no intention of hurting you ever again, Claire. I promise."
Her fingers twitched and her brows drew together. "Again?"
He seemed thankful when a roar of voices cut them off, counting down the seconds until the new year. Claire hadn't even realized how late it was.
Ten, nine, eight...
"New Year's," Gabriel sighed. "I have to go."
"Please don't," Claire begged as he turned in her arms, clutching at his hands.
Seven, six, five...
"I have to, Claire. I have a job that I've been ignoring in your favor."
"Gabriel, I want to know what you meant."
"You told me not to break your heart."
"Don't lie to me, please. If you don't, I won't be mad. I promise."
"You can't promise that, Claire. I have to go, now."
"We'll meet again. We always seem to find each other."
"Wait- what do you mean? Who are you?"
Happy New Year!
Gabriel's eyes darkened behind the mask, and before Claire knew it, he had bent and pressed his mouth square to hers. One hand slid around to the back of her head, careless of her neat hairstyle as he twined his fingers through golden strands.
Her lips parted in a small gasp of surprise, and he wasted no time in taking advantage of that to slip his tongue into her mouth. He carefully traced the straight line of her teeth, the softness of her gums, the tenderness of her tongue, touching and tasting everything he could find. He shuddered when she mewled into his mouth, her arms wrapping snugly around his neck, raising up onto her toes as much as she could when inhibited by her high heels. She sucked his lower lip into her mouth, teeth scraping gently against it, soothing the slight sting with her tongue. She didn't even think about pulling away- he was delicious. Perfect.
I want to stay like this for the rest of my life. For forever.
A deep, rumbling sound erupted from his chest, and Claire couldn't be sure if it was a groan or a growl as his mouth broke apart from hers. His gaze was fixed squarely on her face, his own showing the pure and unshielded want, visible even through his mask.
But, then, he was pulling away from her, his hand unravelling from her hair, which had fallen loose while they kissed. Her arms dropped from around his neck, but she leaned into his touch when he brushed her bangs and a few loose curls behind her ear. He visibly swallowed, looking for all intents and purposes like he wanted to lean in and steal her lips again, but was using all his self-control not to.
"Goodnight, Claire," he whispered, turning and slipping through the double doors, into the ballroom and disappearing in the crowd.
She opened her mouth, but the words did not escape from her kiss-swollen lips in time for him to hear them.
I was enchanted to meet you.
Gabriel moved through the crowd at a swift pace, searching for the only people that could understand, the only ones who knew him for what he truly was in this parade of faceless people, of hidden identities.
His skin still burned from her touch, and his heart sped at the recent memory of his mouth on hers. How long had he been thinking about that very moment? For years, now, surely. And now that he had, he found that he could scarcely bear to walk away from her.
But he had to. Because he had failed- he couldn't tell her.
He couldn't tell her that he was the very person that had hunted her. The monster that had lurked in her worst nightmares for so many years.
He turned on his heel, relief washing over him when Peter approached, dragging him away from where Emma and Angela stood, watching. Heads bent together, Peter gripped his shoulder and spoke as softly as he could as to not be overheard.
Gabriel shut his eyes tight. "I couldn't. She looked at me with those eyes, and what she was thinking- I just couldn't do it."
"Shit," Peter cursed, releasing his friend's arm and rubbing his hands over his own eyes. "But nothing happened, right? Nothing that she would be angry about if she found out now?"
Gabriel crossed his arms tight over his chest, averting his eyes to the far wall and the door he had entered from. He bit the inside of his cheek to remain silent, shoulders tensing when he felt the disconcerting brush of a mind reading his thoughts.
Peter's eyes widened, and he leaned forward to grab Gabriel's shoulders, shaking him slightly. "You kissed her? Are you crazy? Goddamn it, Gabriel. She's gonna throw a fit."
Angela must have seen her son's reaction, because before they knew it, the two women were there and asking questions.
"What's wrong?" Emma whispered, signing minutely, though Peter doubted she even realized she was doing it.
"He didn't tell her," Peter replied, hands moving swiftly to show his words. "But he kissed her. So she has no idea. Still."
"This is unfortunate," Angela muttered to herself. "And the poor girl will be thinking about it for some time. And she won't let it pass, either- she has her father's stubbornness. Claire will stop at nothing to find you, if she has enough information to do so."
"I'm an idiot," Gabriel hissed. "I've ruined everything. I've never lied to her before, ever."
"We can't just let this fall apart- you've come too far to give up. You two need to be together- there's no other option. We can make it work. It can still be fixed," Peter reasoned, and Gabriel could see their shared ability for understanding in his face as he scowled and usually bright eyes narrowed. "But we'll have to approach the issue carefully. She'll have to be told at the absolute perfect time and not a moment before."
"How?" Gabriel asked, thought process buckling down on his emotions and logic overtaking.
Peter smirked, an expression that was strange and unfamiliar on his face. "I have a plan."
Claire lay on her back, her eyes fixed on the ceiling, makeup haphazardly removed with mascara smudged onto her cheeks. Across the room, her gown was lain over the back of a chair, her mask resting atop it. Claire's eyes scanned the lump of fabric before flicking to her clock. Two in the morning, she thought wearily. Shit.
Though she was exhausted, all the tossing and turning in the world could not help her to sleep. Instead, the vision of dark hair falling into a beautiful face, eyes warm and hesitant boring into her, and the memory of lips on her own made her shift restlessly. Gabriel.
She knew him, that was for sure, especially if his words were anything to go by. Perhaps they used to not get along- but she couldn't imagine ever being angry at someone as sweet and considerate and caring as he was. No, there had to be something else. Something she was missing.
But she wanted him to be there.
She closed her eyes tight, her arms wrapping around one of her many pillows and imagining that it was a warm chest she rested her head on, heartbeat thrumming against her ear. If only it could have been true- she would have given anything to be in his arms at that moment.
What could you have done that's so terrible? Claire wondered silently. Whatever it is, forget about it. I don't care about it. Just about you.
Sighing in frustration, she rolled over onto her side, arms clenching a shapeless figure that was neither warm nor live.
She knew that this would be a sleepless night, one way or another.
For the next two weeks, Claire kept her phone close, for the first time in a long time the one instigating contact between herself and her uncle. Unfortunately, Peter wasn't returning any of her calls, and Claire was slowly going insane.
She couldn't sleep- the memories kept her awake late into the night, and though her indestructible body did not necessarily need rest, her mind was wearing down. She'd been running on coffee for days, compared to mere minutes of actual sleep. She was looking worse and worse every day, her skin paling and eyelids lavender with exhaustion.
When she fell asleep in the middle of a meeting with Angela discussing her future, the elder woman called her son and alerted him to the issue. But Peter said that it had to go on- that he had the situation under control, and that it would all go smoothly. To just leave it to him, and he would handle it, and that he had the whole thing already figured out.
Claire made up her mind to forget about Gabriel.
She found that it wasn't quite as easy as she wanted it to be.
"I'm telling you, Gretchen, I'm fine," Claire mumbled into her phone, weaving through the crowds on the streets of Manhattan, on her way to pick up her own and Angela's dry cleaning. "Give it a break."
"Claire, you're my best friend," Gretchen argued, her voice staticky over the line. "We've known each other for almost four years, now, and we dated for six months out of that time. I know when you're fine. And you're not fine."
Claire sighed, rubbing at her eyes with her other hand, nearly running into a lamp post in the process. "Gretchen-"
"Claire, don't start. I haven't heard you bitch so much about a guy since that one that was around a few years ago. What was his name- the one that stole my bag and locked you in a closet?"
Claire felt her breath leave her in an incredulous laugh. "Sylar?"
"That was a completely different situation," Claire replied, pinching the bridge of her nose and stopping, moving to the edge of the sidewalk and leaning against a building. "Sylar was a sociopathic murderer that was convinced that we had some miraculous connection. He wasn't a guy that I met at a party and kissed me and left me hanging. You do see the difference, right? Because if you don't, I might be worried for your mental state."
"I realize that it's not the same, Claire. I'm just saying that you're acting the same way. You're obsessing about it. You say you want to let it go, but you're holding yourself back because you don't want to forget."
"I- that-" Claire spluttered. "Gretchen! No! I hated Sylar."
"If I recall, Claire, you were having second thoughts about him. Don't you remember the way you acted after he kissed you?"
Claire froze, nearly dropping her phone. Eyes wide, she stared down the street before she started walking again, steps quick and panicked at a memory that seemed eerily similar to one more recent.
"Claire? Are you still there?"
"My god," Claire breathed, horrified. "Gretchen, you terrible, terrible genius. Oh, my god. I think I'm going to pass out."
"Wait, what? What did I say?"
At that moment, Claire walked past a glass-fronted coffee shop, glancing in as a force of habit and stopping short. Because, sitting at a table in the back corner was Peter and, sitting across from him with his back to the window was a figure that Claire recognized all too well.
A pit formed in her stomach, and she knew that she could just keep walking. She had to know the truth.
"Gretchen, I'll call you back." Claire didn't wait for a reply before she hung up, shoving her sleek silver phone into her pocket and walking into the building.
The smell of freshly-ground coffee hit her in a wave, and she inhaled the welcome scent, distracted only for a moment before she turned toward where the two sat. Her eyes met Peter's, who had looked up in reflex. He paled so rapidly that Claire had to swallow to keep from throwing up. That's never a good sign.
The man, seeing his companion's reaction, turned in his seat to face her.
Claire's hands clenched violently, nails digging into her palms and breaking the skin, blood welling and staining her fingers before the cuts healed. She felt her body go cold, though the temperature hadn't changed a bit.
Claire felt sick for the first time in six years.
Gretchen was right.
The man's dark brown eyes widened in surprise.
Claire turned and walked right back out.
She made it halfway down the block before Peter caught up to her.
"Claire, stop! Claire!"
"Get away from me, Peter!" Claire snapped, pushing off the hand that Peter used to grip her arm. "Don't talk to me! You've known all along, haven't you? You knew who he was. How can you even stand to be near him?"
"He's changed, Claire! You don't understand." Peter reached for her again, this time successfully pushing her into a side alleyway. "He's not the same man you knew."
"He's Sylar, Peter!" She hissed. "Sylar doesn't change. He acts. And he's making a fool out of you if you actually believe anything he's saying." Her hand plunged into her pocket. "I'm calling my father."
The phone was ripped out of her fingers and flew into Peter's. The man shoved it in his pocket. "Claire, he already knows. Everyone already knows. But no one knew how to tell you."
Her heart was almost certainly still. Claire felt the breath leave her in a rush and she took a step back from Peter. "No. No, you're lying. They would have told me."
"How would we have told you, Claire? How could we have possibly convinced you that the person you hated most was a changed man?" Peter took a step forward. Claire took another step back. "You wouldn't have believed it. And then you went off to school, so it didn't seem to matter. We put off telling you for as long as you could. We were all for just not telling you, like no one told us about Nathan, to avoid the conflict. But he said that you would find out eventually. That, and he couldn't stand the idea of you despising him for the rest of your life."
Claire hesitated. "How long?"
"How long, what?"
"How long have you known about him?"
Peter grimaced. "It's a long story."
"I have time."
Peter sighed in frustration, pacing the length of the alleyway as he started to talk. "Before the facedown with Samuel, I had a vision. I dreamed that Gabriel was going to save Emma from the Carnival. I didn't know how or when or why, so I went after him.
"Gabriel had gotten this crazy idea in his head that if he got rid of his powers, he could somehow beat the Hunger. That he could stop killing. That he could be normal. That he could fix himself."
Claire inhaled sharply, drawing a strange look from Peter.
"Before the Carnival thing ended, Sylar came to my college and was talking to me- he told me that he kidnapped Gretchen to make me stay. He had a tattoo... of me. He thought I could help him, but I didn't want to... he thought he could get the answers he needed, so he kissed me. I stabbed him with a pencil and ran away. Then he shape shifted into Gretchen and we were locked in a closet together... I was the one who told him that. That his powers were his biggest problem. And he switched back to Sylar and told me that he never touched Gretchen, then he got up and left."
Peter's eyes narrowed. "He went to Parkman because of you. He asked Matt to take his powers away, but Matt didn't believe that he wanted to change. He tricked him and locked him inside his own mind, inside his own worst nightmare. He shoved him into a corner of his basement and started building a brick wall to keep him in."
Claire was speechless- she couldn't even imagine that sort of cruelty from the usually kind cop- even though it was exactly the sort of thing she would have done if she could have. "What was his nightmare?"
Peter's eyes fixed straight on her and he let out a breath. "He was completely alone in the world. There was no one there, anywhere. He was the last man on earth."
Claire took a step back in surprise- her back hit the wall. "That's terrible," she whispered.
"You're telling me," Peter replied. "I went to Parkman to save Gabriel, and Matt locked me in his mind with him. And he was convinced that he had spent four years alone. When I showed up, he thought that he was going crazy. He thought that he didn't deserve to get out. That he should just stay in there to save the world. It took me three years to convince him otherwise."
"But," Claire protested. "You and Sylar showed up at the Carnival. It couldn't have been that long."
"Matt altered our perception of time. An hour here was a year in there. We spent three years trying to break through a brick wall surrounding New York. I forgave him for what he did, Claire, because he needed someone to have faith in him. No one had ever told him that it was okay to just be who he was- they always wanted him to be more.
"You'll never understand what it was like for him, Claire. What it's still like for him. You'll never understand if you don't give him a chance."
Claire swallowed nervously. "But... he killed my family... my friends. You've had a long time to forgive him, Peter. I haven't."
"He killed my brother, Claire. I know that he was your father... but you didn't know him the way I did. Nathan was my hero. And he took him from me." Claire frowned when she saw the strange shine come across his eyes and the way his lip started to tremble until he bit down on it. "If anyone should be angry, it's me. If I could forgive him, you can, too. And you need to. Because I can't stay with you forever, Claire. But he can."
Claire swallowed again, finding herself unable to look away from her uncle. "You've known the whole time. Why didn't you just tell me?"
"You had enough to handle," Peter replied. "The press, college, and you were still grieving. He didn't want to hurt you any more than he already had. And then we could never find the chance."
Claire pushed away from the wall, taking a step forward before she stopped, raising her hand to her mouth and chewing nervously on her thumb. "He told me... that he never wanted to hurt me again. And that he would do everything he could to protect me. I can't stop thinking about it, Peter. The way that he held me, the way he... kissed me. And I was talking to Gretchen, and she reminded me of that time he kissed me at Arlington, and I realized... and then I saw you with him, and it didn't make sense."
"It makes sense if you let it," the youngest- now only- Petrelli brother said. "He's my best friend, Claire. And when he told me how he... well, I told him that I would help. He needs you, Claire."
The blonde's eyes closed tightly, crossing her arms over her chest and sighing, her breath a cloud in the cold air. "Where is he?"
When she opened her eyes, she only saw the nervous and hopeful look that Peter had, as well as pride at her decision. "He went back to his apartment when I came after you. He lives in Queens, in the apartment complex right next to his old watch repair shop."
"You have the address?" She asked, then scowled. "Who am I kidding? Of course you do. Hand it over."
Peter smiled as he pulled out her phone from his pocket, opening a new contact and entering his address, as well as his phone number, before he handed it over. Under the title, the name read Gabriel Gray.
"Gabriel," Claire murmured, shifting her weight uncertainly, biting at her lips.
"Hm?" She tore her gaze away from the phone and turned it to her uncle.
"He hasn't been Sylar for a long time- he never lied to you. He's a very different person than he was. If you can... forget about the past. Remember what happened on New Year's. That's who he really is."
She smiled hesitantly, her cheeks flushing slightly, though she wasn't sure if it was from the cold or from the warmth that suddenly flooded her. "Thank you, Peter."
Her uncle grinned, stepping forward to embrace her and ruffling her hair. "Yeah, yeah. You should head over now- I'll do whatever errands Ma sent you on."
"Okay." She pulled away, walking toward the entrance of the alley.
She paused and turned. "Yeah?"
"Don't tell him you're going."
A wide smile split her face. "Oh, don't worry about that, Peter. I have a plan."
Claire knocked on the worn door in front of her, heart beating rapidly in her chest. She shifted her weight from one side to another and pushed her bangs from her face, adjusting the strap of her bag on her shoulder.
And, in her mind, she counted in French. Just to be sure he wouldn't catch on.
So, when the door swung open and he stood on the other side, a puzzled expression on his face before it melted into one of surprise, Claire grinned. "Gabriel Gray?"
He blinked, staring at her with lips slightly parted, stunned. "Claire?"
Nearly buzzing with amusement, Claire took in his state of dress- a loose black t-shirt over faded jeans, feet bare against an old hardwood floor. The warmth that seeped out of the doorway made Claire shiver slightly, realizing just how cold it was. She held back from laughing at his expression, though she really didn't blame him for it. "Yes, my name is Claire Bennet. You remember me, right? We danced together a few weeks ago at the Masquerade Benefit Ball."
His brows drew together in confusion, and he stared at her like wasn't sure she was real. "Claire, what are you doing here?"
Her smile grew. "Forgive me for being forward, but I had a wonderful time with you and I wanted to meet you for real. You told me you were Peter's friend, so I asked him about you- I hope you don't mind."
Silence- she wasn't sure if she wanted to laugh or make sure he was alive. Apparently I'm going to have to do a little better.
Her lips bended into a coy smile and she played with a strand of her hair, looking at him through her lashes in that way that she knew always got a man's attention. "You see," she said softly, taking a step toward him. "I can't stop thinking about you. And it's been causing some problems." She tilted her head to the side. "I can't sleep, because every time I close my eyes, I think about the way you held me. So I lay awake at night, but I feel so alone that I can hardly breathe." She gently bit her lip, still holding his gaze and realizing that he was holding his breath. "And then I think about the way you kissed me. The way that you had your hand in my hair, and how you didn't treat me like I was made of glass. No one has ever done that for me, even the ones that knew about what I can do. I couldn't forget you, no matter how hard I tried... it was killing me."
Her eyes watched how his throat moved as he swallowed and how his hands moved when he shoved them into his pockets. She felt her heart rate speed up when he looked at her that way, the way that she couldn't get out of her head, eyes dark and intense and trapping her where she stood. She could feel the tension rolling off his body, nearly choking her with his restraint as he stayed exactly where he was, refusing to go to her... to do anything.
Blood pooled in her cheeks as she took another step forward, her confidence staring to wane under his unwavering stare- the way he looked at her that night... the way he'd looked at her when he was taking her ability.
"So I talked to my best friend, Gretchen, hoping that she could give me advice," Claire added. "And she told me that I was obsessing over you the way I'd obsessed over this one guy I knew a long time ago-"
His hands clenched in his pockets, a spark of jealousy flitting over his face.
"And I told her that it was different, because the guy before was one that I never knew how to feel about. I spent a lot of time fighting with him- we always seemed to be on different sides of a power struggle. But there were things about him that I always remembered... he saved my life once. And then, in his darkest moments, he came to me for answers. He kissed me, but I didn't know how to feel about it. So I just told him what he needed to know and he left. I never saw him after that. But I thought about him, sometimes."
"And then I met you. You reminded me of someone, but I just couldn't think of who, so I let it go. I spent all my time in your company and found myself liking you more and more... feeling my heart speed up and slow down, feeling myself blush, feeling like I wanted for you to stay with me forever. Hoping that you didn't have anyone else, so I could keep you to myself and never, ever share... and I found out that you were exactly the person I'd been worrying about for so long. Except that you weren't. Peter talked to me about it... he told me the truth. I wasn't sure if I should believe him or not, but it made sense. And, if I'm honest, I wanted to believe every word he said, that you weren't the same person I knew a long time ago. But I still wasn't sure..."
A long moment of silence passed between them, before the man in the doorway hesitantly cleared his throat and asked, "Did you reach a satisfactory conclusion?"
She smiled. "I believe that I'm enchanted to finally meet you, Gabriel Gray."