They came for him. In the night, in his sleep, as they always did. The cowards wouldn't try it while he was awake. Their white lab coats and fussy shop clothes rustled in the dark, tools clacking and flashing, irregular and startling. He twitched with every noise. They came to hurt him; to violate him. They would rape him, sodomize him, breach his skull and penetrate his veins with tubes and shunts and penises. Fingers would probe within his orifices, under his skin, burrowing through his brain like jointed maggots. And he would squirm and jerk and writhe as he always did. He'd given up fighting, so long ago. All he did any more was twist like a worm skewered on a hook – the futile, agonal spasms of the dying. It took him so very long to die.

The torture was not merely physical. There was no ignoring it, for his mind was not his own either. He was driven on by urges and hungers, never satisfied, always itching for more. The craving devoured his ability to resist and there had never been anyone who tried to save him, no one to hold him back from falling into the abyss that yawned in front of him at every turn. He'd asked for this, in a way. He'd wanted to learn to fly, to soar, to rise above his circumstances. He hadn't realized it would instead be an endless freefall with so little ability to control his course.

To cope, he had become wooden inside. He tried to be as insensate as possible and during the day it was easy enough. During the day, there were distractions, an escape from his memories. He could hide behind snark and aggression, punishing anyone who got too close. They were always just leading him on anyway. Cotton and ice – that was how he'd described his waking mind. Muffled numbness was a refuge until someone got so close to him, warm against his skin, that he was forced to feel them.

Like he did now. There was someone with him and they weren't one of the monsters. Warm, comforting hands rested on him. Might he have a protector? That wasn't necessary – even just a witness would be a help. A friend. Someone to hold him while he whimpered, someone who would let him dig his fingers into their arms and anchor himself against the phantom pain. Someone who wouldn't shrink from him, abandon him, slam doors in his face and tell him he, himself, was one of the monsters he so hated and feared.

His nails bit in as he hung onto his lifeline. He could hear himself trying to cry because never in his nightmares had he ever had someone stay with him who wasn't a tormentor. It was so novel an idea that he nearly felt like he was waking, walking that fine line between slumber and vigil, when the dreams were the most vivid. It was funny, in a way, how his pathetic consciousness constructed this escapist fantasy of having Peter in his tiny bed. Like he would even fit. No one 'fit' into Sylar's life. More likely he was still alone, trapped in this prison made just for him, and his damnably potent imagination had fabricated a 'friend'. He wished it was real. He tried to stay asleep where he could pretend it was real. He gripped harder, and sobbed.

"It's okay. It's okay," Peter murmured. "Sylar, it's okay."

Someone is here? But if pretend-Peter was here, then were the monsters here, too? "Don't let them take me!" he got out through hiccups and gasps, the effort of forming the words finally drawing him out of slumber.

"I won't. I won't. I've got you. You're safe." Peter's voice was soft and kind and everything he wanted to hear, even if the shock of realizing it was real drove every shred of sleep from his mind.

Oh shit. Sylar blinked through teary lashes into Peter's face, suddenly realizing his muzzy, muddled thinking had reversed reality and nightmare … or something. Something like that. Regardless of which was which, Peter really was in his bed, holding him close (not that he had much choice – not just the limitations of bed space hemmed him in, as Sylar also had a death grip on him). Sylar let him go, quickly, sucking in air so fast he choked, barely managing to turn his face to the pillow before being racked by a spasm of coughing. Peter patted and then rubbed his back. As Sylar's fit subsided, he continued to hide his face out of embarrassment. He felt Peter press his cheek to Sylar's shoulder, wrapping his arm around him supportively. Sylar tilted his face a bit so that he could breathe and otherwise stayed where he was, facedown. It was like with the dream, when he'd tried to stay asleep to better harbor his fantasy, except this wasn't a fantasy. Peter was holding him. Shamed or not by his weakness, Sylar wanted the comfort.

After a few minutes passed, Peter said quietly, "Roll over. Let me spoon up behind you."

Sylar nodded and complied, grateful he didn't have to look at Peter. Or rather, have Peter look at him. He felt like a wuss for crying in front of the guy. Peter's nakedness was something Sylar became aware of the other man settled in. He tensed, and then forced himself to relax. Peter snuggled up, wrapped an arm around him and sighed. Warm breath stirred Sylar's hair on the nape of his neck and he made a soft, pleasured sound in his throat. Is this even possible? What he's doing right now? He'd seen pictures of this - on TV, in magazines - one person comforting another after something bad had happened. He could remember Nathan doing it for Peter. No one had been there to do it for Nathan. Being the recipient of it felt very odd, but he liked it.

He wondered what all of this seemed like from Peter's point of view - particularly the man's insistence that they were trapped in a mental prison designed by Matt's telepathy. In the last week, he'd had a lot of opportunity to try to put himself in Peter's shoes and during that process, he'd stumbled across an important memory of Nathan's that made him start believing Peter's assertions about the nature of the world. In the memory, Nathan Petrelli had gone with Matt Parkman to confront Matt's father, and been tricked into thinking he was in a hell of his own making. Interestingly, Nathan's hell also had him alone, and hoping for Peter's presence, but horrified to find only his own disfigured face haunting him. It had taken another use of telepathy, this time from Matt rather than Maury, to break Nathan free of the illusion. It had seemed so real, just like here. "This … place that you think we're in," Sylar started.

"Yes?" Peter answered, shifting and reaching up to comb Sylar's hair out of his face.

"Do you really think we're going to get out of here?" He thought about his dream from just a few moments before, and his confusion about what was real. He thought about how he'd wanted to cling to the dream once he'd realized Peter was there with him. He wasn't sure he wanted out - not now. Not with Peter cleaving close to him and holding him tight.

"Yes." Peter seemed so sure of that.

Sylar clutched Peter's arm to his chest and to hell with looking like a wuss. If they 'got out', would he lose Peter? It was frightening in a way his nightmares had not been in a very long time. They were full of dread, regret and suffering. This - all the untrackable possibilities of the potential outside world - that was terrifying. "How do you know? That we'll get out?"

He could hear the smile in Peter's voice as the other man shifted his head again and replied, "I saw it in a dream." Peter petted Sylar's hair, stroking it calmly, tucking it out of Sylar's face and behind his ear.

Sylar looked at his hand on the bed in front of him, splaying the fingers slowly. The inevitable was a great burden, one he was far too familiar with. "I've seen a lot of things in dreams," Sylar said, haunted.

"Those don't have to come true," Peter said solemnly, wrapping his free arm back around Sylar's middle.

Sylar's thoughts skimmed over the last several years and the horrors visited upon him long before that. "They already have."

Peter was silent for several minutes, leaving Sylar to his dismally circular contemplations. Peter derailed them with his ever-direct manner, saying, "Tell me about them. Your dreams."

"Why? It's already happened." Sylar hunched a little, burrowing his head against his pillow and trying not to think about the subject of his nightmares.

"It's still happening."

Sylar was silent, considering that. I'm still living in my nightmares? What does that mean?

As if Sylar had spoken, Peter explained. He leaned his head forward to bump it lightly against the back of Sylar's head. "In here. It's still happening. Get it out. Make it something normal, like all the rest of your past. Stop hiding it. It's ugly, but pretending it's not there isn't going to make it go away."

What, tell him what sort of damaged goods I am? What good would that do? He wouldn't want me anymore. He'd be disgusted with me. "You … you don't want that. You don't want to be with someone … like me." He didn't want to explain his fears. They made him sound weak and scarred by the past. People liked the façade of invincibility. When they saw the humanity underneath, they turned away in disdain, lip curled in disgust. He'd seen it far too many times.

But Peter was not deterred. "I'm already with someone like you. Like, you know, you. You gonna try to keep me in the dark?" Peter's voice was a mix of teasing and challenging. His arm squeezed briefly around Sylar's middle and his lips pressed to his shoulder.

"I don't think you know what you're asking." Or are you just looking for an excuse to leave me already?

The teasing dropped from Peter's voice and he turned imploring, quietly and firmly demanding answers. "Then tell me. You don't think I know who you are? Then tell me. Show me. You wanna be with me? Be. With. Me. Don't be off hiding yourself somewhere else, pretending to be someone that you aren't. I want the real you."

Sylar thought, quietly. He wanted to convince himself that Peter wanted him because he was Sylar - powerful, fearsome, dangerous, capable. But that didn't make any sense. Peter's attraction to him had bloomed slowly over weeks and months, a step at a time as he got to know the person behind the persona, as they'd shared adventures and arguments together, long talks and short fights, lingering touches and stolen glances. If Peter had been attracted to the uncaring, unfeeling face Sylar turned to the rest of the world, then if anything, the slow and steady process of getting to really know him should have quenched Peter's desire rather than inflame it. It still seemed impossible to believe, though. Why would anyone like me for who I really am, rather than what I can do for them? Sylar lifted his shoulders in a shrug and gave a slight shake of his head.

"Don't underestimate me, lunkhead. I don't give up easy." Peter hugged him tightly. "I won't ever give up on you," he murmured into Sylar's hair. So earnest, so naïve, so Peter.

The simplest way was just to blurt out the worst and let Peter run for the hills. Or maybe stay, because Sylar knew a lot about Peter and … yeah, it was possible that no matter what Sylar's past, he wouldn't shake. Peter was kind of stupid that way. Suicidal. Willing to face any risk to try to save someone. Sylar frowned, gathered himself, and threw it out there, brutal and blunt. "My father killed my mother in front of me when I was four, maybe five. He sold me to his brother. Who raped me when I was eleven and twelve, and his wife beat me when I tried to complain about it. You still want to fuck me?"

His last line was delivered with all the venom of twenty years of unresolved hate, fear and grief over those successive and profound violations of trust. The betrayal by Chandra, Elle, Arthur, Noah, and Angela were just the same wound, cut open wider and wider until there was nothing left of Sylar's heart that wasn't shredded. That his last, most genuine effort at seeking help had culminated with Matt trapping him forever in a living prison? It fit the pattern so well that Sylar was shocked he hadn't noticed it before.

Another pattern, just as unbroken, was that Sylar's viciousness did not put Peter off. Peter was the irresistible force, in that respect, and he answered calmly, "I'm not in the mood for screwing around right now, but I wasn't before. You're not, either. I still love you."

The irresistible force met the unmovable object head on and the object shifted, unable to stand firm in his low opinion of himself when faced with those words: 'I still love you'. Shock coursed through Sylar at the realization of what Peter had so casually said and a moment later, joy. Then confusion. Did he really just say what I think he said? He couldn't have … "Wh-" Sylar coughed. "What did you just say?" He couldn't have said that. He couldn't have meant it!

"I said I love you," Peter voiced quite clearly and unmistakably, like it was the most normal thing in the world, patently obvious to anyone who'd been paying attention. Peter hugged him more firmly and kissed his shoulder, giving him a tiny nip at the end of it. "I don't climb in bed and make out with people I don't love."

"Peter, you'd make out with anyone!" Sylar squawked, well aware from Nathan's memories of Peter's plethora of partners during his college years at least. His mind was flailing for a defense against this oddest and most endearing of assaults. He'd been busy wallowing in how unloveable he was, how everyone had turned against him, how he hated and feared the world, and then to have that tossed at him? He felt like a drowning man who had made peace with his fate and then been rudely clobbered over the head with a lifebuoy.

"Uh-huh," Peter confirmed, kissing his shoulder again and nibbling more. "I've loved a lot of people, enough to know what it feels like. And I'm in love with you."

"Stop saying that!" Sylar was alarmed. This threw everything - his whole identity - on its head. He was trembling inside and for the first time in as far back as he could remember, the fear didn't make him want to lash out.

"'I love you'? Why should I stop?" Now Peter was teasing, walking a dangerous tightrope here, but it wouldn't be the first time Peter had recklessly pushed Sylar out of his comfort zone.

"Because it doesn't mean anything if you just fall in love with anyone you kiss!" Sylar was so terrified of what it meant. Peter was not Elle. Peter was genuine and true and honest. He was patient, forgiving and kind. He was determined, unflappable and enduring. This could be real, kept running over and over in the back of Sylar's head, and it was scaring the shit out of him.

"That's not the way it works," Peter said with a little crossness to his tone. "I fall in love with someone and then I kiss them."

Sylar opened his mouth to argue about that and found himself wordless for a moment. Rallying, he said, "If you love everyone, then it's not special!"

As if to counter Sylar's rising agitation, Peter's voice quieted. "Love is always special."

Sylar sagged against the bed, not seeing how he could win an argument against this, pretty sure he didn't want to. He felt exposed, as exposed to someone else's love as he'd always felt to their hate. This was so much nicer, though, but he felt so undeserving. "You can't mean it," he said in a pathetic last attempt to fend off the unfamiliar.

Peter pushed himself up on one elbow, looming over him. His tone was aggressive now, confrontational. "Are you saying I'm not capable of loving you? I told you not to underestimate me. And while you're at it, stop underestimating yourself. You're beautiful. You're special. You're wonderful. You're sexy. You're thoughtful. You're kind. You are so much. So much that I want to be with." Peter reached in to touch Sylar's cheek, brushing it softly with the backs of his knuckles.

"You're saying I could be so much. I could be special," Sylar said dully, staring straight forward at the wall a few feet away. He'd heard this before, the conditional 'I'll love you if you can live up to my unrealistic expectations'.

"No!" Peter snapped at him, trying to break through the walls Sylar kept trying to erect around his heart. "You know what I said, and I meant it. Right now. Right here. Just as you are."

Sylar rolled over, careful not to dislodge Peter. Peter looked very serious, very sincere. For several long seconds, Sylar gave him the utmost of his attention. He knew how things worked. Usually, they were mechanical things – cause and effect with error bars and gradients of probability, complex systems laden with chaos but never random. He knew that human beings were, in essence, biological machines. He knew he should be able to figure them out, but they tended to be beyond his grasp. There was so much about them that he didn't know. Each individual had a lifetime of small and large experiences that he was ignorant of, and those events changed them and their likely reactions to such an extent that his intuitive aptitude was nearly useless. It was like being asked to predict the sequel of a book he hadn't read.

But Peter was no stranger to him. He'd seen under Peter's book jacket, browsed the table of contents and starred large in the whole story … as both Nathan and Sylar. There was no one else in existence who knew as much about Peter as intimately and thoroughly Sylar did. It certainly didn't hurt that they'd spent years now telling each other their stories (Peter did most of the telling, which was also helpful). Sylar reached up and took Peter's chin. The man did not flinch from him, nor from the intent scrutiny he was receiving. Sylar turned Peter's head one way, then the other, trying to look into the recesses of his soul.

Can you love me? Do you love me - really? Am I good enough for you? Am I … enough?