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"Their Shoes Full of Blood" (Part Two)

Title: Their Shoes Full of Blood
Author: aheartfulofyou
Notes: Headers/details on main page.



iii

Is it like this
In death's other kingdom
Waking alone
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone


They're walking at a relaxed pace, holding iced coffees with their fingertips, condensation dripping off the sides of the plastic cups. Tara takes a sip and then gives a sideways smile to Claire. "How's the coffee?" she asks lightly, cheerfully.

Claire gives her a small, rewarding smile in return. "Caffeinated," she says back.

"Ah, the best kind." Tara nods, mock-knowingly, and then noticing Claire's reverted expression, her voice gets gentler. "Feels good to get out of the h-house, doesn't it?"

"Yeah, I guess so." Claire takes a half-hearted sip. "I guess I shouldn't stay cooped up."

"Yeah," Tara says, encouragingly, sadly. "But you still h-have every right, you know, to--"

"I know." Claire nods and gives an upwards tilt of the lips. "Thanks." Tara stops walking and looks straight ahead, then pulls Claire to the side.

"What?" Claire says, and then looks, and slams herself back into the wall behind her. "Oh god."

"I'm with you, r-remember? I'll take care of this."

Tara sees, as though Claire needs this now, President Petrelli walking towards them, wearing sunglasses, followed by security, and crowds are already calling after him. He sees Claire, she's sure, but Tara steps in front of her, out into his path, blocking him from Claire, and crosses her arms. She knows he sees. People are shouting, "Mr. President!" but he takes Tara's hand and roughly shakes it, before she jerks it away, and stares furiously at him, hoping disgust comes across well enough on her face, silently. He motions for her and Claire to come inside a laundromat, the nearest store off the sidewalk. Tara puts an arm around Claire, walking after him inside. Claire'll be safe right here, she thinks. It's daylight, there are people around. His security lines the entrance of the store. Petrelli says, "Get out," to the bewildered owner inside, and then takes off his sunglasses and turns to them.

He looks like he's about to speak, but Tara steps in. She can feel something instantly, something off about his aura, but she tries to ignore it for the time being. First, this.

"What d-do you think you did? No one should be put in a situation where she f-feels unsafe or d-doesn't want to do something. And Claire's your own daughter."

"Why don't you stay out of this?" he says, smoothly. "I'd like to talk to Claire."

"I'm not leaving."

"Fine." He spins on Claire. "If your new mother figure will let me, I have to tell you-- I'm leaving for D.C. tonight, but I expect you in my office at the house in exactly a week. I know how to find you, Claire, and you're not going to escape me. It'll be worse for you if you don't show. So, will you be there?" He squeezes her shoulder hard enough to make her wince, and she nods at him, pure hate in her eyes.

"Very good. Well--"

"You're sick," Claire spits out. Nathan barely pauses.

"Let me know if there's anything else I can do for you as citizens of this great country," he says, and walks out the door.

Tara opens her arms to Claire, who goes into the embrace, tears welling in her eyes but not actually crying, just staring out the exit, wide-eyed, shell-shocked, stiff and angry. Tara puts a hand on her hair, and says, "This'll t-turn out okay."

Claire pulls away. "How can it? That was my dad. That was our President. And--"

"He's not your dad," Tara says, glancing quickly out the exit.

"Well, yeah, I know. Just some genes in my--"

"No, listen to me, Claire." She's very serious and very sure now. "His energy felt all wrong. A person's energy h-has... unity. And his was rubbing wrong, like he's in somebody else's shell. That's not Nathan Petrelli. I don't kn-know who it is, but--"

Claire's looking at her, blankly. "You can tell? Are you serious?"

Tara nods. "I am, sweetie. We can figure this out, and when you go back--"

"I am not going back to that house."

"You'll h-have to, I think. He's right about that. He can find you. But we'll be ready, okay? I'll go with you, and I'll make sure to brush up on d-defensive magics. We'll be okay, we can figure this out. If I take something of Nathan's there, too, I can figure out wh-where he is, and who this person is. If it's a person-- it m-might be a demon, we don't know."

"It's not Nathan," Claire says, hollowly. "How long--?"

"I don't know. But, no, it's not."

Claire looks down, breathes in and out, and then nods, shrugs, gives a bitter laugh. "Okay."





Dawn certainly sounds the same, and Tara's grateful to hear the impatient whine of her complaining voice. She didn't always sound like that-- only when she wanted something. Grateful, except that Tara knows, she knows-- Tara's fist is clenched together, and she can feel the dust in her palm, waiting to trickle out.

"So you love her more, she's better than I was, because she was a cheerleader? A waitress? 'Cause she's all pretty and smart," Dawn says. She's so, so annoyed. Oh, Dawnie. "She's just a clump of cells like I was a blob of magic, and you're just a demon." Dawn's standing at Tara's side. Tara's sitting cross-legged on the floor, trying not to look at her.

"I'm n-not a demon. I'm a person," Tara says.

"Keep tellin' yourself that," Dawn says, arms crossed. "It's not like you ever try to find out for sure." Her long brown hair is swinging beneath her shoulders. But no, it's not Dawn. Tara looks straight ahead, and tries to keep her voice from cracking.

"You're not my sister."

"No, because I'm dead. Like she'll be. Forget about protecting her, Tara! I didn't want you to protect me, and obviously you couldn't. It still won't work. Just let her go by herself. Forget her."

"I cast you f-from this place," Tara begins, almost apologetically, and starts sprinkling the dust in a small ring on the floor. Dawn's voice, meshed with a scream of many voices, rips through the otherwise empty air, screams something about Tara's mistakes and power, and the ground beneath Tara's feet starts sharking. A immaterial arm claws at Tara's, and deep gashes slice through her skin, but Tara just raises her voice, looks up, keeps a hold on the power in her fingers, as plates come crashing in the kitchen and the air starts swirling. She keeps chanting. "It is your poison and your bane!"

She throws the dust to the ground, and with a final shudder, the house goes quiet.

"I cast you out into the void," Tara finishes, in almost a whisper, looking down, as Claire comes running into the room, gasping out, "What happened?"

Tara looks up. "It doesn't m-matter," she says. She'll never see Dawn again. She knows that. She knew it before. "It's gone, now."





They're sitting in the Oval Office.

"There could be another Sylar," Nathan's saying. But then again, it's not really Nathan, is it, Sylar thinks; of course he's been blamed for that waste of an explosion, that mess of radiation and casualties that did him no good, but on the plus side, he is President. Sure, he has to take another name, and he just wants to kill them all sometimes, pointless or no, because they don't know it's him. He's special, but everybody thinks he's dead, and there's nothing unique there. The lowest cockroach dies, even if it takes a sufferingly long time. What's magnificent there? It's all an anticlimax. But at least his dear mother knows he's President, just like she always told him he could be. She's paid him a visit once or twice and called him Gabriel and commended him on a job well done, that she's so, so proud. Why, she knows so much now-- he's made her omniscient, in death, even if she's a little conformist, a little mundane as a rotting corpse like everybody else, but look, Mommy, I'm President.

He says, oh so casually, his own name, "Sylar," and he feels what Mohinder feels, a power picked up along the way-- he had hoped it'd be another thing like Peter's, but even if that did fall through and left only pesky emotion, at least he knows how things work, and he's found an off switch. It'd get annoying if he felt the jabs of torture-- doled out meticulously to others-- back at his own nerves.

He keeps the power on around the Professor, though. It's useful that way. He has to be careful.

He feels anxiety drenching itself down Mohinder's spine, a fully physical reaction, and he hears a speeding heartbeat, and considers the possibility that Mohinder knows and is now hiding it and hanging on for dear life. But there's a wisp of something Sylar barely recognizes as guilt, along with Mohinder's adrenaline, an uncomfortable fit, a shadowy reminder of what everyday people feel, but not Sylar, because he's not everyday. He's justified in all of his actions. He blocks out the power with a sheer command of mind, and focuses on Mohinder's bare eyes. They're flat-out naked and screaming on their own-- no powers needed.

Sylar feels a spurned but lingering hardness, something he's pretty sure is all Mohinder's mind's fault, but could, technically, feel good on him, too, under the right circumstances. He decides, out of curiosity, to try something. A tangent. He can always get the Department of Homeland Security on the line later, if it doesn't work. An emergency plane flight, a tragic accident, and a few mind-reading and mind-clearing abilities later, he'll make it work. It's just that he's patient, when given enough to bite into, figuratively speaking.

Nathan takes a tangent and a stiff, delving look. "You spent a lot of time with Sylar, didn't you, Mohinder?" Mohinder never questions when Nathan seems to have too much knowledge. Sylar supposes, to make sure of things for himself and his own plans, that it is possible, in some degrees-of-separation way, that Nathan would know certain things, but he's noticed that Mohinder takes it all at face value anyway, never stops to question or explain away things to himself.

"N-not quite a lot," Mohinder says, and Sylar hears his heart rate skipping and then dawdling and then speeding again. Sylar almost wants to give him aspirin and tell him not to keel over, especially not before Sylar's done with him.

He remembers the looks Mohinder used to give Zane, looks in Mohinder's eyes that seemed like the gaze was filled with heat, and a watery edge, to try and quench that fire, smother it, or let it burn through its watery film at him. He's wanted to get that back for-- for so--

Sylar switches tactics to get the response he was half hoping for. "They're getting out of hand, Mohinder," he says, and Mohinder slips back into his scientist attitude. "I've told you the statistics. It's time accidents start happening."

"Mr. President?" Mohinder says. Oh, look, how cute, he sounds so wary.

"Vampires aren't going away, Mohinder, no matter what we do, but they'll work under appeasement. If we give them what they want, and take care of our ability problems at the same time..."

Mohinder looks shocked. Shouldn't he stop being so naive and innocent already? "Are you suggesting we have... dealings? With vampires?"

"I'm saying we take our tagging one step further. We quarantine. Then we slack on security, because we're so overwhelmed. It's a perfect scenario. An excess of predators. The solution's an even greater excess of prey that we're willing to dispose."

"You're suggesting we apathetically allow the deaths of thousands?"

"It's natural selection. We're just giving a little push. These people just can't survive anymore. And with our other problem-- it's appeasement, but not cowardly. We're using it for our benefit, the benefit of the whole United States, the whole world."

Mohinder can ask any number of skeptical, scientific questions, anything about the long-term affects of the plan, the creation of more vampires, the numbers, the figures, but instead he looks at Sylar, Nathan, raw, and says, "You're one of them, Nathan. Do you expect me to throw you to animals to be devoured, as well?"

Mohinder's intense and concerned again. But it's not enough. Sylar's seen Mohinder look at him, once, him without fronts, and it was frustratingly filled with hate, but that hate wasn't pure, it was betrayal and fear and all of those boring emotions, but Sylar thinks there had to be something beneath it, too. He wants Mohinder's looks for himself, not for Nathan or Zane, they're his, Mohinder's his. And he'll take what he deserves.

"I appreciate the secrets you've kept." Mohinder looks down and nods, but glances back up again when Sylar says, "Tell me, Mohinder, can you keep another?"

Mohinder swallows, and can't stop looking at him. "Of-- of course," he says, chokedly. Sylar holds Mohinder's shoulder in his hand, a gesture he could never make as Zane, and certainly not as himself. But now-- he moves his hand from Mohinder's shoulder to Mohinder's thigh. Mohinder doesn't move away, only looks at the hand with eyes too wild to make his attempted-calm expression legitimate. He swallows again; Sylar hears his breathing quicken, feels simmering arousal, oh so slightly.

"What did you feel for Sylar?" Sylar, Nathan, asks Mohinder coolly, hand insistent, heavy, not going away. Sylar almost grins-- the last word, his name, his real name, sends Mohinder's heart rate quickened, and breathing audible to even the layman's ear.

Mohinder, probably unconsciously, shifts uncomfortably, says, "He-- he killed thousands of people, he killed my father, he--"

"That's not what I asked."

Sylar brings his face close to Mohinder's, inching in and in like a predator, before, a breath away, he changes.





Why would he send his friend by himself to this future? What good is it doing? Hiro's had everything planned out, starting with saving the cheerleader. Peter tells him she was saved, once, but that she died in the explosion. But Hiro hasn't been able to save the world. Destiny is meaningless with a sacrifice he wasn't willing to make. He couldn't save his world, anyway-- Ando. Because the world's always had damage, but Ando dead is the most--

"What happened to me?" Ando says, softly. He's crept up on Hiro, but Hiro barely twitches, barely turns. Somehow he's not surprised, somehow he's felt it. Hiro doesn't want to say anything, wants to joke to him, but can't right now. He gives Ando an unconvincing reassuring smile, and takes a breath in to ready himself.

"You turned," Hiro says, "And I had to kill you personally." He remembers the erratic behavior, the sickening, slow realization, the teeth that meant danger that he'd seen countless times before suddenly horrific instead of inane. He remembers gripping the sword, the apology, the head-severing blow, the anti-climactic dust.

"You mean I was a vampire?" Ando asks, half incredulous, half amused. Hiro doesn't give him a reply, just looks at him. Ando's still so-- this is still Ando. From before. Because for him, it is before. Hiro almost feels unworthy-- he knows he's not the same person that Ando recognizes, not now. He half expects Ando to mention how he misses his Hiro-- he's nothing but the future to Ando, a future he'll never reach.

"It wasn't you anymore," Hiro finally says, looking down. "But that didn't make it easy."

Ando's looking at him when he looks back up, more solemn than before, or at least trying. Hiro doesn't want to do this to him, make him look like that. It's the world that's the problem, not just Hiro-- but Hiro is part of this world.

"Does-- does this mean I'm gonna get bitten now? Here? How can I get back?" Ando's openly afraid, now. Hiro shakes his head.

"I don't know. And there has to be a reason I sent you here. I'll keep you safe until I figure out what that is." He doesn't want to admit he doesn't want to send Ando back. Or that if he does, all that will happen is Ando's death, over again. And again. And again. He has to keep him here, now.

"Maybe it's because I have to fight with you." Courage is dawning again on Ando's face. "I can fight with you. You can teach me how to--" He makes stabbing motions with his arm in the air, and Hiro gives a brief smile. "How to kill vampires. And things. And this time, I won't let myself turn into a snack. What do you say?"

Hiro's going to refuse. He's going to say, It's too dangerous, I can't let you. He's going to tell Ando he'll keep him here, but isolated, and then he'll find a way to return him safe to his time, because the future doesn't change, it doesn't matter anyway. This world is worse than the old one. He's going to say all of this, it's his plan, but instead, accidentally, he smiles at Ando, silently.

Ando looks back at Hiro, and beams.





iv

In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river


"See, I've scheduled a little me time here," Sylar says, as Mohinder jerks back like a whiplash.

"Sylar." Mohinder's mind is suddenly floundering, trying to grasp what's been put in front of him. And how long? And-- it's all starting to connect, the image of Nathan, this image of Nathan, this murderer behind the image of Nathan.

"Long time, no see, Mohinder," Sylar says. "Oh, wait--"

"You--" is all Mohinder can even attempt to say, and he's trying to move away from Sylar's grasp, but Sylar is pinning him down, and he's too close to his face, obstructing his vision of everything else. Sylar's face almost looks ridiculous, so close, above him, distorted, but Mohinder knows this is real, realer than anything else in his life, and he hates it.

"Why are you struggling? Why do you want to get away from me? You've always wanted me. You've always wanted this." Sylar's stands, looking down at him in the chair, overpowering him. Mohinder tries to sit up, tries to rationalize.

"I may have had certain feelings, thoughts, for-- Zane. Zane, and, and Nathan, for the love of-- you killed him. They were both-- for both of them I have had certain-- but--"

Sylar looks too confident, confident edging into angry. "They were me, Mohinder, you never knew them, you knew me. It's not about what it looks like, it's what it actually is."

Mohinder wants to protest, but anything he could say points to a shell, some sort of front, and he's always been taught, everyone's always been taught exactly what Sylar's twisting around and making impure now-- the surface doesn't matter, the depths beneath creep out and infest instead. The inner soul-- Mohinder feels sick, as though Sylar even has such a thing-- is what really matters. In the end. God, it's all wrong. What has he done? What has he done to be trapped within such-- he can't find the words to speak a rational argument. Mohinder only says, "I-- I can't-- you're Sylar."

"What do you mean, Mohinder? My name is Nathan Petrelli. My name is Isaac Mendez. My name is Zane Taylor. My name is Gabriel Gray. What's the problem? What do you mean?" His shape doesn't change, and Eden shot herself so Sylar didn't get her power, and Mohinder's clarity of vision is as accurate as ever.

But Mohinder raises his head anyway, and nods slowly. "All right."

Time, for him, is an endless loop of not-quite-mistakes and guilt. Mistakes would be easier: by now he's realized he's only playing the fool, and he's willing. He wishes he wasn't, but he is.

"It's such a relief to get certain things out, to at least one person, you know?" Sylar says to him, and is over him in a second, Mohinder slouched back instinctively as far as he can go into the chair, pushing himself away. But he looks over Sylar, and he thinks, perhaps, it's too late for the both of them, that this is only one small step further, that maybe there will be a time when--

"Just give in already," Sylar says, harshly.

Mohinder looks at him with utter hate, face contorted in disgust, but it is self-disgust. "I am," he spits out, sickened, and can't help but breath shakily at Sylar's expression of triumph.

Sylar almost delicately begins to touch Mohinder, and Mohinder lets out a contained whimper of a noise. "Why all the torment? What's better than love?" Sylar asks, and it sounds so sick on his tongue.

Mohinder gains control, and tries to pull away again. "You don't love me."

"Oh, don't I? Who's given you power beyond anything? Who's waited for you for years? Who's restrained from killing you? Who's the only one who will take you back, take you in, knowing who you are and what you've done. Yes, what you've done, Mohinder. Me. How's that love for you?"

Sylar hasn't moved, is still in front of him, nearly on him, but Mohinder sees Chandra, his father, in his peripheral, too.

"I certainly have stopped loving you, Mohinder," his father says, and leaves. Sylar doesn't seem to notice.

"My love never ends," he says, and his thumb is digging hard circles into Mohinder's stomach. His hips jerk upwards slightly of their own accord.

"All right. Will you stop torturing me with it?" Mohinder says, voice defeated and held in. "All right."

"Very good," Sylar says, and Mohinder touches his shoulders with resignation as he comes in for some mockery of a soft kiss.





"Well," Tara says, squeezing Claire's shoulder reassuringly, "We're here." Claire shoots her a sideways look, and then nods.

Claire feels numb, light-headed with the lack of feeling that comes for her with too much, too much to think about-- so she's been, uh, practically molested, but not by her father, by someone or something that could turn into her father. Tara informed her, sympathetically enough, not in any insulting way, that the spell to revert the body's energy or figure out exactly if it is a demon or otherwise is too powerful for one witch, and definitely too difficult for Claire to help her with. They'll have to take their chances. But Claire can't die, can't get hurt, and Tara's told her she's gathered up enough spells that they can defend themselves-- both of them, Tara tells her. Standing and staring at the mundane screen door to the gigantic Manhattan house, Claire wishes she could see Peter. She wishes she could see her real dad, and give him one of those hugs, head buried into his chest. It's never felt awkward.

This Nathan, she doesn't want to look at, much less touch.

And here he is. Well, not him, obviously, but he definitely looks like him. "Claire. Come in," he says, opening the door.

"Now, do you really need to bring your friend?" He eyes Tara disdainfully, and Claire says, "Yeah, she's coming."

Tara nods, too. "I'm n-not leaving her."

He shrugs. "Fair enough."

He waves his hand and leads them into the den, where Claire sees he hasn't repaired the picture frames. She thinks there's even still glass on the carpet, even though the window is taped up with a tarp, now. Her legs feel like lead, but she's keeping a defiant chin up, and she sees Tara keeping close by and glancing at her. Tara's hand is cupped as though she's ready to throw something invisible if need be-- Claire guesses that's probably the magic. She doesn't have much of anything offensive to work with, but that's why they're teaming together here. Claire can defend herself. Not necessarily Tara, and Claire doesn't want anything to happen to her-- that's the worst part, Claire thinks, everyone around her dying, and every scratch she has just heals. Sometimes she wishes it wouldn't.

Before they can say anything else, Nathan who's not Nathan says, "I'll make this quick," and reaches into his tailored suit jacket, and before she can even register what's happening, while it still seems mundane, he pulls out a gun. Claire tenses and tries to drag Tara backwards, away from him, and Tara says something in Latin and throws a bolt of red energy in his direction. He gets knocked over across the table, hard.

"Claire, run!" Tara yells, but Claire says, "We both have to go! I'm not the one in danger!"

Tara goes running forward, but he clambers up again, and blocks her second spell by holding out his hand. The ripple of energy stops in mid-air. He aims the gun and shoots. Tara's face barely shows pain. Maybe surprise. She drops. It's so sudden that Claire's running to her body long after it hits the floor.

"It's pointless to even waste an ability on that one," Nathan says, shaking his head, and Claire's trying to gasp in a breath through choking.

"You," she says, viciously as she can, tears streaming into her mouth, down her chin. "You killed--"

"Of course I did. No point, either, except that you made her get in the way. She had a little power, but nothing I can't learn myself. Nothing to gain. But you--"

Claire stands, swaying, and tries to lunge at him, no weapon in hand, but she doesn't really care.

With a flick of his hand, she can't move, she can't move. She sees the tarp, if she could reach it, rip it open, jump through again, but she just can't, she can't--

She feels herself being turned around, while a voice, no longer Nathan's, says, "I want you to see me. I want you to know who I am, Claire. Recognition feels good, you know, and I do certainly deserve that honor."

Her mouth moves the words that are in her mind, but she can't even say them. Sylar. He's grinning. And then there's a splitting pain in the pit at the back of her neck, jutting up into her head. She doesn't know the technical name for it, and it doesn't matter. It hurts more than anything's hurt, more than breaking all of her bones, and she knows she'll never feel it when her forehead's cut open.

She won't feel it at all. She tastes blood in her mouth, and feels the pain drive upwards, and then nothing.





v

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear...
The hope only
Of empty men


The phone rings shrilly in the dimness, and all of them start.

"Better get that," Oz says. Giles nods, jumps up from his seat at the table, and picks it up.

"You better be watching this," the voice says, and then all Giles hears is a clacking noise, and silence. He hangs up, too.

"Noah. Switch on the television," Giles says, waving his hand in the direction of Larry and Oz. Larry, closest, gets up and fiddles with the knob on the old set, and an image fades into the screen. It's the President, at a podium with the American flag dangling gaudily in the background. There's a voice of a news reporter speaking against the noise of camera flashbulbs clicking, "The President will begin his address to the Nation. And, yes, here he is."

"First and foremost, the fear must end," Nathan Petrelli's saying. "New York city, Sunnydale, our own cities, homes, across the nation. Every single day, they are infested with fear and death, and all most of us can do is turn a blind eye, because we are too afraid to do otherwise. This has to stop. I, as President, as someone who refuses to succumb to this fear, will work with the Department of Homeland Security to up the protection all throughout the United States. Until this issue of danger has been resolved, our schools across the nation are closing. Please stay home and stay safe with your children, and have faith that we are taking care of these problems."

"We're not skippers anymore," Larry says, as the President continues:

"We will take down the demons among us, the inhuman. We will take down the people with dangerous abilities, the people who have hurt you and your loved ones. We will take down the terrorist groups that support such people, such creatures, groups like the White Hats." Applause.

"Hey, look, we got national coverage."

Giles shoots a bewildered, offended look at Oz. "Terrorists? Rubbish! They-- they're exploiting the people's fear to gain more power!"

"No kidding. Listen." Oz points at the TV.

The speech continues: "So if you, as a citizen of this country of unwavering convictions, have any information regarding any such people, or those harboring them, please, please let a member of your local law enforcement know. Alternatively, if you believe you possess an ability, immediately get in contact with your local infectious disease center for a few tests, to ensure the safety of yourself and others. When you help your country, you will be greatly rewarded, and will benefit all of us. I will do my part, but, please--" Petrelli's eyes look dark, insistent. "Please. Do yours."

"Well, time for more hiding. I'm doing double-time. Creature and part of the group." Oz looks nonchalant, a facade that's at least been reassuring.

Giles shakes his head at the television blankly, and then glances at Larry and Oz, before grabbing the telephone again. "Something has to be done! I--I'll have to call the Slayer. She's considered a threat already, always has been. If I can contact her Watcher, and try to formulate some sort of--"

"I don't know if that's such a good idea," Larry says. "What if they're, uh, doing something with the phone lines? I mean, you never know, right? They might be monitoring us."

"It's a risk I'll have to take," Giles replies, balancing the phone between his head and shoulder, thumbing furiously through a worn, brown phone book. He dials, and paces away a little.

"Oh, I see. Yes, yes, I-- well, I must have the wrong number, terribly sorry." Giles hangs up abruptly, and turns to them. Oz's arm is pressed against Larry's. They both stare at Giles, pale-faced, waiting. "They're raiding the Slayer's apartment, so she can't come to phone at the moment." His desperate humor fades. "The two of you best--"

Oz nods. "We'll go."

"What about you?" Larry asks.

"I think it's best we split up," Giles says, looking downwards. "Go ahead, I'll join you elsewhere."





"Where should we go?" Larry asks, a hand on Oz's shoulder blade, glancing quickly around before entering the boiler room door to the school. They're both dressed in the most mundane, brown sweaters they could find. Larry's thinking of his bright red football jersey from when he was a kid, and Oz's old band t-shirts, stored away somewhere, and the bright blue beads Grandma used to wear around her neck. Their slacks are brown, too.

"I don't know," Oz says, leaning into Larry's hands as they do a darting fast walk to the library. They furtively push open the doors, and it looks clean. No one there yet. "We can't stay here," Oz says. "They know Giles is the librarian; they'll find him. Cafeteria?"

Larry nods in agreement and starts gathering the stockpiled weapons from the backs of shelves and in the office. One thing's sort of prodding at his mind, though, so he voices it: "What's up with Giles staying behind?"

Oz looks him in the eyes guiltily, barrenly, and shrugs. "He's got a plan."

"You've got too much faith in him. He's a goner if he sticks around there too long."

Oz shrugs again, and Larry sighs. Whatever. As long as it's not Oz staying behind-- Giles is old and British and wise, maybe he has come up with something. Larry picks up the tranquilizer gun in the corner and counts the days in his mental calendar, but before he can voice the question, Oz sidles up next to him, a braceleted hand reaching up to Larry's neck, tugging at the prickly hairs there. Oz's voice is calm as ever, though, when he says, "Bring it."

"The full moon's--?"

"-- Soon enough. Want me to have some Homeland Security dudes for dinner?"

"And me," Larry adds.

"Well, that already happens."

Larry snorts at the bad joke, but he's pretty sure his face isn't good humored at all. His hand is barely steady picking up the extra cartridges. Of everything he's gotten used to, shooting Oz-- werewolf or not-- is the hardest. If they could stay in the library, there'd be the cage, but that looks like it's ruled out for the next transformations or so.

"Three bullets per night," Oz reminds him, in a tone far less grave than necessary. "Unless you miss."

"I don't," Larry says.

"I know."

They take their stores in rattling bags and set off in the direction of the cafeteria, Larry brandishing a large, wooden cross in different directions around them as they walk.





He comes, unannounced, behind the curtain of the Master's den. He walks so confidently inside that the vampires barely sense a human in their midst-- Sylar doesn't like to think of himself as exactly human, anyway. That's too mundane for him. And he'll be even less mundane soon.

The Master isn't fooled, though, even with his back to him, but at least Sylar can prove he's not exactly average.

"Well, a human in our midst. Quite unaccompanied, too, a pity." The Master turns and looks very apathetically delighted to see the President. "Ah, Mr. Petrelli. We had a few deals, I know, but you do realize I may have to break it off? Where are those Secret Service gentleman paid to protect you? I'm afraid they may need to be let go. You've walked right into this delectable situation, you see, where I am given the option of loyalty and mass chaos. And on top of things, really, I did sacrifice some of my finest for you. I may have to choose--"

And Sylar transforms himself back into his usual persona, and still without saying a word, gives him a cocky, sideways smile.

"My oh my," the Master says. "You're not who you seem."

"Well, who is, these days?" Sylar gives him another head-tilting, charming grin, and the Master laughs.

"Very good. Now," he says, unconcernedly, "Give me an excellent reason why I shouldn't kill you right now."

"How about this?" Sylar lifts a hand and an ornamental knife from the shelf comes flying towards him, and lands with a sickening thud in his neck. Sylar jerks it out of himself, and the gaping wound instantly heals. He looks admiringly at the knife, and tastes blood off his fingers, then looks back to the aged vampire in front of him.

The Master sucks in air through his mouth, more expression than necessity, and it makes a wet, crackling sound. "I see, I see."

"I can't get killed," Sylar says, shrugging. "But there are a few spots here and there, and what I'd really enjoy is avoiding some of those pesky habits like food and wrinkles, too. And I'd never say no to more power."

"An interesting proposition." The Master does look impressed, and Sylar practically feels the power draining into him already. "What will you do for my-- prospectively our-- kind in return?"

"Help make us the only kind that really matters." Sylar's look is conspiratorial. "I've already allowed this blood factory plan to go on, and I think, being just that special, as President, I could really help you branch out. We have similar goals already, see."

"And what would those be?"

Sylar shrugs. "There's too much competition. I'm looking for a good way to dispose of all the rest of these freaks, and you're in luck. The freaks are all humans, and they should make thousands of good meals-- maybe more. We herd them together, and I think they'll be a nice addition to the blood factories you can establish all throughout the United States."

"Oh my, but won't these humans need to be drugged? I'm afraid their taste may be a little off."

"My medical advisor will work on that right away. He'll make sure it's exactly to your liking."

Sylar sees the vampire's eyes gleaming. "And when these meals with, ah, abilities, are all devoured?"

"Well, you'll have a vampire as the leader of the most powerful country in the world, and what do I care if we do a little containment, a little breeding, for the rest of the humans? We'll have an endless supply. These animals will be taught their place-- if they haven't ascended, they'll be food for the rest of us."

The Master claps his hands, delighted. "An excellent plan. We'll continue to arrange the details, and then I will grant you the gift, if you will. I thought my siring days were well over, but I suppose I could make an exception, just this once."

Sylar hasn't waited five years to be impatient. "Fine," he says. "Just make sure I get this gift soon, or else I'll have to use my presidential powers to stamp out all of the vampires, and come up with a less eloquent way of destroying the rest of those with powers. And I'd really rather do it my way."

The Master nods, and holds out his hand to Sylar. "Wonderful to finally meet you, Mr. President," he says.

Sylar takes his hand, and morphs back into Nathan Petrelli. "My pleasure. I think we'll be excellent business associates."

The Master's nails are biting into the palm of Sylar's hands, but Nathan-- Sylar-- only grins. The Master nods. "I believe so, too."





He fights, a lot, but he's still shaken up from the beating he gave and received to get the tips on the Slayer's location in a demon horde's torn down hide-out. Peter knocks on the door of the crummy back alley ground-level apartment, and calls out, "Hey. You don't know me, but I was wondering if we could talk for a--"

The door's flung open, and he takes a step back. She's got a loaded crossbow pointed straight at his heart.

"Woah, woah, woah." Peter holds up his hands. "I'm not a vampire."

"And I care because--?" The Slayer looks indifferent, haughty, with her eyebrows raised. "I can still kill you with this."

"You're the Slayer, right?"

"The one and only. Tell me why the hell you're here, or I'll stick this through your heart. And it'll be messy. No nice little dust piles to sweep up afterwards if you're human like you say you are. You'll be bleeding in the street for an hour."

"Listen. I'm Peter Petrelli. I need your help taking down the government."

"And why do you think I want to help you with your little anarchist biz?" She throws her left hand in the air expressively, and the hand holding the crossbow looks even more dangerous. She gives a bored little eye roll, and aims the crossbow at his leg instead, and shoots.

He flings up his hand, and the stake skids to a halt mid-air and drops to the ground. "That's why," he says, gruffly. "Because you've got powers, I've got powers, and we're both fugitives. Now, can we talk?"

She purses her lips, where a thin scar cuts across. Eyebrows still raised, she nods. "Fine. Talk."

"Okay. Can I-- uh, come in?"

She scoffs at him a little, and then flings her arms into the air. "Be my guest." She turns her back straight to him, and walks into her apartment, a move he picks up immediately as pure disrespect and a sign of her utter lack of fear for him. Well, he can deal with that. He follows her in, and sits, meeting her gaze equally and angrily as she drops herself heavily, apathetically, into a ragged armchair, and looks skeptically at him. He glances around. The place is torn up, papers and broken weapons scattered around, dishes smashed, like someone's been searching it. Someone probably has.

"I'm Peter Petrelli," he begins again, a little annoyedly. "And you are--?"

"You know I'm the Slayer but you don't know my name? Way to research. Buffy Summers. I'm surprised you haven't heard of me, I've heard there's a really great fan club. T-shirts and everything." She's got a dour expression on her face.

"I've heard of you, but just by title. Buffy?" Peter gives a slight grin, a shade of his old self.

"Yeah. Buffy. Get over it. And cut the crap, will you? What do you want me to do for you? You want to overthrow the government because they're being bastards to people they're intimidated by. How are you doing it? What am I supposed to do?"

"I'm contacting Hiro Nakamura, for one."

For the first time, she looks a little impressed, the first emotion besides annoyance he's seen from her, ever.

"And then what?" She flips on the TV and scrutinizes it, obviously not that attentive.

"I was hoping you'd have contacts, too," he says.

"I'm the Slayer. I don't have friends."

"Well, don't you have, uh, a Watcher, or--"

"Sickly old man who couldn't so much as look at a vampire without dropping dead."

"Okay. Well, I'm thinking about going to Mohinder Suresh-- he's the President's--"

"I know who he is. You're not doin' much to get rid of your whole idiot appeal thing. What makes you think we can trust him? I've met him. I don't."

"He means well! He can't think that any of this is moral. He's Nathan's right-hand man, and--"

"That's exactly why I don't trust him. And I don't care what he means, he's been right in the middle of this for however long. Not to mention his connections with 'Nathan'. I don't even know about you, Petey." Her voice is dripping with sarcasm. "You're his little brother."

"Not anymore," he says. He looks at her darkly.

She finally shrugs. "No Suresh."

Peter makes a noise of agitation, and rubs the scar on his face with a few fingers. "Fine," he finally says, "We'll deal. If we can infiltrate and take down some of their people, we--"

"Not to burst your bubble here, 007, but what will this accomplish? I'm all for the random killing, but won't it make it worse for the specials, and for me, if there's a mass attack? It'll egg them on even more and give cred to their whole these people are evil thing."

"We have to try. We can't just sit back and let fear run our lives!"

Buffy looks at him, unimpressed. "Who's afraid?"

Peter grins a little bit, but suppresses it, and is ready to keep on with the plan, until-- "Hold on. Turn that up."

Buffy, slouched in her chair, sitting like man, albeit a sloppy, skinny one, legs spread, presses the remote's volume control. A newscaster's on the screen, with long hair covering her neck and dark green clothing, a crucifix necklace that's too big to be for decoration. "At this Permit 12 strip club in downtown Las Vegas, yet another deadly attack has taken two lives, begging the question, will all nightlife soon be controlled and utilized only by demonkind?"

"Hey, that's my girlfriend," Peter says, pointing to the background behind the reporter, where lights flash and a long shot of Niki plays.

Buffy scoffs. "She's faithful."

"It's her job."

"She can't make money before curfew?"

"It's what she does best."

Buffy gives an impolite huff of a laugh. "No kiddin'?" She pulls a stake out of her pocket, and starts picking at the loose splinters with a fingernail. "People who fraternize with vampires make me sick. There's only one thing to do with them, and it's not entertaining them."

"It's good money," Peter mumbles, but looks down at Buffy's indelicate, worn boots. "The government's not doing enough about the demons, and too much about us."

"You saying there's a connection? Some kind of unholy alliance?"

"It's possible."

She's looking daggers into his eyes again. "I guess we'll find out."





vi

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow


"Here," Buffy says, and lazily swipes her arm across the bedspread, pushing off broken glass, dirt, and ripped papers. The mess clatters to the floor, leaving the bed somewhat cleaner. She glances annoyedly at a piece of glass wedged in her arm, and jerks it out, tossing it to the floor. She contorts her arm up to her lips to suck on the wound, while mumbling, "You can sleep here."

"Thanks," Peter says, gruffly. He half-expects Buffy's wound to close up and disappear-- it's almost a shock to see the cut still open, blood tingeing her top lip. But, of course, she's not-- she's not Claire. He sits down at the edge of the bed, and looks at her.

She raises her eyebrows, moves her hands to her hips. "Huh?" she says, aggressively.

"Nothing," Peter says back. His facial muscles, of all places, are aching, mostly around his scar. It bit deep. He reaches out and takes Buffy's grime-covered fingers in his hand, staring at her wrist.

"Really romantic. Very nice," she says, voice shot through with low voice tones and derision. He takes his hand away, holds it up in surrender, but Buffy rolls her eyes and reaches to the bottom of her tank top. Without decorum, she pulls it off, limber enough to do it stylistically, arms criss-crossed, dropping the shirt inside-out on to the floor. Peter finds himself staring at a bored and defiant blonde figure, chest small and tight with muscle, bra just as dreary-colored as the rest of the safe colors of clothes.

"I didn't--" Peter begins, but she gives him a skeptical, annoyed look, and he looks at the ripple tensing and untensing in the slim triceps of her arms, and he lets her get closer. He kisses her, hard, feeling the fine ridge of the scar across her lips under his tongue. She pushes him roughly back onto the bed, and he returns her every action with just as much aggression, not afraid she'll break, because she won't.

Buffy looks unenthused and almost hostile as she jerks the zipper on his pants down. Peter leans his head back into the hard mattress with a low breath out.





They lay for only a few moments, until Buffy sits up, holding the sheets over her front a little, but giving him full view of her bare back, covered with thin, nasty scars. She turns her head and looks at Peter critically, and then says, "I knew a guy who did the same thing. Slept with some blondes because he really wanted me, in some twisted thing he thought was love. I'm the dumb blonde in this scenario, though, huh? Who is she?"

"Buffy," Peter begins, shaking his head, "Niki and I aren't really--"

"I didn't say I was the only dumb blonde. She's another one, too."

"There's not--"

But Buffy's looking hard at him. "Who is she?"

Peter looks away. "My niece."

Buffy lets out a noise of disbelief, and throws her head back to the Heavens like she doesn't think They really exist. "Can this get any more screwed up? God. You people." All he can see is the back of her head, now. "That's sick, that's not high and mighty true love."

"I never touched Claire. And I didn't know my brother was her dad when we first met. But I did love--"

"Makes it so much better."

Peter laughs bitterly. "Yeah, well. She's dead, so I guess it doesn't matter." He wants to add something more self-incriminating, like I killed her, I exploded and killed her, but he keeps his mouth shut, turns the topic elsewhere. "What happened to the guy?"

Buffy gets out of the bed, naked, and starts putting articles of clothing back on. "I killed him," she says very matter-of-factly. Half into a shirt and still missing her pants, she turns and looks at him, then rolls her eyes. "Relax," she says. She pulls the shirt over her head. "He was a vampire. Blonde, too, so once again, your type."

"Oh, really," Peter says, unamused. "What was his name?"

"William."

Peter shrugs. "You have a piece of paper and a pencil I could use?"

"Look for it yourself. I have to go patrol," Buffy says, and walks out of the room.





Oz breathes shakily, walking hunched over, back and forth, between tables. Larry's sitting on one of the tables, long legs allowing his feet to plant firmly on the ground, one hand fingering the tranquilizer gun beside him. Oz wishes he could think of a short, witty remark to tease Larry about the look he's giving Oz, this terrible eyebrow-raised concerned look, but all Oz can do is stop pacing and give a pleading glance and a pained, laughing breath to Larry. Larry shakes his head and reluctantly looks at his wristwatch.

"You've still got fifteen, twenty minutes, man. Don't force it."

Larry's voice is probably gentler than intended. Oz's limbs feel restless and ready to jump-- figuratively, literally, he doesn't know-- into something. This. It's like coming on to acid, which admittedly he's only done twice-- enough freaky shit over a Hellmouth without drugs to top it off. It's like right before the body dives headfirst into a trip. In this case? A bad one.

"I know," Oz says. "It's just-- I'm right there."

Larry still looks worried. He apparently notices that Oz is tense enough to vomit, change into the wolf prematurely, or both. Though the vomit? Good enough reason there already, even without his condition. The frozen cafeteria food: not exactly gourmet.

"Oz," Larry says. "You need to relax."

"I get to be wound-up sometimes," he says, shakily, back. "It's tiring being-- Mr. Cool Guy." But he doubles over for a moment, dry heaving with the feeling that it's so near. He wishes it'd just hit him already, so Larry can knock him out, and he'll be done with it for tonight.

He stands back up and realizes he nearly fell to his knees. "I'm fine," he says, pressing the heel of his hand to his forehead.

Larry stands up and walks over to him. "No, you really need to relax." He kisses Oz, and even though Larry's face is still almost frightened, Larry's hand is confident enough. He touches Oz, probably a little too hard, but it coaxes him into an erection anyway, and the feeling is welcome in shutting out the other kind of creeping, tensing sensations.

Oz presses his face into Larry's bulky shoulder, and puts the rest of his weight into leaning his body against the table behind him, which wobbles slightly, but seems heavy enough to support him. He feels and hears Larry unzip his jeans, but he's also concentrating too much on ignoring the immediately physical and paying attention to these feelings contradicting the negative ones. It's like referred pain. Larry can drown it all out.

Oz shifts uncomfortably, shifting his erection in Larry's hand, and lets out a shuddering breath then sucks in another instead, and hears Larry saying all kinds of inane things, like, "It's okay," and "Any better?" He appreciates Larry's voice, though-- it's grounding.

Larry's fingers are thick and sometimes clumsy, but never fail. Oz grips the table with both hands, until he grinds his teeth together and, head tilted back, eyes squeezed shut, he lets out a ragged breath as he comes.

Oz, still breathing heavy, opens his eyes and mutters, "Thanks," to Larry, taking a shaking hand to Larry's shoulder.

"You'd better get your clothes off," Larry says, looking at his watch again. "It's almost--"

"So many things I could say," Oz says, good-humoredly, only now starting to feel the edge creep up on him again.

"Been there, done that, much?" Larry says back, but no matter how subtly he reaches for the gun, it's still painfully obvious to Oz. But it's a simple matter-- and truthfully, Oz's more immediate constellation-induced worry is more pressing than a groggy headache in the morning.

It's not always this bad, but sometimes the moon comes on strong. Without the cage, without knowing for sure it's safe, it's worse.

"Back up," Oz says, pulling his shirt over his head, removing the cross tentatively from around his neck. "Three shots."

"I know," Larry says, before Oz is doubled over with spasms in his whole body, and his last coherent thought is he hopes the gun doesn't jam, the bullets stop coming out, irrational fears. And here, and here, and-- black out.





Part Three.