The Burger Bonanza smelled of cheap food and bubbling fat. When he walked through the door, the scent hit Adam like an offensive blow to the chest. Stuffy, choked-up, deadly; it made him long for the open air. Places like this were what would occasionally drive him to consider just… giving up. Leaving. Going out to the limited countryside left on this planet and never turning back. Humanity was a lost cause. The Earth wasn't yet.
Behind the counter, a lanky girl with pale red hair smiled at him, ready to help in any way she could. Employees in place like these were like dogs; they wouldn't back off until you kicked them hard. He doubted, however, if destroying her co-workers was likely to leave a brilliant first impression upon the woman he'd come here to find: and first impressions were important. You had to root under their skin fast if you wanted to be able to manipulate them later. Trust, that was what it was all about.
He forced himself to smile neutrally and ran a hand over his blue shirt to smooth it out as he approached the counter. If he was lucky, he wouldn't be forced to buy anything here.
"Hiya, sir," the woman behind the counter said. "What can I get you?"
"I'm here to find someone, actually," he said, looking up to the menu for a scant moment before he dropped his gaze to meet her pale blue eyes again. "A Monica Dawson. I believe she works here?"
It was pitiful, really, that someone with their abilities would be forced into a place like this. They were better than that – they were so much better. He'd read her file, one of a selection of potential allies he'd taken from the Company. With her power, she could have done anything; she could have been anyone.
Instead here she was, stuck flipping burgers in a place that stank in a uniform that was alarmingly bright. "She sure does," the woman answered him, nodding in her ridiculous hat. "I'll just get her for you."
She disappeared into the depths of the hot kitchen, out of Adam's sight for now. While she was gone Adam looked down to the counter as he waited. He could see the dried water-marks from where it had been wiped down in a hurry. As these places go, he could admit that it wasn't as ghastly as they usually were – but considering that stepping inside occasionally made him wonder if he was stepping into the caverns of hell, that wasn't a high compliment.
He could hear murmuring from the back as Monica – Monica with that intriguingly useful ability; the things he could do with it were endless – was informed of his arrival. His cover story swirled in his mind, but he would stick as tightly to the truth as he could manage. That always seemed to be the best option. Too many lies were confusing, were suffocating.
Simplicity was key, but as he finally got his first glimpse of Monica he doubted if he needed to worry about being caught in a lie. Her dark eyes were bright and alert, and her expression seemed cautious, but there was a half-smile on her face already. Maybe she was just polite, maybe she was just friendly, but regardless of where the 'maybe' led him Adam could tell one thing – she was going to be easy. The smiling ones were always far too trusting.
With the counter as a barrier between them, she introduced herself and allowed them to shake hands as Adam shared his name: not his real name, not anything that could get him into trouble. The Company seemed to have put her to the side for the time being – more fool them – but Adam didn't want to risk her being able to ask any questions that might lead her to unfortunate conclusions.
Jacob, he called himself. Jacob Brown.
"It's nice to meet you, Jacob," she said as their hands shook. Her skin felt warm and her grip was firm. "How can I help?"
Adam smiled, leaning against the counter; there were no customers there to distract them or to overhear, and the only other employee in the place was the naïve little thing that had been out the front when he'd first entered. She'd remained in the back when Monica came out, so they were alone for now.
He wouldn't break eye contact with her, not as he drew her in with every word. Innocent, gullible and powerful – just the combination he'd been looking for. "Let me tell you a story about the Company, Monica," he murmured, as she leaned forward to listen to his quiet voice.
Hooked already, he noted as the lies and half-truths spun their way from his mouth.
So far, the plan seemed to be going perfectly.
He tells her that the Company isn't what it appears.
He tells her that it locked 'Jacob Brown' up, against his will and with no reason, when he tried to save the world.
He tells her they lied to her.
He tells her they are dangerous.
He tells her she can't trust them.
She believes him.
He should have known better than to agree to this, Adam knew as he looked up at the house he was approaching. It had seemed like a perfectly smart idea at the time, a way to secure his latest ally's trust. Seeing as Peter Petrelli had gone AWOL, new recruits seemed to be his best bet – but this place was…
This house was a home, as the saying went. Even walking towards the front door told him that he was walking towards a family: happiness and joy and sparkly lights and sickening smiles. They'd drive him mad, he was sure of it.
It was too late to turn back now, as his out-stretched finger pressed the faded buzzer by the front door. The shrill shriek of the bell could be heard from outside the house, followed by muffled voices. Adam had to waver on the doorstep, reminding himself of the armies he'd faced and the lifetimes of pain he'd been through and all of his various deaths: this couldn't be more frightening than that. No family could be.
The door opened to present him with a hard-faced youth looking up at him; the boy couldn't be older than twelve but already his jaw was set. Children seemed to grow more and more alarming with every generation. "What do you want?" he asked – but the words blurred together into an agglutinating blob. Adam had to take a thoughtful moment to translate it.
"Is Monica there?" he asked, smiling as politely as he could when faced with a youth that looked as if he wanted to head-butt him at any given moment.
The boy stared at him with lasers in his eyes for far too long, before he seemed to get the hint that Adam – Jacob – wasn't going to be chased away by a few unimpressed stares: his reaction to this realisation was loud, to say the least. "Monica!" he hollered into the house, a building that should have been far too small to hold a voice like that. "Some guy is here to see you."
'Guy'. Adam couldn't be sure, but the way the boy said it made that word sound like an insult. Strange.
His ears were saved from any further attacks from preteen screeches when Monica thundered down the stairs to greet him, shooing her sibling away from the door with a few well-chosen words. Her hair fell in black waves and the pink sweater she wore seemed impossibly bright against her dark skin; she looked innocent. So trusting and so naïve.
He felt almost bad for the tangled mess that he was steadily leading her towards.
Only almost, of course, so he had no problem with nodding his head in a polite greeting. "I hope I'm not too early," he said, though he knew he was exactly on time: he'd arrived half an hour before he was scheduled to pick her up, and had then waited around the corner until it was time to arrive. He'd had four hundred years of practice; by now he was good at waiting.
She smiled and shook his head. "Nah, not at all. Besides, Damon would have just terrorised you a little more if you'd turned up any earlier."
"Ah, Damon. He would be the charming young gentleman that answered the door?"
"Yeah, that's my brother," Monica confirmed. She rolled her eyes, but it seemed affectionate. "He's not as bad as he seems, I swear – but do you wanna go out somewhere? The house has gone a little insane right now. It's probably not the best place for us to talk about… stuff."
His plans – and her part in them.
"Of course," he answered courteously. If the Company had bugged her house – which, considering how nosy they had a tendency of being, seemed likely enough – then being on the move would probably be a bright idea. He should have thought of that. He'll keep it mind for next time, then. Always learn from your mistakes. "Shall we go?"
She grabbed her jacket – bright yellow and as happy-looking as the rest of her – and nodded as she walked out the door with him, listening and believing and absorbing.
There's a virus, Jacob tells her.
It could destroy the whole world, he says.
We have to stop it.
Like superheroes? Monica asks.
Yes, Jacob tells her, while Adam laughs behind the mask, Just like heroes.
"I just…" Monica said one week later, shaking her head in disbelief, "I just can't believe it, Jacob. They seemed so nice when I met them."
"Really?" Adam said. They sat together on a bench outside that awful fast food restaurant that she worked in. In the seven days he'd known her, he'd managed to become even more convinced that she was so much better than that place: as regular mortals went, she wasn't quite as despicable as most examples of the human race. "I suppose they're not what they first appear. I believed them too when they first approached me. I thought that together we could make a difference: that together we could heal the world."
"But you were wrong? They were the bad guys the whole time?"
Adam nodded: the bad guys, superheroes, right and wrong. Everything was so simple and black and white in Monica's world. He wished he could go back to that state of mind. As he remembered, it was a remarkably easy way to live. "Yes," he confirmed. "That's why we're going to stop them."
Maybe he could have been so much further along the road to their destruction without this distraction with Monica. If he'd moved onto someone else when it appeared that she had reservations about going full steam ahead towards an attack, then maybe he could have got rid of at least one of the bastards in charge of that place by now. Instead he had lurked out here making no progress whatsoever, entertaining himself with the quaintness of human life.
"Yeah," Monica confirmed, as her hand reached for his. It was just for a fleeting half-moment, her warm palm squeezing his as a promise, but it had been far too long since Adam was afforded the luxury of kindness – far too long since a woman had looked at him with anything but hate or lust in her eyes. He looked down at her hand, a wistful twinge in his heart that might have been guilt. "You bet we are."
Her hand was pulled away, withdrawn with whip-quickness, before she stood up from the bench. The car park in front of the Burger Bonanza was almost empty, leaving the two of them completely alone. "I should get back to work," she said, gesturing towards the entrance to that fast food hell. Adam pressed his lips together to stop himself from telling her not to bother, to leave, to turn her back on that place; 'Jacob' wouldn't say something like that which meant that he couldn't either. "See you tomorrow?"
"How about tonight instead?" he said. He smiled as he watched her, willing her to say yes while knowing that she wouldn't say no. "I can take you out somewhere nice. We'll- talk."
"Talk?" she repeated, with a devilish grin and a raised eyebrow. "Talking sounds good."
Talking sounded more than good, Adam thought as they made arrangements: but he had to wonder what the hell he was doing and why, exactly, he seemed to have lost control of his actions. Anyone would half a brain would be able to confirm that this was not part of the plan.
This deviation was going to lead him nowhere good.
It's been a long time since I—, Jacob stammers three dates later when she kisses him, while Adam's heart races and he fights the impulse to drop all pretences around her.
I don't know if this is a good idea, Jacob whispers in her bedroom when she slips the shirt from his shoulders. Adam breathes in the scent of her hair, her skin, and tells that fake identity to shut the hell up.
Monica is warm and happy and sane, nothing like Elle- nothing like Yaeko- nothing like any of the women he's been with through the centuries. He worships her slowly, illusion and reality melding, and it feels like a triumph when he succeeds in making her muffle cries and gasps against the pink pillow of her bed.
I need this, Adam whispers.
He watched her sleeping, her eyelashes spread pitch-black against her skin. Her breathing was shallow and peaceful, barely disturbing the air around her, while Adam's fingers threaded through her hair to stroke it thoughtfully; the moment felt too peaceful for him. Four hundred years… Those four hundred years he'd walked on this pitiful planet had been spent hating it, consumed with anger. One night, one woman, one detour, that couldn't make it go away.
He wouldn't let it; he'd worked too hard and waited too long to allow himself to lose sight of his goal over something as small and insignificant as this. As he listened to Monica's soft breathing and watches her sleep, he curses his misfortune and ill-planning in this leg of his life.
By the next morning, eating breakfast in their kitchen and trying to avoid looking up at the two brats trying not to laugh at him, Adam told himself that he was over it. It was a passing, fleeting emotion that he shouldn't have considered at all.
"So…" Damon said, crossing his arms over his chest and eyeing Adam up as if evaluating him. His dark eyes seemed scathing and Adam had to resist the urge to straighten out his clothes and struggle to look respectable. "You stayed here last night?" Adam nodded, his mouth full of cereal. "With Monica?"
The boy was smirking at him, and Adam could truthfully say that this was possibly one of the most awkward morning-afters he'd ever had. Maybe he should have opted for climbing out the window like a deviant teenager rather than facing breakfast with the family – this had seemed like a good idea at the time. Now he wondered if the years in that cell had wasted away his brain cells.
"Don't hassle the poor man, Damon," Nana scolded; though she couldn't see it, the boy only rolled his eyes in response. Adam had to wonder how someone like Monica was related to a child like that – but at that age boys could be difficult, he thought. It was difficult to remember; it had been so long since he'd been around children. "Monica'll be down soon," she said to Adam, like a promise of rescue.
He smiled gratefully and stared down into the milky remains of his cereal, trying his hardest to pretend that Micah and Damon didn't exist. At least only one of them seemed to be intolerably obnoxious. If both of them were like that, he thought that he might have had to make as quick an escape as he could.
The time managed to pass without any further attacks or smirks or conversation at all, but he still found himself unspeakably glad when Monica descended into the kitchen. She smiled shyly at him, so unused to the harsh world he'd experienced in his centuries of living; Adam smiled back, equally at a loss in the sea of domesticity he'd accidentally tumbled into. As he heard her and the others discuss their plans for the day – work and school and cookery programmes – he tried to zone away from the conversation and escape.
That was all he should have been focusing on; not pretty, gentle girls and their cosy, happy families.
His plan. The Company. The virus.
The end of the world.
We could stay in tonight, Jacob offers, his arm around her shoulders, If you'd like, as Adam makes his plans.
We could rent a movie, while Adam wonders what became of Petrelli, of where Peter is now.
One of those- what do you call them? 'Rom-coms'?, he smiles at her – soft, gentle, Jacob's smile but not Adam's – and feels her elbow him in defence of those films she's addicted to, but his mind is elsewhere.
I'm telling you, Monica says devoutly, Anyone who gets to the end of When Harry Met Sally without crying at least once has a heart of ice.
Adam laughs and kisses the top of her head: he thinks he can feel himself melting, day by day.
He kept his distance when he saw her in the parking lot of the Burger Bonanza three weeks later – he kept his distance and stayed out of sight and tried to tell himself that jealously was not befitting of a man of his age and wisdom.
He didn't recognise the man talking to Monica in a hushed and urgent voice, and he unfortunately wasn't close enough to be able to overhear what was being said – whatever it was, it looked too serious for him to be comfortable with. Monica's forehead was creased in concern and her earnest eyes were wide: the pair didn't seem quite as if they were arguing, but they weren't far from it either. Each word they said seemed to carry such importance, as if the world's fate hung on it.
The man talking to her didn't seem threatening – but on first appearance, neither did Peter, or Adam, or Monica herself. Appearances and first impressions were nothing at all. The stranger was foreign, Adam would guess, and tall compared to Monica – but everyone seemed tall compared to her – with dark curls of hair and a stressed-out expression on his face as he talked quickly to her, low and urgent. What could cause someone to speak to her like that? What fast food related emergencies could there be? Something, Adam could tell, wasn't quite right about it.
When he asked Monica that evening, she looked up at him with raised eyebrows. "You saw that?" she asked.
"I turned up just as he was leaving," Adam said – too harsh, too angry, too on edge, to hide behind 'Jacob' right now. "Who was he?"
"No one," she answered. "He was- You're not gonna get mad, right?"
"Of course not," he answered, brushing his hand over her cheek to soothe her even though he could feel the anger already starting to slip through his veins. "Just tell me."
"He works with the Company; he was here to check up on me." She bit on her bottom lip as she looked up at him, nerves spilling from her. "I didn't tell him about you, and I didn't let on that… y'know. That I know what they're really about, now."
"Good," Adam whispered, those his thoughts drifted haphazardly. The Company had been here, around Monica, near him; it could be a coincidence, or it could be a signal that he had to get out of there as quickly as he could. It was time to move on, surely? He would never allow Kaito to once more throw him into a cell and forget about him. Never.
She looked away from him, down to the floor beneath their feet instead. So innocent to the world she'd accidentally fallen into; he hated to think of what the Company could do to her if they sank their claws in. A few years down the line, she'd be just like Elle, just like the Haitian, just like Candice – a mindless, empty follower, a brain-dead disciple of the Company.
"We've got to leave," Adam said.
Monica's eyes widened as she looked up at him. "Now?"
He shook his head, knowing that he'd never get her to agree to now or immediately. Even though his mind raced ahead of them and spun plans of where they could go to and who they could rely upon for help, he knew that she had a whole life to say goodbye to here. One afternoon would have to be long enough to do that. "Tonight," he decided.
She repeated the word softly, almost under her breath, before he got the confirmation he needed. "Okay – I'll do it. I'll come."
Despite her hesitance, he held her hand and raised it to his lips – a gentle kiss to seal the bond between them.
Jacob isn't the only one who can lie.
No one, she says, thinking of Mohinder's concern about Jacob.
He was here to check up on me, she says, while she chokes on the lie and thinks of the plans that were made.
I didn't tell him about you, though she told every detail and listened to every word spilled in response.
Jacob Brown. Adam Monroe. Takezo Kensei. It's all the same.
It's all a lie.
As she draws him closer to his doom, Monica fights to ignore the bile that builds in her throat: she's doing the right thing here, isn't she?
She's being a hero.
He should have known, Adam would reflect later within the confines of that familiar Company cell. He should have been able to tell from the second he started to walk towards Monica's house only to find all the lights out and silence lingering heavily over it. It was only seven in the evening; her family should have been as chaotic as they always were and the house should have resembled an excitable circus.
There was a car waiting for them around the corner; time to get away, time to escape, time to move onto the next step of their plan.
A rustle stopped him from moving forward, however, along with the quiet click of high heels that seemed so loud in the darkness. It wasn't Monica, he could tell that much. The flash of blonde hair confirmed it and—
Elle. It was Elle. She stood by the side of the house with her telltale smirk on her face and raised one pale hand to wave at him happily. Brilliant blue sparks decorated the gesture; he felt his heart start to pound in alarm. Elle being there meant that the Company were finally onto him; it meant that he had to get out of there while he still could.
But Monica…a small voice whispered to him from the dark corners of his mind – how could he leave without her, not knowing what the monsters who worked for the Company might do to her?
His eyes darted to the darkened house in front of him as he considered his chances of managing to get her out of there safely, but the tiny movement was still noticed by Elle and rewarded with another smirk. "Don't worry, 'Jacob'," she said. "We're gonna take real good care of Monica for you."
And she knew his name, his new name, the name he'd been hiding behind ever since he came there – there was only one way she'd get her hands on that, and the memory of Monica talking with that man in the car park of the little fast food restaurant hit him in the gut with all the magnitude it deserved.
"Monica," he whispered, "She-"
"Sold you out like a big damn floozy? Yep." Elle smiled as she stepped forward, her blue sparks still decorating the darkness. "I like that girl."
The need to defend her, to tell her to stay away from Monica, to pull a sword and defend her like a true gentleman was run over by the heavy thud of betrayal in his heart: not since Hiro had anyone ever stabbed him so deep.
It hurt enough to keep him stunned: and the fight for his freedom that followed was laughable, was barely a struggle at all, was nothing – Jacob Brown was captured even easier than Adam Monroe had been, subdued by a bright ball of electricity and a sadistic woman's giggle.
Should have known, he thought to himself later as he glared at the depressingly blank wall of his cell. He didn't move, sat on the edge of the bed as the world seemed to grow smaller and smaller. He'd slipped up somehow, he'd destroyed his play for freedom, he'd trust the wrong person and believed that his fate could be control. With his hands in fists, he'd learnt his lesson.
And even if it took another thirty years – he'd find her again.
He'd find her again: and he'd have his vengeance.