Things being the way they are, it’s normally the clients who have to be hunted down, not the other way round, so Peter is taken by surprise when one early morning Claire barges into his office – eyes wide with embarrassed excitement – to announce that they have a visitor.
“He says my father sent him,” Claire whispers as she follows Peter out into the main room.
“Remind me to send him a thank you note,” Peter whispers back. “Pending legitimacy.”
Peter doesn’t see Claire roll her eyes, his attention focused instead on the man sitting at the table in what their little unit tends to call the Operations Room. Hiro is hovering in the background, trying to clear up the mess that comes from not having had visitors here, like, ever. The white light from the lone ceiling bulb casts a pale glow on what is already a very pale face, and Peter reaches out to sense fear, anxiety and frustration, all three of which are wound tightly and kept under control.
“Peter Petrelli,” Peter says, and reaches out a hand.
“Matt Parkman,” says the other, clasping Peter’s offered palm in a firm grip. Parkman’s hand is cold, but not clammy, and there’s a business-like manner to his form that hints that once upon a time he’d been a pretty sharp-dresser (and clean-shaven) but those days appear to be long gone.
“Drink?” Hiro asks.
“Coffee,” Parkman says. “Don’t care what kind.”
Peter sits down on the chair opposite Parkman’s. “How can we—”
“Look,” Parkman says, and the other man’s sense of focus, crisp and sharp, cuts like an arrow through all his jumbled thoughts. “I… We have nowhere else to go. We don’t know who to call, who can help us; who will listen to us without threatening to throw us in straitjackets and lock us up for the rest of our lives. Bennett told me that you have experience in the unusual.”
“We do,” says Peter, and his voice is neutral and open. It’s the voice he uses around nervous potential clients, who more often than not are on the verge of fleeing.
Parkman appears to be judging Peter right back with eyes that are much more aware than his overall appearance would suggest. Eventually, he says in a voice that is partway between a snarl and a gasp, “My little girl is missing. She’s somewhere in our house, but we can’t reach her. We can hear her, but we can’t see her. There’s something wrong with the house, and we think that ‘something’ took her from us.”
Hiro arrives with the coffee, and Parkman wraps his large hands around the mug. His jaw clenches and unclenches as he waits for the skepticism that won’t come.
Peter nods at Claire and Hiro, though he doesn’t break eye contact with Parkman – this is important. “Maybe you should start at the beginning, Mr. Parkman.”
They listen. Peter lets the words filter into his mind, and in there he carefully arranges the timeline of events into order. Claire takes notes in her efficient shorthand, noting names, dates, places and times. Hiro types softly into his laptop, using Parkman’s story as a starting point for a search on related information.
Parkman’s family moved into the house just over a year ago, all five of them. Their youngest is Molly, who’d just turned ten. Everything had been great, they’d been settling in and getting to know the neighbors and it was all just peachy. Then in late April or maybe early May, just about two months ago, really, Molly’s nightmares started.
At first they’d dealt with it as they did regular nightmares: they’d comfort her, Molly slept with them whenever she didn’t want to be alone, and in the morning she always seemed fine. But then she’d started sleepwalking, and sometimes they’d find her curled up asleep on the living room floor in front of the television. No matter how many times they’d asked her about it, she’d deflected their questions stubbornly.
“Then things started moving,” Parkman says. “Random things: a plate, a mug, a chair, whatever. Mohinder saw it first; he said a bunch of chairs stacked themselves up when he wasn’t looking. When I got back from work that day, I saw a chair just slide across the floor, from one point to another, just like that. Soon it was happening all the time.”
Then Parkman’s brow furrows and his emotions turn sharp like little needles as he explains how one night in a particularly bad storm, the lone tree in their garden somehow came alive and charged into the kids’ room to grab Micah. While the adults were outside busy trying to get Micah free, Molly disappeared. They haven’t been able to find her since.
“But you said you can hear her,” Peter says.
“Yeah, through the television,” Parkman says.
He seems to realize how what he’s saying sounds crazy, but before he can start on the defensive, Peter cuts him off with: “Would it be all right if we come over to your house, get a few readings?”
“Readings? You can measure…? Yeah, sure, come over,” Parkman says. Hope leaks into the dismissive tone of his voice, like he’s trying to but can’t quite accept that something can actually be done.
“We have seen many strange things, Mister Parkman,” Hiro says. “We believe you.”
“But can you save my little girl?” Parkman says.
“We’ll try our best,” Peter says. “Now when can we come over?”
There are no picket fences, but there might as well be. The neighborhood looks like something out of a catalogue, with wide roads perfect for bike-riding kids (and there are more than a few).
Claire’s the one driving, following Parkman’s SUV up ahead, and that leaves Peter free to study the rows of houses and carefree families. It’s the height of summer, and he’s spotted two pool parties and more running kids than he can count. When the SUV slows down and parks, it’s in front of the lone house that doesn’t fit in this picture-perfect scene, for although it’s the same cookie-cutter design of suburban heaven, there’s a strange shadow looming over it, though none of the nearby laughing kids nor their idle parents seem to notice this anomaly. None of the house’s windows are open and there are no stray toys on the lawn.
They follow Parkman up the driveway and Peter only half-listens as he repeats his warnings from earlier: watch yourself, keep your eyes open, don’t trip over anything, etc.
Peter can feel Claire start to protest that they’re not novices at this, so he touches her wrist, stopping the words before they’re out.
The moment Peter steps through the threshold, he feels it. A whoosh from toes to hairline, not entirely unpleasant, but distinctly spine-tingly and unlike anything Peter has ever felt before. No wait, that’s not accurate. He has felt this before, but never at this magnitude.
Then Parkman is introducing his family, all of whom are sitting around the living room in various stages of anticipation. Mohinder Suresh stands up immediately and shakes Peter’s hand; his hand is clammy but not so much on the cold. Monica, the eldest girl, refuses to stand up, and nods from where she’s curled on the chair, holding a cushion tightly to her chest. The boy, Micah, zooms in on Hiro and starts asking him about the equipment he’s brought along.
“We need to see her room,” Peter says. His eyes are already cast along the staircase leading up to the first floor. The stairs are curved like a stylized wave, and the metal railing is cold to the touch.
“It’s been a slow day. For this house’s standards, at least,” Suresh says, and walks past Peter to lead his team up. “Since Matt left this morning, there hasn’t been any activity.”
“Like they knew we were coming?” Peter asks.
Suresh gives him a surprised look. “Maybe.”
“Hiro, bring your camera,” Peter calls over his shoulder.
The sensation gets stronger each step upwards, but there is no malice in them. Peter sorts through the feelings – caution, watchfulness, suspicion – all of which are leaking out through the walls themselves, not from the house’s human occupants. Suresh is, like Parkman, almost entirely made out of worry and frustration, though thinly-concealed fear radiates off him in little waves.
“This is her room,” Suresh says, stopping in front of a door just inside the landing. “We usually keep it locked.”
“Hiro,” Peter says, and Hiro takes station at his side.
When the door is opened, Peter’s knees unlock and he stumbles a little. Claire is there and props him up, though her mouth is open as she gapes at the scene within.
The bed is spinning wildly like a merry-go-round, toys are flying in the air, the light flicks on and off like a disco, hangers wind and unwind themselves like flying snakes. It’s a child’s room gone frantically wrong, like madness itself has found a home within these four walls. A gust of wind, its origin completely unknown, blows hot air into all their faces.
At the farthest corner of the room is the walk-in closet where Molly reportedly disappeared into. There’s no way to reach there without stepping into the hurricane, and Peter is not the least bit willing try that out just yet.
Hiro breathes something that might be an expletive; Peter doesn’t know, Hiro won’t teach him how to swear in Japanese. But the sentiment is clear, and Peter agrees. “Okay, let’s go downstairs and get set up.”
The setting up of the laptops and peripheries is simple but time-consuming, so Parkman suggests he get pizza for everyone, since they (the family, at least) are beyond losing their appetite over the matter. With Parkman gone and Suresh supervising Claire and Hiro’s tinkering around, Peter walks the house’s outside periphery, confirming that the activity is localized to this specific building. Their immediate neighbors are blissfully ignorant, though they point at him curiously when they think he isn’t looking. The site where the tree that attacked Micah used to be is now a large hole in the ground, and there’s no residue – invisible or not – left behind to be studied.
Parkman gets back before sunset, just as Hiro finishes placing the microphones around the living room television.
They eat at the dining room table that (according to Suresh) was moved from the kitchen-dining area because of the high level of activity in there, which is dangerous for the kids. Monica seems to find solace in Claire’s presence at least, and the two girls eat separate from the others on the living room floor, talking softly. Micah appears to be buoyed by the enthusiasm of youth, and his parents let him chatter about mundane things like school and summer, as though talking about normal things make the reality of what’s happened in their house go away.
“Molly’s special, isn’t she?” Peter asks, finally.
Parkman and Suresh exchange a look that goes a little longer than Peter thinks it should.
“Yes,” Suresh says. “But all our kids are special.”
“Of course, I understand,” Peter says, “But Molly… She was very full of life? Very optimistic, strong, resilient?”
“Molly has been through some tough times,” Parkman says. “Her birth parents were killed when she was very young, but she survived the situation. She’s a trooper.” He doesn’t say it, but Peter can see the guilt clenching inside Parkman’s chest. They’d promised to protect Molly, and now they think they’re failing her.
“There are spirits in this house, but I think you already know that,” Peter says. “They don’t seem to have bad feelings towards you, which is the case the majority of the time, even in haunted buildings. The dead usually ignore the living because they have their own existence to worry about, but sometimes someone in the mortal plane catches their attention, and they’re drawn to them.”
Suresh leans forward, grabbing on to the revelatory thread. “So you’ve seen this happen before?”
“Like the Ghostbusters!” Micah says.
“No, not quite like the Ghostbusters,” Peter says, glad of Micah’s presence to keep his parents from snapping in two. “But we have seen hauntings before, though I know I’ve never heard of a living person being taken. Hiro?”
Hiro’s head snaps up from the laptop. “Yes! Many times, strange things follow the special child, sometimes child even harmed—” Parkman and Suresh both flare with identical shades of fear, “—but never taken by force. Spirits don’t have that power. They do small things, like move chair, move bed, sometimes maybe cause small accident, but never big things. Taking a person is a very big thing.”
“Then why Molly?” Parkman insists.
“That’s what I hope to find out,” Peter says. “I think it’s time. Can you call her?”
The living room television is a twenty-one inch traditional, non-LCD/non-plasma kind. Suresh switches it on to Channel 52, causing white static to fill up the screen and cast flickers of nondescript light all round the darkened living room. Parkman sits on the couch, Micah hugged on one side and Monica clinging to the arm on the other. This is a bizarre night-time ritual, and they wait.
“Wait for my cue,” Claire says, adjusting the mike-earphone set around her head. She takes brisk steps up the staircase to where she’ll take station outside the bedroom door with her reader. After a while, her voice comes through Peter’s own earphones: “Ready.”
“Whenever you are, Dr. Suresh,” Peter says.
Suresh stands facing the staircase, his hands clasped awkwardly in front of him. When he talks, his voice is forced into calmness. “Molly? Molly, it’s Mohinder. Can you say hello?” He pauses, waits, listens.
Peter’s eyes flick from Hiro’s laptop to the top of the staircase, but there is no change.
“Molly?” says Suresh. “Molly, it’s Mohinder. Matt’s here, and Micah and Monica… We’re all waiting for you. We miss you, honey.”
A child’s voice, distorted by static and god knows what else, rings out from the television speakers like a bell of a distant lighthouse. Peter can feel her love and fear mixed up in each other, but it’s hard to pinpoint its origin, masked as it is by a flux of the other spirits embedded in the house.
“Hi, Molly,” Suresh says, exhaling with relief. “Can you see us? Can you see Matt?”
“No, where are you? I can’t see you.”
“Can you follow my voice, Molly?” Suresh says, his body starting to lean toward the staircase, but afraid of moving should he break the connection. “Can you find your way home?”
“Mohinder, I can’t see you. Are you sure you’re there? Is Matt there?”
“I’m right here,” Parkman says from the couch, his voice a hoarse croak. “I’m right here, Molly.” To his side, Monica makes an anguished sound and presses her face against Parkman’s shoulder.
“Reading through the roof,” Hiro whispers from his station. “All round us.”
“It’s very bright here, Mohinder. It’s really hard to see anything.”
“Can you follow my voice? Listen to me, can you follow my voice?” Mohinder says.
Suddenly, there is a new presence, completely separate from the other, quieter beings. The others show no sign of hearing it, but Peter listens to it announcing itself with low rumbling rolling around beneath the floorboards as though the house itself is trying to work up a growl. There’s emotions in there, too, not like the earlier benign watchfulness; this is possessive and primal and… pleased. Peter can’t breathe, he can only feel the presence rise up, wrapping itself around the bright light that is Molly, claiming the little girl—
“Mohinder, is that you?”
“No, Molly, I’m here!” Mohinder cries out, and when his hands land on the stair railing, he is flung a good few feet away and crashes on the floor. Parkman and the kids are immediately around him, Hiro’s laptop is bleeping softly with alarm and there’s a strange flash of blue and grey directly above Peter, high above on the ceiling. Peter looks up just in time to step out of the way when small solid items rain down to the floor in a clatter of metal and plastic.
Peter starts to bend down to study the fallen items when Claire’s scream comes through the earphones, filling him with panic. “Claire! I’m coming—”
“No, no, don’t!” Claire appears at the top of the stairs, and she moves with the focus of someone trying very hard to get away from something quickly and without falling over.
Molly is gone, too. There is an undeniable emptiness to the television’s static, which seems to fizzle forlornly in the living room.
Behind them, Parkman is talking softly, trying to calm Suresh down. Peter glances at them, enough to know that Parkman has it under control, then turns his attention to Claire.
“Something bit me,” she whispers. Claire tugs Peter’s arm, pulling him away so the family won’t see. “Something big.”
She pulls up the hem of her shirt, just enough to show a large circle of teeth starting from below her hip and extending upwards to her underarm. It’s like a Great White tried to grab a bite.
“Jesus,” Peter hisses.
Pulling the shirt back down, Claire says, “But Matt said that none of them have been harmed, right? Not like this.”
“Yeah, that’s right,” Peter says.
“Then maybe it just doesn’t like girls,” Claire says, and her chuckle is a little hysterical.
Hiro arrives close to Peter’s shoulder. “Big readings,” he says. “Bigger than anything we’ve seen. Flux everywhere, like giant microwave. And this… fell through the ceiling.”
They take turns looking at the items, passing them from one hand to another. A paintbrush, a button, a watch, a necklace and eye-glasses among other smaller, random back-of-the-couch type things.
“Think we can get a trace on any of this?” Peter asks.
“Maybe,” Hiro says, but he sounds skeptical. “I look up.”
Turning to Claire, Peter says, “Let’s get the sleeping bags from the van. Get some overnight readings on this thing.”
Claire shudders. She’s tougher than most people expect, but Peter knows better, and that’s what scares him. If she’s creeped out by this place, then they had better pay attention. But she doesn’t voice her fear, because that’s the number one unspoken rule of their little operation. Not that fear means weakness (far from it) but in their line of work, fear makes you a target, and that is something they know from experience.
When Peter returns to the main area, Parkman is in his face. The other man doesn’t mean to be aggressive, but it’s hard not to be when one is built the way he is. “Can you help us?” he demands.
“Your daughter’s alive,” Peter says. “That’s a start.”
Parkman swallows. “Okay. A start, okay.”
They settle down for the night as much as they can. Peter reassures the family, hoping that they can buy that they’re not the novices they must look like, and to trust them for now. No one points out that they don’t have a choice.
At Suresh’s insistence, the television is left on to the static for what little comfort it gives while everyone else prepares for the night. Monica stays in her chair and stares off into nothingness, finding solace in her own thoughts. Parkman rests at the corner of the long couch, Micah cosying into the curve of his arm. Hiro’s tapping away at his laptop, eyeing the trinkets and turning them over again and again in the hopes that they’ll reveal their secrets. Claire curls into her sleeping bag and goes straight to sleep, having agreed to take the early morning shift.
As for Peter, he sits at the dining table, allowing his thoughts to drift a little. He is surprised when Suresh sits at the chair next to his.
“You didn’t answer my question earlier. Have you seen this before?” Suresh asks, though his voice is soft so not to break the lulling quiet of the house.
Peter’s eyes dart to Claire, who is fast asleep. Suresh sees the movement, and his expression is both surprised and curious.
“Sort of,” Peter whispers. There’s so many stories he can tell Suresh, but the man’s not interested in a stranger’s past deeds right now. All he wants is the assurance that his daughter will be okay. “I’ve never seen a spirit powerful enough to punch through into our world, to take someone by force, and then keep them alive wherever they are. Your daughter must be very special.”
That makes Suresh pause, and his eyes move sideways ever-so-slightly. If Peter hadn’t been looking for it, he wouldn’t have seen the way Parkman’s eyes change from sleepy to focused. He’s too far away to hear their conversation, but Peter gets the impression that Parkman knows exactly what they’re talking about.
“It was all going so well, too,” Suresh says, sounding a little sad. “Just settled down, Molly and the others were finally making friends… None of them have had an easy life, Mr. Petrelli. We – Matt and I – hoped to give them that stability.”
“I understand,” Peter says. “I know this for sure. What’s happened to your house isn’t a haunting. Hauntings are focused on a place, this is pretty clearly focused on your daughter.”
“Like a poltergeist?” asks Suresh, who has apparently done his reading.
“Kind of, but not quite. Poltergeists do tend to be focused on a single person, but at most they cause minor annoyances. The fact that this thing had the power to take Molly, but at the same time has not harmed anyone else of your family, is very strange,” Peter says. He crouches forward slightly, more out of habit than to keep anything he’s about to say secret. “I’m an empath. Do you know what is?”
“Clairvoyancy, yes, I’ve read about it,” Suresh says, nodding.
Peter’s eyebrows briefly flick upwards in surprise; it’s not often that he outs himself so easily. “I can read emotions, like a sixth sense. I can sense you, your partner, your kids… I can even sense Molly, right now, though she’s a distant cloudy buzz, which is what people are usually like when they’re asleep. There’s a clear difference the alive and the dead, and your daughter is very much alive.”
“I notice that you’d used spirits plural to describe the house,” Suresh says. Sharp, yes.
“Most of them are harmless,” Peter says. “They’re watchful, but that’s about it. There’s only one specific spirit we need to look out for, and that’s the one that took Molly.”
Hiro tiptoes over to them, whispering an apology for interrupting their conversation. “Peter, I find something.”
“Hiro’s checking the items that fell out through the ceiling,” Peter explains to Suresh, who is listening closely. “Go ahead, Hiro.”
Hiro presses something into Peter’s hand. “Here. You read?”
Peter brings the watch up close. The glass face is cracked, but the letters are readable behind the frozen hands. “Sylar.”
“What’s that?” Suresh asks. “A brand name?”
“No match by regular database,” Hiro says. “Must be custom watch. Will try to check with clockmakers, but might take time. Is only item with clue. All others no names, no marks. Also, watch is not old, maybe two years? Other items older, this one is newest.”
“This is good,” Peter says, and passes the watch back. Hiro nods and putters off to continue his investigation.
When Peter turns back to Suresh, the doctor is pressing his hands to his face. “I’m going to call it a night, Mr. Petrelli. Thank you.” He passes Parkman on the way to his own designated chair, and they reach out to squeeze hands.
Peter thinks it’s amazing that after what the house has done, all of them are still willing to sleep under its roof. Peter has known families that fell apart under much easier circumstances.
Soon enough there is no sound but the soft breathing of the fast sleep. The lights still flicker on and off every now and then, but no furniture goes flying, and there’s no sound from the television besides the static.
Peter takes second shift from Hiro, who shrugs apologetically that he couldn’t find anything else about the watch. Hiro settles to sleep and Peter tries studying the items himself, but there’s no readings from any of them, not that there had been anything earlier. They’ve been left alone too long, and all the residue from their previous owners have faded into nothing.
He sits in the quiet house, and for the hours of his shift nothing happens. The graph of Hiro’s laptop does a little jig every now and then, but it’s mostly indistinct background noise.
Soon enough it’s Claire’s turn. He wakes her up, and though she wrinkles her nose, she doesn’t make a sound as she stretches and sits up. Peter takes her sleeping bag, grateful that it’s pre-warmed.
He falls asleep with the ease of someone who has to snatch sleep whenever he can, but his eyes are shut for what seems like barely five minutes before hands grab his shoulders and start shaking fiercely.
Peter opens his eyes, and it’s only because there’s no breath in his lungs that he doesn’t scream.
Claire moans low. “Pe-rer…”
“Claire!” Peter jerks up, seeing nothing but the ridiculous amount of blood that’s flowing on to his hands when he grabs Claire right back. “What—?”
“Ip ar-racked me,” Claire says, and it’s hard for her to speak when her lips are gone.
“Fuck,” Peter hisses, and he wants to help, but he can see her fucking cheekbones, the ripped flesh falls on to his hands in chunks, and what the hell can you do when half someone’s face is gone? He can only hold on to her arms, and allows her fingers to cling on to his shoulders as she groan-sobs through the pain. Peter watches as muscles start stitching themselves across the bared bone, fixing her mouth, her nose, her cheeks, until finally the skin seals it all shut, leaving no mark save the drying blood from where it had been spilled.
“Holy shit,” Peter says.
“It’s evil,” Claire says, looking down at her bloodied hands. “It came after me, Peter.”
“How did it happen?” Peter asks.
“I don’t know, it was really fast. I was in the bathroom, and one minute I was washing my face, and the next minute…” Claire trails off, suddenly remembering that the others are still asleep. “This is bigger than anything we’ve faced before, Peter. It’s strong and it knows what it wants. None of the other spirits we’ve faced have done anything like this!”
“Claire, calm down,” Peter says.
“That thing is not letting Molly go without a fight,” Claire says. “And we’ve never had to fight one of them before. I’m calling Nathan.”
“No, don’t bring him into this,” Peter says, and covers her hands with his before she can reach her cell. “He made it perfectly clear that he doesn’t want—”
“That thing ripped my face off, Peter,” Claire says, her voice soft and deadly. “You can’t negotiate with something like that. I’m all right, but what if it had attacked you? Or Hiro? This family’s protected somehow but we’re not. We’re sitting ducks!”
“You want to get out of this house? Fine.” Peter reaches over to Hiro’s workstation for the watch, trying to get as little of Claire’s blood on it as possible. “Take this with you. Find out what ‘Sylar’ means.”
“Fine,” Claire replies, just as curtly. “I’ll tell Nathan you said hi.”
Claire can’t get out of there fast enough. Peter doesn’t blame her for it, but he can’t help feeling a little disappointed that she couldn’t at least wait until morning. Peter drinks the coffee from their thermos before washing his hands and changing his shirt. He hopes that he’s alert enough to take over her shift, but whatever the case, the benevolent spirit makes no appearance, not even to drag a pen across the floor.
Parkman wakes up first, and in the early morning looks a little softer around the edges, which is perhaps closer to what he was like before this whole thing started. He nods at Peter in a mellow sort of way before lumbering off to the downstairs bathroom (meant for guests, but now contains the whole family’s essentials since they refuse to go upstairs if they can help it) for his morning routine.
Hiro wakes up, and is annoyed that Peter let Claire take the watch without asking him first, but deals with it in typical fashion by not saying anything and focusing all his energy on analyzing the rest of the items in the collection.
The Parkman that comes out of the bathroom is clean-shaven, though there’s no helping the bags under his eyes. A small dominoes routine follows where Parkman wakes Suresh to have his turn, followed by Monica, and then finally Micah. The curtains are pulled back, now that the tinted windows won’t allow the people outside to look in. Under filtered sunlight and eating breakfast, the family is a step closer to normal.
“I wonder if Molly gets to eat,” Micah wonders aloud.
Monica’s fork falters and Suresh looks startled, but Parkman replies, “Let’s ask her when she gets back.”
Micah nods in vehement agreement.
Not much happens over the course of the day besides more readings of places in the house to find activity hot spots. The kitchen does turn out to be one, and Hiro gets a few good pictures of a toppled chair righting itself up indignantly. Just before noon Parkman and Suresh take the kids out into the lawn for fresh air and sunlight, and it’s a good thing, because Monica’s laughter is a rare, beautiful thing for the family to have at this time.
Mostly Peter’s waiting for Claire to get back to them on the watch, because save for a Velcro nametag with “Charlie” on it in black marker, there’s no hints from the other items that came through the ceiling. The other option in their way is to call Molly again and provoke the spirit, hoping that it can be reasoned with.
Somehow Peter doesn’t think that’ll work, and not only because her dads would be violently opposed to putting their daughter in danger again.
Claire does call, but late in the day before sunset, and she only says, “We’re on the way” before abruptly hanging up. Peter calls for a convening in the living room and announces the news.
“Who’s the other part of this we?” Suresh asks.
“My brother, Nathan,” Peter explains. “He finances our operation, but he does have quite the gift of negotiation.”
“You can negotiate with ghosts?” Micah asks, surprised.
Hiro, his face lit with pride, says, “Nathan Petrelli can negotiate with anything.”
When the doorbell rings, Parkman’s the one who answers it. His first reaction to the new arrival, however, is a distinct double-take. “Nathan Petrelli?”
“Do I look like a Nathan to you, Officer Parkman?”
Peter is frozen to the spot as his mother, Angela Petrelli, saunters into the house. Her eyes sweep over its inhabitants and contents clinically, sorting information into piles of What’s Important and What’s Not, with the living inhabitants unsure of their placing in either. Claire trails into the house behind Angela, and she looks apologetic and just as confused as the rest of them.
Angela does see Peter, but makes no move to approach him. Instead she looks at Parkman and lets her gaze sweep up and down. “Ah. Where’s the other one?”
“Uh, this is Dr. Mohinder Suresh,” Parkman says, moving to introduce Suresh to Angela.
Suresh starts to reach out his hand in greeting, but Angela casts him with the same speculative gaze, and he surreptitiously pulls the hand back. “Ah,” she says, and this time her inflection is different. “The unharmed offspring?”
Suresh introduces them. “Monica, and Micah.” It’s Angela’s effect that the two automatically stand up to join their parents, posing for some sort of bizarre family photo.
“I’m Mrs. Petrelli,” Angela says. “You may call me Mrs. Petrelli.”
“Mom, what are you doing here?” Peter can see Suresh’s eyes widen at the revelation, though Parkman’s response is a touch of a smirk at a corner of his mouth.
“Let’s not waste time with pleasantries,” Angela says. She reaches into a pocket of her immaculate black jacket (in summer?) and pulls out the broken watch. “Where did you get this?”
“Over here,” Peter says, and leads her to the spot. “Through a portal in the ceiling.”
“That’s your way out,” Angela says. “Where’s the way in?”
Under the spotlight that is Angela Petrelli, Peter’s mental gears click frantically as they rush to work. “Molly’s bedroom closet.” It’s always a test with her, which is why they never ask for her help if they can help it. Later they’ll laugh about it, and reluctantly admit that they’d learned something from her being around, but in the moment, it’s always like being 10 again and trying your damndest to scrape through with a pass.
“Wait, what’s this all about?” Parkman says, pushing back into the conversation. “Way in, way out? What’s with that watch?”
A brief flash of annoyance crosses Angela’s face, but she silently drops the watch in Peter’s hand and turns away to study the staircase. Taking that as his cue, Peter explains how the watch fell through the portal in the ceiling. “What I think she means is that there’s a spiritual plane overlapping with the physical plane of your house, and Molly’s closet has become an entrance into that world. Molly was taken through the entrance in the bedroom closet, and the way she’ll have to come out—” he points up at the ceiling, “—is right there.”
Suresh realizes it before Parkman does. “Someone has to go in and get her,” he says.
“Claire, get the rope from the van,” Mrs. Petrelli says. “I’d also recommend sending your other offspring to a safe place.”
Monica immediately opens her mouth. “You can’t—”
Parkman and Suresh pull Monica away, and there’s a hushed conversation which no one in their team, not even Angela, bother to listen in to. Peter focuses instead on the watch, brushing his thumb over the glass and tracing the blunt cracks. “Sylar is a person,” he says.
When he says it, the words click into place, solidifying the phrase into fact. The spirit he’d felt was a single entity that loomed dominance over the other harmless ones that lingered in the background. All the spirits that Peter’s encountered in the past are driven by sorrow, anger or both. This spirit is neither, and from what little Peter had read of it the night before, it’s almost entirely made out of hunger, with a side order of possessiveness, arrogance and greed. If that’s what drives this beast now, what on earth had it been like when it was alive?
“Sylar was a person,” Angela says. “Though that was the name he chose for himself. His given name was Gabriel Gray.”
Peter feels the fire of Parkman’s shock burn into his side. A glance at his face proves that Parkman recognizes the name, but ‘Gabriel Gray’ doesn’t mean anything to Peter. He doesn’t press the issue, or ask for elaboration. Neither does Parkman, who quietly instructs Suresh to call a taxi: the children have to be sent somewhere safe stat.
Parkman and Suresh bundle them up and reassure them with the usual brand of parental promises that Peter’s sure the kids want to believe, but don’t really. The farewell isn’t tearful, and the pair can only watch silently their kids ride off in the taxi to Grandpa Suresh’s place.
When Parkman and Suresh return, they sit on the couch, fingers intertwined, ready to listen to Angela. Peter gets the feeling that some of the other harmless spiritual inhabitants are listening in as well.
“Gabriel Gray was a very dangerous man, and I knew the people who hunted him down,” Angela says. “They found him, and stopped him. Apparently that was not enough.”
“He was a serial killer,” Parkman says, and Suresh’s grip tightens around his hand. “I read his case file, back when I was a cop. I didn’t know anyone who was on the case, or anyone who was a victim, but I remember about it because of how he killed his victims.”
Hiro is breathing through his mouth. “How he…?”
Angela’s eyes turn sharply to Hiro, and she draws out the words with a reasonable amount of dramatics. “He cut open their heads and removed their brains.”
“And that man, that thing has our Molly?” Suresh says, and he’s shaking with anger. “Why?”
“Only you can answer that, Mister Suresh,” says Angela. “And before you uselessly ask me what I’m talking about, both of you know very well that your daughter has a gift that makes her special. It is that gift, whatever it is, that made her Sylar’s target. Now what is it?”
Like before, Peter can sense something pass between them.
Parkman is silent and watchful of Angela; it is Suresh who answers. “She can find people anywhere in the world, just by thinking about them.”
Angela’s eyes widen slightly, and there’s a margin of pleasure to be felt by surprising her. It’s always been difficult to read his own mother, but now Peter can feel soft waves of alarm flowing off her, like low-level radiation.
“Why is that important?” Parkman asks. “Why would Sylar want—”
“Sylar killed people with gifts,” Peter says, reading between the lines. “When he was alive, that was what he did, wasn’t it? That’s why you knew the people who were hunting him down. And now he’s got a girl who can find anyone anywhere in the world, and he can use her to hunt anyone he wants, since he’s powerful enough to force his way back into the world of the living.” When Angela doesn’t respond, it’s Peter’s turn to be alarmed. “My god, he’s already started.”
“We get her back now,” Parkman says, standing up. “We go in, we go out, like you said.”
“Yes.” And this is Claire’s voice, which matches Parkman’s decisiveness tone for tone. “I’ll go. He can’t hurt me.” Her face twitches, and she catches Peter’s eye. He doesn’t point out the sheer inaccuracy of her statement, and is ashamed to think back to the hours earlier when he’d accused her of fleeing with her tail between her legs.
The walk upstairs is a strange one. Urgency is matched by dread in every step, the weight pulling at the walkers heading for Molly’s bedroom.
Claire steps in front of Peter before he can reach the door, and though she flinches, her hand pulls the doorknob open swiftly. There are no teeth, and no blood splatters across the floor, but a dull roar fills their ears, rather like being hit by a sudden, inexplicable storm made out of nothing but wind and echo. The room, emptied of all the trinkets that had once made it a child’s bedroom, is lit by unnatural flickering blue-grey light pouring out from the closet.
A joke about disco lights forms, falters and dies on Peter’s lips.
“Peter, what can you read?” Angela asks.
It takes only a moment to focus, and there’s a flood of emotions to read. The harmless spirits, whom Peter realizes with a start are Sylar’s previous victims, have all crawled close to watch them. There is a measure of support in their watchfulness, though there is also a marginal amount of envy and spite. Peter can’t feel Sylar at all; is he out there, using Molly, hunting down people who can’t fight back?
The rope Claire fetched is observed to be much sturdier than a normal rope should be, reinforced with something that could be metal, but Peter can’t be sure. Hiro starts to help tie it round her waist, but Angela suddenly stops them. “No,” she says firmly. She spins, and points a perfectly-manicured fingernail at Suresh. “You have no talent.”
Suresh blinks. “Excuse me?”
“You have no talent,” Angela says, and taps Hiro’s hands firmly in lieu of verbally ordering him to untie Claire. “You’re the only one in this family who doesn’t have a gift, and that’s why Sylar doesn’t notice you, why you’re the only one who can talk to Molly, and the only one whom Molly can hear. If you go in there, Sylar won’t be able to see you at all.”
Parkman steps forward. “No, you can’t—”
“She’s right,” Suresh says, and though there’s a paleness in his cheeks, his hand is firm when it pulls Parkman’s back. “She’s right. It has to be me.”
“No, if that were true, the rest of us would’ve been hurt,” Parkman says. “I’ve got a gift, and so do Micah and Monica. Sylar would’ve hurt us—”
“Sylar,” Angela says, sounding a little exasperated now, “has only left you unharmed in order to placate Molly. She can still sense you, and knows that you’re alive and well. If Sylar had hurt her family, he would have lost control over her, which is what he does not want.” Peter wonders if Angela knows what happened to Claire, but neither give anything away. “Will you fetch your daughter, Dr. Suresh?”
“You don’t—” Parkman starts to say, but Suresh grabs his hands in his, and the two look at each other, that same wordless conversation going on as two pairs of eyes lock in place. Realizing belatedly that Parkman is a telepath, when Peter concentrates in a certain way (like trying to decipher Magic Eye pictures) he can see the emotions passing from one to the other in little ribbons of color and heat that twirl around each other as an unheard argument escalates and then subsides.
“Come on, tie me,” Suresh barks. Parkman steps forward, taking the rope from Hiro’s hands and making a quick job of tying it Suresh’s waist while Claire gives instructions on how to make it tight and leave the ends free long enough for their purpose. Hiro and Claire then retreat downstairs, where they’re supposed to take station underneath the portal exit on the ceiling.
Something flicks the edges of Peter’s hearing. When he focuses on it, he can sense Molly.
“She’s here,” he says. “Not close, but she’s definitely here.”
Angela picks up one end of the coiled rope and tosses it into the blue light of the closet. It does a fwomp as unnatural flames of non-light flicker at the intrusion.
After a few seconds, Hiro’s voice comes through Peter’s headphones. “Rope through. We’re holding now.”
“They’ve got the rope,” Peter relays.
“Good. Now call to Molly,” says Angela.
Suresh steels himself, calling on a wholly different set of nerves as he faces the precipice. He thinks about his daughter and how much she needs him; nothing else matters. “Molly?” he says, not too loudly, despite the roar of the blue-grey storm. “Molly, it’s Mohinder.”
Molly’s light glows, there’s no other way to describe it. Being so close to the portal makes everything so clear, so easy to read, and when Peter half-shuts his eyes, he thinks he can physically see her, far away but so clear and bright, like a promise of warmth and better things in the cold darkness. If this is what the spirits see, it’s no wonder they’re attracted to her.
“She hears you,” Peter says. “She’s coming.”
“I can hear her, too,” Parkman says, surprised. “Not the words, but… I can hear her voice.”
Sylar is there, too. “Sylar’s here!” Peter says quickly.
He’s either waking up or returning from wherever he was, but Sylar’s definitely there, and definitely annoyed at the intrusion. There’s a dismissiveness to his arrogance, which could work in their favor. Peter senses Sylar reach out toward Molly with the intent of pulling her back to him. Sylar’s presence is frighteningly massive, threatening to swallow Molly up like a pulsing black hole.
“Make her come to you, now,” Angela orders.
“Molly, follow my voice!” Suresh says, trying very hard to hold back his panic. “Molly, I’m right here, I’m waiting for you, and so’s Matt. We’re coming for you, but you need to run to us, can you do that?”
“She’s trying,” Parkman says. His head is bent forward, but his scowl is not meant for the floor. “She’s trying, but he’s chasing her.”
“Make her run faster!” Angela barks. “Order her, scold her, do what you have to!”
Suresh looks pained. “We don’t—”
“Make her come to you, or you’ll never see your daughter again!”
Suresh shouts: “Molly, come here right this instant! Or… Or we’ll leave without you!” He’s shaking now, and grabs on to Parkman’s shoulder for support. “Right this instant, young lady!”
Molly breaks free, a little star of light snapping away from the cloud of Sylar. “She’s away from him!” Peter shouts.
“Go,” Angela says.
Parkman kisses Suresh, a single desperate kiss filled with too many emotions – Peter doesn’t mean to read it, but he isn’t given any warning – that stretch the moment to much longer than it actually is. When Parkman pulls back, he whispers something only Suresh can hear, and then shoves at him. “Go get her,” he says.
Suresh walks quickly, like he thinks he’ll lose his nerve if he hesitates. Peter just remembers to grip the other end of the rope (though Parkman has already looped it around his fists) before Suresh enters the closet and is swallowed by blue light.
What happens next is difficult to say, because Suresh’s sudden entrance has the same effect as a pebble dropping into a pond, casting wide ripples of distortion. Peter can still roughly sense Molly, bright beacon that she is, rushing forward as shadowy tendrils curl towards her in angry determination.
Where Suresh is, Peter can’t tell.
“Pull the rope, Hiro,” Peter says into the microphone. “But slowly.”
“Roger,” says Hiro.
Peter feels the rope in his hands tug lightly. Parkman releases it in slow measures and Peter follows his lead, both of them watching as it disappears into the void. Peter hopes that Parkman has better luck tracking his partner, because all he can feel is Sylar’s intent billowing out like a storm gathering its strength, reaching out with its fingers and—
Sylar sees Peter.
Molly is forgotten; Sylar has seen Peter and knows what he can do.
Distantly, Peter wonders if this is was how Sylar saw Claire, and made the decision to come out and get her. Peter’s third eye bores in deep, focusing everything that he has on Sylar, ignoring the burn of the rope being tugged between his fingers, or Angela’s orders (which are meant for Parkman, anyway).
Clearer than ever before, Peter can see the shape of a person’s soul once freed from its temporary shell. What remains of Sylar’s victims flitter about him like whispers, insubstantial and frightened, but their master is nothing like them. Peter knows that the dead that become ghosts do so because they are weak and refuse to accept the truth of what they are and have to do. Sylar is nothing like that: he knows what he is, and what he’s become. Worst yet, he has accepted that fate and decided to make his own rules of what he can and cannot do.
Parkman shouts, “Mohinder’s got Molly!”
“Good,” Peter says. As long as Sylar’s eyes are on him, Molly has a chance to escape. Peter stares on, refusing to break contact even as he feels Sylar’s growing pleasure at having discovered him. “I’m right here,” Peter says, and Sylar hears it.
“Peter, break off!” It’s Angela, and she’s shouting in his ear. “Suresh and Molly have come through the other side!”
That jolts Peter, and he pulls back abruptly. It’s disorienting, being wholly back in the room, and he sees that Parkman has let go of the rope and is running out to see Molly on the other side.
Peter starts to follow Angela out of the room when he feels Sylar lash out at him. There is a suggestion of being pulled, and then darkness.
When Peter opens his eyes, he can see Sylar. Not as a mental shadow or a suggestion of emotions, but an actual Sylar in what was presumably the shape of his previous corporeal form. A distant part of Peter thinks that he’s much skinnier than he would have thought. It feels like consciously knowing that you’re in a dream, but it just might be real enough that he could die here and it would count.
“I see you,” says Sylar. There’s a sound of ticking coming from a far way off.
“What do you want?” Peter asks.
“What does anyone want? To fulfill my destiny,” says Sylar.
“I know about you,” says Peter. It’s hard to focus on him, for the shape that is Sylar keeps moving around like a badly edited video, flicking in and out of focus. “You killed people and took their abilities, because you believed that it would make you special.”
Another blink and Sylar is standing right in front of him. He raises a finger which he trails delicately across Peter’s forehead, pausing just at the edge of his right eyebrow.
“But you’re dead,” Peter says.
Sylar looks at him, and his eyes are fathomless. “So?”
“You’re dead, so you can’t take the abilities of the living,” says Peter. “You can try, but you won’t gain anything new. You can’t be anything more than what you are.”
Sylar smiles, and his teeth glint in the darkness of the non-dream. “That’s what you think.”
Peter feels a large, firm hand fall on his shoulder. He can’t turn his head, but he knows that the hand belongs Parkman, who has somehow found his way into this place.
Parkman’s voice is soft but clear. “You harm my little girl again, and I’ll break you.” He lashes out mentally, and for Peter at least, it’s like being in the heart of lightning. It’s enough that Sylar is thrown back, and Peter is released.
A whoosh of air – real air – enters Peter’s lungs as he gasps for breath.
Blinking rapidly, he realizes that he’s back on the ground floor of the house, sprawled on top of Claire. Her arms are hooked around his chest as they’d been when she’d (presumably) dragged him out of the bedroom and down the stairs. Angela is hovering over him, but her expression quickly settles back into her normal cool nonchalance.
Parkman removes his hand (which really was on his shoulder) and quickly gets up. Peter tilts his head to watch Parkman rush through the open bathroom door to where Suresh is in the bathtub, remains of ectoplasmic goo all over his clothes and hair. He’s awake but a little disoriented, and when his eyes meet Peter’s, he nods a grateful acknowledgement.
In Suresh’s arms is the infamous Molly. She is breathing steadily, Peter can see that much, and when Parkman strokes his hand across her head, her eyes flutter as she struggles to open them. Chances are she hasn’t had to use them wherever Sylar had taken her.
“Hey, Molly,” Parkman whispers, lifting water from within the tub to wash the goo from her hair and face. “Rise and shine.”
Her lids are heavy, but the joy in her eyes is obvious, even from a distance. “Hi, Matt,” she says, her voice a barely audible croak.
“God, I love you,” Parkman says, and leans forward to take her and Suresh in a hug.
“I know, I heard,” Molly says.
Peter exhales his relief, feeling Claire do the same against his back. Her hand is small against his sternum, and he grasps her fingers firmly.
“Um,” says Hiro, his voice coming from somewhere just out of Peter’s line of sight. “Reading go whoop again.”
It takes longer than usual to switch on, being tired and all, but as soon as Peter does, he can hear the clear ticking of the unseen clock and the low rumbling of Sylar gathering strength. Peter forces himself to get up, and Claire reads his expression loud and clear.
“We have to go,” Peter says. “Right now.”
Parkman nods, understanding. He deftly lifts Molly into his arms with the ease of a lot of practice, and uses a free hand to help Suresh out of the bathtub. Suresh’s damp shoes make squelching sounds when he crosses the carpet, his walk turning into a run when he reads the urgency in Parkman’s own stride.
It’s Angela who cries out when the dining table flips on to its side and groans across the floor towards her head-on. Hiro reacts, flinging out the hand that isn’t holding his laptop to grab Angela’s arm. They both disappear when he blinks, and the dining table crashes into the wall harmlessly.
The floor starts to shake and the lights above them flicker. Everyone knows it isn’t an earthquake, and rush for the door, only to see a nearby shelf tip itself over and block their exit. Parkman backs out the way, and leaps with surprising reflexes when the coffee table slides across the floor with the clear intent of kneecapping him.
“The sliding door!” Peter shouts. Claire is way ahead of him, and ignores the handle (which is probably locked) to leap right through the glass, sending shards flying. Parkman has Molly over the threshold, then Suresh, and Peter has one foot through when he feels a finger-light tug somewhere below his shoulders.
He can feel Sylar’s breath just behind the shell of his ears, cool against his neck. Peter ignores it, but his left foot – the one still inside the house – is stuck to the floor.
“Peter!” Hiro shouts through the open window of their van, which is already revved up.
“Go!” Peter yells. His arms, torso and one leg are out of the window, but he can see the glass shards around his feet stir awake.
Peter sees a flash of yellow just as the first pieces of glass start flying upwards, and braces himself for Claire’s tackle. She catches him across the side and they roll over the lawn, clearing the house. They lean on each other as they scramble up and run for the car, hoping that Sylar’s range is limited to the house itself.
Neighbors are spilling out into the street, pointing and screaming. Leaping in the open van door, Peter glances back to see the house start collapsing in on itself, sucked in by an unseen black hole. Peter doesn’t have to focus to hear Sylar’s scream of rage as all the windows crunch in on themselves, the bricks crumble under their own weight and the galvanized pipes twist inwards with unearthly groans.
Peter shuts the door and does a quick to head check. Parkman, Suresh and Molly are in the back, clinging on to each other. Angela is riding shotgun, her eyes narrowed as she watches the house continue to implode. Claire is next to Peter, bent over as she picks glass from her legs.
There’s no screech of tires as Hiro drives off. Peter turns his head to watch the house get sucked in by familiar blue-white light, until finally there’s an unceremonious pop and all that’s left of the small suburban heaven is an empty lot and a few pieces of abandoned remains. Then the sight is gone completely, and all Peter can see on either side of the van are the perfect, untouched houses filled with people who have no idea what happened just down the street.
Peter reaches into his pocket and takes out the watch. Instinct tells him to throw it out the window, but that would be too easy.
“So,” Angela says, breaking the restful silence of the car. “Parkman.”
“Uh, yeah?” Parkman says.
“You’re a telepath,” she says.
Parkman pauses. “Yeah, I guess I am.”
“That’ll be quite useful,” Angela says.
His voice betrays his alarm when he says, “For what?”
“For helping stop Sylar for good,” Angela says. She’s sitting perfectly still in her seat, back upright and staring straight ahead, and Peter doesn’t have to look to know that the wheels are turning rapidly in her mind.
Peter glances behind to see Parkman, looking paler than usual, clinging on to Molly just as much, if not more, as she is clinging on to him. Suresh has an arm wrapped around Parkman’s bicep, his chin resting on Parkman’s shoulder. There’s a keen awareness that everyone in the car knows very well that Sylar is still out there, and still very much capable of getting Molly back. The two parents touch foreheads, finding comfort in the fragile safety of the moment.
Molly’s voice is very soft, and partially muffled by Parkman’s shirt. “How do you kill a bogeyman who’s already dead?”
The car is silent for the rest of their journey.