Peter stared at the reflection of the reflection of the back of his neck. Just below the hairline. It was a splash of color. Red with bits of blue. It had always been there - and because of that he had always been made to wear shirts with collars. Even as a young boy.
He wondered what it had meant.
It wasn't like Nathan's. Nathan had a bird, an eagle on his back. It wasn't very big, sitting between his shoulder blades with wings stretched out in flight. There was a splash of color, on the beak and the talons, and there had been a blazing red fire in its eyes.
But they never spoke about it having color.
Nathan never acknowledged the color.
Heidi was a nice girl. Peter liked her.
She had a pretty black and gray hummingbird behind her knee.
Birds, Peter had decided, are why they felt they matched. It wasn't a perfect match - nobody ever got a perfect match. But at least they had similar likes and dislikes. Similar enough opinions to get along.
Peter's hadn't settled yet. He didn't think it ever would.
His father had told him he was special. That his would take much longer than his brother's. His mark, he had said, would be much more important.
All Peter saw when he stared at the hand-mirror that reflected the bathroom mirror, which reflected the back of his neck at him, was a red blotch with bits of blue. He wondered, if the person with the other half out there had the same problem he did. He hoped they at least could see theirs better.
Peter was 18 when his mark had finally taken shape. He'd given up checking it daily. It was Nathan who saw it first. Had asked him how much it hurt. Honestly, Peter hadn't noticed. He'd been too stressed out cramming for final exams and the SAT (third attempt), and then dealing with graduation. It might have burned, but he'd been too preoccupied to care.
He'd showed his mother, later, that it had come in. She had covered her mouth, a bit of fear in her eyes, and put on a brave smile.
He didn't know why until he saw it later that night. It looked like a wound, bleeding and fresh. Right at the back of his neck. When he had touched it, he felt only the smooth, inflamed skin of a recently settled mark. The bits of blue, however, still eluded him. Though if he looked a little closer, a little deeper, the bits of blue appeared to be the ends of severed veins.
Peter worried if the mark he carried meant the match to it would be in a horrific accident. or maybe already had been. Or maybe, he dared get his hopes up, he or she were a doctor - a surgeon even. That kind of wound was common, wasn't it, in medicine. Maybe, for some strange reason, it was meant to represent what they do for a living.
He had to hope. It was all he could do.
Peter had noticed her mark, despite trying to hide it He'd seen that mark before so many times. It was the symbol his father used on the company letter head for his law firm. His mother had one half, his father the other. The colors of the simple design had once been bright blue, like the sky. But over time it had faded to a sickly looking green. That was when she started wearing more and more bracelets on her wrist. When he had started wearing more ties to hide the dip, just at the base of his neck, where the knot of the tie would rest.
But no one spoke of the change.
No one knew who had caused it to turn color first.
After his father's death, the mark had turned black on his mother's wrist. And though they were unhappy there, at the end, she mourned him all the same.
He hadn't thought about his horrifying mark in years. Not since it had settled, and had the appearance of a bleeding, open wound.
He'd kept it covered all this time. Careful never to let anyone see, especially his girlfriends. In college he'd gotten a tattoo. Black and gray-scale. A simple thing, on his bicep so all he had to do was push up a sleeve. His mother had told him it would be a good idea. She'd gotten one when she had been younger.
People like them, people with ones that had color, rarely hoped to find each other. It had been better to settle, his mother had told him, than to spend a lifetime waiting for something that most likely would never happen.
He'd gotten a halo with very detailed feathery angel wings. It wasn't cheap, but the artist did good work. Most couldn't tell the difference between it and a real mark. His father hadn't approved, reminding him that his real one, his true one, was more important. It had made him... special.
But now... now his neck ached. And it itched. And another cluster headache was starting to settle in. Worse than the last. He had some time off coming up. Maybe he could call in a favor or two...
When he glimpsed his mark later that night, rummaging around in his bathroom for anything to stop the blinding, pounding pain in his skull, he noticed it had changed. But couldn't be bothered to take a closer look. Not while the light made him nauseous and standing upright made him hurt all the more.
The fact that these headaches had gotten worse since he realized he had dreamed about his brother and Heidi's accident... it never crosses his mind.
"Whenever your father's mark would change, he would get these terrible headaches."
It comes from nowhere while Peter's laying on a sofa in the study, sketching and drawing pictures of an exploding man.
"They stopped, mostly," she said idly, turning the page in her book. "Except when major events would happen, necessitating a change in our matching marks. Births... deaths..." she said, rubbing her wrist. It's clear she wants to say more, but decides against it.
Peter's only half listening.
"The first time he shook my hand the link between us had been so strong and sudden he was near death for a week."
Years from now, Peter will reflect on this day and curse himself for not having paid enough attention. But that is still a very long way off.
He gasped for air, finding himself dead and then suddenly not dead in the study. The last thing he remembered was being invisible. And Sylar shooting shards of jagged glass out in all directions. Of course he was going to get hit. He only hadn't expected to survive.
And if that cheerleader is to be believed... he didn't. He was just a little more "special" than he the others.
And if he checks his mark on the back of his neck later, wiping away the dull dried blood to reveal the bright red of the mark beneath, now changed once again. Wispy, airy marks that you'd have to squint to notice them, gave the vaguest outline of the glass that had been forcibly jammed into his head. Or that the outer most edges of the wound now had a border of interlocking cogs and wheels and gears in an assortment of silver, steel gray, and gold.
"Who the fuck are you?"
He begins to suspect that whomever the mark belongs to certainly isn't a surgeon as he'd hoped. He doesn't notice the sickly green starting to set in. Or if he does, he chooses not to acknowledge it.
He rubs at his neck, finishes cleaning himself up, and goes to spend time with the girl he saved in Texas. And honestly, to find out she was Nathan's daughter, he couldn't have been much surprised. After all... the color in his mark hadn't drained over the years. It hadn't stayed bright but they were still there.. And then he knew... He knew that the moment Claire came into his life, his brother's eagle mark must have hurt like hell when the tiniest prick of a tingle of Nathan's old match bond sparked to life once he'd met his long lost daughter.
But he didn't have time to worry about these stupid marks that didn't mean anything. The dreams were getting worse. And now that he'd saved the cheerleader, his niece it turned out, there was an even greater threat looming.
The exploding man.
If he hadn't already been burning with the power of a nuclear explosion, he might have noticed the agonizing pain of his mark as the colors drained to near black. He might have put two and two together and realized exactly why, in that moment, his headache had come back.
But he didn't.
He was too busy trying to keep himself from becoming the exploding man.
She liked to shock him. Starting at the top of his head and down the back of his neck.
Her favorite place was right at his mark. Which, for the last four months had been a source of a steady, dull thrum of pain.
He'd never tell the woman who loved to push shock therapy on her favorite pets. But it helped numb the pain there. And he hoped whoever the son of a bitch it belonged to could feel the pain of the electric shocks, too.
Whatever the other person did to make such a hideous wound-looking mark a core part of themselves, he was sure they fucking deserved every sudden, painful shock.
He took his medicine. For a while.
Until he started talking to the guy on the other side of the vent.
At the time he didn't remember who he was. If he had, he might have told her something different. Might have told her it was just a regular tattoo. Nothing special.
As it was he'd already shown them, shown her, his powers.
Then again, he didn't know it was there, on the back of his neck, until she'd cleaned him up and watched his skin knit back together. None of them had ever seen one in color before.
Her brother had every right to be concerned about his sister falling for some strange man found in a shipping crate without his memories.
Not going back for her, once he got his memories back, still bothers him to this day.
Despite his manipulation, Adam was a wealth of information regarding the Marks. After all, he'd lived and died for centuries.
He hated his mark even more now that he knew what it really was. What it really meant.
And of course, Peter couldn't have one single thing in his life be simple and straightforward, did he?
No. Every piece, every thing brought to the surface of his skin was a symbol that represented the core of whomever he was meant to match with. The wound, Adam had explained, meant that whomever it was on the other end had been shaped by some sort of pain, and it had cut so deep it never healed. It became a part of their personality. The light tracery, the "shard" was simply a tool to keep re-opening it rather than letting it heal. Whatever had happened to the person, it had really fucked them up.
When Peter had asked about the border of cogs and gears, Adam had shrugged and said it was common back during the industrial revolution. Maybe whomever it was, worked with machinery for a living, and tended to overwork themselves rather than deal with their problems.
But it was only a guess at best. Even someone like Adam, who'd lived and experienced matching his mark no less than ten times already, was no expert on it.
Only that there were three types. And unfortunately, the pair of them had the one that could get a man killed.
When Adam had told him what the sickly green, which had spread from the center, darkest part of his mark into the rest - making the once dull red into more of a rusty-brown with it's green hue. Turning the specks of blue to a dark, nearly black, and the cogs and wheels and gears appearing to be tarnished.
He had met his match at least once already.
And it hadn't gone well.
The mark, the bond between him and whomever carried his, had been poisoned.
That, at least, was something Adam had been an expert at.
"Who is it?!"
His future self knew. He fucking knew who it was that had the match to the hideous wound on the back of his neck.
The mark they kept hidden.
This may be his only chance to find out. His only opportunity to know why he was saddled with a literal pain in the neck.
"It doesn't matter anymore."
"It matters to me!"
"Look we've got bigger problems right now. And you can't do anything about it anyway."
"Why? Is it still poisoned? Did it go black? Are they dead?"
"I can't go back again. I've stepped on too many butterflies," he said, clearly ignoring Peter's demand for an answer that only his future self could ever give him. "We have to get you to Sylar."
"You need his ability. It's the only one-"
And then he was gone. Just like that.
One bullet to the back of the head.
He ran. He didn't know what else to do when he saw it was Claire who shot him.
He'd found Sylar. Or rather, the man who used to be called Sylar.
He hadn't expected to find a kid there, too. One that called him Uncle Peter.
He was too shocked by the hug from a serial killer to notice the burning in his neck, as the green started to fade, but not completely leave his mark. He was too confused and surprised to notice the burning itch as the red, the true bright bloody red started to return.
It wasn't until Gabriel told him to fix the watch that he felt a weight drop in his gut and the burning and itching on the back of his neck. The gears and the cogs and the little wheels inside. As he felt the ability awakening inside him, it all became so clear. So shockingly, sickeningly clear.
His future self was right. There was nothing he could do about it if he knew, as he did now.
"Not now, Noah!"
The match to his mark.
It turns out they were brothers.
Peter lay in his bed. Staring up at the ceiling in the dark.
He'd gotten a better look at his mark that night. He'd taken a picture with his phone in the bathroom. It wasn't ideal, but there was no one he could ask to photograph it for him. Most of the people he knew... well...
They might all recognize the mark on his neck. Recognize the cogs and gears for what they were. Who they were.
Now that life was out the other side of the whole fucked up mess with Pinehurst and the formula, he had time to be grateful that he and Sylar weren't brothers after all. He wondered if Sylar had figured it out on his own, or if there had been some drastic change to whatever he carried on his body that marked him whenever he'd killed Peter those few times. Or when he'd lost his own abilities.
Not that it mattered.
There was nothing he could do about it even if he'd wanted to.
Peter was a hero.
Sylar was a serial killer who had killed his father, tried to kill his mother more than once already, had killed him, had and still did kill many more just to take their powers.
These marks, whatever they were, why they existed, were a cosmic fucking joke.
And he was sick of it. He didn't want it. He hated it. Hated what it meant and who it meant. Every millimeter of color that he'd had to keep hidden for years. With polo collars. Or let his hair grow out just so he could wear a t-shirt once in a while.
He wondered if there were a way to remove his permanently. Could it be removed with a laser treatment like a normal tattoo?
It didn't surprise him to look at the hideous thing the next morning and find it had started turning green again.
Now that he knew who it was, he got a sick sense of satisfaction whenever he felt the mark change out of nowhere, only to learn after the fact that there had been a Sylar spotting. And the man had been shot or stabbed in the head.
So each time, he would count how long the mark stayed black. How long the pain of a dead mark would last. A part of him hoped the pain would never go away; that the colors would stay muted and black. But then, sometimes moments and sometimes hours later, the pain would recede and the burning would begin as the colors would return to his mark.
The son of a bitch deserved every temporary death he was dealt.
It was green and it was gross and it was disgusting.
The colors more like a festering wound suffering gangrene than a bright red tapestry of a man's hidden torment buried under years and years of quiet toil and solitude.
And when he jabbed the needle in his throat, he ignored the sense of betrayal he felt by doing it, and sat back to watch. To wait for the sedative to take effect.
It was the right thing to do, he told himself.
He'd got his brother back. He'd saved his niece. Hell he'd saved the president of the United States, and once again had saved the world from the man fading into unconsciousness across from him.
So what if Sylar was glaring at him.
So what if his neck twinged, and Peter hoped it was the first sign of mark death.
It didn't matter.
He never could have done anything about that cursed mark anyway.
He knew it wasn't Sylar on the pyre.
It was too easy.
His mom and brother's explanations too simple.
No one questioned it.
No one thought that when the flesh burned away and the wound in the back of his head changed its shape enough to allow the metal railroad spike to fall out the back, the body would begin to heal itself.
They should have brought the Haitian with them. Or they should have cut his head off entirely. Burned it separate from the body.
It would have been more believable then.
When he checked his mark that night, after the body was burnt to ash, it wasn't black. The green was still present, but muted.
Maybe, if he lied to himself enough. Let him believe his mother's words that Sylar was finally dead, he might start to believe it.
He kept himself working. Nonstop. Picking up extra shift after extra shift.
If he kept himself busy, he didn't have to think about it.
He stopped looking at it now. Kept it covered. Ignored it.
The fact that the green was, once again, starting to recede meant nothing. It couldn't mean anything, really. He hadn't seen the son of a bitch since the funeral. Maybe the poison needed to drain out before it would turn black completely. Maybe, because they had both been so powerful, it would take longer for the mark to die.
Maybe if he lied to himself hard enough, maybe if he stopped checking it, he might actually start to believe it.
He felt it the night Nathan went missing. He didn't know Nathan was missing, of course. He'd been dealing with his own bullshit with that asshole trying to sue him for saving his life.
The burn of the poison draining from his mark had stopped over a month ago. Now, it just sat there. Unchanged. Until now.
He hadn't gotten a cluster headache like that in... well... not in a very long time. In a lull in the pain, he stopped to snap a picture of the back of his neck.
The colors were bright as if the mark were brand new and fresh.
Somewhere out there, for the first time in months, Sylar had gotten his ass killed again.
At the end of the week the colors had faded to the same muted, rusty color they had been for months since the funeral.
Whatever had happened, where ever he was...
He pushed the thoughts aside. It didn't matter.
He stared down at the body lying cold in the coffin.
He felt sick.
"Turn him over."
He wanted to vomit.
He swallowed the bile that crept up the back of his throat.
"Damn it Nathan, just do it!"
They had to know. They had to see it to be sure. Peter had to see it to be sure. He didn't want what he thought was happening to be real. He needed it to be a lie.
Nathan couldn't be... he couldn't be using powers like the ones he'd been using. It had to be another of the great cosmic jokes, just like his father's supposed suicide. Just like the gaping wound on his neck.
Nathan reached in, swallowing back the bile rising in his own throat. He unzipped the coat to make it easier. The body was stiff. So fucking stiff. But they managed to roll it onto it's side. Just enough to push the fabric of the coat and shirt up. Just enough to see the bottom half of the eagle mark between the shoulder blades. The once colored talons black, as they had been after Claire's biological mother had died.
Peter staggered off to the side, finally losing the contents of his stomach. A granola bar and some coffee.
He should have known. He should have fucking known.
No wonder the green, the poison, had steadily begun to fade. No wonder the colors had gone dull and muted. Sylar wasn't dead. He was repressed. Replaced. But never dead.
Nathan ran, taking to the sky. And after wiping his mouth on the back of his sleeve, Peter followed.
Sylar was gone.
Nathan long dead.
"Why?" was all he had to ask her when it was over.
He was angry. No, he was more than that. He was livid.
"I did it to save him. You know we can't kill Sylar and have him stay dead. This way it was better. We were able to save your brother and stop Sylar at the same time."
"No, you covered up Nathan's murder and dressed up his killer to take over his life! You didn't save Nathan! You gave the man that killed him a free fucking pass!"
"No one was supposed to know he was alive. No one could know."
She stared at him as he pulled back the collar on his shirt. Horror struck her features as he ripped the top buttons open and turned his neck to show her. The mark she knew he carried. It was the first time she had seen it since he had been brought to her doorstep. Cold. Lifeless. With a shard of glass stuck in the back of his head.
It was green and festering and the area around it red and irritated. She reached out to touch it, but pulled her hand back when he whirled around on her again. "When we burned the body, it never went black. I should have realized it was doing what yours did, when you tried to kill dad. But I didn't know what it meant then. Not really."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes I'm fucking sure!"
Things never got better between him and his mother after that.
Not even after they buried Nathan. The real Nathan.
Emma's mark was beautiful. And he envied whomever it was. It was small. Delicate. Gilded in gold and the script flowing. It reminded him of water. Or the Rainbow Bridge level from his nephews' Mario Kart games.
He loved her, though.
He hoped it would be enough.
Peter had dreamed, again, of Emma and the carnival. But it was different this time.
This time he saw her outside the fun-house, in a tent. She was playing against her will.
His mother said he couldn't be the one to save her. She'd alluded to someone else, but wouldn't say who.
"Of fucking course," Peter had muttered when he'd woken up.
Life couldn't be simple. Not this one time. No.
It could never be simple for Peter Petrelli.
He knew this world wasn't real. It was a dream. A nightmare in a serial killer's mind.
He hoped that time here didn't matter. That time spent here was a fraction of time in the real world outside the nightmare. Outside the Wall.
He rubbed at the back of his neck. Here, in this world, he felt no burning. No prickling of the skin. No pain. The mark on his neck was just a colorless black mark with no meaning. In this world he was free of it, and the one to whom it bound him.
But that freedom meant nothing if you were the only two people in existence.
So he hammered at the wall. Day after day. Night after night. He had to get them out. Sylar had to save Emma.
It was the least the asshole could do in return for all the pain and misery he'd wrought on Peter's life.
Emma had met the man who was meant to be her match at the hospital new years eve party.
Peter really couldn't blame her. He was a really nice guy. A musician. With her ability and his natural talent for instruments they made a perfect pair.
And he actually liked the guy. He was nice enough and she deserved to be with someone that admittedly wouldn't be constantly putting her life in danger just by dating her.
And if when he checked his mark later in his apartment, drunk and lonely, to see that his mark had grown smaller with intricate blue threads creating a sort of cross stitching across the bright red that had plagued him since it had first appeared, it hardly mattered.
Brave New World indeed.
He kept it covered now. Not out of shame. Not out of anger. But out of necessity.
He showed his mark to no one. And was grateful that he'd gotten a passable tattoo in college. Before his skin could make it fade with regeneration. Heal the damage done by the needle putting ink into skin.
The marks, which had been used for as long as man had bore them, to match people with their perfect halves. Or in the case of the Norms, someone tolerable for a time.
Any sign of color was grounds to round you up. Children born with colorful patches were taken. And those that weren't had been hidden.
The only one who could freely flaunt their mark, the only one who could show her face and be herself... was Claire. Her reveal of her abilities, and the colors of her mark, had been put everyone else like them at risk.
Peter was lucky. He had a tattoo that could pass. The halo and angel wings he'd gotten on a whim. It let him keep his job so long as he kept his hair shaggy and his shirts had collars. It let him live his life, as long as he avoided anyone else like him. As long as he didn't take or use an ability that could be seen. As long as he was careful, he wouldn't have to go into hiding like so many others.
He stopped watching television these days. He stopped listening to the radio, too.
He couldn't bear the reports of people who were born with colored marks being hunted in the streets.
He couldn't bear the reminder of children rounded up without ever knowing why.
He got his scar on the anniversary of his brother's murder.
He couldn't ask to see Claire to get her ability to heal it. There were too many witnesses. People that knew him, too. The crackhead had tried to slice his face up with a scalpel before Peter had been able to take him down and stop him from attacking a nurse.
He'd had it stitched up, and had to care for it the old fashioned way.
His mother said it made him look more rugged. More manly.
Peter only wondered where his future self, the one he now could never become, had gotten his scar from. He'd had multiple abilities, so why didn't he just heal it?
Hesam was a good man. He was a good friend. He'd never turned Peter in. He'd helped him to watch his back. He'd help him keep his mark covered. Help divert attention long enough for Peter to adjust his shirt collar, or move his hair into the way just so.
So when Peter had unknowingly copied an ability from a baby born in the ambulance, the mother dying of a gunshot wound after escaping custody, Hesam did what he thought was right.
When the ambulance was found later, the mother in the back stone cold and covered in a sheet and the child she'd been carrying gone, Peter had done his best to repay his friend, and made arrangements for the both of them and the newborn to get to Canada as soon as possible.
His head hurt. His neck hurt. Somewhere, Sylar was fighting again. Sylar was dying again.
Canada hadn't been that bad. It was an adjustment. They didn't care if your marks had color or not. Don't break the law, and they won't break you. Simple as that. It had helped, though, that when Claire had revealed the existence of Evos and Synths to the world, that finally people had an explanation for why some marks had color and others didn't. It had also helped that outside the US, before a civil war had broken out that is, there were already individuals with abilities just doing their jobs. Police officers who could persuade criminals to just put down the gun without firing a shot. Firefighters who could, when near no sources of water, smother flames with water from their hands. Doctors who with a single touch help mend broken bones.
It was a brave new world, and yes there were many who used their abilities for terrible things. There would always be people like that in the world, just as before abilities there always had been. It was a major adjustment, creating new squads in the police, new units and branches of the militaries, to deal specifically with Evos and Synths.
The world, it turned out, was ready. In that, Claire was right.
But America wasn't ready. And in that, the world had to wait and see. Wait for their wars to end. And see who would be left standing.
So when Peter's neck hurt, and he'd spend days in bed with a splitting headache, he hoped that whatever had changed in Sylar had stuck. That the night he'd saved Emma wasn't a one-off event. And when the mark would turn black, he would dull himself to the pain. It would pass as it always did. It may take moments, it may take days.
But it would pass.
Peter hadn't known what ability he'd gotten from the baby he'd delivered in the ambulance until he'd tried to swap it out with someone else, and instead of losing ice touch he'd gained cellular regeneration alongside it. Even then, he hadn't realized it until he'd been shot in the stomach and lashed out to freeze the asshole even as his body pushed the bullet back out of his abdomen.
He'd told Hesam that night what had happened.
The three of them moved to Montreal, to a safe house Peter remembered had belonged to Adam, by the end of the week.
"Milo! What has your dad told you about doing that?!" Hesam had snapped while Peter was busy in the kitchens.
The five year old frowned. "Not to use my powers outside the house." He stomped his foot, crossing his arms over his chest indignantly. "Zach says his parents let him practice his power in the back yard."
"Yeah, and Zach only has one power. He can make plants grow. You have eight powers."
"Nuh uh. Nine."
"Nine. I can copy other people. Like dad."
“Technically that’s a power!” Peter called from the kitchen, the doorway propped open by a rubber doorstop.
Hesam sighed. "Fine. Nine. But you still have to keep it a secret. Only use the healing one where others can see, because we can't cover that one up."
Peter had heard him. He had heard the whine in his voice. Neither he, nor Hesam, could come up with the words to explain to a five year old how dangerous the child truly could be. Nor could they explain why most normal, non-powered people would fear him. The mark on the back of Peter’s neck was a constant reminder of how dangerous, how powerful, someone like he or Milo could become.
Neither man wanted to be the one to try and explain to a five year old about power hungry serial killers that had ruined it for the rest of them.
Milo would learn why a month later when he's at a friend's house spending the night. There was a woman on the news when they showed clips of the war raging in America.
Her only crime, according to her government, was to be able to make fire from her hands and to make it rain when she was sad.
When Milo had gotten home the next day, scared and worried, Peter had sat him down and told him that even though they were safe in Canada, what he and Milo could do was still something that scared people. Especially other people with color in their marks.
But he never told him why.
The war had ended in America. It had lasted fifteen years.
It was the first time Peter had set foot on US soil in just as long.
The day of the last battle, he'd been violently ill all day. Something was wrong. It had to be. And then Hesam had told him. The mark on the back of his neck had gone black. When Peter had examined it before, the gaping wound was closed tight with a line of red and criss-crossing of blue lines meant to be thread. Still, it had been tinged with green. The intricate gears and cogs had tarnished again. The faint lines of a glass shard had faded over the years as the mark had seemed to stitch itself back together.
But now?... Two months after the war in the US had ended, it was still black. The agony that had bedridden him that day now an ache, a stiffness in his neck. The regeneration ability had helped stave off the worst in the following days. What it didn't touch, he had tried to dull with pain medication that didn't work. Regeneration came with the gift of a hyperactive metabolism.
He felt a tug at his arm. The teenager he'd brought with him nodded towards the blond woman approaching. "That her?"
Peter nodded. "Yeah. That's Claire."
"She looks even more annoying in person."
"She grows on you," he said. "She'll have to. The three of us are probably going to live forever. Have to get along whether we want to or not."
"Still don't like her."
Peter sighed, then straightened up when she'd reached them. He held out his hand, but she smacked it aside and threw herself at him, wrapping her arms around him tightly.
"She always that clingy?"
Peter gave the teenager a look as he wrapped her in his arms. He hadn't been able to be here when Angela had died. But the moment he learned about Gretchen... He knew that kind of pain now, though he was loathe to admit it. Though he hadn't seen the bastard in nearly twenty years. You don't spend 5 years isolated in another man's brain without at least understanding them better.
"It dulls, after a while," he'd told Claire later when they were alone at her apartment.
"I know," she said. "I want to show you something." Before he could stop her, she had unbuttoned her blouse.
"Whoa! Whoa! No. Claire-"
"Peter, even if we weren't related, you're not that good looking," she said, turning her back to him and slipping the shoulder of her blouse off to expose her own mark. Completely black. "I had three."
"I knew a guy once that had eleven. Though ten of them were already black by the time I met him," he said. "He could do what you can do. I guess... when you're born with that ability, you get more than one. Just in case you end up living forever."
She shrugged and invited him to come closer to look. The designs were simple. A ring of petals on the outer edges. Then jagged lines, like lightning, circling around a chunk of ice.
"I didn't know what was wrong with mine. My dad said the whole thing was supposed to turn black when the match to it died. But... only the petals did first. I didn't even feel it when it happened. It was after Sylar..."
"When?" Peter said quickly, changing the subject at the mention of the man's name. "When did it turn black, I mean."
"A few days before Arthur put your mom in that coma thing. They were really pretty, too. Cherry blossom petals... I don't even know who it was. It made me wonder how many times they might have felt me die, watched it go black only to have it come back again. Gretch... Gretch used to say she'd get these bad backaches, where hers is- was. I mean, hers was a Norm mark. Plain, black. But it would still hurt her, sometimes, when I died. I wish I could feel the pain from it. Instead of just the heartbreak."
"You don't want that. Trust me, Claire," he said. "Who was the second one?"
"Elle? As in... zap zap?"
"I felt that one. I remember that one. But I was sort of dying at the time myself so... it was weird."
"How.... oh. The eclipse. I was in Haiti when that happened. Nathan crash landed. It hurt like hell." He couldn't help but grin. For a short time, Nathan had gotten what he'd wanted most. To be normal. No powers. And he couldn't even enjoy the time because he was stuck in Haiti trying to help Peter and Rene bring down a man who fashioned himself a god.
"It used to be blue, like her lightning. Jagged blue lines that just... Every time she shocked me, I'd feel little pinpricks all along it. It was nice, in it's own way. I mean, at the time I was letting her use me like a lightning rod so she wouldn't accidentally cause a power failure on the plane but it was nice. Sort of. God I sound like a crazy person."
Peter shrugged. "Well..." he said, reaching out to cover the blackened iceberg that sat in the middle of the rings of petals and lightning with Claire's blouse. "Can't be any crazier than the asshole responsible for mine," he said, but didn't elaborate. Instead, "You'll get through it, because you have to. You're what, the first openly Evo senator now? You've got to stay strong. Rebuild this country. I think it's what Gretchen, and Nathan would have wanted."
"I'm sorry. If I hadn't been so selfish, so stupid, we wouldn't need to rebuild in the first place."
Peter shrugged as she did up her blouse and turned to face him again. "Well, we can't change the past. Even Hiro know that now. All we can do is move forward."
"I need you here, Peter."
"I've got a life now, Claire. It's not much, but I'm doing a lot of good where I am. The war down here left a lot of orphans. Someone's got to care for them. And Hesam's not getting any younger."
"How... how is your-"
"Friend. Just friend. He and his wife are pretty good. Help me run the place."
Before the night was through, Peter had explained what had happened to him before war broke out. That a woman from government holding had ended up in his ambulance, dying, and having a baby. He'd told her how he had accidentally copied the newborn's ability, but because the woman had been a test subject, they had fled. Ran to Canada. He knew a guy, once that had a safe house there. So they'd gone. Turned it into an orphanage. Funded it by selling off his old friend's art and artifact collections. Not like the man was still alive to use it himself anyway.
He also told her how she can make herself age, just a little, just enough to make her more grown up looking. Maybe it would help people take her more seriously. When she found out all she had to do was live with Rene, or someone else who could dampen abilities, she couldn't stop laughing.
Peter's only explanation for how he had found out was that one of Milo's best friends could do it, and didn't want the poor kid stuck as a five year old forever. This had caused Claire to laugh so hard she cried.
Neither of them had felt that happy in years.
It started as a pinch. Or a bite, really. A tiny little annoying bug-bite.
Six months since he'd been to DC to visit Claire when Gretchen had died. Eight months since his mark had turned black and stayed that way. Nearly twenty years since he'd last seen the asshole responsible for it being on his skin in the first place.
He'd done a lot of travel back and forth since. Sometimes Hesam came with him. Sometimes it was Milo. Working to get kids that needed homes into ones that would be best suited to their needs. All over Canada, and into some of the better areas of the US. Hesam usually dealt with the Norm cases. Children with marks in black and gray only. Those with color... Well. Those had to be handled very carefully. Wouldn't help to put a kid that can cause earthquakes near a fault line. Or a child that could cause flash flooding into somewhere like New Orleans. It also helped if at least one parent was a Evo or Synth. One with a similar ability to help teach and train the kids how to use their powers responsibly.
It's not always easy, and they sometimes have to go back and remove the kid from the home if things don't work out or go bad.
Knowing what he knows now about his former arch nemesis, having traded what amounted to origin stories back and forth while trapped behind the wall, Peter liked to think that maybe all his hard work was helping. That maybe, just maybe, some kid that came to his orphanage had the potential to become another Sylar. But doesn't - because someone actually gives a shit.
He doesn't notice it, when the pain ebbs and something else happens to his mark. He'd grown accustomed to the ache, and had numbed himself to it a long time ago.
So when it started to itch, started to sting. He figured it must have been a mosquito.
"I don't care if Zach insists on diamond encrusted napkin holders! We can barely afford the venue and the catering! We're just lucky you two can manage to convince the plants to grow and bloom in the dead of winter to make the place look nice!"
"But dad, he's got his heart set on-"
"Then ask your cousin. I'm not made of money!"
"You know Claire won't send me more money until I pay her back what I already owe. Maybe you can ask? She just screams at me when she answers the phone now."
"Come on, dad... It's my wedding. Please please please."
"What are you, five?"
"Then find your own way to get the money if it's that important."
Milo threw his hands in the air and let them flop back down by his sides in exasperation. "You're just jealous because you're a bitter, lonely old man who never got to meet-"
The young adult's words were cut short when he felt the sudden invisible force shove him through his father's open office door, then slam it closed behind him. All with the movement of a finger.
Peter had a fleeting thought to look at the back of his neck that night, but changed his mind. So he hadn't seen the slight dullness of color seeping in to replace the black that had stung his skin for the last three years.
Days later, Peter went out to get in the car to discover it was gone. Milo had sold it to get the money to cover the cost of his fiance's favorite DJ... and diamond encrusted napkin holders out of spite.
There was screaming in the building.
Peter had pulled on some sweatpants, grabbed a shirt and pulled it over his head as he ran down the hallway to the stairs, snapping at the kids and teens to stay in their rooms until he told them it was safe.
His hands, by this point, were glowing like to soft white light bulbs, lighting his path as he took the stairs two at a time. He followed the screams to the dining room of the orphanage, finding old man Hesam and his wife standing there with shotguns and flashlights trained on-
"Mr. P!" one of the kids who'd been witness to events shouted, running to him and clinging to his leg. He patted her hair and looked to the older kid that had been here with her. "Jake?"
"Dude just- We were- She couldn't sleep so we came down for some milk. Then this guy just POOF! Scared the fuck-"
"Language!" Hesam's wife snapped, never taking her eyes, or her aim off Hiro.
"Can everyone just calm down!" When the screaming children stopped screaming, there was an audible click of the safety being put back on. Then another. "Malik, Lydia, could you... The kids. I'll deal with..." He trailed off, indicating the Asian man in tattered camouflage standing in their dining room.
"Just make sure everyone stays in their rooms and reassure them that it's going to be okay. I'll come up with something in the morning."
When the dining room had cleared, Peter flicked the switch on the wall. "You look like hell, Hiro."
"I'm lucky to be alive."
"Yeah. You can't just pop in on people like this man. We've got a lot of kids here with powers. They get scared, and you're going to find yourself set on fire or something."
"Where am I? When am I?"
"So this is where you went. And the kids?"
"Orphans. Most of the original kids are all grown up or gone by now. I opened the place up when the war started."
"The war is over?!"
"Yeah. About a year... No, wait. Milo's 18 now. Wow..." Peter rubbed the back of his neck absently. "Yeah. War's been over for three years. Heard you guys lost a lot of good men and women in that last battle. Should have known it would happen in Odessa."
Hiro felt faint, starting to fall. Peter was fast, catching him and easing him into one of the dining chairs. "Look, you look like hell. This can wait for morning. I'll go get the first aid kit and take care of some of those cuts and bruises, then put you up in one of the empty rooms for the night." Once he was sure Hiro wasn't going to slide out of the chair, he made for the door to the kitchens, where he kept the first aid kit.
It was too late. He had the door open. And there, in his kitchen floor, was a large block of ice.
In the ice was a man with a pick axe buried in the back of his head and ragged army fatigues clinging to his body. Peter backed out of the kitchen, letting the door swing back and forth, revealing the large ice block each time it did as he backed slowly away.
Peter didn't go back to bed that night. He also didn't go back into his kitchen. Instead, he'd gotten a smaller first aid kit from a closet off the downstairs hallway.
At first light, Hiro had left with the block of ice. So what if Hiro, that Hiro, had come from another point earlier in the war. So what if Peter had spent the hours of the night until dawn telling him everything that he knew, in return for one single request of course.
And if the block of ice with the serial killer in it happened to make its way far far away from the freezer it had been kept in and somehow to a battlefield in Odessa, Texas to sit and thaw for a final confrontation well...
Stranger things had happened, Peter mused as he poked and prodded at the back of his neck in the mirror after sunrise. Finding the skin there tender and his muscles aching. The blue threads were brighter than they'd ever been, and the image of the scar where the wound had one been just a little bit redder.
He didn't bother to look up when he felt eyes watching him from behind as he changed into his best suit.
"It's not black anymore."
"Dad what did you do?"
"Nothing. I swear."
"Is your uh... are they like..."
"Like your cousin? Us?"
"Yeah," he said simply. "And comb your hair. Zach will never forgive you if all the photos turn out looking like you've just rolled out of bed."
"I can't do anything with it. It's like the thing has a mind of it's own."
"So does this," Peter joked as he pointed to his neck before it was covered up by his collar.
Milo combed his hair, for all the good it did him. "Dad, I... I'm sorry for selling your car."
"It's no big deal. I'm surprised you got as much as you did for it."
"No, it's not okay. I shouldn't have said what I did that day. It was... I didn't know then about... you know."
Peter rolled his eyes and sighed, adjusting his sleeves and cuffs before pulling on his jacket. "I told you, it's no big deal."
"We both said and did things that day we're not proud of. The past is the past, and it needs to stay there."
"But cousin Claire said-"
"Drop it, Milo. Got the rings?" A small velvet box was tossed to him. Peter caught it with a grin. "I'll drop these by the ring bearer and flower girls. Make sure they don't lose 'em before time."
Claire had come to visit for Christmas.
She'd brought her fiance.
Unfortunately, her government position afforded her a small secret service detail as well. It was a little unsettling, having the US Secret Service hanging around the building.
It was awkward. But they made it work. Claire had put the bodyguards to work helping carry presents she'd had brought with her. Even though it wasn't much of a hard task.
Peter hadn't given his mark much thought since the night Hiro had suddenly appeared from the middle of the Second American Civil War. His days were filled with far more important tasks. So he didn't really see what the big deal was when Claire had spotted it as he'd crouched down to bandage a scraped knee and console a little girl who's tears turned to brass when they rolled off her cheeks.
Claire, apparently, thought it was important enough to point out to him that it had color. Brilliant and bright. With something... something new.
He pulled her aside into one of the offices off the main activity room where they'd set up the Christmas tree. "I can't see it," he said, undoing the top few buttons of his shirt and yanking at his collar. His hand went to the back of his neck, brushing as much of his hair upward and out of the way as possible. "Take a picture for me. I want to see it clearly."
She'd done so, and turned her phone to show him. His breath caught in his throat.
Claire put a hand on his arm, concerned. "Peter? I thought your match was..."
"He was, back then. It's complicated."
"One of mine used to do that... Go black and then fill with color again."
"The petals, right?" he asked, knowing it couldn't possibly have been the iceberg for Gretchen... her last name had been Berg. It made a sweet sort of sense, that. And it couldn't have been the jagged lightning for Elle. Process of elimination.
She nodded. "Yeah. After Nathan was shot... before I stopped feeling pain, it would burn and go black for a while before turning pink again. After talking to Zach and Milo... Zach's does that sometimes when cousin Milo... well... Gretchen's used to do it, too. The burning pain part, not the... Not the colors. Since she was a Norm."
Peter nodded. "Yeah. He's... he's like that."
Claire was quiet for a long moment before she took her phone and sent the picture to Peter. He pulled out his phone and brought it up. "Thanks, Claire," he said, staring at the photo of the back of his neck. The wound, now a scar criss-crossed by bright blue lines as if stitched together with intricate thread, was still surrounded by the ring of cogs and gears and wheels that seemed to shine upon his skin in shades that mimicked gold, silver, and steel gray. The colors hadn't been so vivid in years. Not since the week Nathan had disappeared... only it wasn't Nathan. Not really. No trace of the green poison that had been a constant fixture after first meeting the killer and the cheerleader.
And now... soft, downy gray. One on either side of the thin red line that made the scar of the wound. Intricately detailed feathers, tipped and edged in a bright red. As if dipped or splattered in blood. They were battered looking, but still beautiful in a tragic sort of way.
It had made him smile.
"You going to be okay?"
He nodded and put his phone in his pocket. "Yeah. I think I will be."
When Peter had ridden to the airport with Claire and her bodyguard detail at the end of the week, he'd been at a loss for words of what to do with himself once she was gone.
Sure he could take a cab or the bus back. It wasn't too far a drive back to the orphanage. And without any pressing matters that needed his direct attention. Why not enjoy a very rare day off to himself.
He should have known his good mood would be spoilt when he felt the head on his neck. He should have known he could never get one single day of peace and quiet in a bookstore without feeling like someone was watching him all day. He shouldn't have been surprised when, right before he'd decided to call it a day, he stopped for a bite to eat and a coffee in a little cafe with the bus stop he needed to get back home just outside on the sidewalk, that his day wasn't going to be a simple, normal day.
"You know," he said without looking up from his new book after the body had dropped into the booth across from him. "You've been a pain in my neck for as long as I can remember."
"Yeah? Well..." Sylar responded. "You've been a pain on my ass for just as long. Do you know how hard it is to justify having the logo for the Eagle Scouts on your ass cheek in bright red, white, and blue? My mother thought it meant I was going to be a president."
"Well, at least yours was tasteful. Try having a raw, gaping wound for over twenty years," Peter mumbled, turning the page in his book without looking up. "What do you want, Sylar?"
He was quiet for a long time. The waitress came by, and Peter was kind enough to order him a coffee. But not so kind as to ask for extra sugars and cream. Finally when it seemed he wasn't going to say anything at all, and Peter had expected no response, Sylar shrugged and offered his hand across the table between them.
Peter glanced up at it and raised a brow, then let his gaze wander up the man's arm, taking in the entire sight of him before looking at his face. He wore glasses, like he sometimes had in the Nightmare behind the Wall.
"Given how at the time we were puppets in someone else's game of chess, we never had the opportunity everyone else has to do this the right way."
Peter kept staring at his offered hand. "What?"
"Hi," Sylar said, looking hopeful. It was an expression Peter hadn't seen on the man's face in many long years. Not since they were hidden behind the wall. Not since Peter had finally worked through his anger and his grief and forgiven him for Nathan's murder. Slowly, suspiciously, Peter lifted his hand and took it. Giving it a shake. Sylar smiled. "My name's Gabriel. Like the angel. I restore time pieces for a living. It's nice to meet you."
Peter stared at him, then at their joined hands for a moment. He remembered, then, what he'd said to his son on his wedding day. About leaving the past in the past where it rightfully belonged. He was tired of checking his neck. Tired of the constant debilitating headaches each time there had been a major change, or a death that lasted longer than a few hours or a day. He was so tired of living a life with so much of it missing.
The corners of his mouth lifted into a small smile as his lower lip remained where it was. Numb. Dead nerves. But the man across from him took it for what it was.
"Peter, Peter Petrelli. I run a local orphanage for Special kids. Nice to meet you, too. I have to warn you though, I've got a kid. He's grown up and married off now, but if that's going to be a problem then this isn't going to work out."
"An orphanage?... " Sylar's smile turned into a smirk as he raised an eyebrow. He waited for Peter to take a sip of his coffee before continuing. "Well. That certainly explains the crayon stick figures then." His smirk got even bigger when Peter half-spat and half-dribbled his coffee in surprise.
Peter stared at the reflection of the reflection of the back of his neck. Just below the hairline.
When he was a boy, he'd hated it. Hated what he didn't even know it meant. Hated that it was different. Hated it every time his father told him it meant he was special. Meant he was going to grow up to do very important things.
It had been eight years since the wings had settled in on either side of the blue stitched scar. He liked to think that this is what it had always meant to be if Sylar’s life had been closer to normal. The soft, downy gray angel wings. Sure, they probably weren't meant to be dripping red - dripping in blood. They probably weren't meant to look like they'd been broken and battered in war. But given how long it had taken, how hard the road had been, he preferred it this way. Preferred it to be scarred and scathed. He preferred it that there were still traces of the hideous wound it had once been. It was a road-map on Peter's skin. A long, sordid tale of abuse, insanity, murder, repentance and redemption.
He admired the delicate clockwork that encircled it all, like a halo. Detailed and intricate. Unique. A stamp that clearly told the world that the man who'd made this mark on him was complex and hard to figure out.
"Are you going to stare at that thing all day?" Sylar had called from the bedroom.
Peter put down the hand mirror and reached for a t-shirt, pulling it over his head.
He didn't care anymore if others could see his mark. Could see the colors that showed him to be someone with powers. Someone that was different. The world knew who they were now. And it was still tough in some places with people that misused their abilities.
It wasn't perfect. It wasn't easy. And by God it never ran smooth. Some days he wanted nothing better than to break the man's neck. Other days he wanted to stay in bed and trace the line of bricks that encircled everything that marked Sylar's ass, quite literally, as his. But he had his match. And for all the pain and blood they had put one another through, if he'd had the power to travel through time again, he wouldn't change a thing.