Mohinder looked down at the factory floor, its noise and dust sealed away by the tightly closed windows in Sylar’s office. The CEO could look down like a god from on high, lording over his workers like a queen bee over her subjects. Like those bees, they labored to fill the coffers of the factory-hive with the products of their hard work, money rather than honey, but the intent was the same. They crafted the parts needed for clocks, from the small tabletop models like the one on Sylar’s desk to the huge tower clocks in city halls. That was Sylar’s passion, and he took great interest in making sure nothing interfered with his business. Not labor problems, not material shortages, and not personal urges.
Behind him, Sylar snapped his fingers imperiously, not even looking up from his paperwork. Mohinder walked obediently over to the desk and laid his hand on Sylar’s neck. The muscles there were tense, and Mohinder began to rub with his long, clever fingers. The band of gold around his finger flashed as he worked, a constant reminder of why he was here. He and Sylar had always made a striking couple, from the time Sylar had picked him out until the latest company photoshoot just an hour ago. And for a rare moment or two, when Sylar was feeling indulgent and Mohinder very appreciative, they really could be perfect.
Sylar’s neck relaxed under Mohinder’s touch, and he looked up at him with a smile of gratitude – the same smile he gave his barber, his secretary, his pool boy, and the maid. The same smile he gave all his conveniences.
Mohinder returned to the window as Sylar returned to his paperwork, and rested his arm against it, and his head against the fine fabric of the sleeve. He wore suits now that cost enough to have outfitted his entire old neighborhood, lived in a house that could have been used for a dozen families, and was driven around in a car that could have paid for every vehicle around Mohinder’s old haunts outright. He slept on silk, dined on delicacies, and never wanted for warmth or comfort of any kind. And all he had to do in return was look beautiful, be polite and deferential, and perform the occasional small task for his husband.
Mohinder sighed silently, without moving his shoulders. Complaints of unhappiness never really helped; he’d learned that two years ago. Sylar would just give him the same look he gave a troublesome employee, but there would be no pink slip in Mohinder’s future. He wouldn’t be that lucky. Instead there would be a lecture on his “duties as a husband,” as dry and precise as Sylar gave his company presentations, with a faint hint of possessiveness under it all. These speeches always ended with, “I need a good husband at my side, Mohinder. And so do you. We take care of each other.”
Mohinder could recite the whole thing by rote. Yes, they took care of each other; Sylar having plucked Mohinder out of poverty based on his looks and assumed gratitude if his dowry was big enough, Mohinder providing the visible symbol of Gray Gears’ “family atmosphere.” This wasn’t a marriage, no matter Sylar’s lectures – it was more than a job, approaching indentured servitude. Mohinder had been the best in his class, poised to go to college on scholarship and bring his family out of poverty when he got a good job. His family had been depending on him, his friends had believed in him… all that was gone now. College would have taken years. Marriage had been fast. His family was provided for. And now he had only a few crumbs of genuine affection, doled out from time to time when Sylar was particularly pleased with him, a little physical pleasure if Sylar’s needs had all been met and he was feeling generous, and a tiny bit of intellectual stimulation from the science journals he bought with his allowance and hid inside the fashion magazines and light fiction Sylar liked to see him reading.
How long would it take for what was left of Mohinder Suresh, brilliant and promising biomedical research scientist-to-be to fade entirely and Sylar’s pliant, obedient, mindlessly loyal husband to be all that was left? Not long. Not long at all.
Down on the floor one of the workers bent and lifted a box of gears, his muscles bulging as he shouldered the weight. He walked easily, dark head up, pale skin gleaming with sweat, to put the box on a pallet and turned around to go get another one. Mohinder’s heart skipped a beat when the man turned and he saw his face. Matt. Matt Parkman, his best friend from his old neighborhood, the one who had pushed him into applying for the scholarship he’d never gotten a chance to use. They’d gone through countless scrapes together, gone to school dances together, shared everything until Mohinder had gotten married. He was here. He was here!
Mohinder stopped himself from beating on the glass to get Matt’s attention out of shear survival instinct. But he did press himself closer, starving for the sight of a familiar face. Mohinder stared at Matt, relearning his body, larger than he had been, muscle replacing his puppy fat, gleaming with the sweat of honest labor… Mohinder’s fantasies ran rampant until he forcibly reined them in.
He’d seen his own reaction amongst the spouses of Sylar’s peers, trophy husbands or wives so desperate for any connection outside their narrow lives that they tumbled into bed with anyone at the slightest opportunity. Mohinder wouldn’t let himself become like Elle, Claire’s wife, so blatant in her affairs she’d become a joke until Claire had retaliated and kept her locked in the house. And even now when she was on a short leash, Elle all but rubbed people’s legs and purred whenever Claire took her out in public, which was increasingly rarely. She’d gone nearly insane from boredom and frustration, and Mohinder refused to let that happen to him.
He looked back at Sylar, still immersed in his papers as the quitting bell rang. The workers below began to set aside their tools and file out. Matt was amongst the last, and Mohinder followed him with his eyes until he disappeared into the locker room. He knew from experience that Sylar would spend another hour doing paperwork. There might be just enough time. Matt could leave here, go home, live his life in a way Mohinder never could. He was free, and Mohinder just wanted to touch that again, if only for a moment. If he didn’t try now… he might never get up the courage again. He just wanted to know someone remembered for who he was.
“I’m going to the restroom,” Mohinder said quietly, and slipped out the door as Sylar vaguely waved his hand in acknowledgement. Once in the hallway, Mohinder nearly sprinted down the deserted corridors to the exit, and waited in an unobtrusive alcove as the workers filed out. Long minutes passed while Mohinder ran hot and cold, certain Matt would remember him and then worried he’d hate him for what he’d become.
Matt’s soft voice, full of compassion, intruded on Mohinder’s thoughts. He looked up to see Matt standing in front of him, a bag slung over his shoulder, his big callused hands at his side. The other workers turned their faces away, politely oblivious.
“Matt,” Mohinder said, feeling especially stupid. He didn’t know what to say. All he could focus on was Matt’s compassionate expression. He swallowed and tried again. “I’m sorry.”
“For leaving?” Matt asked. “Mo, we were all trying to do that. Everyone was searching for a way out, but you actually did it.” His smile was a little brittle, but Mohinder could see he was trying to be sincere.
“I could have,” Mohinder said, and reached into his inner jacket pocket where his scholarship papers were folded next to his heart. “I was almost out for real.” His voice got thick, and he ruthlessly forced away tears.
“He’s had you for two years,” Matt said, flicking his eyes to Mohinder’s ring. There was a tightness around his eyes, and one hand involuntarily balled into a fist.
“He gave me everything,” Mohinder said, gesturing vaguely as if to indicate his clothes, home, all the comforts Sylar had given him, all the securities for himself and his family.
“Are you enjoying it?” Matt asked sternly.
Mohinder’s eyes stung, but he knew the answer. He’d known it the moment Sylar had asked him to marry him with the same enthusiasm and tone of voice he would have used for a business merger. Mohinder shook his head.
Mohinder put his hand on Matt’s arm, warm and solid and real. Matt swallowed hard.
“I still have your textbooks,” Matt said.
Mohinder’s breath quickened, and he felt something inside him coming alive again. “I want to learn, for people to listen to him, I want…” He squeezed his hand and Matt’s breath hitched. “Not this.” He pulled his tie free.
Matt leaned in to meet Mohinder’s kiss as the tie hit the ground and kept ahold of his hand as they looked up at the CEO’s office. Mohinder could see Sylar there, staring at him with astonishment, unable to comprehend how his puppet had slipped his strings. Mohinder raised his hand, tugged off the ring, and tossed it on a pallet of gears where it lay polished and gleaming with the products of Sylar’s company.
“That’s not you,” Matt said, threading his fingers through Mohinder’s hand, a smile breaking across his face.
“Not anymore,” Mohinder said, feeling like himself again, finally.