The afternoon sun was beating a blazing path on the Louisiana landscape as the car wound along the highway towards Lafayette. It refracted off the pools of murky water, filtered through the dense, damp foliage of the bayou. Suresh was surprised to see the high sides of ravines through the underbrush.
"Fascinating," he murmured to the man he knew as Zane Taylor sitting in his passenger seat.
"We've just come from two feet of snow and temperatures in the mid-thirties to this place where I'm about ready to go swimming in those little lakes."
Sylar smirked out the window. "Those things are full of predators, the scary kind you'd never see coming. Besides," he added as he turned to face Suresh, carefully schooling his face so he appeared benign as apple pie, "we don't want to keep this woman waiting, do we?"
"No, I dare say we don't."
They made their way to the edge of the city, where houses were few and far between in the sharp jags of the ravines, and parked at the base of the driveway. Up the hill was a massive house with a small separate cabin whose sign read 'La Poterie: Z. Grenouille, Patronne'. Sylar forced himself to get out of the car, into the mind crushing noise of nature. Chirping insects, rustling leaves, the heavy breathing of gators waiting in the marshes blared in his mind like an out-of-tune radio on maximum volume. He was having some difficulty getting a grip on the control of this particular ability, and it was scaring him a little. It was just noise, for God's sakes. He'd taken some far more powerful than this before, but those were talents that required active thought. Controlling this was like controlling how often he breathed or blinked. He'd just have to work harder, he mused, following the Indian into the cabin.
After all, lives depended on it.
They stepped into the shop, and both were immediately assaulted with the rich spicy scent of Chai tea and the metallic saltiness associated with heated metal. The shelves were cluttered with earthen ware jugs, pitchers, bowls and plates. There was no obvious grouping to them; wherever there was space an object for sale was crammed. And most of the shelves were incredibly high off the floor, taller than Suresh and Sylar even, but there was no obvious staircase or ladder hidden.
If Suresh was right about this one, he knew she had no need for either.
They walked to the back of the store, towards the door marked 'Private', and had lifted a hand to knock when a musical voice piped up, "That's not for you."
The men turned saw a woman in her mid twenties had materialized from behind the counter with a glazed teapot in her hands. She was soft looking, with a round face, wide hips and the large-thigh legs of a speed-skater. Behind square glasses, her blue eyes were almond shaped and intense. Sylar felt his heartrate quicken, but not in anticipation of taking an ability.
"Are you Zoe Grin-noy-lee?" he asked hesitantly, knowing his reigned-in greed would come off as harmless inquisitive eagerness to Suresh.
"It's pronounced Grenn-noo-ee, and oui, that is me," she said in her lilting French accent. "Can I help you two?"
"I believe we can help each other, Zoe. My name is Mohinder Suresh, this is Zane Taylor," Suresh explained, gesturing to Sylar.
"That name mean what to me?"
"My father was a geneticist, working on a list of people with abilities. I've continued his work and..." Suresh trailed off at the look on the woman's face, for Zoe's eyes had turned into burning blue fires, her fingers tightening on the teapot.
"You come to watch the French freak in action, is that it?" she asked, her voice dangerously low. "You want to watch what the fat little froggy can do?"
"No, no, not like that. I mean, yes I want to see your ability in action, but I'm also interested in learning about it, helping you understand it."
"What is there to understand? I've dealt with your kind all my life. Both of you," she added, turning now to Sylar. "I know you're standing there, judging me, trying to size up what it is that makes me this way. Aliens? Radiation? Inbred parents?"
Sylar said nothing, had nothing to say. He'd heard it in her brain, that while she was at peace with her talent, there was anger there for Suresh, so much so that it frightened Sylar in a way he hadn't felt since hearing that Chandra Suresh might have been mistaken about him. He felt an uneasiness in himself that others might have called pity, but for him, he called it empathy. "I know what it is to be angry at those around you, for treating you differently. You didn't ask for it, to be special?"
"What would you know about being different, white boy? what would a Northern, cream-cheese carving like you know about being different?" Zoe spat bitterly; Suresh had to smother a chuckle at this as it was a nearly perfect description of the man's pearly complexion.
Sylar scanned the shelves of the pottery gallery, selected a purple and turquoise fruit bowl. With barely an effort, he turned it into a puddle of pottery in front of a gaping Zoe.
"More than you might think. Shall I put that away for you?"
"No, no" she replied breathlessly. "I'll take care of it. Step back a moment."
Dutifully, Suresh and Sylar took three steps backwards as Zoe held the bowl in one hand and pointed to its shelf with the other, like a baseball player calling a hit. Flexing her knees little more than two degrees from a standing position, she leapt towards the shelf, carefully put the bowl in its proper place and gracefully landed back on the floor like she was floating through water. She dusted off her hands, then took a worn grey hoodie and keys from the hook behind the counter. "Perhaps we might take a walk."
Outside, though the ground temperature was warm, the air was heavy and damp. Zoe, it seemed, was used to it, as they hiked up the hill. Suresh was impressed that for a larger woman, she was in excellent physical condition and said so to her.
"I do cardio training three times a week and swim when the weather permits it," she said evenly, clearly used to comments like these. "But I suppose telling you appearances are deceiving would be, um...what is the English, small?"
"I understand you pefectly. Your work is excellent, I might add. Why keep your studio here?"
"You mean, why hide?"
"More or less, yes."
Zoe stopped on the trail, faced Suresh. "My reputation wouldn't permit me to work in town."
"Why not move away, then? Los Angeles or New York?" Sylar interjected, his confusion only growing, intertwined with something else he didn't recognize as attraction. "You could go anywhere with your talents."
"I wouldn't not give those tetes-au-chou such satisfaction. The only thing stranger to me than these," she said, lightly slapping her thighs, "is my mule-head. I am blue food dye, my maman would say, no matter how hard you try to get rid of it, it'll never go away."
"You said your reputation wouldn't let you work in town," Suresh said, bringing focus back to himself. "What reputation?"
Zoe wanted to smirk, as she'd been asked that by so many supposedly serious journalists who turned her into a tabloid freak of nature. But there was something patient in Suresh's voice, in his associate's eyes, that had her sighing, and telling the truth for the first time to someone outside her family.
"I first noticed it in school about seventeen years ago. I was in the fourth grade and it was athletics day at school. I was known for dancing, I'd always liked to dance, but running and throwing weren't my suits. Then when it came time for the high jump, I simply visualized what I wanted to do, and before I knew it, I'd cleared the bar. Some thought it was because I was a dancer that I had good muscles in my legs, but there was a group who started calling me names. The French freak, fat little froggy, things like that. I paid no attention, because it didn't occur to me that there was something odd about me. All my doctors said I was normal, no fogs in the brain or heart defects. So I kept on dancing and doing high jump in high school. I'd practice out here, at my family's home. I put knicks-knacks or socks or whatever in the trees, forty, fifty, sixty feet off the ground, and retrieve them, practice controlling and improving it. And it worked fine for me, until..."
Zoe stopped as they came to the edge of her property, which dropped off abruptly into a sheer-faced cliff above the river. Some forty feet below, trees were visible, lining the edges of the rushing water. "One night, after the state finals when I'd won a gold medal, my parents said we should host the team for a party. There was some group of girls decided it'd be great sport to gang up on me, told me, fat bitch like me didn't deserve an athletics medal. So they threw me over the cliff, this one right here, in fact."
Sylar was horrified; he understood what those girls meant to do to her, to take something they felt she didn't deserve...and yet he felt repulsion that they didn't recognize what an extraordinary human being - woman - Zoe was. "What happened to you?"
"I was in shock, but having trained out here, I made myself focus and concentrate. I landed feet first on a branch of that sycamore down there, and the deep crouch I landed in...well, imagine a bullet coming out of a gun. I bounced straight up into the air, and landed back down in front of them, without a scratch on me. 'If you want to kill me,' I told them, 'try harder'. I don't think I need to say it out loud that they left pretty quickly and the rumours about what I was began flying."
Zoe picked up a loose stone, tossed it from hand to hand. "My parents decided to leave, but I stayed. I said I wouldn't be chased away by ignorance. So I took over La Poterie, and make enough selling online that I live comfortably, independently."
"And you accept what people in town think of you?" Sylar asked in disbelief, apalled at the notion of it.
"No, I do not accept it, but neither do I let it bother me as it might others. After all, I know the truth, and if I know what's right and wrong, who are they to tell me otherwise?"
"That's remarkable self-acceptence you have, Zoe."
Zoe let the stone fall, turned towards Sylar. "Did you feel that way when you found your gift, Monsieur Taylor? Did your soul accept your mind's observations? Did you become peaceful with who you are?"
"No," Sylar answered before he could stop himself, "I wanted more."
"More of what?"
The sound of a ringing cellphone cut through the tension. Suresh cleared his throat, excusing himself. Back at the edge of the cliff, Sylar continued to stare at Zoe. "You are very different from the others we've - I've - met. You aren't scared of this talent you have."
"No, I'm not...Sylar."
Sylar stopped short. "What did you call me?"
"I know who you really are, Monsieur. I've been following your work. I forgot to mention, part of my ability, the visualizing of where I want to jump to, it's not just what I can see. It's what I can think too. I figured that out when those girls threw me off this cliff. I visualized that I want to land right in front of the house on my way back up and that's what I did. When I decided to try an even further distance, I thought of my parents' new house in Los Angeles. Their neighbours were the Walkers. A man, a woman, and their darling daughter Molly. When I landed on their roof, I heard you inside with them." Zoe's eyes went keen as lasers when she saw the light of knowledge come into Sylar's eyes.
"You were on the sidewalk when I left. You asked if everything was alright inside."
She nodded in approval at his memory. "As soon as you spoke in my shop again, well..." She laid a hand on the front of his jacket, gripped it tightly. "I thought you'd gotten little Molly's ability and thought you might like to have a little fun trying to figure out where I was. A possible witness to such a vicious crime could be very dangerous."
Infuriated that he'd been taken in by her vulnerability, shamed that he'd weakened for those beautiful eyes and that lispy French accent, Sylar held up his index finger. "Do you think you're going to get away with this? Teasing me so carelessly?" he rasped, but before he could so much as cut the first layer of skin, she'd bounded over the edge of the cliff and was perched on the top of the sycamore below. He refocused, tried to get a mental grip on her, but once again, she'd bounced away, this time back in front of him. She pressed the tip of her index finger to his forehead, traced it down between his eyes to the tip of his nose.
"Like I said, cherie," she crooned, her mouth a whisper away from his, "If you want to kill me, try harder."
Before he could stop her, she crushed her mouth to his in a savage kiss. She stepped away from him, her eyes glittering fiercely. Sylar grabbed her arm and would have hauled her back against him had it not been for Suresh stepping back.
"That was a contact of mine in New York. I'm sorry to cut our visit short, Zoe, but we really must return."
"But of course, and I must get back to my shop." Zoe gestured towards the shop, stuffed her hands in her hoodie pockets. "Thank you, Doctor Suresh, your visit has been most enlightening. I was just saying to Monsieur Taylor he should visit me another time. After all, we are kindred spirits of sorts."
"Thank you, Zoe that's very kind." Sylar glared at Zoe, who only continued to smile.
"As I told you, anytime you really want to give those powers of yours a test, you know where to find me."