"You'll have to fly us there," Claire said as she turned around and started walking towards the exit as fast as she could, deaf to Sylar's protests. She was half way through the station when he caught up with her.
"No," Sylar said sternly for the tenth time. "We can call the authorities and hope they can disband the demonstration in time, but that is all we can do."
"If the police starts to chase away the crowds it will only lead to a riot or mass panic, should they reveal the reason, and Kenrick will probably detonate immediately."
"And how do you suppose we find Kenrick among these masses?" he asked stubbornly.
"I- I don't know. Somehow…" Claire stuttered, but her expression remained unfaltering.
Sylar sighed, pushing his hair back, seemingly unsure what to say or do to get through to her. "This is a suicide mission, Claire."
"Then it's a good thing neither of us can die," she said while stepping into the bright daylight that greeted them outside the station.
"If I do this," Sylar reasoned, "I'm going to be arrested sooner or later and I'll end up in the basement of some nameless government agency that makes level 5 look like a vacation. I can't do this, I won't."
"So what then? Screw it? We'll just let all those people die? I thought you had changed!" Claire yelled, making people on the street turn their heads and look at her cautiously. "I thought you wanted to be a better man, but guess what, Sylar, you're still the same cold egotistic son of a bitch who doesn't give a shit!"
She was startled by the rough hand that grabbed her arm, making her stop and face him. Sylar's eyes were black with fury Claire hadn't seen there since his "reformation". "Stop calling me that!" he spat. "I am not him! So stop calling him out." He breathed heavily as he looked away, releasing her arm from his tight grip.
"Look, I know the risk," I know that you're scared, "but I can't idly stand by when hundreds of people are going to die," Claire said softly.
"I thought you were done saving the world."
Claire snorted familiar sadness washing over her. "So did I. But I guess I'm just a sucker for it."
Sylar gave her such an intense glare, that Claire felt for a second as if her brain might explode. Then his features softened a little and finally, after yet another sigh, a resigned smile spread across his face. "You'll gonna have to bust me out then," he muttered sounding like he was already regretting his decision.
They found a deserted alley not far from the North Station. Claire stepped between his waiting arms, closer than she ever really expected to be to him again. He pressed her tightly against his chest and the next thing she knew, they were speeding towards the somber sky.
As air swished by her ears, Claire wondered how she'd ever forgotten this feeling. How it felt to fly. West used to take her, but the last time must have been over a year ago. Lives, schedules, missions and never any time for fun…
And flying, of course, always reminded her of Nathan. The time he had so conveniently appeared behind her window right before a group of agents burst through her bedroom door and the ridiculous tequila drinking contest he had gotten himself into in Mexico. Valuable lesson there, though – never drink and fly.
But today Claire had the rare privilege to fly in the arms of her father's murderer so she tried not to think about it too much.
It took them about forty minutes to get to Washington. Claire was glad when they finally landed, her limbs had started to get numb. Sylar released her from his hold as soon as their feet touched the ground on a rooftop not too far from their destination.
When they reached the plaza where the picket took place, it was already crawling with people, but only more and more was arriving. Policemen were everywhere, eying the masses watchfully, waiting for someone to cause a brawl.
Many of the protesters were carrying signs. Claire glanced at them as they dove into the mob. Some were more reserved, declaring simply "Rights to the many" or "Safe future for our children", others not so much, shouting messages such as "This is not God's work" and "Leashes to the freaks!" (that one sounded particularly insulting).
"Chances are Kenrick's not gonna explode before more people have come," Claire whispered to Sylar, pushing through hordes of protesters. She briefly glimpsed her watch – ten minutes to twelve.
"Don't be so sure, remember, he doesn't want to do it, he might blow the place up before more people arrive," Sylar said dryly.
They exchanged a grim look. "We need to split up," Claire said, touching the hilt of her handgun inside her coat as she tried to swallow the lump that had formed in her throat. Kenrick didn't want to do it. He only wanted to protect his family. He didn't deserve to die. But a man in desperation can be more dangerous than a man standing up for his principles. She knew he wouldn't probably back down, which meant she had to be ready to kill him.
"Alright," Sylar nodded, "but we shouldn't lose each other in the crowd."
They broke up, going through the masses, trying to keep an eye on each other at the same time. There were so many faces, so many people, and with every passing minute Claire felt more hopeless. The commotion around them was nearly unbearable. People were shouting out their opinions and, more often, plain insults at her kind. A small voice inside Claire's head whispered that if any of them recognized her, they'd likely rip her to pieces. Maybe the world would be a better place without them? No, another voice insisted. They're just scared of what they don't understand.
The midday came and Claire half-expected the plaza to blow sky-high, but nothing happened. Her stomach felt as if filled with acid. She had to find him. It wasn't just about the lives of hundreds of people, it was about peace, about possible future understanding, however slim a chance, between us and them.
Faces became one and the same constant blur. She searched for one, one face among so many. Every now and then she made sure Sylar was still in her field of view.
It was ten past twelve. The passing of each minute felt more nerve-wrecking than the last. Twenty past twelve. Any minute now, she knew. It could all be over any minute now. Her eyes skipped from one face to another so fast it made her head spin a little. She must have gone through a hundred of them already if not more.
"Are you alright, sir?" she caught somebody saying. Her head automatically jerked to that direction, hoping against hope.
And then she saw him. He was standing in a hunched manner like he was suffering from a tremendous stomach ache, shaking all over his body.
Oh. My. God. He's gonna explode any moment, Claire realized. There was no time for warnings, no time to think.
She pulled out her gun, shouting "Sylar!" to gain his companion's attention. Her voice was barely audible as all the people around them had started screaming, most of them running in different directions, some of them frozen in place, paralyzed with fear.
Everything since then felt as if in slow motion. Kenrick looked up, his face twisted in terror. From the corner of her eye, Claire could see Sylar's head turning to her direction. She aimed the gun and two, no three, shots rang in the air.
The gun fell from her limp fingers and Claire felt completely bewildered. She couldn't understand what was happening. She had never fired. Only when she felt her knees giving in, she finally looked down. Her chest had turned red, blood was seeping seemingly from everywhere. No. No. No, her mind screamed. You're shooting the wrong person! she wanted to shout as she collapsed to the ground.
Then she saw Sylar. His eyes quickly slid over the rooftops, where the snipers must have been, before he turned his gaze back at Kenrick, making long strides to get closer as he fought against the flow of people who were running in the opposite direction.
"You fucking idiots!" she heard him bellowing. Then he came to a stop, raising his finger in the air. Claire could have sworn she heard him muttering "It's impossible to be good in this world," as he made a swift gesture with his index finger.
Suddenly a deep gash appeared along Kenrick's neck. He started coughing and sputtering blood, trying to stop the bleeding with his hands.
For a moment Claire was afraid that he might still detonate, but then he fell flat on his face, choking. He had no energy left, he couldn't do it. Maybe he didn't want to. Maybe he simply couldn't summon the same rage towards those people that had made him blow up his house in the first place. The last thing Claire felt before passing out was sadness despite their succeeding.
When she became conscious again, she felt utterly confused. "Where am I?" she asked groggily even before she opened her eyes to examine the surroundings.
"Some mall," Sylar's voice replied calmly. Claire's eyes snapped open. They were in a changing room she presumed since there was a long mirror on the wall and a curtain hanging in front of the exit. She lied on a little sofa clearly too small for lying down properly, which meant she was in a weird position.
"What do you think?" Sylar asked turning to her as he ran his hands down a navy blue button-down shirt.
Claire still felt dizzy, massaging her temple with one hand. "What?" she asked, shaking her head slightly. "What are we doing here?"
Sylar rolled his eyes as if to say "isn't it obvious?". "Kenrick's dead, you were shot three times. After you passed out, I grabbed you and got the hell out of there. The whole place was crawling with cops and feds and whatnot. Since it's not wise to walk around covered in blood, I thought we might use some new clothes."
"We?" Claire asked, feeling like an utter fool for being so disconcerted.
"Yes. You got that stuff all over me. Thankfully I was wearing black, otherwise they might have called the police when we entered. I had to convince the sales clerk you had a little too much to drink which, I think, she found a bit hard to believe since it's not even 1 o'clock yet," he chuckled mirthlessly. "Nothing some money and a concerned-boyfriend-act can't fix, though" he explained staring in the mirror as he straightened his collar. "I told her you had a little bit of an accident with red wine too. Talk about bad luck…"
Claire looked down and saw Sylar's black shirt covering her blood-soaked blouse. She also noticed his equally black tee-shirt lying in the corner.
"Sorry, I had to throw away your coat," he said nonchalantly, seeming somehow distant. "Anyway, pick something so we can go," he continued, motioning the clothes hanging from the rack. "I'll wait outside." And with that he exited the clothing room.
They took the train back to New York, both barely uttering a word during the trip. Claire knew she should have felt like a hero – she had saved hundreds of lives today, but instead she felt empty. Corey Kenrick might have been dead, but they still had no idea who had made him do it in the first place. Of course the Company would launch an investigation, trace calls and dust for fingerprints and whatever, but somehow Claire doubted the blackmailer had left any useful evidence behind that could lead to tracking him down. Sylar was probably right about that.
It was past 5 when they finally arrived to the Company only to sit down and write a report about everything that had happened that day. Being an agent could be annoying that way.
"Neat job," Matt Parkman allowed, when they dumped their writings in his office. But Claire didn't care, she knew he was probably throwing cartwheels out of happiness inside. In the end, he had avoided a huge hit to the reputation of evolved humans.
Right after emerging from Parkman's office they saw Tracy Strauss in the corridor, who congratulated them, ranting feverishly about the aftermath of the events, the explanations she had been giving to the authorities and the public announcement she was yet to make. Apparently the Company was already taking care of everything. Good. All seemed to be falling in place and should they be lucky enough, the Company would get Sylar off the hook for flying, too.
Claire hailed a cab and they drove back to her apartment so Sylar could get his duffel bag he'd left there only this morning. It felt like it had been at least a week ago. This whole assignment felt as if it had taken months to complete when in actuality Claire had left this very apartment no longer than two days ago.
"I should go then," Sylar said after making sure he had all his things packed. "My flight leaves less than two hours from now."
"I'll give you a lift to the airport," Claire said. She was tired but she felt she owed him that much for helping out. To be honest, she owed him quite a lot. Had he not been there they would have never managed to stop the explosion from happening.
They drove in silence. Claire didn't feel uncomfortable by it, but it was rather odd that neither of them had anything to say after all the events that had occurred that day. Sylar seemed completely lost in thought, staring out of the window. Well, it is normal not to be very chatty when you've killed someone no more than six hours ago, Claire thought to herself glumly.
She parked the car when they arrived in the airport and walked Sylar to the terminal. The vast waiting hall around them was sparsely populated, not many people travelling that late in the evening.
Sylar still looked absent when he set down his bag to say good-bye to Claire.
"Are you alright?" she asked, a touch of concern in her voice.
"Uh, yea, better than ever," he said, trying to laugh it off, but his tone sounded somehow hollow.
"As weird as it may sound," Claire started, a small smile sneaking into her features, "especially considering today's events, I, uh, I had quite a bit of fun with this assignment."
Suddenly Sylar's grin seemed a lot more genuine. "Well, yes," he barked a laugh. "It was nice to see you again after so long. And from what I can tell, you need to take time off work more often."
"Yeah, well, there's always more to do in the Company," Claire shook her head almost apologetically, though she couldn't exactly explain why she felt that way.
Sylar looked at her for a moment with the strangest expression plastered on his face. "Guilt," he said then, serious again.
"What?" Claire asked her brow furrowed.
"I know why you work so hard. Why you can't let go of the Company. Why you still choose to believe in their cause. Need to believe. You feel guilty for exposing us, for what's happening to our kind. You think it's all your fault, but Claire, that is a burden too heavy for anyone to bear. You need to let go. Take it from someone who knows a thing or two about guilt. It'll destroy you if you let it." He raised his hand as if to pat her on the shoulder or something, but must have reconsidered as his open palm stopped mid-air for a split second, before he lowered it again.
Claire was left oddly speechless by his monologue. "Bye then," he said quietly as he picked up his bag and started to walk away from her before she had the time to utter a word.
As Claire stared at his retreating back, she didn't feel the relief of departing from a man she hated, like she had felt in the past, but instead like she was saying farewell to an old friend, which was much too weird to process at that very moment.
Before she could stop herself, Claire took a step forward, her mouth hanging awkwardly open but no words coming out. "Hey!" she blurted finally, "Gabriel!"
He stopped on the spot, looking back with mild interest on his face.
"Should I, uh," Claire found herself stuttering, "Should I ever happen to be in Texas, can I, um, can I…?"
His lips curved into a lopsided smile. "You should come by. I definitely want a rematch in pool."
AN: I felt this is the natural end of this particular fic (a little too long for a first one to begin with, I suppose). I will probably continue with a sequel in the future. Feel free to give me any final thoughts, comments, criticisms, etc.
Thanks for reading and have a great day!