Claire woke on the couch again. She must have dosed off watching TV… again. It had been almost six months since the "curious case of Corey Kenrick", which, by the way, was still unsolved to Claire's annoyance, and things hadn't gone all that well since then to be honest.
She stretched her body as she flipped through the channels, stopping on TopShop where a mild looking housewife was right in the middle of explaining why some detergent was better than all the others. Just perfect, Claire thought humorlessly.
The clock on the wall stated it was 05:13AM. Typical. She didn't remember the last time she slept through the night without waking up several times, and the last time she felt actually rested.
Claire stared at the coffee table in front of her with an utterly emotionless gaze. It was littered with half-empty glasses, dirty dishes, bottles and a dozen different sorts of meds from sleeping pills to the strongest painkillers you could get without a prescription. In the middle of all that mess lied some forgotten reports and files from work, books she had started and then tossed aside. No, things really hadn't gone all that well recently.
It had probably started with Claire's birthday about four months ago. Of course, she could begin the trail of misfortunes with the plain fact that she hated… perhaps too strong of a word, alright, disliked celebrating her birthday. There wasn't really anything to celebrate, not anymore. She had stopped ageing, as doctor Suresh had predicted, around her 25th birthday. To be precise, she had never actually aged. Her organism had developed fully, which happened when she got 24, 25 perhaps, but she had never started to age.
One of the worst things, though, on that particular birthday had probably been her failed attempt to make her relationship with West work. She'd really hoped she could patch things up by then, but nothing had changed for the better, in fact he had permanently moved back to Costa Verde, transferred to the Company's Californian branch and they hadn't talked much since.
And then, of course, she had her family issues. Her mother and Lyle had flown to New York for her birthday as every year. Her mother always scolded her for working so much all the time that they had to come to NYC to see her at all. Her birthday was pretty much the only time they got together and every time it felt a little weirder for Claire – seeing Lyle all grown up, married and working in the field of IT. He was older than her by now, physically at least, and it felt almost impossible to get used to. It reminded her so painfully how mortal her family really was and the inescapable reality that one day they would die and she would remain. Alone in this world.
Her father, on the other hand, had gone off the grid, which made her worry constantly. They hadn't had the relationship they used to since Claire had thrown herself off that Ferris wheel but they still met whenever he was in New York to grab a cup of coffee together and catch up. The things that had been said, the harsh words that had been traded after the Central Park incident had been forgotten, or at least forgiven. He was still her dad and she loved him dearly.
But now he was lost. The Company gave no answers about his latest assignment or the status of his search. Maybe they suspected she was in on it, whatever it was. After his disappearance there had been an interrogation after all and Claire had felt almost foolish that she had no explanations to give, not that she would have. Wherever he was though, if his vanishing had been deliberate, Claire knew he hadn't told her because he wanted to protect her. His need to protect her was most infuriating at times.
Claire poured herself a glass of scotch, tilting the glass in the air before bringing it to her lips. "Happy times," she chuckled darkly, while watching as an unhealthily tanned older man talked merrily about some golden trinket you just have to buy. For a second she wondered what Sylar would say if he'd see how she was using his teachings of 'how to get drunk when you have a regenerating liver'. Nothing positive, she imagined. Or maybe he'd produce one of his gruff laughs?
She hadn't seen him since their Boston job but to her surprise he sent her a birthday present: a painting starring no other than Claire herself. It was pretty good she thought, she was almost impressed, though it made her laugh as she debated within herself if he'd made it himself. She concluded that he had. Now it was hanging proudly above her TV and every time she looked at it, she could see him in her mind's eye covered in paint with a brush in one hand and a palette in the other. In some of her wildest visions he was even wearing a beret, which made her laugh quite uncontrollably.
He's gift had also included a birthday card. Claire set down her drink and went over the messy table to locate it. Finally she dragged it out under an empty vodka bottle. She really needed to clean up this place. It was a simple store-bought card with a huge birthday cake in the middle and the golden numbers of 2 and 5 on the top of it.
"Dear Claire," his neat handwriting said inside.
"Forever 25? Some people would kill for that." She wondered if it was supposed to be a joke. Probably, but his sense of humor seemed to be as morbid as hers sometimes was. "Anyway, happy birthday! It seems that the Company is kind enough to arrange a trip to New York for me very soon, so I might give you a call then, give you my congratulations face-to-face." She couldn't help but laugh about that jape again. And that was it. He'd signed the card with "Your old pal Gabriel."
Claire put the card aside again, frowning. That had been four months ago. He had never called her. She pondered whether he had been to the Company already, completed his mission and gone back to Texas without contacting her or whether he'd gone AWOL again. If he'd gone AWOL, Parkman would have probably said something, though. But then again, why should she care anyway? It wasn't like she had some strange need to see him or talk to him. Or maybe she did. Everybody around her was disappearing – Peter, her dad… West. Well, technically West hadn't disappeared but it sure felt that way to her. And now Sylar too, it seemed.
Oh, and Claire hadn't even gotten to the worst part. She smiled bitterly at that thought, snatching up her glass to take a mouthful of scotch. She had been suspended from work… for the second time. And this time for a whole month. No wonder she was drinking and downing pills by the handful in this boredom! It had been barely four days and she was dying of inactivity.
At least this time she felt it was for a good reason. For the first time she had gotten suspended for punching her partner. The Company had assigned her some insufferable douche to work with. He had been almost as incompetent at his job as he was annoying. Claire still felt he'd totally deserved what was coming for him. Needless to say they weren't partners anymore.
This time, though, she'd really crossed the line when she rammed their target's car out of the road. He could have died. But then again, he didn't. No harm no foul! The Company didn't see it like that obviously. They called Claire's behavior overly violent or was it unstable? …something like that. They even wanted to send her to a psychiatrist but she had talked them out of such nonsense.
And now she was drowning in boredom. She needed something to do, a case, a mission, some other purpose than just living and breathing. And thinking about her dad and Peter and West… and Sylar? Dare she admit?
What if something had happened to him? What if the government discovered who the flying man had been? Maybe he was in the basement of some nameless agency as he had predicted? Claire felt a tinge of guilt. It would be her fault if it were true. She had made him fly. And at that very moment she decided it was time to go rogue. The thought brought a smug smile to her face for some reason.
Claire cast aside the thin plaid that had covered her while she was sleeping and turned off the TV getting up decisively. She showered, dressed and had a bowl of cereal before heading out to hail a cab to get to the Company's main facility. She knew she'd arrive early and that was excellent since then the building would be mostly empty and the risk of running into unpleasant people was smaller.
During the drive Claire hatched a plan of action. When they arrived at the Company she paid the driver and headed in taking direction towards to the file rooms. If Sylar had in fact reached New York and gone on an assignment there would definitely be paperwork.
She approached the file clerk with a resolute stride as if she had every right to be there.
The file clerk looked exactly like you'd presume a stereotypical file clerk to look – an older woman with her grayish hair set into a tight bun and a pair of thick rimmed glasses sitting on her nose. And, of course, she was completely humorless and unnervingly strict.
"Agent Bennet," she said raising her eyes from a crossword she was doing. She always caught you half-a-mile away like a bloodhound. And how the hell did she remember her name?
Claire walked to the desk, folding her hands on top of it. "I need to review the Forrester file," she declared curtly.
"Agent Bennet," she said again, in a lecturing tone. "The last I heard, you were suspended from work. I'm sorry but I don't have the authority to let you in." She sounded like she wasn't sorry at all.
"Nothing escapes your attention," Claire said with a fake smile, then turned around and walked away. What else could she do? Knock her out and sneak into the file room? That would be a dumb move even for her.
As she walked through the empty corridors back towards the exit, trying to come up with an alternative plan, she soon heard the echo of another pair of feet against the hard floor. She stopped, crossing her fingers that it wouldn't be Matt Parkman. The last thing she wanted was to explain to him what she was doing here.
Maybe there was some higher power up there? Because instead of Parkman agent Harrison emerged behind the corner. Dressed in a regular black suit, carrying a briefcase, he looked like a standard agent. Claire knew him rather well and thought he was a decent guy, easygoing and trustworthy enough.
"Hi, Greg," she offered and he stopped as well.
"Claire?" Harrison said, his lips curving into a sly smile. "Thought you were on a 'vacation'?"
"I was, got bored," she said matching his smile. "Tell me this, did you work with Sylar this time around?"
He snorted at that, running one hand through his short brown hair. "No. Guy didn't show up again. I was glad actually, I mean, c'mon, we don't need him. He's only a loose cannon and it's a little creepy to drive next to a fellow who's probably fantasizing about ripping your head open to have a peek."
Claire had to laugh at that. "Yea, I know how that feels," she said mockingly, rolling her eyes, which made them both chuckle.
"Anyway, even Parkman finally decided to hell with it. He's not sending anyone to get him this time so your safe, Claire."
"Good, good," she replied nodding half-heartedly.
"Hey, but I gotta run," Harrison remembered suddenly. "Meeting in," he glanced at his watch, "damn it, two minutes ago. Good to see you, try not to fuck up your suspension."
"I will," Claire shouted at his retreating form, "Bye, Greg!"
Harrison's footsteps slowly died down but Claire remained unmoving, thinking of his words. Sylar had never showed up. That was strange. Not impossible, sure, but certainly strange. Parkman had made it clear that the last time was his final warning. So why on earth would he pull such a stunt again? Especially when he told her he was coming to New York soon. And the fact that Parkman had dropped it? Those odds were very near to zero… Something was amiss here, no doubt, and Claire was going to find out what it was.
About an hour later she was standing behind an apartment door with a brass 203 on it. She knocked on the wooden surface and waited patiently. It was a Monday, but it was early enough, so she found it unlikely that Molly had left for a lecture yet.
You'd think that the Company's tracking system would be locked into some secret room in the deepest corner of the facility, but no. Molly's two dads, both on high positions in the Company, loved their adoptive daughter simply too much for that. So instead they bought her an apartment and sent her to a college near enough to ask her help whenever they needed it.
Claire knocked again and this time she heard movement from inside. "Who is it?" It was Molly's voice on the other side of the door.
"It's me, Claire," she provided quickly.
She could hear the lock turn and the door opened revealing a very tired looking Molly. Her long brown hair was a tangle and she was wearing her pajamas.
"Sorry, did I wake you?" Claire smiled apologetically.
"It's alright," she said kindly, stepping aside so her visitor could come in.
Claire made a pot of coffee while her host got dressed but they maintained a casual conversation, half-shouting to hear each other. Apparently, Molly had no lectures until noon today, so she had been out with some friends the night before. Now she needed some caffeine pretty badly. Waiting for the coffee to drip, Claire recalled how little the brunette girl had been when they first met on Kirby plaza and to think now she was nearly as old as she was… or well, her body was.
"So… who are you looking for?" Molly asked excitedly when they'd sat to the table, both holding a steaming cup in their hands. She was always so positive. Claire admired that. She was about to smile when she remembered who she wanted to find.
"Sylar," she said, eying the girl across the table with some concern. She knew Sylar was probably the last person Molly wanted to think about… ever, and she felt bad for asking but she had to find out where he was. Something told her he wasn't at home.
Molly didn't ask her why she wanted to find him nor did she protest in the slightest at her request. Maybe she didn't want to or maybe working for the Company had taught her not to. Anyway, she gave Claire a curt nod, stood up and walked to a bookcase to retrieve a pile of maps.
Since she and Sylar shared a certain link due to their interweaving pasts, she didn't need any possessions, a picture of him or anything like that to find him. Claire didn't actually know how Molly's ability worked exactly but some people she found more easily, other not so much. She supposed it depended on a number of things.
They sat in silence for a while. Molly had a pin between her fingers, ready to set it down, her hand hovering above the maps. Then she opened her eyes. "He's nowhere," she said quietly.
"Like Peter?" Claire said with a deep frown.
"No, with Peter I can feel that he's somewhere out there, I just can't determine where," Molly explained slowly, "he isn't anywhere. He's dead."