=Chapter 2: Starfish Kid=


Well, that was exhilarating, Claude thought, peering up at the sky. Nothing like the threat of being particleized and blasted to smithereens to liven up one's evening. Quite the spectacle, he had to admit, as he stroked the cottony head feathers of one of his nameless, lavender-grey roof pigeons. All that shinyness and bang. So Peter Petrelli really pulled through after all. So now, huzzah, I don't have to feel like such a colossal idiot for having come back to look for him. "I only came back ta save you fellahs," Claude lied to his pigeon, just to re-enforce the 'I-care-for-no-one' status quo. Alright, so maybe he hadn't been too fond of the idea of letting eight million New Yorkers get incinerated either. Basically, the impact of what was going to happen to New York finally caught up with him as he'd tried to invisibly sneak onto that flight to Australia, and he couldn't do it. He couldn't just leave everyone to cark it.

Not that he'd had much in the plan department when he came back- just run a lot, desperately revisit Peter's apartment, revisit Isaac's loft, revisit the rooftop he'd thrown Peter off not long ago. Try to find Peter. Try to calm him down. Try to get him out of the city. Try to save Peter, and everyone else.

So much for that idea, Claude thought, staring at the empty sky. Poor kid. Guess he got to be a hero after all, lotta good it did him.

There was a flap of dusty wings. Putting his closest feathered pal back down on the ornate motif atop the Devoux building, Claude took off for the closest elevator. He tried to push the buttons, but they were still as annoyingly dead as they'd been when he'd run up all these steps. Rolling his eyes, Claude returned to the stairwell. Good exercise right? said the tiny, caged away part of him that was still an optimist. Shut up you, Claude told that part of himself. Just cuz I came back, don't mean I have to turn into a blind, gullible Pollyanna again. Nothing good about these stairs at all, not a bit, not whatsoever. They're loathable stairs.

After what seemed like forever, Claude finally exited the Devoux building, and took off into the alleys, invisible as usual. No point in sticking around, he thought, as disturbed puddles and wet, empty footsteps littered the cracked alley concrete behind him, and his trenchcoat flapped against his stiff thighs. Time to catch another plane and disappear in the Outback... maybe catch a plane in New Jersey, he corrected, glancing at the lightless bulbs of a line of streetlights. The New York airport might be a bit worse for wear after that explosion knocked out the electric.

Claude tripped over half a brain, got up, brushed the puddle-water off the front of his sweater and grey trenchcoat, started walking away- then froze, spun around, and did a double-take.

The brain was expanding- more flesh was appearing from nowhere, then strands of nerves trickled over the concrete, then one by one, the vertebrae of a spine snaked out from the brain, and a narrow skull started calciumating and caging over the brain. Nightmarish eyes formed in the hollow cavities of the eye-sockets, heart and lungs and intestines formed over the top of the spine, ribs grew outwards and curved in over the internal organs, merging into a sternum in the middle, pelvis and shoulder-blades emerged, followed by leg-bones and arms-bones, teeth, finger-bones, and finally, a complete skeleton. Muscles, nerves, arteries and veins slithered throughout the skeleton in the proper places, a trachea, emerged, a tongue, lungs-

Claude jumped despite his best efforts as the forming body started screaming, in a choked, gargling way, the worst sort of anguish he'd ever heard in a human voice. The ghoulish body started thrashing convulsively, splattering blood everywhere, contracting over onto its side as the final muscles took shape, and skin formed over the raw red flesh- eyelids over the eyes, narrow lips over the screaming teeth. Finally, the eyes opened- wide, bloodshot, and brown.

Claude recognized that crooked-mouth and V-shaped jawbone even underneath all that blood, and even though Peter was bald and eyebrowless now, since his hair follicles hadn't, apparently, regenerated to the same length as before. "You!" Claude exclaimed in absolute awe. "You're alive!? You regenerated- from a muffin-sized piece of your brain, you regenerated! Blimey, are there more of you around 'ere? Lotsa clones all made from bits and stuff of you? Nah, guess not," Claude concluded, catching sight of a few smaller pieces of brain stuck to the ground like used grey bubble-gum. "Well, nevermind. Welcome back, mate! Good job on not killing eight million people- oh, here, you better take this," he added, slipping off his trenchcoat and handing it down to Peter.

Peter coughed violently as he rocked up off his side and onto his knees, stared at his bloody hands, stared at the puddle of dark red blood he was practically swimming in, and finally, peered up at Claude for a few long moments with a look of absolute confusion plastered over his funny face. "Thanks..?" Peter mumbled finally, accepting the proffered trenchcoat.

"You can see me, right?" Claude wondered.

"Yes... who- who are you?" Peter asked, as he stuck his bloody arms through the oversized sleeves, stumbled to his feet- then lost his balancing act and lurched elbows-first against a graffitied alley wall, catching himself before he fell again.

"The name's Morton," Claude invented on the spot. "Don't you remember me, Starfish Kid? I'm hurt."

Peter's face twisted up in thought as his fingers fumbled, awkwardly attempting to button the many plastic buttons of the trenchcoat over his bare torso and legs. "I- I don't. I don't remember. I'm sure I'll remember in a minute, just give me a minute I... I'm sorry," Peter interjected sharply, "did you just say I regenerated?!"

"Nice to see those ear canals regenerated properly."

"That's... I don't... I mean, I'm not..." All of Peter's arguments of how crazy that sounded were cut short by him taking in all the blood again, and inspecting the perfectly undamaged skin on his fingers and toes as he flexed them experimentally.

"Anyway, congratulations for not being dead!" Claude beamed, throwing a quick, rough hug over Peter's shoulder, then pulling back again casually. "Doesn't mean you're not still a danger to, let me think- oh right, that was it- everybody!"

"What are you talking about?" Peter asked hazily.

"Well, congratulations on forgetting everybody! Good onya! Now you don't need to be bogged down with all those pesky emotional attachments, so you don't need to go impersonatin' weapons of mass destruction! Well done!" This really is fortunate, Claude thought with uncommon upbeatness. Peter's alive, but he's not dangerous- as long as he stays away from all those other Specials who'll make him an emotional wreck again. Maybe I'll take the kid to Australia with me. Darwin Australia, or the Kimberleys. Somewhere majorly unpopulated- just in case. Nah, not in the mood for babysitting, Claude decided. I'll just buy him a ticket to the Western Sahara or something.

Peter was hugging the partially-buttoned trenchcoat against his thin chest, still staring at Claude with that lost puppy expression. "I've- been trying, really trying, and I can't remember your name from anywhere- or what I'm doing here, or- I can't even remember my name," Peter admitted helplessly. "You know me... right? You talk like you know me... So... this is all so crazy- but- could you just- could you just- um, what I'm saying is- who am I?"

"Like I'm gonna tell you!" Claude scoffed. "Trust me, you're better off like this. Everybody is." With that, he started strolling off again, leaving Petrelli to his own devices. I gave him the coat, I've done my good deed for the decade.

"Why?" Peter pleaded. "Why won't you? Why not? Why won't you tell me? Can you at least tell me my name?"

"Poodle."

"Not funny," Peter muttered sulkily.

"Not joking," Claude shot back over his shoulder, unable to resist tormenting him a bit. I mean, how often do you get to scare amnesiacs with the prospect of having a stupid name?

"My name can't be Poodle," Peter insisted stubbornly.

"Why, because you have no hair, Sphinx Cat? Yeah, okay, fine, kidding. I'll tell you your name. Listen up. Its..." Claude allowed for a suitably dramatic pause, then spun around and replied offhandedly, "...Pomeranian." Spinning back away from Peter, he continued prowling off down the empty alleyway.

"Why is it always a dog?" Peter called out irritably.

"Cuz they're loyal and stupid and easy to train," Claude shot back. "Like you."

"Who am I?!" Peter growled, somehow catching up despite the stumbling and tripping, and falling in close, barefoot pace behind Claude. "How do I know you? Are we friends? Are we not friends? Are you maybe going to talk to me? Morton- please! My mind is a total, copy-paper blank! I can't even remember- I don't know where I came from, who I'm related to- I don't even know how I remember how to talk when I can't even remember who my own parents are! How can I remember concepts of words and what they mean without any actual memories attached to them? It doesn't make sense! Could you just tell me something!" Peter yapped desperately, snatching Claude by the shoulder. "I'm totally lost here, and it's kinda freaking me out!"

Claude shoved Peter off roughly, smacking him against a dumpster, not even breaking stride. Hold it- Claude thought suddenly, pulling up to a sharp halt. Here, right here, standing here, is - what, the most powerful bloke on Earth? No memory whatsoever, and tagging after me like a lost duckling, totally dependent on me for his memories- and right at a time when I'm being tracked down by Bennet and his Company, and fleeing for my life- and here I am, aiming to just walk away, to just abandon the kid in an alley, for Hell knows who to find. What am I bloody thinking? "Yeah... yeah alright," Claude retorted acerbically, "you know what- fine. You want your memories? You're going to have to do a job for me first."

"A job?" Peter echoed uncertainly, blinking his lashless eyes under what would've been puzzled eyebrows, if they'd existed. "What kind of job?"

Claude grinned his barracuda smile. "Sorta hoping you'd ask."