This story is also available at this location on The Archive of Our Own, where all my current stories and comments can be found. I am no longer updating this site.

Ever since Claire was a little girl, she'd retreated to her room when she needed to think. Lots of kids had better hideouts, but Claire had never needed to hide. Just to get away from time to time. Her room was big and bright, decorated according to her changing tastes, and it made her feel better to be around all her things. They were evidence that she was wanted, that she fit in, that she had what a normal girl had.

Now she sat on the bed with its pretty white bedspread – she'd picked it out with her mom, because her mom insisted on at least one mother-daughter shopping trip per year, and Claire had managed to make it a not-clothes trip this time – and hugged her knees to her chest. Her shoes were probably scuffing the white cotton. She wondered why she even thought of that, when it turned out the room was as much of a lie as Claire herself.

If she could talk to her mom, what would she say? 'Hey, Mom, there's this thing going on with me …. It's kind of cool, but also really scary. My body can do things. They're amazing, and they feel … like nothing else. But everything is happening so fast, and it seems like I have all these huge choices to make right now. I want to take some time, to learn about myself, but I can't figure it out and I don't have anyone to help me ….'

And oh God it sounded like she was talking about sex. 'Is some boy trying to make you go farther than you want to go?' That's what Mom would say, sweetly confident in her misunderstanding, sweetly outraged on her daughter's behalf.

Now that Claire thought about it, her mom didn't really try to understand anything, or anyone. She just accepted, and sometimes put her own interpretation on events, and it was useless to try to explain the real situation to her because she'd just keep believing whatever she'd decided on. It was part of her sweetness. But now Claire had to wonder: Wouldn't anyone stop trying to understand, really understand, if big chunks of her life just seemed to disappear? Wouldn't it be safer to smile and hug and groom the dogs if that kept the world spinning, kept away the loss of hours and days and minutes that otherwise just seemed to disappear? Meals made and eaten that she didn't remember, trips in the car that must have been taken because the kids were out of the house and it was three hours later than when she'd looked at the clock last.

Now that Claire thought about it, she could remember a couple of times when Mom came home with groceries identical to the ones already in the fridge. She and Lyle had always laughed – not all that kindly, she thought with shame. Dad had always smiled and kissed Mom's hair and said that they'd all have to eat heartily for the next few days, and it had been another one of Mom's quirks.

Claire realized that she was curled up on her bed, her back against the pillows like a child afraid of the dark. Her face was hot, remembering all the ways in which she'd dismissed her mother and looked to her father anytime level-headed advice was needed.

It's a lot easier to keep a level head when no one's taking chunks out of it.

With all of it, she still loved her father. He would only have done something like this if he truly believed it was necessary. The big black guy with the accent had almost said as much – he'd gone to her mother just like he'd gone to Lyle and Zach, to protect the secret of Claire's specialness.

"Claire?"

Her father, on the stairs. Where had he sent Mom and Lyle? Would they even remember they'd been gone, or would that be another black square on the schedule, more disappeared hours?

"Claire?"

She rubbed at her face quickly, getting out of bed and smoothing back her hair. "Yeah, Dad, what is it?"

He waited for her to open her bedroom door. He would never come in without her permission. "I was just checking to see how you were."

"I'm fine," she said and smiled. The cheerleader smile, the one that was smooth and happy and unconcerned with anything but nailing that next basket toss. The one that was supposed to keep her safe and untouchable — in school, and now here. "I was gonna do some homework, but then I fell asleep. How's my favorite dad?"

She loved her father. She just couldn't trust him.

****

Using the computer at home was out. The school library had some ancient machines, so she went in the next morning prepared to skip math and do some research. As it turned out, a bunch of kids were taking the tragedy as an opportunity to skip school, and the teachers were freaked too, so after homeroom she walked over to the library wing without even bothering to sneak around.

When she typed Peter Petrelli's name into Google, the result was blocked for violent content. Some newspaper must have printed his name in a story about Jackie, she figured.

Claire approached the librarian, twisting her hands behind her back, digging a thumbnail into the back of her hand hard enough that she could feel the skin part, if only for a second. "Excuse me, Mrs. Briggs? Is there any way you can unlock the filter on the computer for me? I – I'm trying to learn more about what happened to Jackie. I just don't understand, and I – could you unlock the filter?" She looked away, overwhelmed by her own need. Even if she could explain herself and be believed, her father would find out and go after Mrs. Briggs, and no one should have their memories ripped out like that.

The librarian's hand was warm on her shoulder. "Sure, Claire. Just let me know when you're finished. And – if you need to talk to someone."

She nodded, smearing the dots of blood from her already-erased cuts into invisibility on her skin.

It turned out that it wasn't even the killing at the high school that was the problem. Peter's name hadn't made it into the news.

He'd tried to kill himself a few weeks back.

Or, no, that didn't make sense. He'd been like Claire – trying out his powers, testing them. Someone had seen and completely misinterpreted. One of the news reports said it was his brother who'd found him, which made Lyle's freak-out look not so bad by comparison.

Peter must have been forced to play along with the suicide attempt story, or else he'd look even freakier. He could have been worried about someone like Sylar coming after him – Claire still didn't know how he'd figured out she was in danger, but he'd known it could happen. Or – what if the military found out and grabbed him to figure out his power? Claire hadn't thought about that at all. She'd made those tapes thinking the worst that could happen would be becoming a freak on YouTube, followed around by paparazzi like Paris Hilton. Peter was from New York, older and more sophisticated. He must have known more about the risks.

Invulnerability created all kinds of dangers, which was probably what Claire's English teacher meant by "ironic." Clair could have lived without the reality show version of it. Anyway, Peter had found out about her – how?

She turned to another website. There were over twenty P Petrellis in the phone listings, along with three Peters.

She couldn't just call all those numbers. Her dad would be watching carefully, and he could check her cell, and if she cleared the memory he'd still know something was up (and wouldn't that be funny – from wiped memory to wiped memory). God, and if he could get a big scary guy to wipe people's minds, probably he could get the phone company's records anyway.

Claire knew she wasn't stupid. It was a lot easier to get along with other people if you didn't try too hard to be smart, though. And she'd never had to be on her own like this. She kept poking her pen into her leg while she thought about what to do next. The sensation was a little like having her hair pulled had been, back when she felt things like ordinary people.

She ended up borrowing a phone from Ashley Hall by telling her that she'd met a guy from New York and gotten really into him, but her parents found out and were freaking. They checked the phone records, so she couldn't use her own cell to call, but she really needed to talk to him, so would Ashley mind? As Claire pointed out, Ashley had a fixed-price calling plan anyway.

Ashley, thrilled as always to be drawn into someone else's drama, surrendered the phone. Claire took her printout of phone numbers and stood in the hall outside the library, looking out the plate glass windows at the nearly-empty parking lot.

At the fifth number, a woman picked up on the second ring. "Hello?"

"Hi, I'm trying to reach Peter Petrelli?"

"He's not here right now," the woman said, suddenly wary.

Claire's hand clenched on the phone. She straightened her shoulders and tried to pretend she was doing a team fundraiser, smiling because she'd read that people could hear a smile over the phone. "I would really like to talk to him. Do you know when he'll be back?"

"Who is this?"

She took a chance. "My name is Claire Bennet. I'm – I'm a cheerleader."

There was a sharp breath. "You're the cheerleader. So Peter – found you? He's all right?"

Claire looked up and down the hall; no one was within earshot. "He was fine when I saw him at the police station," Claire said. "So, do you know what's going on?"

The woman – whose name turned out to be Simone Deveaux – wanted to know a lot more about the 'police station' part, which was reasonable. When Claire had convinced her that Peter was fine and not under arrest, Simone explained a little bit about how Peter had seen Claire in danger in the paintings of some guy who, it seemed, could tell the future in his art. Simone didn't know how the painter got his powers. Fortune telling was maybe a scarier power even than healing any wound, Claire thought.

Simone hadn't heard from Peter since he'd left for Odessa, and she was plainly still very worried for him because of what she'd seen in the last painting, even though Claire reassured her that Peter had been physically fine after the high school. Claire left her with the impression that Peter hadn't been seriously injured at all rather than trying to explain about the healing; she figured Peter could take care of that himself.

"You know, he's my hero," she found herself saying. "He saved me." In the distance, at the junction where the library's hall joined the hall to the gym, she saw a couple of Spirit Squad types taking down homecoming posters. They were working quietly, not looking at each other or joking like they usually would have been.

Simone laughed, not very happily. "That's Peter. Always taking care of people. He thinks he has a part to play in saving the world. I'm starting to believe it, after this."

Something about the way she said it – "A part to play? Like, with other people?"

"Yes. People like my – Isaac, the painter. And there's a scientist from India, and some strange Japanese guy, or guys, Peter wasn't all that clear. People with abilities." She said the last word like it was a curse.

"I think I need to talk to Peter some more. But – it might be dangerous. For him, I mean, if someone found out we were talking." Should she explain about her father? She was already pretty far over the crazy-talk-to-strangers line. "The cops are already kind of suspicious of him because he came out of nowhere on the same night Jackie was killed, even though I told them he saved me."

"What if you contacted him through me?" Simone asked after a pause. "I could give you my number and email. It would be hard to connect us, and you could even get a new email account separate from your ordinary address. If you put 'our mutual friend' as the subject of your email, I'll know it's you, and we can stay in touch."

Claire blinked at her reflection in the glass, feeling excited and dumb all at once. Simone was dealing with this like it was something that happened every day. "That – that sounds great. I – thank you. Thank you for helping me."

"Hey," Simone said gently, as if she were only just realizing that Claire was actually sixteen. "It's not a big deal. Peter means a lot to me. And part of the reason is that he seriously believes he can save the world. Not a lot of people are willing to take risks to do that. If he does, I've got to do my part, too."

She had to close her eyes. Simone sounded perfect for Peter – sophisticated, but brave. Someone worth loving. Like Zach could have been, at least like she wanted Zach to be, if he could have remembered her. Claire cleared her throat. "Um, great. So – I'll give you my number, just for emergencies. If you call, you can say you're a friend and my parents won't freak out."

They exchanged the relevant information, and then said goodbye. Claire went back into the library and returned the phone to Ashley, with enough thanks and requests for secrecy that Ashley probably wouldn't tell more than five people in the next hour. There would be gossip, lots of it nasty, but as long as it didn't get back to her dad, Claire could deal.

She googled Simone, taking three tries before she got the last name right. It was no surprise that Simone was as gorgeous – and successful and artistic, one of New York's up-and-coming art dealers according to the first story Claire found — as she was nice. Peter must be very happy with her, Claire thought, willing herself not to feel disappointed. It wasn't like Peter could have been interested in her anyway. At least they had this ability in common, so she wasn't alone.

****

It was probably stupid to go over to her father's office so soon after her memory was supposedly wiped. He'd be on the lookout. She couldn't help herself. If she couldn't go to New York, which was impossible without a credit card, she had to do something. The foreign guy had said enough to tell her that her dad had to have a bunch of resources behind him, and if he didn't keep any evidence of that at home, it had to be at the job.

When she arrived, she was already so full of paranoia that it was pretty easy to spot the two FBI agents in their dark car, even though they had the sunshades flipped down.

If they were staking out her dad's office, it meant that she was right. Her dad was involved in something big and nasty. And so was she, even if he didn't want that.

Claire clutched her bookbag more firmly to her side and walked over to their car. The man noticed her first, whacking his partner on the shoulder so that they both stared at her as she approached.

The man rolled down the window just as she raised her fist to knock on the glass.

"Miss Bennet?"

"Agent – Parker, right?"

He smiled up at her, but it seemed a little sad. "Actually, it's Parkman – and it's not Agent – You know what, never mind. Call me Matt."

"I'm Claire," she said. "Can we talk?"

The woman leaned over. "Get in the back seat," she said, somewhere between an order and a suggestion. "Attracts less attention."

Good point. Claire slid in.

Now they were both twisted around in their seats, leaning towards each other so they could see her through the gap in the seats. Claire put her bag on her knees and tried to figure out where to start.

"I told you the truth, before," she said. "Just not everything."

The woman looked at Matt, who nodded. "You're sure, this time?"

Matt didn't take his eyes off Claire. "Have I ever said I was sure when I wasn't?"

Claire didn't like the tension in the car. "What's going on? What are you talking about?" She looked to the side; the door lock was still up, and she could probably jump out if she turned out to be really wrong about these people.

"Audrey here wants to be sure I believe you're telling the truth now. I'm like her lie detector."

Claire stared at him, wondering if Matt had a power. That might explain the way they'd both gone tense, as if he were telling her a big secret, but also as if they were fighting like adults in front of children, spelling out words the kids weren't supposed to understand.

She wasn't going to get anywhere on her own. Peter was gone and she didn't know if he'd be back. If Matt – and maybe Audrey? – had powers, they were her best hope.

"The guy who killed Jackie," she said, "he wasn't after her. He was after me."

"How right you are," said a cheery voice from outside, as the car door flew out and off its hinge. Claire only saw a glimpse of him before she was snatched out and held against him, her back to his chest. She kicked uselessly, but he had his forearm across her neck and she couldn't breathe.

 

There were fingers at her scalp, in the same place as before – he didn't have his knife this time, but he was digging into her. She felt the skin tear. Hot blood ran down her cheeks, like tears.

The cops were yelling and had guns from somewhere, but they weren't pointing them at the guy – at her. She was held in front of him, a hostage.

"Shoot!" she gasped. They weren't listening, their eyes over her head watching the guy. She could swear he'd broken a hole in her skull. There was something thicker than blood on her skin.

"Shoot me!" she tried again. In her head it was a yell, but no sound came out.

"Shoot her!" Matt said, or she thought he did. Her head was buzzing.

"Goddammit!" Audrey screamed. "You better be right!" And then they were firing, both of them.

The impacts hurt for a second, and then it was like being at the pool, slapping the water to make waves and splashes. Only Claire was the water, not the swimmer. The bullets were hot, like melted wax. She felt a rib shatter, then a bone in her arm. The man's grip on her throat loosened and fell away.

She was looking up at the sky. There were a few fluffy clouds off to the left, but mostly it was a regular washed-out blue.

Matt appeared in her line of sight. "Don't worry," he said. "I'll call an ambulance – Audrey's gone after him."

Claire coughed and turned her head to the side so she could spit out a wad of blood and something gunkier. "No ambulance," she said, and straightened her arm. "I'm fine."

Matt dropped to his knees and watched her, gaping. She checked all her limbs to make sure they were back in their proper places. There was nothing she could do about all the bullet holes, but they were actually pretty small and nothing crucial was hanging out of her clothes.

"You have a handkerchief?" she asked. He shook his head, his mouth still hanging open like a dog's. Her dad said a real gentleman always had a real handkerchief.

She sat up, pressing at her ribs to reassure herself that they weren't sticking out.

Audrey came running back, panting. "He's gone. I don't even think he was really hurt, more – holy shit!" She'd finally noticed Claire's failure to bleed to death.

"If he's not hurt, maybe we should get out of here before he decides to come back." Matt had pulled himself together enough to look around warily, then offer her a hand. "Plus, with all the shooting, someone must have called the cops."

"We are the cops, Parkman," Audrey said.

"I don't think even your FBI badge will explain this one," Matt said, nodding at Claire's bloody outfit. "Also – remember what I said about the superpowered serial killer on the loose near here?"

Recognizing the wisdom of that, they got back in the car. Claire sat on the side that still had a back door. Audrey drove, turning corners seemingly at random.

They were all still pretty surprised, Claire thought, but they also might not have a lot of time. "This guy who did this, can you catch him?"

"His name is Sylar," Audrey said. "I can and I will."

"Do you have powers?"

"There are all kinds of power, Claire," she said, dragging the steering wheel through another tight turn. "I've got some, Matt's got some. Together, it's a lot."

Looking at Audrey, how she was amazed but not frightened, not paralyzed by the insane things she'd just seen, Claire thought: I could do that. I could investigate crimes and protect people. Not just wait for something to happen. I could stop fires before they start.

Cheerleaders don't grow up to be FBI agents. She knew that, and anyone at school would be happy to remind her if she forgot.

But: Geeks and losers didn't elect homecoming queens. Fathers didn't steal their children's memories. Cheerleaders didn't miraculously heal from autopsies.

Agent Parkman – Matt – was looking at her and smiling. Not meanly, more like her coach when she'd learned a difficult move.

"I could help."

"You're just a kid," Audrey said, almost apologetically.

"But I can help. I can get into Dad's office. I know he's involved. I've got power you don't have. You could use my help, and I know I need yours."

"She's got a point," Matt said. "Listen, I've been thinking: We seem to be meeting a lot of people who can do things. But it's like – the powers aren't that great on their own. Actually, they're kind of sucky. We're not Superman and Wonder Woman. We're not going to form some sort of Justice League. Maybe we're something else. Maybe we're -"

"Jigsaw pieces," Claire said. "Parts of a puzzle."

Matt nodded vigorously; Audrey chewed her lip.

"What's the puzzle?" Audrey asked after a minute. "Where's my damned box top?"

"Maybe," Matt said, his voice going low and teasing, "that's why they put the 'I' in FBI."

"Oh, stuff it," Audrey said, but she was struggling not to smile, Claire could tell.

"So," Claire said. "Are we going to do this thing? Stop Sylar, find the others like me, save the world?"

"Yeah," Audrey said and grinned at her in the rear-view mirror. "Yeah, I think we are."

End

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