cruiscin_lan: (Bitch please)
cruiscin_lan ([personal profile] cruiscin_lan) wrote2010-02-02 01:22 pm

FIC: Taut

Title: Taut
Characters: Sylar/Claire, Gretchen, Noah, Sandra, Lyle
Word Count: 10k.
Rating: Hard R. Please check the warnings.
Disclaimer: I do not own Heroes.
Spoilers/Warnings: Slightly AU starting from the "Thanksgiving" episode. Highlight for warnings: Contains abortion, pregnancy kink, explicit sex, mature themes.
Summary: She'd realized long ago that being special means that she doesn't really have the same options as everybody else.
A/N: Written for [ profile] kathrynthegr8, who won me in the [ profile] help_haiti fandom auction.

The Sullivan Bros. Carnival is intoxicating. She's like a magpie, her attention darting from a sparkly costume to a colorful display to a funhouse mirror, where she sees her reflection smiling back at her. It's undoubtedly her image staring back at her, but distorted in a way that makes her smile even wider. Even after she'd said farewell to Gretchen, she hadn't been able to come down from this high she was on from her surroundings.

It had been strange, sure, running into Doyle, but seeing Sylar there more than disorienting.

"What's he doing here?" she hisses to Lydia at the breakfast table.

"You know him?"

"We've tried to kill each other several times over now, I think."

"Well, he's not who you remember him as. His mind has been pushed to its greatest limits. He doesn't know who he is. He's broken."

"Claire! Claire is new here," Samuel says, beckoning her towards him. "Claire, do you know -"


"So we've met."

"Why don't you two get re-acquainted?" Samuel suggests.

Maybe it's the place. Maybe it's the heady rush of being around so many others like her, unafraid to hide what makes them special. Maybe it's the fact that he's vulnerable now, and he's never been vulnerable before, not like this, but before she can explain how, they're tumbling into his trailer together, laughing and clinging to one another's clothing. They fall onto the bed together, and in a moment's pause, Sylar reaches for a wisp of Claire's hair that's fallen in front of her face. He sticks it behind her ear and smiles; she takes it as a cue and leans into him, presses her lips against his.

It's impulsive and stupid, she knows, but her tongue is in his mouth now, teasing. He keeps his hands on her waist, like he's afraid to move them, but she's running hers through his hair and down his back and when she finds the hem of his shirt she starts to tug at it mercilessly.

"What are you doing?" he asks.

"I'm taking advantage of you," she tells him. With his memories gone, there's been a shift of power between the two of them, and Claire relishes the control she has over him. She's so lost in the thrill of it that she's quickly losing track of what she's doing, and before long they lay naked together, prone, entwined, panting and gasping and moaning and shuddering at one another's touch.

But when she wakes up in the morning and realizes Oh god, I really slept with him and hurriedly she gathers her clothes and gets dressed while Sylar's still sighing in his sleep. She doesn't explain why she's leaving, because she doesn't quite understand why herself. She just knows that she's made a huge mistake, and every second she lingers makes her feel more horrible for it. Against her better judgment, she hitchhikes back the way she and Gretchen came.

She's back by Monday, like she promised. Gretchen seems surprised.

"I was afraid you were going to stay," she admit breathlessly, hugging Claire tight.

Claire smiles and squeezes her back. "It wasn't what I thought it was going to be."

When the end of the semester finally rolls around a week or two later, she attributes her fatigue to stress and strange study hours, and her constant peeing to the Red Bulls she keeps downing. The only thing that strikes her as strange is when she accidentally burns her hand on the waffle iron in the cafeteria; the wound heals much more quickly than she's used to, before she even gets a good look at it. Thankfully the only one who notices is Gretchen, but even she doesn't recognize the subtle shift in Claire's power.

It's not until Gretchen calls her out on her rapidly changing mood that Claire begins to put the pieces together.

It starts as they're studying on the floor in the library, every table and every chair already occupied by the time they arrive. They don't mind, though - they've found a comfortable corner, out of the way of any foot traffic, and they tease one another about being library refugees for a while before they crack open their books. When Claire settles down and spreads her notes on the floor in front of her, Gretchen leans over and punches her one last time in the arm.

"Okay, Gretch, stop touching me, I'm trying to study!" Claire hisses.

"I was just playing around," Gretchen retorts. "Why so serious, Claire? We were having fun a few second ago."

"I'm trying to study, that's all."

"What is the matter with you, Claire?" she asks pointedly. "Are you going to fail your classes or something?"

"No, I just... I don't know." Claire breathed in deeply. She was having fun a second ago. She knows she's been really easy to set off lately, so she frowns and apologizes. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bite your head off."

"Must be your period," Gretchen grumbles as she turns back to her textbook. It's a good thing her attention is diverted, because Claire's doing the math in her head, and realizing that her period is three weeks late.

She hesitates, looking down at the form in her hands. In the empty space for her name, she scribbles "Claire Butler." She doesn't want her father or anybody else finding out that she's been here.

They make her do a counseling session that lasts for an hour and a half. They want to make sure she knows she has options, but the way the counselor keeps repeating the word grates on Claire's nerves. She's nineteen years old, and she's already having enough trouble handling school as it is. The last thing she needs is a baby thrown into the mix - especially one of Sylar's.

When she finally sees the doctor, Claire can tell that this woman is overworked and underpaid. There are bags beneath her eyes, and their conversation is little more than going over a checklist.

"Has it been less than eight weeks since your last period?"


"Are you willing and able to give informed consent?"


"Do you have access to reliable transportation, a telephone to call in case of emergency?"


"Do you live within two hours from emergency medical care?"


The doctor studies Claire's forms for a moment and decides that Claire is a good candidate for a medical abortion. After some explanation, Claire agrees. At this point, though, Claire would agree to whatever got her out of that office the soonest. There's too much light, too much space, too much clutter lining every surface.

The doctor gives her a pill and a Dixie cup with water. "This is going to stop the hormones that help maintain and develop pregnancy."

Claire puts the pill on her tongue and swallows, chasing it with the water from the paper cup. She can taste the impurities in it; it must have come from the tap.

"Did you swallow? Can I see?" the doctor asks, and Claire feels childish as she opens her mouth and lifts her tongue to prove she's not hiding anything. The doctor nods; business as usual for her. She presses a prescription bottle into Claire's palm. "When you get home, take one of these anywhere between twenty-four to seventy-two hours. It's going to cause contractions. It won't be comfortable - there will be bleeding and cramping. You'll pass the products of conception then, but you probably won't even notice."

"So it's like, what, a really heavy period?"

"You might think so. A lot of women find it's more tolerable than that, but some find it worse. You can take Tylenol, or I could prescribe you something stronger if that's a concern."

"No," Claire interrupts. "I think I'll be fine."

The doctor smiles, but Claire finds little comfort in it. The doctor gives her more directions: "There's four pills in the bottle; you should only need one, but if that fails, give us a call and we'll tell you what to do from there. Otherwise, we'll see you back in two-weeks for a follow-up."

The dorm is pretty much empty of all but international students or resident assistants when Claire takes the second pill. She lays in bed, watching the numbers on her alarm clock slowly turn. One hour passes, six hours, eight, and she feels nothing. She considers calling the clinic for further instructions, but she knows innately that they're not going to help, and she flushes the extra pills down the toilet.

Claire isn't the least bit surprised when the pregnancy test at her follow-up visit is positive. Now they have her reclined on an uncomfortable vinyl-covered chair, her shirt hiked up and her pants unfastened.

Claire expects the gel to be cold as the technician spreads it across her exposed abdomen, but she doesn't feel it at all.

"Most women would flinch," the doctor says. "I'm impressed." She's the same one who'd given Claire the pills and instructions in the first place. She furrows her brow as she studies at the ultrasound screen. In the indistinct mass of black and white and gray, there's the breakneck fluttering of a fetal heartbeat. "That's so strange. I would have thought you'd be the perfect candidate for Mifeprex," she mutters beneath her breath. "Well," she says, addressing Claire, "it looks as though you have what we'd call continuing pregnancy. It's a rare occurrence, but it happens. For whatever reason, the medical abortion just didn't work. At this point we need to schedule you for a surgical procedure."

Claire watches the image of the ultrasound. It's grainy and unclear but there's still that brisk pulsing in the center of the screen. She knows instinctively how it survived the onslaught of chemicals she'd thrown its way. It's her own power betraying her. Her healing probably nullified the drugs just as soon as they were digested, the way it had nullified alcohol when she'd gone binge-drinking with her bio-dad in Mexico. As she lies there, intently staring at the ultrasound screen now, she thinks back to all the times she'd landed in hospitals before this moment - all her miraculous recoveries, inexplicable to everyone but those closest to her. She can't imagine what could happen if she undergoes a surgical procedure. There are only two things she knows to be certain - it would probably not end with a successfully terminated pregnancy, and she'd probably need to enlist the Haitian's help to erase the memories of those involved.

All told, it seems more trouble than it's worth. "I'd rather not," she tells the doctor, matter-of-fact.

The doctor's harsh look softens; she's obviously no stranger to the vicissitudes of an ever-changing mind. "It's not a difficult or a painful procedure, Claire. It only sounds scary."

"I can't get an abortion. I already tried." Claire's voice pitches with emotion she doesn't realize she felt, and she can feel her eyes welling with hot tears. In her head, she tries to shift the blame to hormones and stress.

The doctor nods, understanding and yet not understanding at all. "This is a different kind of procedure," she says, adopting an almost-maternal tone.

Claire doesn't know how to explain her situation to this woman - it's far too complicated for her to comprehend herself. "No, see, there's a reason it didn't work - it's because of my biology. My"- she pauses before the word ability or power comes out, because she knows how that will sound to uninformed ears - "my body won't terminate the pregnancy. I know it. If you go in there, with scalpels and vacuums and whatever else, it still won't work. I get pregnant, I stay pregnant. That's... that's just how it is."

The doctor's heard enough at this point. She's serious now; it's obvious in the set of her lips, the slope of her brow. "Claire, here's the thing. There's a very high risk of fetal deformities if you continue the pregnancy at this point. Limb abnormalities, cranial abnormalities... there are possible effects that the Mifeprex might have had that we can't even anticipate." She sighs and shakes her head. "You indicated in the counseling session that you'd be willing to undergo a surgical procedure if the medical abortion failed. I understand that you're worked up about this right now; it's natural, it's nothing to be ashamed of. You don't have to go through with it right now." She pauses and puts her hand on Claire's. "But it needs to be done."

Claire can see there's no reasoning with this woman. She swallows back her sobs, inhaling deeply through her nose. "I'll schedule on my way out."

The doctor nods solemnly and pats her hand a few times. She turns off the ultrasound machine before she leaves, and Claire's grateful not to have that picture looming over her, the fast-paced tempo of the heartbeat reminding her too much of the tick-tick-ticking of a time-bomb.

She stops by the front desk as she leaves. They pencil her in for the Monday after Christmas, but it's an appointment that Claire has no intention of keeping. It would just be a waste of time.

Even though her mom is spending the holidays in the Bahamas with Doug, Claire is supposed to return to Costa Verde to be with Lyle, at least. But Claire can't get her act together long enough to purchase a plane ticket before the prices spike up, and she's so upset and angry all the time that she feels like Lyle would have a better Christmas without her. Still, she needs to be out of the dorms for winter break and she doesn't plan to return for the spring semester, so she spends all her time after finals packing her things and shipping most of them to California, keeping only as much as she can carry.

She puts off leaving as long as possible, knowing there's only one place she can go. For once, seeing her father is not something she's looking forward to.

She holds it together only until she makes it to the door of his apartment. It's as though she can't breathe again, and she wipes the corners of her eyes. She tries to blame it on hormones but in reality she's terrified of telling her father. In a lot of ways he's her best friend, her strongest ally, but he's still her dad and she can't even begin to imagine how he's going to react.

She can hear something going on on the other side of the door - soft music playing, the tinkling sound of silverware against china. She'd be interrupting something if she went in now, but it's too late to turn back. She finds the key he'd given her in her coat pocket, and lets herself in.

She blushes when she sees her father there with Lauren, the woman he'd brought to Thanksgiving dinner. They're both dressed to the nines, and the table between them is set with candles and flowers. They're even using a tablecloth. The two of them pause and look at her with similarly confused expressions.

"What a... pleasant surprise," her father says, getting up from his chair. He walks over to Claire and takes some of her things from her, setting them down a nearby countertop. "I thought you were going to California to spend the holidays with Lyle. Was your flight cancelled?"

She can barely muster the strength to whisper. "I need you, Dad."

His jovial tone disappears instantly. "What's wrong?"

She falls apart. She can't contain her sobs any longer, and her eyes are leaking and her voice is wavering and her whole body is shaking as she buries her face in her father's chest. "I messed up, Dad. I really messed up."

He wraps his arms around her and holds her, stroking her hair and shushing her gently. "Honey, what's wrong?" he asks. "It's okay. It's going to be okay."

Lauren seems to realize that their hushed whispers are going to lead to a conversation she has no business hearing, so rises to her feet. "I should go. It was nice seeing you again, Claire - I hope everything works out for you."

"I didn't mean to ruin your date," Claire tells her meekly.

"Don't worry about it. I'll call you tomorrow, Noah," she says to him, lightly kissing his cheek as she begins putting her coat on. She leaves before he can stop her.

"Claire, what's the matter?" He takes her by the shoulders and peels her away, peering down into her face, trying to read her expression. "Did you kill someone?"

Of course that would be his first assumption. "No, Dad, it's not -"

He's already ahead of her. "Do I need to call the Haitian? He's out of the country right now, so he'll need advance -"

It jumps out of her mouth on its own accord before he can get much further ahead of himself. "Dad, I'm pregnant."

He looks at her blankly for a moment while her registers what she's just said. His blankness gives way to genuine anger when he growls "Who did this to you? Give me his name."

She considers telling him for a fraction of a second - it would give her some sort of perverse pleasure, some sense of vengeance watching her father go after Sylar again. But the more rational part of her knows that telling her father that she'd slept with Sylar isn't a wise idea. He'd hate her, he'd disown her - he'd never forgive her. "It doesn't matter," she mumbles.

"What do you mean it doesn't matter?" Her father has violence in his eyes. "Do you know his name, or do you just not want to tell me?"

Her lips quiver as she speaks, but she's determined not to tell. "The second."

"If you're trying to protect him, Claire, I won't kill him, I promise," Noah tells her. "I'm only going to hurt him a little..." His gaze wanders while he mentally considers all the ways he could torture whoever sullied his little girl. "I just want to break his kneecaps."

"I don't want you to break his kneecaps," Claire tells him. If the circumstances were any different, their conversation could almost be considered banter.

Noah's anger quickly gives way to despair. He lets go of his daughter's shoulders and staggers over to the table, his half-eaten dinner now cold. "How did this happen, Claire?" he asks, holding his head in his hands. "No - don't answer that. I don't think I want to know." He watches her sit down in Lauren's seat across from him. "I just don't understand. Help me understand."

Claire tries to swallow her self-pity, but she's unsuccessful. "What's there to understand? I made a mistake. I made a huge mistake."

"I thought you were smarter than this, Claire. I thought you were better than this. You have a future full of possibilities - have you considered that? Have you considered your options?"

Hearing that fucking word again makes Claire's skin crawl. She'd realized long ago that being special means that she doesn't really have the same options as everybody else, and this whole ordeal is just one more illustration of that fact. "No, Dad, I don't have options," she replies spitefully. "I already tried."

"What do you mean you 'already tried'?"

Claire curses at herself internally. She had thought this conversation couldn't possibly be more uncomfortable, but she can't take back what she said. She can't meet his eyes as she tells him. "I tried to have an abortion. It didn't work."

Her father's eyebrows nearly meet in the middle as he furrows his brow. "It didn't work? Spell it out for me."

She doesn't know how to explain - the whole thing's gotten so complicated. She figures it would be better to demonstrate, so she snatches the steak knife from the plate in front of her. "Watch," she instructs him. She runs the sharp edge of the knife along the inside of her arm, slicing the skin. But even before blood has a chance to seep from the wound, it's healing back up again. "It's faster than it's ever been before. I think it's... I don't know, somehow related."

Noah straightens his posture. "It's like your power's been amplified."

"Exactly," she tells him.

They sit at the table silently as the minutes tick away on the clock. Her dad doesn't say anything - he just keeps running his hand through his hair, adjusting his glasses, fiddling with the cuffs of his shirt as he struggles to process everything Claire's just told him. "I'm sorry, Claire," he says finally. "I just can't believe this. I just can't get my head around it."

"Dad, I'm sorry." It's the truth - she's never felt more sorry in her life. She hates how pitiful she sounds. "Can I stay here, with you? Please?"

"Of course you can stay, Claire Bear," he replies, and she's never been so thankful to hear that awful nickname.

Christmas passes without much fanfare; New Year's is the same. Her father's home less and less often. Claire takes over most housekeeping duties without being asked - shopping, cooking, cleaning. She doesn't know what else to do with herself.

"I spoke to your mother today. She just got back from vacation." They're seated at the dining room table, eating but not enjoying some casserole Claire made, using a recipe she found on the Internet. Noah studies it carefully before venturing to stab it with a utensil. "She said she tried to call you."

"Yeah, I missed it," Claire says, letting the food slide off the tines of her fork, watching it land back on the plate with a splat.

Noah sets his fork down and folds his hands, business-like. "You missed her call, or you dodged it?"

"I had it on vibrate and didn't hear it." She drags her fork through her food across her plate, concentrating on the squeal the metal makes against the melamine.

"You haven't told her, have you?"

Claire glances upwards briefly before turning her attention away. "I told her that I dropped out of school. I told her that I moved in with you. What else does she need to know?"

"Claire, don't be a child about this." The room goes quiet for a moment, the word child poised between them like a venomous snake prepared to strike.

Claire sets down her fork and straightens in her seat. She doesn't have anything more to say, but she tilts her head and fixes a stony stare at her father.

Noah, now that he has his daughter's undivided attention, resumes eating and speaking at the same time. "Lauren is getting me a lot more consulting work with the CIA, so I'm going to be gone more often than I'm home. I think you should really consider going back to California and staying with your mother."

"I don't want to."

Noah mumbles through another mouthful. "It might be what's best for you, Claire. You know you're welcome to stay here as long as you need to, but I'm not going to be keeping secrets from your mother, either. If you don't tell her soon, I'm going to." He waves the fork emphatically. "She won't be mad at you," he tells her. "Not for long, I can promise you that."

Claire's steely facade disappears into a sudden bout of nervous gesticulation. "See, Dad, that's the problem. She'll be mad for like five minutes and the next thing I know she'll be out buying baby clothes and making Lyle find and reassemble his old crib."

Her father raises his eyebrows, and they crease his forehead severely. "And that's bad because...?"

"I don't want her getting excited about a grandchild when I don't even know what I'm going to do with it."

There's another awkward silence, but Noah's careful not to let it go on for too long. "Are you seriously considering adoption?" he asks.

"I don't know," Claire answers, throwing her hands in the air dramatically, almost hysterically. "I don't want a baby. I don't want to be a mom. And what if, like, what if the baby has, like, powers or something? What if it's something bad, like that?"

"I'm not trying to push your decision either way, Claire, but that sounds like all the more reason not to choose adoption," Noah replies. "At least you'll be prepared for something like that. Sandra and I... your mother and I were not. I feel like we could have done so much better, we could have done so much more for you if we'd known."

"I don't want a baby," Claire repeats.

He tries a different tack. "What about the father? What would he think about all this?"

That's the last straw for Claire. She rises to her feet, taking her plate with her and dropping it to the sink. "Dad - no," she protests. "He's - don't. Just - don't even go there."

"I'm just trying to help!" Noah yells, but the conversation ends there.

Gretchen calls when she's back from break. Claire invites her over on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, just before classes are scheduled to resume.

They hug when Gretchen comes in. Claire offers to get her a snack or something to drink while Gretchen scans the apartment, a little warily. "Your dad's not around?" she asks.

"He's started working again," Claire explains. "I'm going to go ahead and make some popcorn. If you want some, I don't mind sharing."

They make small talk for a bit, while Claire gets a couple of sodas from the fridge and pours the popcorn out into a bowl. They retreat to the couch and search for some decent daytime television before the effort is called off on account of futility.

"Are you serious about not coming back to school this semester?" Gretchen asks out of nowhere.

Claire startles at the question. "Maybe I'll come back in the fall," she replies. She's crunched the numbers, gotten her head around the strange concept of pregnancy math, where nine months somehow equals forty weeks. She figures this whole ordeal will be over with by the end of August, just in time for the beginning of the semester.

"Yeah. Maybe," Gretchen says, unable to mask the disappointment in her voice.

Claire tries to lighten the mood. "I'm not missing anything really exciting on campus, am I?"

"I don't know, would you count a whole bunch of freshmen pledges puking their guts out on the green? I think they all failed the gallon challenge."

"That sounds... fun," Claire says, idly wondering if her talent at absorbing alcohol without experiencing any negative effects also applies to milk in large quantities.

"Let's face it, Claire, you were the source of excitement all the time," Gretchen says, interrupting Claire's train of thought. "I'm going to miss seeing you around all the time. I already miss you."

"I miss you too," Claire replies.

"Then come back," Gretchen tells her, scooting closer on the couch and taking Claire's hands in hers. "Forget about being such a perfectionist with your grades. Maybe you don't even have to do a full course load. If someone else begins stalking you and trying to kill people, then you could always cut and run."

"It's not... it's not that," Claire stammers. "It's that I'm... I'm pregnant."

Gretchen's smile fades instantly, replaced with a confused expression. "How?"

"Um - the old-fashioned way?" Claire answers, baffled by Gretchen's response, and how it sounded more like an accusation than a question.

"I thought you were a virgin."

"I... I was."

Gretchen is shaking her head, knitting her brow, letting go of Claire's hands in order to wring hers together. "Claire, I don't... why would you do that?" she asks angrily.

"Wait, what are you so mad about?" Claire asks, trenchant. "My life's the one that's going to shit here."

Gretchen won't look her in the eye; she just keeps moving her hands wildly. "You knew I liked you. I was waiting for you. I thought you were just trying to adjust to the idea that I'm a girl, and really you're just screwing around with guys behind my back."

"Gretchen, I didn't mean to lead you on," Claire tells her. "I thought we were friends."

Gretchen gets up, knocking the bowl of popcorn to the floor so that kernels splay out in every direction. She goes for her coat, seething the whole time. "God, Claire, I just... at least if you'd done it with me, you wouldn't even have this problem."

"Gretch, I don't know what to tell you," Claire says, following Gretchen to the door. "I could really use some support right now, and you're really the only friend I've got."

Gretchen's holding the door open. She looks at Claire and hisses, "No, I'm not - not anymore," before she slips away, letting the door slam behind her.

Claire blinks back tears as she grabs the broom and begins to sweep up the mess.

She's been putting off doing her laundry for weeks now. She doesn't see the point in washing clothes that no longer fit her, shirts and jeans that she looks at and wonders if she'll ever wear again. But they've been piling up in the corner far too long, and she figures she can at least get them washed and folded and then put away, out of sight, where she can ignore them more easily.

As she dresses, she struggles to fasten her bra; her breasts have swollen a whole cup size. Claire won't accept the fact that she needs maternity clothes, or at least clothes in larger sizes. She feels like there is so little within her control anymore, and purchasing a new wardrobe to accommodate her present condition is a concession she's not ready to make yet. She shimmies into a pair of yoga pants that don't stretch enough to fit over her developing belly, but has a waistband with enough elasticity at least to keep from falling down. She pulls one of her father's old sweatshirts over her head, flattening the folds of fabric down as she puts her arms through the sleeves. It's large and shapeless enough that it's hard to tell if she's pregnant underneath.

When she's finished washing her clothes, she goes back up to the apartment. She balances the laundry basket against her hip as she unlocks the door. After she turns the knob, she shifts her laundry so she can hold onto it with both hands, backing into the door and letting it close behind her with a clack.

"Hello there, Claire Bear. I must say, I wasn't expecting you."

"Sylar." She recognizes his voice immediately. He's leaning against the opposite wall, leering at her. "What are you doing here?"

"I thought I'd pay your father a visit. Apparently he had a little something to do with my... recent... personality... disorder."

She has no reply, but she holds the laundry basket up defensively as she steps into the center of the room, telling herself that she's not afraid of him, that she can't let him think she's frightened.

"Last time we saw each other, I thought we really had something. It's a shame you didn't stick around."

Claire glares at him. "It wasn't my scene."

"It's been, what, six months?" Sylar continues.

"Twenty-two weeks," Claire corrects him before she can help herself. She bites her lip, too late to hold her words in.

Her specificity confuses him; the implication goes right over his head. "Someone's been keeping close track, I see," Sylar smiles. He takes her careful counting as a compliment to his sexual prowess. "Was it that good for you?" he asks, stepping closer. "Care for a reprise?"

"Don't touch me," she warns, but before she can say another word, she's frozen in place by Sylar's telekinesis.

He circles her like a predator in the wild circles its quarry, eying her up and down. He likes what he sees, apparently, letting one hand cup her buttocks gently before it slides up beneath her sweatshirt. He has one hand on her shoulder, and she can feel his breath, hot and damp, making the small hairs on the back of her neck rise. "Do we have time before your father returns?" he asks, with a playful tone that sounds eerie and jarring. He continues to trace up her back, his palm flattened against her skin as it glides beneath her bra clasp. The fabric is already taut enough, given the swelling of her breasts, but Sylar quickly snaps it open with a flick of his wrist. He laughs, low and lingering, as he reaches around and cradles her breast, letting the pad of his thumb stroke her nipple. "Putting on a little weight, Claire?" he asks. "I don't remember you being this much of a handful."

Claire can only scowl in return, but soon enough the joke's on him. His hand wanders to where her waistline used to be. Now it's a distinct dome, an outward curve that's unnoticeable beneath the sweatshirt, but unmistakable to the touch. As though on cue, where Sylar's palm is flat against her stomach, there's something pressing outwards from within. Sylar jumps back, startled, as though he's been bitten by something poisonous. Claire feels his mental hold on her vanish, and the laundry basket falls to the floor with a thud.

"Oh my god," Sylar stammers, pulling his hand away and staggering backwards. In an instant he's mentally thrown off track; his psychotic facade fades away and he becomes the lost, lonely man at the carnival again. "Twenty-two weeks," he repeats, the sudden significance dawning on him. "Christ, Claire, why didn't you say something?" He falls into one of the chairs at the dining room table, hanging his head in his hands. He keeps muttering under his breath as his eyes dart across the floor.

She's facing him now, stone-faced and silent. "I think maybe you should go."

Sylar's stunned enough to actually listen to a suggestion for once. He doesn't need to be told twice before he gets back up and hurries to the door.

"Wait," Claire says, and he stops. "Are you still going to try to kill my dad?"

He doesn't answer. He doesn't even waste a backward glance.

When she hears the door click shut, she walks over and makes sure to lock it. Claire knows that it won't do any good if Sylar decides to return, but it's reassuring anyway. She then sinks into the couch and instinctively wraps her arms around herself, rocking back and forth, back and forth.

She just can't stop shaking.

It happens again. She leaves the apartment for an hour, tops, to get some groceries, and when she returns he's waiting for her. This time he's not trying to be menacing. He's just sitting on the couch, telekinetically rearranging the magazines on the coffee table out of boredom. But his mere presence is disturbing enough, and Claire freezes at the door, dropping the groceries by her side. "My dad will be home any second," she says, hoping she might scare him away.

"Your dad is halfway across the country on some government assignment," Sylar replies without looking up. "Besides, I didn't come to see your dad. I came to see you."

"What for?" He's already got her power, and it's not like he can kill her. She can't see any other reason for him to be there.

"Is it a boy or a girl?" he asks, looking up at her, earnest.

The question throws her. "I don't know," she answers, and she snatches up the groceries that have fallen to the floor, taking them into the kitchen and setting them on the counter.

"You aren't curious?" Sylar asks. "Or would you rather it be a surprise?"

"Why do you even care?" she snaps at him.

He avoids the question. "Have you even been to a doctor?"

The truth was she hadn't gotten any medical attention since leaving the clinic that day. They called several times, left countless messages, but Claire ignored them, and eventually they stopped. Perhaps it's partly because of her apathy but perhaps it has something to do with her fear. If there's something wrong with it she'd rather not know. She doesn't know how she'd deal with the guilt, because somehow it'd be her fault - whether it would be because of the Mifeprex or because of its parents' genetics, or because it should never have happened in the first place.

"I feel fine," she says by way of retort, but she doesn't buy her own excuse.

"Claire," he says, "here's my concern. If it's mine -"

"It is yours," Claire interrupts, acknowledging its parentage out loud for the first time.

"I don't doubt it. But here's the problem - it's got my genetic material. It could have a power. It could have any number of powers. It could inherit my... proclivities."

Claire narrows her eyes at him. "You think there's a serial killer gene?"

Sylar runs his hand through his hair, sighing. It's the most human gesture Claire has ever seen from him. "I don't know what to think. It's been a long while since I used the power of prophecy - I didn't exactly see this coming."

"That makes two of us," she remarks. Suddenly she feels so tired, too tired to be afraid of Sylar any longer, and she walks over to the couch and sits down, putting her feet up on the coffee table.

They're seated beside one another, and so Sylar glances at her from the corner of his eye. "What made you keep it?"

"I couldn't get rid of it," Claire replies, letting her hands rest on her stomach, something she didn't often do.

Sylar's eyebrows go up in surprise. "I never pegged you as the religious type," he says.

For some reason the comment pisses Claire off. "No, I just couldn't get rid of it. Like, physically. My healing's all accelerated." She leans her head back and closes her eyes, hoping that when she opens them again, Sylar will have vanished. Instead, she can hear him moving, she can feel the shift of the couch cushion. His hand goes to her shoulder, and she startles at his touch.

"I'm trying to make you more comfortable."

"I'd rather you didn't."

"Claire," he begins, "I'm partially responsible for... this. Let me do something for you."

"You've killed so many people, Sylar. People I love, important people, innocent people," she replies, and there's tears in her eyes and she's not sure if it's because she's really upset or if it's the damn hormones getting the better of her. "My parents would die if they knew I'd had sex with you. They'd disown me. They'd never forgive me."

"But that didn't stop you then," Sylar interrupts. He's gotten closer now, both hands on Claire's shoulders, his thumbs kneading into her muscle.

"I wasn't thinking about the consequences."

"And now you're trying to cut your losses," he adds, "by cutting me out."

"You don't have to do that," Claire says. When she turns to face him, she feels like they are uncomfortably close. It's too intimate for her to handle. "You don't have to do anything. I'm the one who screwed up. I'm the one who slept with a psycho at a carnival because... because you seemed like someone else."

"I could be that someone else again," Sylar offers, "if you'd let me." His hands move down her back, massaging her along her spine, at her sides.

"I don't think so," she answers, but her voice is reduced to a whisper. She can't hide how good it feels to be touched again.

"Claire," Sylar murmurs, finding a window of opportunity in her lowered defenses, "I haven't been able to get you out of my head since I saw you the other day. I keep wondering about the way you look, the way you feel..."

"Stop talking. Please, just stop talking," Claire groans, trying to focus on his touch and not his words. If she closes her eyes, she can imagine herself with any other man in the world.

He stops what he's doing and pulls away. Claire's eyes fly open, like she's suspicious of him, but he's still sitting there, gazing at her, his eyes pleading. "Claire, can I see it?" he begs. "Please?"

She rolls her eyes at him, but still her hands go to the hem of her shirt. She turns towards him so he can see it from the front, a view she considers less offensive than in profile. She rolls it up slowly, looking away as she does. Her belly bulges over the waistband of her pants. She's ashamed of it, disgusted by it, but Sylar is fascinated. He places his hands on either side, and his touch makes Claire shiver and grimace.

He moves in closer and begins to peel down the waistband of her yoga pants, tugging at the elastic of her panties. "What are you doing?" she asks sharply.

"If you want me to stop, tell me now," he says, gazing up at her solemnly. She doesn't reply, so he leans in to kiss her belly while his hands begin to wander beneath her clothing.

Her heart begins to race; her breath quickens. If she's honest with herself, she'll admit that she wants this just as badly as he does, if not more so. With all the changes her body has been going through lately, her libido has been the one hit the hardest. Too many nights she'd rocked herself to sleep against the palm of her hand, the small satisfactions she was capable of on her own doing little to quell her yearning for long. Sylar's touch reawakens that feeling, amplifying it to the nth degree.

She reclines on the couch, allowing him to climb on top of her. She unclasps her bra beneath her shirt, breathing a sigh of relief as her breasts tumble free. Sylar pulls down her shirt collar and exposes her nipple. He pinches it between his thumb and his forefinger, twisting it a little, before he leans in and takes it in his mouth. She shudders and moans.

Encouraged, Sylar sits up and pulls her pants down to her knees. He unfastens his own pants; he's hard and ready, and Claire spreads her legs for him once again. It's not like she can get any more pregnant.

When he leaves, Claire decides that it's not worth the risk of being taken by surprise by him again. The last thing she needs is for her father to discover them and he'd be able to piece together her secret. In record time, Claire packs whatever still fits her, purchases a last-minute plane ticket back to California, writes her father a sincere note explaining where she's going, and catches a cab to the airport. By the end of the day she reaches Costa Verde, and finds herself hesitating as she goes up the walkway to the front door of her mother's home. Before she has a chance to knock, though, the front door opens; her mother is standing there, cradling Mr. Muggles in one arm, her mouth agape.

"Claire?" she asks, her disbelief extending only long enough for her to set down the dog. "Oh, Claire, it is you! What a surprise!" She pulls her daughter in close for an embrace, and Claire seizes up. She doesn't have the chance to explain - her abdomen is trapped between them, distinct and undeniable. As much as she wants to wrap her arms around her mom and squeeze her tightly back, she's paralyzed, worried about mother's reaction.

But despite Claire's worst fear, Sandra is unfazed. She does a giddy sort of back-and-forth dance with her daughter before she puts her hands on Claire's arms and steps back. "Let me take a look at you," she says, and if Claire could bring herself to meet her mother's eyes, she'd see they were glistening with tears. "Five months? Six?" Sandra asks.

"Um, closer to six?" Claire falters. She'd have expected her mother to be more hysterical, or angry, or... something. But then, she'd underestimated her mother's ability to handle crazier situations than this.

"It's okay, sweetie," Sandra tells her, stroking her daughter's face with concern. "Your father told me everything. You didn't really expect him to keep a secret from me, did you?"

"He told you?" For all the growing up she's had to do, Claire can manage to whine like the teenager she still is.

"Oh, honey, don't be mad at him," Sandra says, pulling her daughter inside. "Don't be mad," she repeats, shushing. "I'm just glad to see you." She takes her daughter's coat and her voice drops to the near-whispered tone of a confession. "I thought you didn't want to see me."

"No, Mom!" Claire insists, her own voice pitching with emotion. "Mom, it wasn't that! It wasn't that at all." When she looks her mother in the face again, she loses it and starts to sob. "I'm just so... so embarrassed. I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry."

"It's okay, Claire, it's all going to be okay," her mother assures her, holding her close and patting her gently.

When they separate again, Lyle's standing there in the foyer, confused. He looks down at Claire's belly and his jaw drops. "Holy shit," he says. "What happened to you?"

"Lyle, can you set the table for dinner?" Sandra asks without missing a beat. "I'm going to help your sister unpack." She takes Claire's one piece of luggage, yelling back at Lyle "If the oven beeps take the casserole out of the oven or it'll burn!" from the top of the stairs.

Claire enters her old bedroom first. For the most part, it's unchanged - same furniture, same bedspread, same curtains - although it feels less familiar to her than she would have expected. Still, she walks to the bed and sits down. Sandra sets the bag near the closet and sits beside her daughter. "I think we have a lot to talk about," she begins.

"I thought Dad told you."

"He didn't tell me everything, I'm sure," Sandra replies. "How did this even happen?"

Claire sighs. "I made a bad decision over Thanksgiving break."

"Oh yeah?" Sandra asks, her eyebrow peaking upwards. "What's his name?"

"Oh my god, Mom," Claire grumbles. "Does it really matter?"

"Your father said you were thinking about adoption, in which case it does. Is he... your... the baby's father okay with that? He knows, doesn't he?"

Claire gazes down at the carpet. "I don't care what he thinks."

Sandra's about to say something more when there's a shout from downstairs. "Mom, the oven beeped!" Lyle yells.

"Then take it out of the oven, Lyle!" Sandra shouts down to him. When he doesn't reply, she calls out again. "Lyle? Take it out of the oven, I said!" Frustrated, Sandra springs to her feet and makes haste to the door. She turns around just long enough to wave her finger at her daughter. "This conversation isn't over, Claire," she says as she disappears down the hallway.

Claire's shoulders slump and she falls backward onto her bed, sighing.

Claire spends the next few days enjoying the attention of her mother, even if it means dodging the tough questions.

Sandra, of course, has her priorities straight. Before Claire is even out of bed the next day Sandra barges in, bearing gifts. "First things first, Claire, we need to get you out of your father's old sweats," she tells her daughter as she brings her a few bags of clothes she'd picked up. "Oh, also, I made an appointment for you at my OB/GYN. You don't have plans for Tuesday, do you?"

Claire's already sleepily started sorting through her new wardrobe, grimacing at the seemingly endless reams of fabric in just one shirt, so her attention is divided. "No. Wait, what?"

"Doctor appointment. Tuesday." Sandra sits at the end of Claire's bed and slips her shoes off. "I wrote it on the notepad on the fridge if you forget." When she looks up, she sees that her daughter's dropped her head into her hands, crestfallen. "What's the matter, Claire? You look upset."

"Do I have to go to the doctor?" Claire whines. "Do I have to go to your doctor?"

Sandra cocks her head the same way Mr. Muggles does when he doesn't understand a command. "Would you rather see a male gynecologist?"

"No." Claire stops herself from blurting out every minute concern she's had over the past few months, but instead she reduces her voice to a pitiable whisper. " It's not that."

"What's the matter, Claire?" Sandra asks, worried.

Claire shrugs. "I don't know," she answers without looking up. Instead she feigns interest in some of the items her mother purchased. For the most part, they aren't the sort of styles she would have picked out for herself, but she's still grateful that her mother has saved her from a possibly embarrassing shopping trip. "Thanks for the clothes," she says meekly, and her mother smiles and recognizes her cue to leave.

Claire can't tell her mother why she's so uneasy. She can only hope her father didn't tell her that she'd tried for an abortion; the idea would break Sandra's heart. Claire had never known her mother to be particularly political, but this was a topic she was touchy about. After all, how long had her parents struggled to have children before she fell into their laps?

So she ends up going to the doctor. And, as it turns out, there's nothing wrong with the baby.

Her mother squeezes her hand, beaming with relief, as the doctor points out different features of the fetus on the ultrasound - head, hands, feet. He asks if they want to know the gender, but Claire shakes her head. She'd rather not know, like she's afraid to get too attached. Still, they bring home a DVD and a photo that Sandra puts on the fridge.

That's when Claire starts letting herself think of it in terms of a child, a tiny human being growing inside of her. She'd been resistant to it for so long, not ready or willing or able to accept it as anything more than an assortment of cells half-related to her, feeding on her like a parasite. Now, knowing that it's going to turn out all right, Claire realizes that word baby doesn't sound so wrong after all.

The news comes with a release of tension that Claire didn't realize she'd been holding on to.

That doesn't mean that she's decided to keep it. She doesn't want to want it.

In the hot, dry days of summer, Claire finds she has the house to herself more often than not. Lyle has a job as a lifeguard that he takes very seriously; not only does it pay well (he's saving to go away for college, far far away) but when he comes home for dinner he's able to regale his mother and sister about how he'd broken up a fight that day, or saved small children from drowning. Sandra's out working or shopping half the time, or else hitting the town with her new boyfriend.

Claire doesn't mind. She prefers to sulk in peace. So when her daytime television viewing is interrupted by the doorbell, she groans and peels herself off the couch with great effort.

When she opens the door, her jaw nearly drops.

"Hello, Claire." It's Sylar, trying a conventional entrance for once.

She narrows her eyes at him. "What are you doing here?"

"What are you doing here?" he snaps back. "I thought women weren't supposed to fly while pregnant."

"That's - that's irrelevant," Claire sneers. "How did you find me?"

Sylar rolls his eyes. "You went to your mom's house. It wasn't that hard."

"I meant why," Claire adds. "Why are you here?"

Sylar shoves his hands into his pockets, trying to look nonchalant. Claire thinks he looks like a douchebag. "Just trying to look out for my baby mama. Aren't you going to invite me in?"

"You aren't staying," she growls at him, closing the door.

"Not so fast," Sylar says. He raises one hand and the door freezes in its place. "There's a lot we need to discuss."

Claire's unconvinced. "I don't think so."

"Au contraire, Claire Bear," Sylar replies, and with a flick of his wrist the door opens wide enough to admit him entrance. "That's my kid you're carrying, and we've got to figure out what we're going to do about it."

"I'm giving it away," she tells him coldly.

He strolls into the kitchen and makes himself comfortable at the table there. He folds his hands and sets them on his knee as he crosses one leg over the other. "No, you're not," he answers.

Claire lets the front door fall shut behind her as she follows him into the kitchen. "I'm not mom material," she continues. "I'm too young. I've got to go back to school."

Sylar's all business now. His tone is serious. "You can't give it up," he says. "I was given up. You want it to turn out like me?"

Claire breathes deeply. For a moment she's horrified, but there's a realization that occurs to her shortly afterwards. "Wait, I was adopted, too," she says. "And I think I turned out fine."

"So then let's say it's a fifty-fifty chance," Sylar says as though he's humoring her. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a quarter. "Heads, it turns out like me. Tails, it turns out like you." He flips the coin, catches it in midair and smacks it against the back of his hand. "Huh. Imagine that," he says as he looks at it, but before Claire can steal a glance the coin is back in his pocket. "They're not good odds, Claire."

"It's not about odds, Sylar," Claire insists. "It's about family. A baby needs the right one."

"And this isn't it?" Sylar asks. He extends his hands in a broad gesture, and a framed photo from the mantelpiece comes flying into his palm. He sets it down on the table - it's a family portrait taken back in Odessa, when they were still all together, still happily oblivious to the horrible goings-on in the world. Sylar examines the portrait critically. "Your parents aren't perfect, and your brother is kind of boring, but the dog's awfully cute."

Claire folds her arms against her chest. "It's not their problem."

"But they'd gladly make it their problem, wouldn't they, Claire?" Sylar asks, meeting her intent gaze. "They're your family. They'd do anything for you. You really think you're going to find a family like that somewhere else for this kid?"

Claire can feel tears, hot tears, springing into her eyes. "If they knew it was your kid," she says, voice wavering, "they'd never forgive me."

Sylar is thoughtful for a moment. He folds his hands again and leans forward on the table. "Then let's make a deal," he says finally. "You can give up the kid if you want, but you're never going to get rid of me." Judging by the tone of his voice, it's not just a threat, but a promise. "Or, better idea, keep the kid, and I'll stay out of your life. They'll never have know it's mine."

Again, Claire is faced with options, but it doesn't seem like she has much of a choice. She'd rather not have Sylar show up anytime he wants to ruin what she has left in this world. "Fine," she mumbles.

"Louder, Claire. I can't hear you."

"Fine!" she says, raising her voice. "I'll keep the baby."

Sylar smiles, satisfied with her decision, but before Claire can think too hard about what she's just agreed to, there's the sound of a key clicking into the lock at the front door.

"Oh, my god, that's either Lyle or my mom," she says breathlessly. "You have to get out of here."

"I have a better idea," Sylar replies. While Claire begins to panic, his face starts to change - his hair curls and thickens, his nose shrinks, his eyes move just slightly farther apart. He's morphing into someone else. Before Sandra walks into the kitchen, the transformation is complete.

"Hello, Claire," she says. "Who's this?"

"This is..." Claire hesitates. "This is..."

"Luke," Sylar lies. "Luke Campbell. You must be Mrs. Bennet," Sylar says, rising to his feet and offering his hand. Sandra shakes it, still looking at him quizzically. "I'm sort of a friend of Claire's from school," he continues.

"A sort of friend?" Sandra asks, looking for clarification.

"I'm the baby's dad," Sylar says. Claire lets her head fall to the table with a resounding thunk.

Sandra, however, retains her composure. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Luke," she says, smiling. "To be honest, Claire doesn't talk about you much."

"It's understandable. We, uh, we don't really get along all that well. In general, I mean. There was that one time, and... well, here we are."

Claire's mortified beyond belief. "He was just leaving!" she interjects.

Sandra, ever so polite, sets her hand on Sylar's shoulder. "Claire, that's not very polite. He came all this way..."

Sylar steps away from Sandra's touch, hunching like the awkward teenager he's imitating. "Actually, I was out this way for summer vacation anyway. It wasn't that far out of the way to drop by. I should probably go, though."

"But... what about... ?" Sandra tries to ask, but Sylar's already headed to the exit. "Claire, are you going to at least show him out?"

Claire pulls herself to her feet and follows Sylar awkwardly to the door, while Sandra stays in the kitchen and makes a show of trying not to be nosey.

"I'll maybe talk to you later, Claire," Sylar smiles, and even while he's wearing the face of someone else there's a familiar gleam in his eye. He quickly leans forward and kisses Claire's cheek, and while she's distracted by his sudden affection he reaches up and caresses her belly. She's tempted to bat his hand away - she doesn't appreciate the invasion of her space - but she hopes, maybe, that it's the last chance he has to be near to his own progeny, so she lets it slide. It's only a moment, anyway, and then he's gone without so much as a glance back over his shoulder. She shuts the front door and sighs with relief.

When Claire returns to the kitchen, Sandra sets her purse down on the table and lifts Mr. Muggles into her arms. "He's kind of a weird kid, isn't he?" she remarks. "No wonder you've been so reluctant to tell us about him."

"Tell me about it," Claire replies.

"I wish you'd told me he was coming," Sandra says sternly. "At the very least, I could have prepared a snack for you two."

"It was kind of a surprise visit," Claire tells her. Her heart is still racing from the close call she just had, and the weight of her forced decision is starting to sink in.

"So what did you talk about?" Sandra asks. "Did you two get something worked out?"

"Yeah," Claire answers, suddenly pensive. "I think I'm keeping the baby."

[Poll #1520342]

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