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Pairing: Adam/Claire





"Don't be wasteful, Claire."

Claire blinked, looking up from the flame dancing across her fingers. She saw his eyes in the rearview mirror, and honestly, she'd just been bored (nervous) and decided to play with fire from the lighter in the dashboard. He had rolled down the window She was liking the distance and silence, hoping to distance herself. However, it hadn't worked. But the drive for the week was peaceful, silent. He gave her space, renting two rooms, and she was more than okay with that. She didn't have to speak a great deal to him, and vice versa. A kind of quiet that didn't make her want to jump out of her skin at least.

She saw what he meant, and held out her hands. He used the flame to light his cigarette again. Then he held out his hand again. Claire figured out that he wanted her to lit his hand on fire.

A lovely thought to have. He still felt something (not going to be jealous), but it never really hurt hurt. So, yeah, she lit his fingers and hand on fire. It flickered down his wrist a bit. He watched it with the same fascination as she did.

She reached out to touch the burning skin. He jerked slightly, suprised.

"Can I?" she asked.

He moved his arm back towards her and she touched the skin, even through the fire. She was curious to see, she guessed. It should have been a surreal sight, even after everything, but to her it was like her nature. He intertwined his fingers with hers, and she supposed it was his nature too. It was odd not to see revultion on some level (even Peter was revolted on some level).

She fought back a feeling of closeness but she kept her hand in his after the flames had been out.

"We're here," he said.

She looked around at sand and darkness. He got out of the car, and she followed suit. Still a lot of sand and darkness. Adam knew exactly where he was going. She kept her center, thinking that this place could symbolize him. Easy to get lost. Her ability let her keep up with him. He finally stopped, pulling something out of his jacket pocket, and she saw that it was a plastic ID card.

Munroe. That was the name on it.

He knelt down, shifting through the sand, and she saw the metal hatch underneath. He ran his card through, and something inside the hatch clicked.

"There are two keys," she said. "A handprint and a key that's all yours."

"I know people like the back of my hand," Adam said. "Makes me want to cut my hand off, but that'd be pointless as you know."

"They must not have known about this," Claire said, "or very few people in that group would have hands left."

"At first, it was hopeful. They were hopeful," and he smiled to himself almost wistfully, as if he could see better moments she couldn't imagine (and knowing what she did now, she couldn't), "but you'd be right now."

There was a very weird moment when she knew--just knew--that one thing that would hurt him would be the idea that he was the sole corrupting influence on the Founders. If they hadn't met Adam, they wouldn't have formed the Company, maybe, but then they might have done something differently. Intially, the intentions were okay...she guessed. The same with his end of the world idea--if he carried corruption in him, then what was the big change?

She made a mental note never to mention that aspect of it because that would go past cruelty. He pulled the door open and stepped back for her to go in.

Claire wasn't thrilled that it was a hole in the ground. So unthrilled that her hands tried not to shake. After what had happened:

"I'll go first," Adam said, casually. "Not to be rude to the lady, but I'm nostalgic."

She couldn't block the resentment of shielding. She didn't hesitate to go down the ladder that time.

"Now for your part," he added.

Indeed, there was a place for someone to put their hand. It made sense that the Company would have some record of her handprint, as well as creepier details. Fingernails. Lost toes she hadn't missed. Exact number of eyelashes. That sort of thing. She didn't want to know how he was going to get in here without her.

She put her hand in the metal slot and half-expected it to cut her hand off right there and then. Rather it made a quite innocent clicking noise. The door slid open.

"Oh God," she whispered, her eyes adjusting to the darkness quickly. (another facet of her power, she wondered.) There was a narrow hall, with rooms branched off, and it reminded her very much of the Company. Only it was very U.S. goverment, reminiscent of what she had just seen.

"It's just the experimental tables. Except for that one..."

Claire approached the skelton slowly.

"The bodies are above us. The first time the government tried to study Specials, it ended in a massacre of their kind."

He kept himself separate from the Specials. Claire guessed she was included in that, or else he would have said 'your'. Adam was too deliberate to miss it.

"What does your card say?" she asked. "Besides the name."

Adam got a total poker face on. "My idenitification number for the army."

"As a member of it," she said, remembering his talk of being a soldier. "You were here back then."

"As was your grandmother." He seemed to think through the implications and went ahead with it. "As well as several of the other Founders."

Did he track them down later--of course he did.

"Where's this computer?" she asked. "This off-switch?"

Adam led the way down this maze, and Claire tried to keep her breathing steady under the mass of sand (and bodies?) on top of them. There was a massacre here, and the appropriate response was the Company to everyone present at the time. What Claire saw was everyone fighting in shadows. That was the problem. Anyone would be corrupt in the shadows--hence the name shadowy.

"Here it is," Adam presented. "It's a bit dated in appearance but still sharp after all these years."

Claire stared.

"Only you would design an off-switch to look like a bomb," Claire said finally, impressed.

"Symbolically, it's not that far off."

"Because of all the Specials unleashed," Claire said, feeling as if she'd be hit by a truck.

"You thought of the consequences?" Adam asked.

"Um, just now."

"Better than being unaware. We can't let them have it."

"But I'll be letting people go who like to hurt innocent people. I don't want that, not after...after I've seen what happens to them in the aftermath."

Adam's smile faltered. It was as if he remembered.

"Well," he began. "It's an important decision, granted."

"It shouldn't be mine," Claire said, running a hand through her hair. She thought this kind of control and help would be what she wanted, what would make it better, but this was big.

"But since you're here, it is," Adam said.

"Can I have some time to think about it?" she pressed, keeping her voice calm.

"By all means. Meanwhile I'll reminesce." She looked over and saw another sword on the wall. Damn, he was singleminded. It was like a totem for him or something.

She put herself in a corner and began to look at the situation from as many angles as she could. If she shut down the Company, people would escape undoubtedly, but the government was using the buildings...and how big was the Company? Global. It was possible that the U.S. hadn't gone to the other countries about the very Special problem yet.

She'd ask him but she didn't want to. She'd assume that one. It was also an assumption that the world could crash without the Company. The whole thing go started about sixty-fifty years ago? All those years before things--besides this place--went okay. Not great. But okay. As long as the Company model was in place, there wouldn't be another approach. Instead of jailing people and manipulating them, recruiting them into the purpose war, people should be taught or know there are just other people out there like them. Adam said it'd be a mistake to gather people in general, but she didn't think it'd really been tried?

Yeah, Lyle would cite X-men plagarism for her, but it wasn't a bad idea. Forget that for now, though. What was she going to do? She wanted to shut it down. Having that kind of power wasn't...it didn't lead to anything. She wanted control over herself mostly. She didn't want to make a poor value judgment over her feelings. People shouldn't be experimented on like animals. Stopped if dangerous but not in such a...nightmarish way.

"You've gone stoic on me." He knelt down.

"I'm renouncing my underground lifestyle. I've had about enough of it," he said, looking at the ceiling.

"I think that's the first time I've agreed with you," she said, rubbing her arms. "Sorry, it's just..."

"Important decision," he reiterated. "You could always ask me any question. I'll tell the truth."

She shook her head at him, determined to make this decision on her own. He looked insistent. Okay then, how about this? "It'd be against my best interests to give you back the power of the Company, wouldn't it?"

His face.... "Yes," he said, gritting his teeth." Yes, it would be against your best interest."

She blinked. "All righty then," Claire said. "So a no-go there."

"Why would you hand over your power?" he demanded, seeming thrown by it.

"You have more experience with the Company organization, and I thought you were going to hold off on the whole world conquering thing," she said defensively. "I guess not...unless you can't take it back because you were caught and..."

He glared at her. Fury of a thousand suns.

"Oh," she said. "Sorry."

"Well,...yes, but come on," he said, harshly, though it didn't feel like an insult. "What's your decision? Give it to someone else?"

"No, I'll handle it," she said. Shoulder it.

He sighed. "You're a paradox, you know. You can take it, no doubt, but is the only action we can take. It hardly can be called a choice, more like an event we are adapting too. Don't be too quick to take one choice on your shoulders."

Claire looked at him, shuddering at the echo, at the fact that...he knew. "I want to shut it down after letting the captives go. Not just suspend it. Shut it down until someone opens it again."

They stared at each other, and it was really hard to maintain eyecontact under his scrutiny. But he was still just a person, right, and she knew he wouldn't hurt her.

He broke the eye contact. It felt like she could breathe again. "You'll make us lose all our leverage if you do that."

"Then I'll just suspend it. I am switch it to someone else though."

"How, again, does that help our situation, Claire?"

"They won't know who it is, after they suspect it's just one of us."

"No leverage," he repeated, looking up at the ceiling.

"Or alot of leverage. If it's not us in charge, then they'll try and piece it together themselves. Fight over it. Hopefully more people will leave us alone then.."

Now he looked surprised. Then he smiled slowly. "They certainly won't suspect it, and if the person you name dies, it will go back to you. All right, that's a good idea in theory, but who is this trustworthy person that won't turn on us in case they do gain power? A non-existent trustworthy person, I might add."

"Oh, just someone who could run the Company better than any of the recent people," Claire declared.

"Excluding Daniel, who directed the Company marvelously," Adam said, defensive about this precious Daniel person.

"Excluding Daniel," Claire echoed, and pulled him towards her to whisper the name. He pulled away and literally face-palmed.

"Oh dear God. Claire, that's awful. That's just...evil." He looked at her with some amazement.

She was oddly flattered. "Evil, sure, but will it work?"

"...I think it will because of how the program was designed," he said, laughing. "We'll have to keep tabs on the new director though. Just in case."

She stood and she prepared to shut down the whole system.

"All you have to do is type in this code. I trust you know what you're doing," he gripped. She pursed her lips, as she listened to him recite the code. She was still a little suspicious.

"It's entirely harmless."

Claire gritted her teeth, preparing herself, and he stepped back. She kept her hands steady. Typed the code.

"There it goes. Good riddance," Adam said, watching the screens darken. He cared. Even as aloof as he was portraying himself, Claire knew he cared. It was odd, but immortality wasn't so lonely when there was something else as immortal as you were--the community of people, the world, and an everlasting Company. But no pity because he wouldn't take it and it'd be insulting.

"Don't worry. I'm sure your next empire of doom will be even better."

He looked at her, smiling slightly.

Then a huge boom followed shortly after. She leapt up a foot in the air, and knew instantly--it had detonated. She stood in shock and then reacted. She looked around for him and rushed forward, ready to throttle him. Pure panic motivated her--and then she realized. She hit his shoulder, and he pushed her against the wall. "Good for shutting things down in all manner of speaking-."

"Stop trying to trick me," she growled. He had said harmless, and therefore--and he would try to convince her of her own free will. It was kind of their dangerous thing. She was, however, annoyed he'd think she was that gullible. "God, I'm always being slammed into a wall somewhere."

Then it clicked. She acted like she meant to say it. He kept his face neutral. "...and eradicating the structures above us."

"Let go of me."

"You should have asked more questions," he deflected, twisting the knife.

Claire gaped at him. He looked happy at scaring the hell out of her! "Get off me, let go of me, let go!" she said, hitting his shoulder hard and pushing him away, and marching towards the exit. She didn't speak to him the rest of the drive out of the desert. She remained not speaking to him in the rooms.

"I've brought some ice."

Claire pretended to be asleep in the small bed. Adam had knocked but she wasn't going to respond. He got in somehow though. Next time she'd bolt the door.

"And some flowers for you, to make up for my trick."

Claire peeked out from underneath the covers. He moved the chair to sit beside her. "Flowers that make me think just of you."

He put the flowers down by her pillow.It was a pile of dead roses. If it wasn't so creepy, she'd be mad. Now, she was only severely irritated.

"Are you trying to tell me something?" Claire asked.

He grabbed a glass and took out a knife, cutting his wrists and pouring blood in the bowl. "Unexpected slitting of wrists and dead roses," Claire commented, and he scoffed, savoring her reaction. "Next, bad emo poetry in French," Claire finished.

Her attention was caught, however, as he put the roses in the bowl she saw now had some dirt in it...and color began to return to the petals, green to the stem.

"I am trying to tell you something," he said, amused. "Besides adding color to the room."

She took the rose in her hands, marveling at the life brought to it. Not destruction, death, or loneliness. She felt a sort of calm from it.

She smiled brightly--a real smile (almost like before it all). "Cool."

Adam so wanted to be sarcastic and hide his contentment, but he couldn't quite manage it. "I can live with cool."

***

There was a huge point of contention on their way to Washington.

Adam thought he'd be asked to meet Rebel. As in face-to-face. Claire disagreed vehemently.

"I don't think it'll be a good idea. It's not safe."

"For me to meet Rebel?" Adam inquired.

"For Rebel to meet you."

"I can't disagree with that," Adam said, watching the phone on the dashboard eagerly. "But it's inevitable."

"He's safer from a distance. Safe from all of us. I doubt he'd show his face. If it is a he. They won't reveal themselves just because you ask nicely."

"I won't be the one asking," Adam said, the picture of confidence. "He''ll make the request."

"Want to bet?"

"As a matter of fact..."

The bet was simple. There were too many possibilities to want to get a lock on one. They agreed to do whatever the other asked of them after a certain time limit of oh, Rebel doing a great impression of ignoring them. In Claire's mind, he (she) had had enough of them. Adam was overestimating. Rebel did lock him up after all. Two days later? Guess what happened.

Knocking on her door (god the motel bills for Davis must be skyrocketing), he showed her the text he had received, leaning against the frames completely smug.

'We should meet up to discuss another plan.'

"What?" she asked the phone. "What?" she asked him. "More importantly, why?!"

"Because he wants the best. I'll admit he went to the others first. Their answers were too small, too in-the-moment to solve the dilemma he has found himself in. I'm his only hope. Now, about this bet."

With dread, Claire let him in. She had been trying to think about a decent bet. One not too depraved or pushy but with enough edge to count as a bet. She had drawn a blank. Adam, she suspected, was full of ideas.

She crossed her arms, nervous.

"After much thought, many hours of consideration...I grant you the win."

Her eyes widened.

"You may do your worst."

He laid on the bed, lounging. She could turn his question right back around, but she had a feeling it'd backfire.

"Let me think," she said. He shrugged, waiting. He looked at the bedside table.

"Claire. You've been taking the flowers with you."

"They're neat," she said, deflecting. For that, she make him dress in a dress and sing some blues, or something. But something even worse: "I dare you to do something that makes you, I don't know, happy. As long as it doesn't involve destruction."

"What about a smile for me. Your smile is like currency."

Claire flushed, and hated her skin for it.

"All right, that was more a grimace. Ask me a question." The enjoyment of talking about oneself was paramount. "To let you get to know me better."

"You don't get to know anyone that way, not really," Claire said, and it was her honest reaction. She didn't want to share anything, and neither did he. He was trying to do something here... He looked at her, something familiar in his eyes.

"Very true. Then, let's say it's for amusement."

"Are you sure this won't lead to ultimate destruction? "

"Yes, as you will ask a real question."

So, asking him to tell whatever he wanted was out of the rules.

"Tell me about one good memory," she said, sitting on the bed too. He obviously wanted an audience tonight, she didn't know why. "Good in the conventional way," she added because she didn't want a torture story. She knew why he was doing this: to make her ask why and how and all that. She didn't want to do it, per se, but when she did know where he was coming from, she was usually more comfortable by default.

Adam relaxed, thinking about it. "You do know that our memories are better than anyone else, able to last for centuries," he commented. "I think on any thing I want, and with our brain structure, it's an instant recall."

"...I did not know that," Claire said. It made sense. Some of her best (and her worst) memories are so clear they are almost new.

"Well, now you do. And for my memory, most definitely when I left England the first time, looking out for fortune. Fortune and fame, perferrably, but fortune was quite enough."

A pretty normal goal, she noticed. "Was England that bad?" she asked, teasingly, not wanting to go dark and deep with him.

"There were people dying in the streets of some disease or another, coupled with those addicted to gin and those who were in poverty. You know...it was rather bad," he said, winking at her. "But it was home."

"No good memory at all at home?"

"Well, there was one thing, but I think you'd disapprove."

"Hit me."

"As a boy, I planted evidence that got one man fired from a job he did not deserve. I saved a few lives that way, and so I regret nothing."

"Then I approve," she said. He raised an eyebrow. He had his hand on the pillow by his head, and it was distracting her.

"It was stolen piece of evidence."

She nodded.

"That I stole."

She nodded again, lips twitching.

"It ended poorly for him."

"I figured," she said lightly, winking back at him. He seemed to want to say more, but he diverted.

"What about you? A good memory in the conventional way."

She'd go sentimental, only she wasn't sentimental either. Everything felt very unattached. It would be funny that his attachment was unattachment if it wasn't hers either. She tried but she couldn't think of anything concrete and human. One memory she had was of fire. The other one wasn't bad: she remembered watching a cartoon and believing that if she hung a hotdog on a fishing pole in front of the St. Bernard (that was her mom's first dog) and hooked his leash to a wagon with her in it, that she'd travel down the street. And the dog did travel down the street--for a couple of miles. She lost track of the time, and then well, her dad had been called to rush home and look for her.

He found her and did what she recognized as a very silent anger.

There had been what seemed like a thousand family holidays (overshadowed by that so-instant memory of her dad revealing that she was adopted), vactions where it'd be her mom and Lyle (dad talking around a corner on a phone all the time, and she knew why). Her mom falling to the floor, too, her mind gone.... Damn, her memory was too good. She liked helping, and she did save that man's life, having gone in the fire only thinking on herself but then it changed, and she realized...yet that was...ruined a little later. She'd go with Homecoming (the hour before) but there was that. First kiss, but oh. Made the squad but then she turned into a mutant. Meet a very heroic uncle and somewhat unexpectedly heroic biodad who then decide to blow up (and then join up with a murder).

For all the good memories, one bad one ruined everything for her, even when she knew there were explanations for other people. She thought about Peter, meeting him being one of the best memories, but she didn't want to say that to Adam for some reason.

She didn't want to be attached to anything, to be honest, when there was always a potential bomb waiting to go off. Though recently, she did enjoy seeing her power do something positive and non-destructive (aka flowers). She wasn't goinig to say that though: what a derp she'd be.

Annoyed, she took his hand off the pillow to hold it because she felt like it and ran her fingers across his palm.

"What are you doing to my hand?" he asked.

"Not hurting you," she challenged.

"A memory. I demand it if you're going to twist my fingers off."

"Flying," she said, keeping it impersonal and interesting.

"...You mean with a person, correct."

"I do," she said lightly. "Haven't you flown before?"

"No because it'd be awkward for a man to fly with a flyer."

"...huh," she said, not wanting to see it but so seeing it.

"Was the flyer a friend of yours?"

"Uh," she said. "Kind of more than that."

"You see, overwrought but romantic. Not awkward."

"It was a little. I didn't know he was a flyer until he...flew. With me in his arms."

"Did he know your secret beforehand? He must have."

Claire made a face at him. "Well, he saw me cut my toe off when he lurking outside the living room window."

"Wait," Adam said. "Wait one minute."

"Yes, I cut it off on purpose."

"No, he was looking into your window..." Adam said. "That's creepy."

"Says the severed limb kisser."

He laughed. "I wasn't outside the window, in shubbery."

"Shubbery," she said, thinking of his accent and a certain accent. "That is the determining factor."

"What did you do when you first got our power? Now, something tells me, you had a curious reaction."

She hesitated. "I filmed it. So I could hold it in my hands, you know, make it tangible in some way."

He just quiet for a moment, looking perplexed. "Unexpectedly deep," he finally said.

"Gee, thanks," she said lighlty.

"Tell me, Claire, did you have anything in your life that went normally?"

"I drove my first car without having any accidents or tickets," she declared proudly. "But then it got stolen."

His lips twitched. She shrugged, feeling a bit depressed about it.

"I guess there's just...screw-ups sometimes," she said.

" Isn't that the definition of teenager?"

She smiled a little. "I just want to grow out of the definition. Need to. I felt like I'm trapped."

"I wouldn't say you're every teenager. You're too sure of yourself for it, but you do have an image you try to adhere to."

She sat back. "I do but it's the only consistent thing left. Everything else is a bomb waiting to go off."

"Even people."

"Especially, I guess. Everything can change, anyone can change on a dime."

He half-smiled. "Yes, that's life. But I won't change, and you won't change either as I don't associate with screw-ups. End of discussion."

"Sure," Claire said, thinking it should be the end. They weren't made for this certain type of...talk or feeling, either one of them.

"You know, I was on the street for most of those young wandering years, relying on my wits," he said.

Instinctively, she knew to still keep it light. "More than you are now," she said, nudging him. "Though you were housed for quite a while...you never got sick, did you," Claire said.

"Not a day in my life," he said. "There were things I wish I could have missed seeing, but overall, I wouldn't trade the experience. It's only the knowledge that there isn't a purely good side on earth yet."

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"I traveled with the ship, each place new and supposedly better. The longer you stayed, the worse it got, and I didn't want to miss anything better. Because there had to be something better out there. Japan was ideal for a brief month."

"One question: how on earth did you learn a whole other language?"

"Our memories are good," he said, nudging her back. "Then I had the worst memory of my existence there. You'd think it'd be the coffin, honestly, but it's not. It's that memory."

"You could erase the memory," Claire said, even though she didn't like the method itself.

"Oh you've met him. And no, I-we can't. Our memory will just repair itself, and that lesson I would not forget anyway."

"Or it'd happen again," she realized. "Yeah. There is a guard that needs to be up."

"What was yours?" he asked, eyes focusing on her. "That memory that lives up to be memorable."

"Besides a certain memory on a coffee table?"

"It's not that one."

"Adam, you're asking for a punch in the face."

He smirked. "And then will you tell me?"

She rolled her eyes. "It's just...not a big deal. In the grand scheme of things, it's not even in the footnotes."

"My memory was turned into a legend," Adam mocked.

"Mine was a lost autopsy report," she said. "I bet she lost it. It wasn't a good night. Hence the bad memory."

He stared at her.

"And it's really stupid," Claire reminded him. "In the grand scheme. I can't really compare to uh, coffins."

"Are you competing with my bad memories and trauma?" Adam asked, jumping on it. "Claire, for shame."

She held up her hands. "No, no--maybe. All right, I'll...tell you but it's boring." She opened her mouth. Closed it. Opened it again. "It's really hard to say."

"Mine is too. You tell me yours, and I'll tell you my boring one."

Claire was having trouble with this. She looked at her hands.

"Or not," Adam said. "I'm just speaking with you."

"It's not that easy to back down from now," Claire said. "As you know."

"I didn't mean to trick you. For us, we don't need to tell our secrets. It's an unappealing game."

"Exactly," she said, knowing this was true. She could be around a million years and never tell him this, and it'd be all right. More than all right. Natural. "It's all right. I want to tell you."

She tried to think of a way to present the whole thing as the not-big deal it was. So, she said, "Not a big deal, but...there was one time. In high school. At a party before a football game. There was this person I knew who accidently killed me."

He paused, his hand against hers.

"Not a big deal," Claire said

"Where is this person now?" he asked.

"Adam," she said. "That's been taken care of."

His eyes widened. "Of course."

"Memory wipe," she said. "I even apologized and they didn't know what I was talking about."

"What were you talking about?"

"..." She cleared her throat. "Well, the person in question had a habit of hurting other people. So I didn't act do it for myself." His eyes met hers. "...For the most part," she admitted, smirking a little. "We had a car accident."

"An accident," he teased.

"I ran the car into a wall doing eighty. I felt bad afterwards."

"Did you? Well, Claire." He paused again. "You're a special person if you didn't revel in it." She felt like she'd been running a marathon after the confession, and she was still alive. She felt slightly better, and not as close to tears now.

"Do you revel?" she teased.

He shrugged. "I wouldn't call it reveling."

"...I reveled at the time," she said. "Before I saw what happened. But it was more like I was sick, or something," she said. "My mind was on fire, and I couldn't not do it. But it didn't make anything better."

He studied her. "Mine is simple. An unlucky love affair."

"There was a friend involved?" she chanced.

His eyes narrowed. "It is worse when they know you beforehand. Retribution doesn't make things better, either. But that's not the point."

"The point is to make a mark. To hurt them back," she said. "Because otherwise, there's no sign at all that it mattered or took place." Or that they could do it.

" I killed his father, you know. Took him off the roof with me."

Claire took a deep breath, and she expected to be more shocked. She was hurt. She knew Hiro was, that he was a good person. Yet here she was. "...I suspected it was something like that. That was the Kaito at the grave, wasn't it?"

He looked at her. "You aren't afraid."

She blinked. "I'm not worried. All I did to you was hit you with a shovel."

His lips quirked up. But she didn't feel uncomfortable. She probably should, but it was oddly calm: both had survived the confessions. Or semi-confessions. He took out a cigarette, lit it, and offered it to her. She shook her head, and thought for him to have such white teeth and bad habits, he'd have to knock his teeth out every once and awhile. He really was good at smoking, though. If there was a talent.

"And such a retribution will befall you," he muttered.

"You made me blush earlier," she offered. "That was retribution enough. Next time it happens, I'm going to skin myself."

"I wasn't that kind to the girl in question, in the past," he said, his memory still somewhere else.

"That was shitty of you," she said.

He nodded. "It was."

They drifted into silence, and she felt like she could be there for a very long time. She didn't mind it either.

But she did have a question.

"What are you going to do about Rebel?"

"I never said I'd meet him in person, seeing how he entrapped me. I said he'd contact me. Therefore nothing."

Claire took the cigarette out of his mouth and extinquished it on her hand. "...Damn rude," Adam said, fighting to keep his composure.

"I can't forget about what I saw at that place," she said. "Like you said. I can't walk away from it. I have to do something."

"That's unfortunate."

She felt herself get mad...and then soften. "Please," she said. "If there's something you can do. I don't know if I...can do this as well alone, without you. You're...you're smarter than me about stuff like this."

He was shocked. It had been like pulling teeth, to ask.

"...I'll have to meet him anyway," Adam said, and she looked over, barely believing it.

She stole his cigarette for herself. He lit another, keeping his eyes trained ahead but even after revisiting such a memory, his eyes were bright.

***

Claire had wanted to help end this government take-over. But at the meeting place, she had second thoughts that this was the way to do it.

"How many soldiers do you think this factory could hide?" she asked him.

Adam studied the abandoned factory carefully over the steering wheel. "Just enough to win," he said.

"Then one guy," she said. He smirked, shaking his head. She touched his shoulder. "I don't know if we should do this. It could be a trap."

"What trap would that be?" Adam asked, and it was rhetorical. He wanted to hear her thoughts.

"What if Rebel traded us in to free other Specials? Not one but two regenerators," Claire said. "Thrown in with a few free syringes on the side," she finished, kicking the bag in the floorboard. "Save the world from disease while everyone else keeps quiet."

"That won't save the world. It'd end in overpopulation and starvation."

"...I'm so sure he thought of that aspect," she said.

"You're right to be wary, but he didn't turn us in."

"Because it wouldn't work in the long run?"

"Because he's an idealist. He works through machines, understands them best. Either he'll be logical or as I said, an idealist."

She looked back at the darkness. "Then why do I have this sinking feeling?"

"Because he's an idealist, and they are dangerous. And because you made this much more difficult when you informed him of my name and Company file. That could account for the sinking feeling, wouldn't you say?" Adam said.

Claire pursed her lips.

"I don't like walking in blind," Adam said. "I wish we knew more about him."

"I wish he had chosen a public place. A small diner where no one would spot us. There's only like a thousand."

"...You know, he must be young. He wants to be intimidating, use the threat of the machines here to his advantage." Claire fought back a shudder. She hadn't realized that potential side of Rebel's power.

"He's scared of us? I thought he'd be cautious but not scared."

"Scared of us? Speak for yourself," Adam said, drumming his fingers along the wheel, "he's clearly afraid of you." She rolled her eyes. "But that's an excellent point. He must feel a public place can't help him. Why is that? That his word would not be taken at face value if he needed help..."

"What should we do if there is trouble?" she asked. "He might have someone, a teleporter, waiting in the wings."

"For the first meeting, I doubt there will be a problem. But in case, follow my lead."

"What do you have planned?" she asked.

"Trust me," he said. "I won't allow anything to happen to you."

Claire usually wouldn't accept that kind of statement (from anyone else) but she met his eyes and nodded, feeling better and opening the door.

They walked together through the broken maze of machinery. She stood close to him in case anything happened and she had to move to guard. It was getting colder, in the air, and her eyes searched for movement. They reached a center circle, and she realized this was more than a place for an old factory. It was nearly a junkyard.

There was a busstop across the street a few blocks, and Claire wondered if Rebel took a bus. Something about that seemed strange in itself.

"Well," Adam said, putting his hands in his pockets. "If his purpose was to waste time..."

"What if it's not a he?" she asked idly.

"It's a he. Technopaths usually aren't girls, though that power's appearance is fairly recent," Adam said. "But I can tell by his use of language." "

She wrinkled her nose. "That's a great attitude to have. A technopath could be a girl."

"No," he said, and before she could reply, he snarked, "I made them all that way just to annoy you."

"Care to make a wager on Rebel's identity?"

"...This time it will be a physical dare," he promised her.

"Who can survive a fire longer."

"Where is the fire coming from, may I ask?"

"Okay, water. Who can survive drowning...more."

"Lung capacity is lung capacity. Nothing to do with healing. The same with strangulation."

"Then fire," she said.

"A car accident," he said.

"Here: if Rebel is a guy, car accident. Girl, fire. Burn baby burn." She added that in the heat of the moment.

He peered at her in the darkness. "Did you. Claire, your dare is accepted," he said. "Since fire is the best you can do, and I'm certain you stole the immulotion idea from me."

"Singing contest," she said snidely. "In public. Karaoke."

"Gladly," he said. "I know songs in all kinds of languages. I've had women thrown themselves at me due to my voice."

"Fire it is!" she sniped, and then she jumped a foot in the air when a machine turned on right behind her. Adam pulled her close reflexively, (her breath caught a little, and she was thankful for the machines going off to cover the sound) watching the machine with curiosity. "It says...I'm right."

"What?" Claire asked, twisting around in his arms and putting on a brave face. The machine's lights turned into a message. 'Sorry, Claire, but I am he'. "Oh that's cute," she said dryly.

"Not especially. We are here in good faith," Adam said. "Rebel should show maturity and return the favor."

What a way to say it: maturity. They saw movement in the corner and out of the darkness comes....a kid. A boy with a backpack on. Claire stared.

"Yeah, right," she said as the boy approached them slowly. "Who sent you out here to take their place?" And make a total joke of them.

"...No. A technopath is a recent development," Adam said, "and judging by the skill of this one, this could be true."

"My name is Micah. My skill," the boy said, and she was surprised, "isn't enough though." His dark eyes were watching Adam warily, and Adam studied him back. Claire then realized that maybe encouraging a meeting with Rebel wasn't such a bright idea after all. She had expected an older person.

She could handle this, easily.

"We're going to fix everything," she said, and she felt Adam jab her in the back. She didn't know what his problem was.

"Maybe. I want to know more about this virus," Micah said, looking at her. "You said it was more complicated than what the files said." Adam tensed beside her. This was going well. Claire knew if she told Micah the truth, he would do more than not accept Adam's assistence. He might find a way to lock Adam up for good.

The thing about lying was that it was natural, now, getting deeper into this mess, but she had to protect him.

"He was framed for creating the virus."

Adam untensed.

"How can you prove that?"

"For starters, they didn't destroy the virus. Is that the actions of people who don't intend to use it? They were biding their time, and he found out about it. And these are the same geniuses that tried to blow up New York."

"However, I'd rather you both be cautious in this matter. I'll withdrawl my offer of help and I'll accept whatever methods you deem safe," Adam said. "I understand...the gravity of it is such that I wouldn't respect anyone who doesn't take the proper precaution. It is the world we are talking about here."

Claire's mouth dropped open. He took her line from their first meeting, about how he'd want her to be sure if he was innocent. And it worked. Something about this was infuriating.

Micah looked at Adam again, his brow furrowed now. "...we'll just talk for now. There's a place down the road. I checked it out, it's clear."

Claire couldn't believe it. Micah motioned for them to follow.

"I win the bet," Adam said out of the side of his mouth.

"This doesn't count," Claire said, "because he's not even out of middleschool. Not even out of middleschool and leading a resistence movement."

"Jealous?" Adam asked.

"Extremely," Claire whispered.

"...Me too," he whispered back.

***

The situation wasn't good. Adam acted very casual (almost uninterested) in Micah, but this meant he was especially interested. It was like a bell had been rung. Blood was in the water.

"How long has it been since you've had a decent meal? I imagine you spend most of your time near a machine."

Claire looked out of the corner of her eye and saw that Micah did look tired underneath his eyes. "I had some French fries five hours ago."

"We should get something here," Claire said. She was glad it was mostly empty in here, to avoid any ears listening in.

"Splendid. Consider it on me," Adam said.

"On Davis," she muttered.

"According to the ID in my wallet, that would be me."

"And will you be having anything, Mr. Davis?" Claire asked.

"A milkshake."

She bit her tongue and went to take care of orders. Micah did eat as if he hadn't had anything in awhile. As disillusioning as Micah's appearance had been, Claire did see some good out that came out of their meeting. Then Adam opened his mouth.

"Now what is your plan?" he asked Micah. Both Micah and Claire gaped at him. He looked innocently back and forth.

"I thought you'd have a plan," Micah said, eyes wide.

"I think he does," Claire said. "Don't you?" she asked him.

"I was just opening the discussion," Adam said, looking down at his drink. His demeanor was different from since they left the junkyard. "I find it admirable, how you've organized a very coordinated movement under such limiting circumstances."

Micah smiled a little. "...Thanks."

"We do have to stop this, as I imagine it'll only get worse and more families will be broken apart."

Micah looked at his hands, nodding, and Claire...got what Adam was doing. She kicked at his leg--but he had known what she'd do and his leg had moved just in time. She avoided banging the booth loudly by a hair. Fine, she wasn't scared: she'd go direct.

"What's your plan?" Claire asked him.

"For such a convoluted problem, you go to the head, the source. The President."

"...Come again?" Claire asked.

Micah perked up, curious. "I don't know how to get in but I've thought about telling him. I don't know why he wouldn't react the same as everyone else."

"Because he'll find himself with a mindset to be agreeable. I know just the man for the job, too."

Claire tilted her head, shifting through his words. "Mind control."

"More like a mental suggestion. He shuts down the program, things get covered up, and we all go on our way. Simple, with no casualities."

To that, she wanted to say: Except a little thing called conscience. But she didn't want to...well, she'd speak to him however she liked but in front of someone else, there seemed to have to be some consideration. He was staring at her, waiting, and she spoke up.

"I think it's a good idea," she said. "Just not the right one. Mind control is serious and in my opinion,.violating."

There, does this sound mature?

"Let's leave it up to a vote. To democracy. What do you think, Micah? You have the most profound grasp of the situation, watching all those monitors and screens. Seeing exactly what the average person will do to us."

Micah's eyes were just...

"I don't think the average person is bad. I think they're just scared, like some Specials are of them...," Micah said, and Claire was impressed that Micah was intuitive enough to see not to state Adam was afraid of anything. "But no casualities? And you leave him alone after he undoes it."

Her mouth dropped.

"Absolutely. You are the one to make sure we all leave him alone, with your abilities. Make no mistake, you're the voice that counts."

"Those who think it's depraved," Claire said, abandoning maturity and raising her hand. Her hand was in the air alone.

"Those who think it's pragmatic with much more moral weight in the long run," Adam said, raising his hand. Micah's joined his. No way.

"Moral weight. How about we all stop hiding in the shadows, and then we'll see about moral weight? People, despite what you say, won't allow this to happen, and you know what, we need to go out there if the government is willing to do this. We should go out there on our terms since it'll happen eventually."

She got kicked in the shin. Didn't hurt. But Micah's face fell. "...I don't think that'd be a good idea. That would break up families. There'd be a war. Heroes need secret identities and make a choice if they want to be known or not. If they want to be put in danger."

"No..." She was being bombarded with kicks. She looked at Adam.

"Your dad is a politician, the one who did this," Micah began. "Maybe we could talk to him, get him to stop it."

"Nathan's not one to listen," she said.

"Then we do the mind thing on him."

"Unproductive," Adam said, quickly. "He still won't have enough pull alone, at least for how quickly we need to act."

...No way. Claire was stunned. Then anger mixed with gratitude that Adam had stepped in for her father. He didn't have to. Nathan did have enough pull.

"Who's the person you have in mind for the job?" Claire asked Adam.

"Matt Parkman?" Micah asked.

"...There's a Matt Parkman. Great, two Parkmans," Adam said, in a lackluster tone of voice. "I was going for the Maury Parkman. Maury's powers are by far more impressive, more trained."

"You know Maury?"

"A fellow Founder," Adam was forced to admit. She blinked at that because Adam was going around, after, a lot of Founders. Who wanted to get rid of him right back.

"All right," she said, seeing the problem. This was good too, to protect Adam as well. "I'm assuming you're going to send him in the White House, to mindgame the Leader of the Free World. He won't be going alone."

"I'll accompany him."

"I was going to volunteer to go. Rebel is too important, and I'm the only other indestructible person here. No casualities. Oh, and I vote for me to go in with Maury. For Democracy," she said, raising her hand. Micah's slowly joined hers.

Adam's face was very agreeable. She was so going to get it.

Good. What could he do to her?

***

Adam attacked her in the shower.

Or rather, he pushed her into the shower to attack her. Something. He turned on the water, like a true psycho, with them both still in their clothes.

"I think you skipped some steps," she said. Then her smirk faded as he stared at her. Just stared at her, letting the minutes stretch. She thought she sensed a weakness in her knees. Finally he spoke.

"Listen. We can convince him to let me go in your place to work with Maury," Adam said.

Claire ran a hand through her now-soaking wet hair. "I'm going in your place, Adam. It's too dangerous for him to see you."

Adam watched her again, and it was unnerving to see someone so unaffected by water on their face. She tried to push past him but his arms were like steel. "You won't be satisfied until you are hurt."

"Me, hurt," Claire said. "That's the whole point. No one can't hurt us. So I won't ever be satisfied, looks like."

Something in her words made him recoil. Satisfied. She felt herself relent a little.

"You're not speaking to someone who doesn't know what it's like," Adam said, his tone steely. "Maury will damage your mind unless you're prepared. It's illogical to go fight a mindreader with no former training at all."

"He can't do much more harm to me, and guess what, I'm fine," Claire assured (snapped). Adam's jaw clenched. "Then you could prepare me instead of trying to be..." she said.

"Protective." It was like he lashed her in the face.

"Yes. Stop it," she said.

"If it's what you want, for me to stop, I will," Adam said simply, taking his hands away and walked out of the shower. Just like that. Talk about someone being comfortable in their own skin. Damn. Claire didn't have anything to say to that. She dried her hair and walked right past him where he watched the television to go outside. She wouldn't get a cold. She sat on the bench in the corner of the motel and watched the sun go down. Things did keep going, no matter how...

She knew she was selfish, and she felt bad for it. She just had to keep going. She stared ahead, trying to think of nothing anymore.

He came out an hour later, the sun red in the sky now. She looked ahead, trying not to notice how he looked in the bright light.

"Where are you going after this is over?" she asked, telling him all he needed to know.

He drew in a breath. "...Spain is nice this time of year."

She looked over. "Thanks, by the way. For helping my father back there."

He put an arm around her, sighing. "I'll teach you how to shield your mind. I know you're going to go on ahead anyway."

She knew he meant to protect her. (As much as that always seemed to happen to her, on behalf of someone). Despite his other plans in wanting to go with Maury, she knew his intentions alligned with that desire too.

"I'm...I'm sorry, Adam."

"For blocking me from the President? I have no plans for him."

She leaned close against him, feeling his heart in the center of her back from the way she was near. "No," she whispered, "but you have plans for Maury after he does his job."

He looked at her quickly, mouth slightly open. "...Well. Well, you're full of surprises, Claire."

She took his hand, feeling the same old jolt again. "I'm going to try and stop the brainwashing," she whispered. And by that, she meant stopping him from taking Maury down too.

He licked his lips, seemingly trying to get a footing on what she was openingly telling him. "I knew the last one. I didn't expect you to tell me to my face, that's...new," he said, his eyes wide. She looked at him, waiting. "Go ahead. Try your best to stop me. Sounds like a challenge."

They sat together, watching the sun disappear behind the horizon.

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