Title: with bloom to spare
Feedback address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Date in Calendar: 11 June 2008
Spoilers: up to 2.11 Powerless
Advertisement: Part of the FSAC:DW07
Disclaimer: The characters and situations belong to the people who own them, not me.
Note: title from suzanne vega's 'these whole girls (run in grace)'.
Note 2: For the International Month of Femslash, wheeeeee!! Written in a new comic style, so: beware.
Her seventeenth birthday, Claire doesn’t get a present from her boyfriend. Instead, she gets a book on abusive relationships from her favorite and only uncle, that she knows of. Second-hand.
The book, that is.
Ending the Silence, she reads off the cover. Something inside her burns against the cliche.
“Thanks, Peter, but I have an iPod to do that,” she jokes weakly, and pulls it out of her pocket to demonstrate. Nobody laughs. Claire can feel her cheeks heating up and her (healing. corroding.) blood swirling, vanishing into some part of herself like water down a drain.
(That’s the trouble with Peter. You spend so much time around him you forget how cruel, how embarrassing he can get and then, suddenly, he pulls something like this and you remember too late how it’s never a good idea to let your guard down around him.
He means well. That’s the problem.)
“It’s for you,” Peter adds, like a puppy depositing a dropped fledgling on its master’s shoes and expecting praise. “I thought it might help.”
“Help?” she repeats in a perfect, you-are-an-idiot-and-I-can-handle-myself voice. Low tones: shallowly dulcet with hint of rasp, as if barbed wire was coiled in her throat. A tone she perfected talking with her dad.
God, he used to do this sort of thing too. But it wasn’t as bad, then. He wasn’t Peter.
“Help. Look I know you miss him, but—” Claire can tell there’s something just itching, right there on the tip of his tongue, just like she can sense everyone else frantically shaking their heads behind her. Just like she’s itching to take that steak knife she can see over his shoulder out of its butcher block and put it into something very squishy and warm and damn talkative.
It’s funny, what level of violence you can tolerate when you can heal from any wound in under sixty seconds.
“—I know it gets boring, being stuck here,” he finishes lamely. “I thought you could read with Maya for practice. You know. She might....”
He trails off. Matt picks up a spoon and starts fiddling with it. Molly makes the awkward turtle sign under the table.
“Peter,” Mohinder pronounces it Pee-tah, like the bread her dad—like the bread Claire hates, “you do realize that this is not an A-B-C book?”
“Uh, yeah.” Her uncle is fidgeting, awkward in his happiness. He’s the cruelest puppy in the world trying not to go emotional wee-wee on the floor. “I guess it’s kind of a joint gift. You know, for the both of you.” He frowns. “Where is Maya anyway?”
Matt’s chuckles echo in the silence, until Claire gives him a Look and he subsides to red-faced fumbling. Her cheeks are burning; she swears she can feel layers of skin peeling back, the heat of the explosion that ripped apart her home.
"Thank you," she croaks.
Mohinder excuses himself to check a blinking equipment light that he might just have activated with his cell phone. The telepath quickly starts looking for another spoon.
Of course the book is second-hand. Peter’s like that: can’t bear to let something go without his fingerprints on it, chasing himself into little balls and giving them away like Claire’s grandmother served up cantaloupe at Sunday brunch. In his mind, if he doesn’t staple a piece of his soul to the envelope it makes a gift is too impersonal.
She opens it later, music echoing softly from her earbuds. The pages are near translucent from being read so many times, top and bottom dog-eared into triangles of varying sizes and neatness. At the beginning of chapter two—“If This is Love, Why Do I Feel So Bad?”—there’s a receipt for a bar in Manhattan.
Friday, it reads in Peter’s childlike script. Sophie’s, 8:30. Meet Nathan. Look good.
It’s easy to picture him like that: dark head bent in low light, pouring over the chapters like this was the eleventh commandment. Pencil tapping at his teeth or at the chair—maybe even taking some notes, underlining a few words in pencil—and then going out and willfully ignoring everything he had just read.
The daydream is nice. The book, however, is stupid and useless. Claire decides to re-gift it to Mohinder for Christmas.
In fact, she’s sure that’s what Peter meant to do all along. He just forgot, or was distracted. Maybe he thought he saw a flying man in the sky and didn’t notice that he was wrapping the wrong book.
Because there’s no way that she needs this. And Peter is always so careful to give people what they need.
Heather Nova sits comfortably in her hand, the music knits a baby blanket of security like a grandmother's ghost. The earbuds are a little unfamiliar, the case battered in places hers wasn’t; Claire lost her old iPod that frantic night two and half months ago, along with most of her clothes, her books, all of her teddy bears but one. Material nothings—but when Maya asks shyly if her housemate wants to pray with her, Claire mourns for these things she’s lost instead of the family that went with them.
These days, she feels like a stranger in an even stranger land. Her shirts are all one size too big; hips clingy and she can never shake the nagging that she should stuff the bust with tissues. She feels sudden, sharp empathy for fire victims. Her third week in New York, walking home from her furtive trip to the stop-and-shop, Claire had passed a charity drive at a church.
“One of our flock had her house burn down,” the old, sweet-faced woman at the table had said. Her hands shook with arthritis and Claire thought it figured, that the only ones to try to do something good in the world were the people about to die. “We’re collecting clothes, toys, housewares—anything a family might need. ”
Of course, Claire had said, that’s horrible. If the woman would wait right here—she had some clothes to give, a whole box of them she’d been saving up to donate. Claire had run the three blocks home, already with the feel of cotton-edged charity sliding through her hands. It was only later, standing in front of an empty closet in a silent, dark apartment, that Claire had realized she wasn’t home anymore.
She broke down then and there, crying for at least an hour until her body couldn’t produce any more tears. And then she had called Matt, because the only other person in her contacts was dead.
The next week, Maya arrived.
“It means—” Matt pauses, his expression similar to someone who’s run into a wall without noticing. “I don’t—I don’t know. Why don’t you go ask Mohinder?”
Mohinder doesn’t even look up from whatever he’s tinkering with, which is pretty typical. “Hoax: an act intended to deceive. Also see trick, fake, and Peter’s ‘home-cooked meals’, which in fact originate from the deli down the street.”
“I like it when Peter cooks,” Molly says happily. Book fluttering closed on her lap, she’s stripping down clementines with Maya. The peels are being tossed onto the ottoman that looks like someone, probably Mohinder’s father, stole from a dumpster. “At least it’s not pizza. Or curry.”
Matt grins. Maya laughs. The sound is like wedding bells and really good bread, the stuff that’s earthy and sweet, and that has to be the soppiest thing Claire’s ever thought but it’s true.
Mohinder smiles. It’s tight, distracted and often preludes a melancholy shuffle down memory road. He seems to do that a lot. “Well, we all have our ethnic specialties. Curry for me, spaghetti for the Italian...”
“Sicilian.” It’s out before Claire can stop it, and she can feel her cheeks flaming.
The fact that she knows those little details doesn’t mean anything. Not at all.
(Except when it does, but that’s not the point.)
“Sicilian. See? You should be grateful for such a multicultural upbringing.” Molly rolls her eyes in a terrific imitation of Claire’s mother.
It’s Saturday morning—the type that blends instead of bleeds into the afternoon, with light streaming through the curtains like God himself is planning to join the party. Claire’s sprawled loose-limbed at the kitchen table. Nearby Matt’s doing something involving a lot of banging pans, though he’s probably just cleaning up from god-knows-what; the possibility of any actual cooking done by a male here is about a zillion to one. It’s the females that cook—and that means Maya, since all Claire can make are cupcakes and no one in their right mind would let a ten-year-old near a stove.
“ ‘Say you have been lying,” Maya reads carefully (Claire’s mom would have done the voices). “You shall even now be forgiven.’ But at that moment one of the young squirrels lost its head completely.” She does a double take and stops, horrified. Molly and Claire both giggle.
“You look funny,” Molly observes.
In fact, Maya looks like someone has just killed a puppy in front of her. “It doesn’t actually mean losing your head,” Claire tries to explain. “It means to be uh… to be irrational. No piensa bueno.” Claire’s high-school Spanish is pretty lame, but Maya’s expression clears a little.
“Oh,” she says, and it’s her turn to be embarrassed.
Later, Claire thinks about what her neighbors back in Odessa would have said about this scene. They weren't bad people, just burrowed so far into their ways they thought tradition was the ground under their feet and sky above their heads; some were different, but they were the loners, the fringes, the discontent. Texas is a flaming wheel, throwing off its outliers and drawing itself closer and closer, deep into its own hot heart. Claire thinks of Maya and imagines crowds, burning faces - laughing and yelling for Maya to go back to Mexico. (Which, she tells her subconscious, really doesn’t make much sense, considering Maya’s from the Dominican Republic.)
Then Claire thinks about her Spanish class, how some could only speak Maya’s language enough to make fun of her in it and how Maya can read a novel in theirs. We’re the stupid ones, Claire thinks, and it sounds pretty true. Stupid; stupid and scared of everyone who's different.
(Later, she catches at Maya’s arm and fumbles out a weak, “Could you help me with my Spanish?” She’s heard over and over that generosity is not a trait inherent to mankind but Maya’s face breaks out in a sun of curl-framed contentment, and Claire remembers that they’re something else, something different entirely.)
"Me llamo Claire Bennet," she tells the mirror. Her lips form rose-tinged shapes: strange, like talking with a stone in her mouth. "Estoy de Odessa, en Texas. Me encanta a mis amigos."
"You've got your backpack?" Matt asks. "And your homework?"
"Yes, Matt," Molly says, a little more theatrical than usual. Claire heard that she wants to try out for the school play. Matt thought it's a good idea, but Mohinder wondered aloud whether or not they would still be there by the time it was ready to perform. (A moment's notice, remember that, he said, and they have, but Molly can't quite shake herself free of the siren-song of spotlights.)
" 'Bye Maya, 'bye Claire," the little girl waves frantically before skipping out the door. Only ten years old, Claire thinks, and for some reason this makes her tired.
"Bedtime again," she announces, only no one notices, and so she goes off to crawl between Mohinder's sheets. He and Matt have been unbelievably charitable in allowing her and Maya to stay. They all depend on each other, this little knot of New York heroes. Walking into each other's lives so much that even when they're not there, Claire can feel their presence - Matt, when he's not policing, and Mohinder, pausing for a breather in the bizarre, deformed waltz he and Sylar are caught in. Molly, with her oh-so-stable home life. Hiro, when he's not in the past, future, or a different time zone, busy being a Big Damn Hero. Peter, when he's not - well, wherever he goes. Sometimes even the Haitian, and damn if that's not a little bit creepy, having him hang about in the shadows, but Maya is of course so unfailingly warm and welcoming that Claire feels bad for holding back.
That's one of the many things she hates about being in hiding - there's no such thing as your space, your street addresses may change so many times you have to write the current one in your hand in permanent marker, but the hardest is that you're never alone. (And at the same time, you always are.)
"Me llamo Claire Bennet. Estoy de los Estados Unidos. Me encanta mi familia."
Mornings are sun-tinged, the smell of casabe and crackle of radio chatter draped over everything like a fishnet. Maya listens to real Latino music - the type that rattles every commercial kitchen and car wash for miles, shook chili peppers in your blood and made them burn. Once, Claire asked Maya to introduce her, as if the music were an interesting friend of a friend, and Maya sung a folk lullaby before she remembered that her brother had taught it to her. They spent that day at a church, lighting candles for a man that would never have a grave or rest, as long as his other half lived on.
Sometimes, Claire thinks they have more in common than they think. There's Sylar, of course, and genetics, but Claire had West, Maya had her brother's wife. ("I was like a sister to that bitch," she had confessed, and as Claire had held her through her sobs she thinks of the kind of sister Maya was, the kind Alejandro had and held, and wonders if Maya was getting her English terms mixed up again.) Fathers and brothers - family, men they loved - died for them; they know want, and they know revenge, be it a speeding car or a creeping fluid.
West is gone though, and Maya has left Sylar to Mohinder. To this terrifying, ridiculous dance that's so easy to lose oneself within the measured paces; to the endless stream of shitty apartments in downtown New York - one step ahead or one step behind Maya and Claire, depending on the week. Sometimes she wonders if she could ever step to that rhythm, write her own words on the wall. "I couldn't," she tells herself every time, out loud just to be sure, as her mind whispers brown-skinned songs and black-eyed beats & says yes, you could.
(Maya told stories, after finding out about Claire's crush on Peter, about crawling into bed with Alejandro when they were little, and how they kept doing it when they were older. They didn't do anything, though, didn't even talk - just slept, side by side. It's hot in Dominica, Maya says. Claire's not quite sure what that means.)
"Me llamo Claire. Estoy - soy especial. Me encanta a Peter Petrelli."
She runs, endlessly, panting and out of breath. Kicking up dust, her father at her heels, the Company at his, and the one she loves looking for his brother like that Greek guy, the one who looked over his shoulder and broke the faith. God, sometimes her life is a classicist's wet dream.
Yesterday she helped Peter build a shrine for Simone - just wax stubs and graduation photos and love you, never forget hung over it all like a birthday banner. She blew out all the candles, after he had left to brood, and then felt so bad that she re-lit them. In the bathroom she carved the word - Peter - in her arm and it disappeared into her skin. She wonders if that's how Maya feels with the black ooze.
(It's something inside, Maya had said. A sickness that comes out of me black. Claire can relate.)
Peter's wanted by too many, she knows. She's seen his dance around Mohinder, the glances Elle shot his way, the touches from Nathan. She's seen him been hero-worshipped by Hiro, and cry over Adam's grave.
The fact is, Peter could be gay. He certainly has the hair for it, and testosterone has (thank god) never been one of his identifying traits. Only, he isn't. He never will be, because that would mean closing himself to some people, and he couldn't do that.
Peter loves indiscriminately. It's the cruelest part about him.
"I kissed him and he killed my brother."
"It's not your fault. You were coerced."
"But I kissed him." Apparently, it wouldn't have been as bad if Sylar had kissed her. It's times like these (always, never) that Claire does not understand Maya.
It takes her a while to realize it, but Claire misses cheerleading. She shows Maya a cheer on day, feeling stupid and ridiculous and stripped down to the ligaments, but Maya laughs, smiles in that way that makes her eyes smile for her, and shows her how to dance - "in a way," she says in halting, stone-edged words, that she hasn't since her brother's wedding. Light touches to her hip, her arms, putting her into position, and Maya smells good, really good. Claire thinks about asking what it is, in a strictly recon-ish way - maybe it's a shower gel, something she could borrow - but that would really require too much effort, what with the translation and all. Instead, she decides to just guess and memorize for later, just in case she recognizes it somewhere.
Claire leans as close as she dares, and breathes deep.
Cinnamon. A hint of the clementine peels that keep piling up next to her bed, citrus under bitten fingernails. Cheap, generic shampoo. Some seasoning Claire associates with kitchen and spicy food, but not the spicy of Mohinder's better have water nearby curry nights, the stuff he says clears his head so he has room for genetics.
"Happy?" Maya asks. She has noticed Claire's sudden grin.
"Yes," Claire says, absently. "Of course."
Maya Maya Maya Maya Maya Maya Maya Maya Maya Maya Maya Maya
Claire likes the way it feels on her tongue.
"Are you alright, Claire?" Mohinder is concerned, hints of fatherhood creeping into his voice like kids out past their curfew. It reminds her of her father - not the dulcet tones but the concern, the dry heat of it.
Her eyes sting, but she tells herself it's probably because of the onions Maya's chopping.
"Yeah," she says, "I'm fine, why?"
"Nothing." Her eyes follow the glistening shape of his curls, the endless twists and eternal loops, circling round and round again. "You just seem... different lately. I would have thought, with Peter gone-"
He trails off, obviously trying to figure out what to say next. For a genius, Claire thinks, he doesn't seem to plan too far ahead.
"I don't know, maybe it's something in the water," Claire says. "Or maybe my taste-buds are finally recovering from all that spicy food."
"Really?" Mohinder asks, curious. "I would have thought, with your ability - perhaps certain types of cells regenerate at different speeds-"
"I was joking," she says, flat.
"Oh. I see," he says, but she knows that he really doesn't, not at all.
Maya's bed is how a bed should be, worn comfortable blankets that don't match at all and look better for it. Claire likes it much better than her store-bought, ready-made sea of confectionary pink. That's what she tells herself when she starts to sneak into it - after Maya's asleep, of course, and waking up before the other woman does. She just likes the bed better, that's all; likes waking up warm and slipping into pre-dawn darkness, leaving the shape of her behind in the mattress.
(And sometimes, in the breaking quiet, she thinks she might like waking up in the sun even more.)
"Me llamo Claire," she tells herself. "Me encanta."