Characters/Pairings: Matt, Mohinder, Peter, Elle/Luke, Nathan
Warnings: background sexual shenanigans, animal attacks, unapologetic mockery of reality television
Disclaimer: Heroes belongs to Tim Kring, NBC et al.
A/N: Written for kethni and boudecia7’s 2001 Birthday Matt-a-thon.
Summary: Cryptozoologist Dr. Mohinder Suresh comes to the Canadian wilderness to track down rumors of a strange creature. One reluctant ranger Matt Parkman is tasked to show him around. Then things get even more complicated.
The van smelled of trouble. Ranger Parkman could tell that from inside the ranger station. He didn’t need his keen sense of observation to figure out that his usual speech of forest safety was going to go in one ear and out the other of these particular visitors.
In fluorescent lime green pain splashed along the side of the van were a variety of ludicrously outsized animal prints and the words, “Creature Feature” emblazoned the doors. In smaller letters, in a more sober font, it proclaimed “Exploration in Cryptozoology.” And at the wheel was none other than the star of Discovery Channel’s newest reality show smash hit, Dr. Mohinder Suresh.
Matt sighed. This was just not going to make his week.
“Nathan!” he called, and his poster-boy superior leaned out of his office. “Creature Feature is here. Tell me they forgot their permits so we can send them right back home.”
Nathan sat up straight at that news, and actually deigned to come out of his office, carrying an official-looking sheaf of papers. “Afraid not, Parkman. You’re going with them.”
Matt’s eyes widened with dismay and his stomach sank. “Sir?”
“We need good publicity and exposure for tourist dollars, and they need the best guide for the back trails. It’s a win-win situation,” Nathan said, grabbing his hat and checking the set of it in the mirror, brushing back stray strands of hair.
“A little warning might have been appreciated,” Matt said.
“If I’d told you last week, you would have called in sick,” Nathan pointed out, accurately.
“Or dead,” Matt muttered.
“Suck it up, ranger. You’re about to be on TV.”
Matt bit back a snappy retort and grabbed his own hat. Nathan preceded him outside, his smile going full blast as he welcomed Dr. Suresh and his crew to the park.
“We’re thrilled to have you here,” Nathan was saying, as Matt got within earshot. “Ranger Parkman here,” Matt nodded as Nathan gestured at him, his expression neutral as he could manage, “will be guiding you on your search and keep you safe.”
Nathan had on his 1000-megawatt smile as the cameraman, Luke, filmed him and Dr. Suresh shaking hands. If Matt remembered correctly, Luke had almost been dragged off by a chupacabra in southern Texas last year. Elle, their sound tech, had a close encounter with a banshee in Ireland early this year, and Peter, their producer and host, had nearly been dragged under Lake Champlain by Champ the lake monster a month ago. Matt knew more than he should about the show; he watched it religiously, just in case… Well, just in case something like this should happen.
Matt let Nathan do the talking while he grabbed a full travel pack and supplies from the station and brought it back to the van, hoisting the weight easily. He slung it in the back as Nathan continued pressing the flesh. Peter had taken over from Dr. Suresh as he and Nathan talked dramatically about… Matt sidled closer to listen. The Black Beast. He clenched his jaw. Damn.
Dr. Suresh peaked around the opposite corner of the van, looking harried. “Ranger Parkman? Sorry about all the disruption. I appreciate you interrupting your time for me.”
Matt looked at the little circus going on by the ranger station, with Nathan spilling sensational stories and rumor (egged on by Peter) and everyone else just lapping it up. Luke and Elle were hanging on to every word. “I only hope Peter finds plenty of locals to pad out the time so he isn’t on my back when I’m trying to work.”
Matt laughed softly. “You know why he follows you around, right?” The way Peter followed Dr. Suresh around was the subject of much lively debate on the internet forums.
Dr. Suresh shook his head tersely. “If an accident of birth and the fact that I climb and run several miles a day are entertaining, I weep for the minds of our children.” Matt smiled again. He liked Dr. Suresh even more in person.
“And this Black Beast?” he prompted.
Dr. Suresh’s face lit up. “The preliminary accounts seemed to be some kind of lupine, which in and of itself would have been interesting, as there are no known populations of wolves in this section of the park, but then certain descriptions keep cropping up. The unusually large size and dark color, its appearance in populated areas, which almost never happens with regular wolves, not to mention at least one casting of a pawprint of rather prodigious size!” He sighed again. “But I have to be careful. There are so many hoaxes and urban legends. Once people start hearing about the Black Beast, they see it everywhere, and you don’t know if they’re reporting what they really saw or what they wanted to see.” He brightened. “Still! If I wanted something easier, I would have gone into genetics, like my father.”
Matt smiled involuntarily at Dr. Suresh’s passion and practicality. He was a true scientist; why did he hang around with story-tellers like Peter?
“Why are you wasting your time with reality TV?” Matt asked.
“I’ll have you know that cryptozoology is a scientific field with rigorous testing methods-,” Dr. Suresh stopped himself and blushed. “Ah, reality TV, right. Sorry most sentences of that sort end with ‘why are you wasting your time with cryptozoology?’”
“Your methods seem solid to me, from both the show and your website. But you’re surrounded by…” Matt waved his hands at the others.
“True believers.” Dr. Suresh made a face. “I’m afraid the weakness behind my niche science rears its ugly head. Funding. I’m chronically short of funding for my expeditions and research. I’ve gotten more patrons and equipment and free trips to my field studies in two seasons of this wretched show than I had in six years of begging, pleading, and grant-writing.”
“Well, whatever works,” Matt said. His honesty was refreshing. Dr. Suresh dug a notebook out of his pocket, along with a recorder.
“While they’re occupied scaring themselves with ghost stories, do you mind?”
Matt shook his head, because it would have looked odd to refuse, and answered Dr. Suresh’s preliminary questions, establishing all the particulars he would need to make a comparison in his analysis. Name, age, education, where he’d grown up, how long he’d been a ranger, all the usual demographic information.
“Twelve years a as a ranger? The rumors and sightings of the Black Beast go back just before that,” Dr. Suresh said.
“So they do,” Matt agreed genially.
“What kinds of wildlife are native to the area?”
“And by that I assume you mean anything big?”
“Or medium-sized either,” Dr. Suresh said. “I can’t discount anything at this point.”
“We have deer, coyotes, cougars, feral dogs, some unconfirmed reports of wolves. Badgers, wolverines, moose, bears. Everything else is a good bit smaller.”
“Bears?” Dr. Suresh repeated uncertainly.
“I hope you’re prepared for bear country, Doctor.”
“Ah, yes we are. Oh, drat.”
Peter had apparently finished up, and was heading right for them.
“Hey, Mohinder, we got some great coverage there, so we just need to get some establishing shots and any stories from Matt-.”
“Ranger Parkman, Mr. Petrelli,” Matt corrected. So strange that Peter and his boss should have the same last name. And they’d been getting on like a house on fire when they’d been talking. Maybe Matt should arrange an empty cabin for the two of them, to give both him and Mohinder some peace. “And I need to give you and your crew a safety talk before you think about heading out. Also, where do you intend to go? I need to grab the right maps.”
Peter gave Matt one of the adorably vacuous blank expressions so beloved by his fans. He did indeed look just like a quizzical puppy when he did that, with his bangs flopping into his face in lieu of long, furry ears.
It made Matt want to lock him in a kennel.
“Oh.” Peter blinked at Matt. “Right, but after?”
Oh my God, he had puppy eyes, Matt thought frantically. Melt-your-heart puppy eyes. No wonder why Dr. Suresh put up with him. Those eyes and his earnest expression could draw stories out of the most skeptical observer, or convince a hard-hearted corporation to donate.
“On the trail,” Matt said firmly.
“Luke, Elle, you have your shots?” Peter called. They nodded in assent, reluctantly detaching from each other to load their equipment back in the van.
“Ranger Parkman, we’d like to go to the North Ridge trail, if that would be all right. The footprint was found there,” Dr. Suresh said.
“That’s pretty active wildlife territory. Did you bring bear bags and rope?”
“Ah…” Peter said blankly.
“I’ll get it. And,” Matt lowered his voice to talk to Dr. Suresh only. “If you can get them to listen for five minutes, I really need to do the safety talk.”
Dr. Suresh smiled and nodded, scribbling at his notes as the rest of the crew chattered about Nathan’s stories of the Black Beast, their comments coming only as fragments as Matt got the rest of the gear.
“Big as a bear, but growled like a wolf, teeth big enough to take off a car bumper, shaggy black fur, fearless around people, known to destroy poachers’ caches and illegal campsites, strong, fast…”
Matt sighed as he got the bear gear and maps. The bumper thing had been an accident!
A few hours later, the van parked and everyone loaded up, Matt began leading the Creature Feature crew up the North Ridge trail. It was a tough climb, with lots of changes in elevation in places, but it had a lot of rich plant life, and hence, wildlife. It was a good thing Matt was with the group, because the minute most animals caught wind of him, they cleared off instead of pestering them. The safety lecture he’d given at the trail head seemed to have slid right off most of the crew, probably because they’d thought they could handle one little scrap of Canadian wilderness, after all they’d seen in the past two years.
Dr. Suresh alternately observed diligently and scribbled in his notebook, while Luke either looked at the world through his camera lens or kept his eyes nailed to Elle’s ass. Elle was mostly paying attention, when she wasn’t swinging her hips for Luke’s benefit. And Peter listened to his iPod the entire hike. Matt had warned him not to, several times, but apparently Peter had podcasts to catch up on that were far more important that the possibility of being eaten or not hearing a warning.
If it hadn’t been for Matt, the group might have reached their campsite by dark, if ever. Dr. Suresh was a smart man, but not exactly one to pay attention to anything outside his narrow expertise. He could have put them back on the right course if they’d gotten lost, but only long after the fact. If anyone had even noticed they weren’t on the right course in the first place.
“Ranger Parkman, this is amazing,” Dr. Suresh said, when Matt stopped at a campsite tucked under a fringe of trees overlooking a lake. The view was spectacular, one of Matt’s favorites, and he smiled at Dr. Suresh’s open appreciation. Luke swung his camera up to pan the scene while Elle whispered something in his ear. Judging by the way Luke’s hands tightened on the camera, it was probably something obscene. The fact that Luke and Elle got their tent up in five minutes flat and vanished inside it bore that out. Peter sat right down on one of the logs around the campfire grate and began to scribble down dialogue while Matt looked on. Sighing, he set down his own gear and helped Dr. Suresh set up the rest of the camp.
When darkness started to fall, all members of the team came together, finally starting to resemble professionals. Peter chivvied Luke and Elle into filming him in a dramatic, story-telling segment, then film Dr. Suresh expounding on the science of the Black Beast, and finally film a reluctant Matt relaying his own experiences with the Beast. (Which were, to everyone’s disappointment, little-to-none.)
At last, Matt began securing the campsite as the Creature Feature crew prepared to go on their Hunt. Matt shook his head as he hoisted the bear bag (with its contents of food and scented toiletries) into its secure position between two trees. It was a pity this hunt was going to be such a bust; he kind of liked Dr. Suresh.
Matt stayed by Dr. Suresh’s side as they all thrashed through the wilderness, scaring off any possibility of a nighttime encounter with bright flashlights and lots of chatter. It was the first smart thing Matt had seen the rest of the crew do. A night hike in this part of the park was no joke; those who thought to be clever and stealthy around wary wildlife could end up as part of the food chain.
“I hope you’re not going to be disappointed,” Matt said softly to Dr. Suresh. Ahead of them, Peter expounded and expanded on one of the more lurid Black Beast stories against the backdrop of the night-shrouded woods (the one about it driving off a whole herd of panicked cattle before they could stampede a campground full of Boy Scouts and in the process had run right over a pair of poachers and trampled them, which had really only been three startled cows and not a whole herd, thank you very much). Every now and then someone would step on a twig, and Peter would jump and look over his shoulder, loudly wondering, “What was that?”
“Oh, this is mostly for splicing. It’s part of the ‘action’ segments. Luke will put out motion-controlled infrared cameras, and we’ll collect data over the next three days. Meanwhile, I’ll do some proper observations from a blind. I know it looks like we just barge into wherever and miraculously find something on our first try, but really most of it is the magic of television. We’ve stayed out here for weeks to get proper readings. Or, well, I have at least. The others usually have a bit of a holiday while I do the ‘tedious, scientific stuff.’”
Matt listened to that with a touch of dismay. “Ah. You have a really strong work ethic.”
“You as well. I know I’ve been tempted to accidentally-on-purpose leave the others behind sometimes. And… well, I love doing this. There are so many myths, legends, and stories out there, and there must be some kernel of truth inside them! I want to discover that truth, that first story. I want to understand it, know it.”
Matt smiled at Dr. Suresh, his mind half made up, a lifetime of reluctance still holding him back. “If anyone was searching for these creatures, I’m glad it’s you, Dr. Suresh.”
They shook hands in the darkness, Matt’s long, hard fingernails digging slightly into Mohinder’s callused palm.
Matt started awake, heart pounding in fear. A noise came to his sensitive ears, the faint grunt of a grizzly bear, outside the boundaries of the camp. His breath caught in his throat; Mohinder was out in the blind tonight. They were supposed to go in pairs, but Mohinder must have kicked Peter out, or he begged to be let off tonight, because Matt saw him sleeping near the fire. Well, that settled the rumors about Peter and Mohinder. And damn it, Mohinder was alone now.
Matt rolled out of his sleeping bag and loped into the woods. The bear was getting closer, he could hear it, and Mohinder still wasn’t making any noise to scare it off. Had he even been listening to Matt’s bear lectures? A startled bear was dangerous. Matt ran as fast as he could, putting on a burst of speed as Mohinder gasped in sudden fear.
Matt broke through the clearing, silver moonlight illuminating the scene in stark clarity. A mature grizzly sow, canny and cranky, was trying to get through the blind, her claws making short work of the logs and heavy branches Mohinder had used to construct it. Mohinder was whimpering now, too frightened for a properly loud scream that might have scared her off.
“Hey!” Matt yelled, widening his stance. “Bear! Scat, bear, go!” Usually enough unexpected noise would frighten a bruin away, but not her. She half-turned, growling in challenge. One of her claws could kill Mohinder, and there wasn’t much left of the blind to protect him. Matt didn’t hesitate, and let the change come over him.
His dark hair spread to cover his whole body, his limbs shifted, his teeth grew, until a huge black wolf challenged the bear, instead of a puny human. Snarling, Matt charged her, dodging a vicious swipe with her claws, and fastened his teeth around the skin of her neck and pulled tight, cutting into her air. She swung away from Mohinder, dragging Matt, and his tightened his jaws. She tried to rise on her hind feet, but Matt’s weight was a drag even on her strength. They circled and danced around the clearing, her trying to throw him off, him not letting her go, until she slowed. Then he pulled back and howled again, his ruff bristling as he snarled at her. With a grunt, she turned and lumbered back into the woods.
Matt howled triumphantly, tongue lolling in a lupine grin. A sound behind him made him turn to see Dr. Suresh pushing himself out of the remains of the blind, eyes open wide with wonder. He was miraculously unscathed.
“Matt?” he asked softly.
Matt heaved a sigh. Well, that had torn it. He nodded his huge head.
“My word,” Mohinder breathed. “You’re amazing.” He walked right up to Matt, showing no fear. “Thank you.”
Matt cocked his head, amazed at Mohinder’s lack of panic.
“May I? Please?”
Another nod, this one wary, and Mohinder knelt down. He put his long-fingered hands on Matt’s head, feeling his bones, looking into his eyes, feeling the texture of his fur. He examined his front paws, touching them gently, agog at their size, almost as large as the bear tracks all around the clearing.
“Are you all right? The bear didn’t hurt you?” he asked urgently.
Matt nodded and then shook his head. He was fine. He’d handled worse than an overly-curious bear in the years since he’d been bitten.
“You’re a werewolf.”
Another nod. Mohinder suddenly sat back in the dust and buried his head in his hands. To Matt’s astonishment, he saw Mohinder’s shoulders heaving and the glistening wetness of tears trickling through his fingers.
“I was right. Matt, I was right. All this time, most of my life, I believed, and I wanted to believe, I and kept searching for something real and genuine. And I convinced myself that this tuft of hair or that blurry bit of video was enough. But you…” Mohinder pulled his hands away from his face, shining silver with the dampness. “You’re real.”
Matt looked at him, and slowly, deliberately, let himself change back. Mohinder drank in every second of his change, his hands twitching as if he wanted to examine every part of him. But he held back, admirably so, not darting in to cut Matt’s hair or diving for his lab kit or hand-held camera. Matt was still uncomfortably aware that Luke’s battery-powered cameras were all around the clearing, but couldn’t be bothered with them right now.
“Are you ok?” Matt asked.
Mohinder nodded absently, and swallowed hard. “I-.” He looked around the clearing and walked over to the first camera. With deliberate motions, he opened it, removed the memory chip, and crushed it under his heel. Then the next. Then the next.
Mohinder shook his head, and cracked the last memory chip without hesitation. “Matt, I never wanted fame. I never wanted to be some kind of star.” He took a deep breath. “I never wanted anything but truth. And I never wanted to ruin anyone’s life. But…” Mohinder hesitated a long moment and stared at Matt for what seemed like forever, as if memorizing how he looked in the moonlight. “Will you tell me about it?”
Matt nodded and sank down to sit on the forest floor. “What do you want to know?”
Mohinder stepped forward to sit down next to him, bringing out his notebook, looking at Matt, putting it away again, and then taking it out again when Matt nodded at him.
Matt smiled slightly as he began to talk. It was a relief to finally be able to tell someone who would understand. “I was hiking in the woods one day when I was fourteen…”
Peter stared at the wreckage of the cameras with poorly-concealed horror. Luke was almost weeping over the shredded pile of plastic, while Elle comforted him in a way that really couldn’t be shown on public television. Matt ignored where her hands wandered while Mohinder explained the terrible tragedy.
“A bear?!” Peter gasped.
“Yes. She must have smelled me in the blind, and where Luke had set up the cameras, because she came into that clearing and just devastated the place. If Matt hadn’t heard me and come to drive her off, I don’t know what I would have done.” Mohinder said the last with a glare at Peter, who gave him a slightly blank stare, deliberately not remembering that he was supposed to have been helping Mohinder last night.
“Oh God, home office is gonna kill me,” Luke moaned in despair, and something else, as Elle’s hand slipped into his jeans. “That’s a few thousand dollars of equipment.”
“It was an accident,” Matt said. “Act of nature. You’re insured, right?” He struggled to hide a smile as he remembered Mohinder gleefully tossing the cameras his way last night so he could artfully destroy them with his claws and fangs.
“Well, yeah,” Elle answered for them both, as Luke’s eyes dilated sharply as she did something fluttery with her hand. Peter seemingly ignored them as he looked at his production list for the next few days.
“How are we going to fill the time?” he asked, looking dismayed.
“Oh, I’m sure you’ll find something,” Mohinder said breezily. “We can film some woods scenes tonight and cut it all together. You’re good at making something out of nothing.”
Peter rolled his eyes and nodded, hunched over his papers and obvious when Luke and Elle left for the relative privacy of their tent.
“All right, we’ll Blair Witch Project this episode and hope we can get something better on Mothman or something…” Peter trailed off and began to scribble on the backs of the script muttering about sound effects and ghosts made of sheets, ignoring Matt and Mohinder when they moved off to let Peter write, and to get out of audible range of Elle “comforting” Luke.
“This will be my last season,” Mohinder said quietly. He caressed the edge of the notebook he’d nearly filled last night with all the details of Matt’s life as a werewolf.
“Got what you came for?” Matt asked, a faint thrill of trepidation going through him.
Mohinder shook his head. “Well, yes, but… I got lucky this time. I’m really not going to find more truth running around in the wilderness with them.” He jerked his thumb back over his shoulder in the direction of the Creature Feature crew. “I hear there’s good money in fiction writing, if you get the right publisher.” He looked down at the notebook again and back up at Matt. “I could do a whole series. ‘Hiding in Plain Sight.’”
“I know for a fact that works pretty well,” Matt said, relief suffusing him, and the warmth of something like kinship. “I could help with some research, if you want.”
“I’d like that.” Mohinder paused for a moment. “I… I came out here to find truth, but I think I was much luckier than that. I found a friend.”
Matt clasped Mohinder’s outstretched hand and pulled him close, inhaling to learn his scent and welcome him to his pack. “So did I.”