Characters/Pairings: Peter Bishop, Olivia Dunham, Walter Bishop, Astrid Farnsworth, Philip Broyles, Luke Campbell
Spoilers: S3 for Heroes, 2x12 “Johari Window” for Fringe
Warnings: Violence, language
Disclaimer: I don't own a thing.
A/N: Written for perdiccas who bought me at hope_in_sight.
Summary: The Fringe division is looking for a microwaving boy. Luke Campbell is not a criminal mastermind. Peter Bishop is not an FBI agent. But they both need someone to listen.
“Since when does the FBI investigate convenience store robberies?”
Olivia almost managed to keep her face straight when Peter asked the obvious question. She kept silent, nevertheless, and Peter let out a small, defeated sigh. The locals wouldn’t have ended up in contact with Broyles if it hadn’t been something weird.
“Was it robbed by a severed head?” Peter asked.
“Unfortunately, no. Seventeen year-old kid from Newark, and he did it without a gun or a knife.”
“I take it that’s why Walter ran in there.”
Olivia nodded and held up the tape so Peter could duck under it. “I barely had the description out and he was gone.”
Inside, the store was permeated with the stench of burned plastic and popcorn. Actually, it reminded Peter of a cheap break room. Burned popcorn was the dominant scent, overlying the usual cheap coffee. Under that smell, however, was the faint odor of charred meat.
“Look at this!” Walter was saying, waving Peter over to where one of the clerks was being tended to by an EMT. The man’s arm was blistered and burned, and his plastic watch had partially melted into his skin, if the blob on the gurney and the wounds on his wrist were anything to go by. “Just fascinating. Toby said the young man just pointed his hand at him-.”
“It’s Torrey,” the clerk said through clenched teeth, flinching as the EMTs tried to dress his wound.
“Torrey, I’m Agent Dunham with the FBI. Can you tell me exactly what happened here?” she asked calmly, as Peter tried to gently pry Walter away from doing precise measurements on the hapless clerk’s arm.
“Kid just came in, started hanging around. I figured he was going to try something, so I kept an eye on him.” Torrey hissed in pain and wiped sweat away from his forehead with his good hand. “He came storming up to the register, wanting cash. I didn’t even have time to do anything before he pointed his palm at me and-.” The clerk waved at his arm. “Then things got all hot and painful and I think I passed out.”
“Were there any other customers in here at the time?”
“A couple of winos. I work the graveyard shift, man. I’m used to getting freaks,” Torrey said with a shrug, immediately followed by a wince.
“Nice of us to get some decent security footage for once,” Peter remarked. Olivia nodded vaguely, fast-forwarding to the time of the assault. All of Torrey’s “winos” had long since fled the scene, and his description of the perpetrator left a lot to be desired. The cameras were their best lead for finding where the kid had gone, and exactly what he’d done.
“And nice of our perp to leave his wallet behind,” she said, handing over a battered billfold made of duct tape as she scanned the time stamps.
Peter chuckled and shook his head, fishing out the driver’s license to take a look at the kid they were searching for. Sullen, stubborn, and wanted the whole world to go to hell, that was Peter’s first impression of the kid’s bored stance, determinedly expressionless face, and eyes that looked everywhere but the camera.
“Luke Campbell, seventeen year old from New Jersey, birthday in… two days,” Peter commented, more to fix all the necessary information in his mind than to tell Olivia what she already knew. Talking out loud to remember was one trait both him and Walter shared, though if Walter had ever been able to occasionally internalize his monologues, he’d lost it in St. Claire’s. Feeling a bit of guilt, he handed the license over to Walter, who peered at it with interest.
“If we can catch him before he does anything else, he might be lucky,” Olivia said. “Ah, got it.” She tapped play on the remote and turned the monitor towards all of them.
Peter and Walter leaned forward to see, watching the screen as Luke shoved open the door with a dramatic flair, and then shuffled through, slouching as if trying to disappear in his baggy jeans and hooded sweatshirt.
“He’s nervous,” Peter said, watching Luke carefully. He paused in the doorway, and then slowly moved to the candy aisle, poking through things for an inordinately long period of time. He barely looked up, didn’t seem to notice the other customers, just stared at the candy racks as if he could divine the secrets of the universe from them.
Olivia shook her head. “He had no clue.”
“None,” Peter agreed. Luke probably hadn’t had a proper plan past what he decided when he walked in the door. Even the store location itself might have been more of a target of opportunity than anything else. The kid looked lost.
Walter was just watching the screen with single-minded intensity.
Finally Luke seemed to get his courage up, and stalked up to the register, mouth moving as he shouted his demands. Less than a second later, he pointed his palm at the clerk, and the air shimmered. It almost looked like screen distortion, if the rest of the picture hadn’t been so clear. And the clerk went down in a dead faint.
Luke stared at the fallen form of the clerk with a blank, shocked expression on his face. Then he blinked and turned on the rest of the store. The shimmering came from his palms again and again, popping popcorn in his wake, melting bags and burning labels as he scooped up armfuls of food. Almost as an afterthought, he walked around to the register and melted off the front of the plastic drawer. Gingerly he fished out what bills he could, grabbed a few packs of cigarettes, snatched some things off the magazine rack, and left the store at a run.
Olivia stopped the recording, and Peter shook his head again in amazement.
“Astonishing! I was examining those items damaged outside, and it was remarkably similar to microwaves. Of course I’ll have to run some tests to be sure, but if you could find that young man, I could prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt!” Walter said eagerly, examining some fragments of melted plastic and partially burned chip bags in his hands with exacting enthusiasm. “Could I review that recording again?”
“Sure, Walter,” Olivia said, surrendering the remote and leaving the elder Bishop to his observations. Peter jerked his head towards the door and Olivia followed him out of the store.
“Do we know anything else about this kid?” Peter asked.
“I called Astrid with his name, she said she’d send along anything she found,” Olivia said, crossing over to her car. Inside, she opened her laptop and turned it towards both of them. She clicked open several files, spreading the life of Luke Campbell over the screen.
“Been suspended from school a few times for having prescription drugs on campus, father not listed… He was reported missing by his mother six months ago. Says he disappeared after she picked him up after school one day and she hasn’t seen him since they were attacked in her home.”
“Wait, missing? Not kidnapped?” Peter asked.
Olivia pointed to Mary Campbell’s statement. “She claims they were attacked by a psychopath. He wanted to use them as leverage to torture information out of a government agent he’d brought into their home. Apparently the invader burned the agent to death in front of them and left. Luke didn’t disappear until an hour later, and stole her car, which is why she didn’t say it was a kidnapping.”
“That sound as fishy to you as it does to me?”
“If not more so. The lead detective thought so too, and he’s reinterviewed her several times, but Ms. Campbell hasn’t changed her story in six months.” Olivia regarded the screen thoughtfully. “The report is pretty coy about naming which agency the deceased belonged to, and there’s pretty sketchy information on the home invader.” She didn’t have to say any more than that. All of the Fringe division, regardless of their special status in getting what they needed to investigate their strange crimes, still ran across the same interagency blind spots that plagued all government offices.
Peter shook his head and took a closer look around the neighborhood, scanning each of the nearby buildings.
“I don’t think he went very far,” Olivia opined. “He didn’t arrive in a car, and no one reported seeing an unknown vehicle around here.
Peter closed the laptop and shut up the car, gesturing to Olivia to walk with him away from the crime scene. He walked slowly, looking at the tall, half-condemned apartments that littered the block. “No, I don’t think he did either. I kind of think he wants to get caught.”
Olivia kept pace as Peter sped up, eyes darting to check every doorway they passed. “You sound like you’re talking from experience.”
Peter’s gave her a sad little half-smile. “I lifted a few things back in the day. Mostly because I was bored, and I usually went to a hideout nearby so I could enjoy…” he hesitated and grinned a little more widely. “…Whatever.”
“Uh-huh,” Olivia said knowingly.
“Here,” Peter said abruptly, stopping at the decrepit entrance to a dilapidated apartment building, plastered with “Condemned” signs, a chain holding the door shut. An empty, clean potato chip bag was partially visible under the door, bright yellow in a contrast to the rest of the filthy junk that had been shoved to either side. The pathway was clear; someone had been in here recently. Peter touched the door gently, and the chain easily parted. The lock had just been closed, not latched.
“I’ll call it in,” Olivia said, reaching for her cell phone.
“Wait.” Peter put his hand on her wrist. “Don’t. He’s a kid.”
Olivia hesitated and looked away for a moment. Peter knew she had to be thinking the same thing he was: the psychic Tyler Carson, the Cortexiphan kids, those people with strange powers they hadn’t been able to save. Rushing them or confronting them never seemed to work. People had ended up dead that way. The best success they’d ever had was one-on-one.
“He also melted a watch into someone’s arm and burned up half a convenience store,” she pointed out, playing devil’s advocate. “That report from the home invasion six months ago said someone was ‘burned to death.’ That kind of trauma could have been a trigger for this… ability of his.”
“You saw the video. I think he wants some recognition. At least we can talk to him and try to figure out why he ran away from home. He’s alone,” Peter said persuasively. “I’m going to be careful, believe me.”
Olivia considered that for a minute, her suspicious frown smoothing a bit in compassion, and nodded.
“I’m going with you though,” Olivia said, unholstering her gun and keeping it hidden in the shadow of her coat sleeve.
“Wouldn’t have it any other way,” Peter said, and held open the door for her.
Olivia walked up the creaking stairs slowly, looking all around for trouble. Peter kept his eyes peeled for more trash, quietly pointing when he saw cleaner debris. Candy wrappers, pop bottles, beer cans; it looked like Luke had been kicking his trash down the stairs from one of the upper rooms. It was so very careless that it seemed like an invitation, as if he had left them a trail of breadcrumbs to follow.
Peter toed aside a half-full can of beer that had been tossed aside, the contents spilling down the stairs. I don’t care. Nobody cares what I do, so I can do anything. Who cares if I get drunk? Nobody. Nobody cares. Peter could practically read the frustration in the garbage, and Olivia seemed to agree with him. When the trail of trash came to an end in front of a third-story door, she let Peter go first.
The door wasn’t even all the way shut, and the sounds of eating, drinking, and the rustling of a magazine could be heard inside. Peter gingerly maneuvered to get a glimpse through the gap left by the mostly-closed door, suddenly very aware that the clerk had had his watch melted into his arm. This Luke kid might be frustrated, lost, and alone, but it didn’t make him any less dangerous.
Peter caught a glimpse of an arm, a leg, a hand picking up a can, and a buxom beauty on the cover of a glossy skin mag. Taking a quick, steadying breath, he knocked on the door.
There was a thunk as the can fell to the floor, and a rustling noise as the magazine was cast aside. Luke leapt up and all but ran for the door, throwing it open so fast Olivia nearly brought her gun up out of reflex.
“Sylar?” he shouted, and came to an abrupt halt when he saw Olivia and Peter. He actually swayed on the threshold from the effort of keeping himself from crashing into Peter, and clutched the doorframe to keep his balance. Luke stared at them both like they were aliens from another world. “Who the fuck are you?” he demanded.
“I’m Peter, this is Olivia,” Peter said quickly.
Luke stared at them, mouth gaping, and his hand twitched, like his hand was about to come up. Olivia was blessedly restrained, not bringing her gun into view, and Luke seemed to calm down a bit.
“Um… are you cops?” he asked finally, looking from one to the other.
“We’re with the FBI,” Olivia said carefully. Peter could tell she was ready to bring her gun up in a split second, but Luke didn’t freak out like Peter had worried he would.
“You… you’re agents?” he said slowly, and looked behind him, like he was expecting someone to come swinging through the window, guns blazing, any second. “Why didn’t you taze me or something?”
Olivia looked at Luke curiously. “We don’t do that. Luke, you’re in trouble from hurting that clerk, but we don’t tazer people unless they run or resist arrest.”
“Oh.” Luke sounded confused, like he hadn’t realized there’d be consequences for his actions. He sounded more thoughtful than anything else. “Have you, um, picked up anyone else like me?”
“With unusual abilities? Yes,” Olivia said calmly. Funny how just over a year in the Fringe division could make stating something like that so blasé. There had been a time when going after a microwaving boy would have frightened them both spitless. Not now.
“Where did they go? Where did you take them?” Luke asked eagerly.
Peter shot Olivia a look of “what the hell?” but she kept going. “Most of them had trouble handling their ability, so they went to a facility for help. That doesn’t seem to be your case though, Luke.”
Luke opened his mouth, shut it, and opened it again. “So…” he said, sounding confused.
“You need to come with us. I’d rather not handcuff you,” Olivia said.
Luke look a longer look at Olivia and was about to say something Peter was certain would not endear him to any woman.
“Better not. She can kill you with her brain,” Peter cut him off, and started to steer Luke towards the stairs. To his mild surprise, Luke came along, shooting glances behind them at Olivia as she followed him down.
“Seriously?” Luke asked in a loud whisper, eyes wide.
“Seriously,” Peter said, not cracking a smile.
“I’m going back to get the car,” Olivia said, squeezing past them. “Don’t go anywhere, either of you.”
“No problem,” Luke said almost cheerfully, and parked himself on the bottom step. He looked up at Peter expectantly. “So, what can you do? What’s your ability?”
“The amazing talent to interpret my father’s unique jargon,” Peter said, watching Olivia disappear down the sidewalk at the fastest possible speed without running. There was no way they could take Luke back and put him in the car in front of the convenience store. Not with all the weirded-out cops wanting to get a glimpse of the kid who could cause the kind of damage with just his hands. And not with the fuss Walter was likely to make of him. Discretion, again, would be their watchword.
“Your dad?” Luke asked warily.
“Yeah. Genius scientist of all things too strange to show on late-night television.”
“He sounds cool.”
That brought Peter up short, and he stared down at Luke’s head in consternation.
“How’d you know my name?” Luke asked, changing the subject.
“You’re in the system… Do you know you’re listed as a runaway? Your mom is still looking for you,” Peter said.
Luke froze at that, and seemed to shrink in on himself. “No she’s not.”
“Why don’t you think so?” Peter asked. His own mother would have ripped up half the country looking for him.
Luke fell silent for a long time, and it was Peter who finally broke the quiet.
“She cared enough to keep looking for you. My mom would have done anything to get me back-.”
“You don’t know her!” Luke snapped. “Christ, you just picked me up for burning a guy and then what happened back home…”
Peter might have tried to gentle someone else through the triggers for crazy powers, but if Luke was going to take the bull by the horns, Peter wasn’t going to try to dance around the question.
“The guy who burned that agent in front of you?” Peter asked. “Is that when it started, your ability?”
The blood drained from Luke’s face at the question, and for a minute Peter thought he’d totally misread the kid.
“That’s what your mom said on the report, that the intruder had burned the guy,” Peter added.
Luke stared at him, and then looked away, blinking rapidly. Right then, Olivia pulled the SUV up in front of the building. Walter was in the passenger seat, looking eagerly at Luke.
“We have to go,” Olivia urged, leaning back to open the back door.
Luke got up slowly and looked back at Peter. “You’re right about my mom, I guess.”
With that cryptic statement, Luke voluntarily climbed into Fringe division’s car, Peter Bishop following him.
“There’s a cow.”
“Yes, of course. That’s Jean. Come, come, I have a lot of tests to do. Please, sit there. I need to set up a few tests to affirm that marvelous ability of yours!” Walter said, pointing to a stool in one corner, and hurrying to one of the lab benches to sort through the beakers and miscellaneous equipment.
“Walter!” Peter called, getting his father’s attention for a second. Walter looked up distractedly. “No LSD.”
“Wait, what?” Luke asked.
“Of course of course, that was just a misunderstanding…” Walter said, trailing off into a muttered remembrance as he hunting for the appropriate apparatus. Peter caught Astrid’s eye, and she nodded. She’d remember for Walter if he happened to “forget” the no drugs rule again.
Luke seemed thoroughly distracted by Walter’s experimental protocol, which was just what Olivia, Peter, and the recently-arrived Broyles needed.
“What do we do with him?” Olivia asked. “Legally, I mean.”
“Legally? He could be charged with assault with a deadly weapon, robbery, and probably half a dozen other offences there aren’t even laws for yet,” Broyles said. “But there are two complications.”
“Assuming the fact he can produce microwaves out of his hand is the first,” Peter said, looking over his shoulder as Luke proudly popped a microwave bag of popcorn with his bare hands while Walter took readings from wires strapped all over Luke’s head. “What’s the second?”
“As you saw, he’s two days from his eighteenth birthday. Technically he’s still a minor. And, unlike our other subjects we’ve apprehended, his ability seems to be stable,” Broyles pointed out.
Olivia was watching Luke with an almost indecipherable expression. The other Cortexiphan kids they’d managed to capture had almost all had severe problems with control, and were as much danger to themselves as anyone around them. Luke was a frustrating yet refreshing change. Refreshing because he probably wasn’t going to inadvertently blow up Walter’s lab. Frustrating because he knew exactly what he was doing when he’d burned the clerk.
“We can’t put him through a normal court system,” Olivia stated. It wasn’t a question, but the unspoken point was, what did they do with him?
“He’s the first person we’ve encountered who might be able to answer some of our questions. And the first person Dr. Bishop could examine safely. Find out everything you can about his ability,” Broyles said.
“Don’t tell Nina Sharp,” Olivia broke in. “Or he’ll disappear like the others.”
Broyles nodded in agreement at Olivia, and then looked over at Luke and shook his head. “He’ll probably end up on some kind of probation. We’ll have to contact his family eventually.”
“That might be a problem,” Peter said cautiously.
“Home troubles?” Olivia guessed accurately.
“Do what you can to get him to open up. If there are triggers for that ability of his, we need to know before another incident happens,” Broyles said ominously. “I’ll leave you to work.”
Peter looked over his shoulder, at Walter animatedly explaining to Luke about some elaborate contraption covered with tinsel, wire, capacitors, and gauges, with a waffle iron at its heart, and sighed.
“Work,” he said to Olivia. “Right.”
Luke shoved the last bit of hamburger into his mouth, having inhaled his food so quickly he might have conjured it away, so he could go right back to interrogating Peter and Olivia.
“This is like, the coolest time I’ve ever been arrested,” Luke was saying. “Last time I got tazered and cuffed and shoved in the back of a van with some kind of drug tube shoved up my nose. That blew chunks.”
“Who arrested you last time?” Peter asked, trying to keep from sounding incredulous.
“Some government agents. They weren’t exactly giving out their business cards or anything.” Luke started shoveling fries into his mouth, waving them for emphasis in his conversation before eating them. “Your dad’s whack, but he’s cool.”
“Thanks?” Peter said, wondering if he was being damned with faint praise.
“He’s better than mine,” Luke muttered, almost too quietly to be heard. Then he raised his voice. “So, how’d you get into the FBI?”
“She tricked me into it,” Peter said. Olivia quirked her mouth in a smile but didn’t say anything. “Strictly speaking, I’m a consultant, and so’s Walter.”
Luke’s mouth dropped open. “Wait, you found me and you’re not even a real agent?”
Peter shrugged. “You left us a trail of breadcrumbs about three miles wide,” he pointed out.
Luke looked pissed off and pushed the rest of the fries away. “Where’s Sylar?” he demanded.
“Who?” Olivia asked.
“You said you had people with abilities in these, uh, facilities or something. You said you had Sylar! Where is he?”
“We haven’t found anyone called Sylar,” she said, shaking her head slowly. “I know the name of everyone we’ve encountered with… abilities, and there’s no one by that name.”
“You-.” Luke paused, and swallowed. Fear, dismay, and embarrassment chased each other across his face, followed by anger. He looked around, like he was hunting for an exit, panic in his expression and his hands clenched into fists.
“Luke, who’s Sylar?” Peter asked, trying to get some kind of straight answer out of the kid.
The question seemed to puncture Luke’s rising fear, and he abruptly slumped in his seat.
“Doesn’t matter. He’s not here, you don’t have him,” Luke muttered. “Fuck it.”
Olivia had been about to press the issue when Walter had spoken up from the other side of the lab, requesting Luke’s presence to examine his power in a new round of tests. He looked like he was about to just turn and leave them, when he suddenly looked at Olivia with more than a little touch of wariness.
“Can I go now?” he asked.
Olivia struggled to keep her expression under control and not look at Peter, lest both of them break down laughing.
“Go ahead.” She waited just long enough for him to get out hearing range. “Peter, I have to tell the police we’ve… dealt with the perpetrator. You’re ok with him?”
“I’ll have to be, won’t I?”
Peter helped Walter and Astrid the rest of the afternoon, him and Astrid doing their level best to keep Walter from getting a little too enthusiastic with his experiments. Luke seemed to think they were cool, blithely unaware of Walter’s rather unorthodox methods for determining exactly how his power worked. Apparently he’d never paid enough attention in science class to realize that most scientists don’t ask their test subjects to explode frog carcasses. Either that or he was having so much fun he really didn’t care how scientific it was.
Astrid had pulled the plug on that experiment, warning Walter she would not have a repeat of the “hamster incident.” Peter had shuddered in sympathy when Walter had finally switched to something a little safer and less inclined to leave the lab smelling like burned frog legs, and ducked out of the lab for a second when Olivia called him on his phone.
“How’d the police take it?” he asked.
“About as well as they take the other cases. They’re mostly just happy to know they don’t have to try to find a way to file it. As long as we have Luke in custody… Peter, how’s he doing?” Olivia asked.
“Fine. Him and Walter are getting on like a house on fire. Not literally, in case you were worried. Astrid wouldn’t stand for it.”
Olivia almost smothered a laugh before returning to business. “Peter, I really don’t want to hand Luke over to Nina Sharp. But we don’t have any other place to keep him safely.”
Peter closed his eyes for a second. “You’re asking me to babysit.”
“You and he seemed to be getting along great,” Olivia pointed out. “And you said he likes Walter.”
“Walter’s like his own personal reality TV special. And what do I do if Luke suddenly decides to leave? None of us are microwave-proof and despite my valiant efforts, I still haven’t managed to completely cover the house with flame-retardant.”
Peter was almost certain he heard Olivia wince on the other end of the line.
“Where else can we send him? A holding cell? An interrogation room at the FBI? Keep him at the lab? Take him to my apartment with Ella there?”
It was Peter’s turn to wince. He sighed and took up the gauntlet; Olivia had already put a lot on the line for Fringe, at least he could handle one juvenile delinquent for one night.
“Ok, ok, I’ll do it.”
“How did I leave breadcrumbs?” Luke asked out of the blue. The two of them were sitting on the couch at the Bishop’s house watching TV. Walter was long asleep, though for how long he’d remain so, Peter wasn’t sure. And Luke, despite his morning’s robbery and assault, was a relatively undemanding house guest. All he wanted was to catch up on some missed TV shows. If all of Fringe’s perps had been this easy to handle, Peter reckoned he could have run the unit better than Broyles.
Peter blinked once and caught up with the pretzel-like twisting of Luke’s mind: the comment he’d made earlier this afternoon about Luke leaving a wide trail of breadcrumbs for Fringe division to follow. Since they were watching a cop show, maybe the question was obvious.
“You left the security cameras intact, for once,” Peter pointed out. “You were unmasked. And you were squatting less than six blocks from the store with the door unlocked.”
Luke curled up on the couch, looking miserable. “It’s shit,” he muttered. “I’m shit. Can’t even fucking rob a store.”
Luke had gotten quieter and quieter as the night progressed, seemingly lost in thought. Which he was, Peter figured. Luke’s too-easy capture meant he thought he had some kind of angle to get out. That angle, Peter figured, must have been the mysterious Sylar. When he hadn’t materialized, all of Luke’s expectations had gone flying out the window. Escape would have been easy, except now Luke knew he was in the system. He knew people realized he had an ability. Luke had realized he was on his own.
“You wanted Sylar to find you, right?” Peter asked, trying to get a glimpse of Luke’s face. He was hoping to get some kind of information on that mysterious name. Even Astrid hadn’t been able to find anything in the system about anyone named Sylar.
“Yeah. I thought he’d be listening in, watching for me. I thought he was with you,” Luke said, confirming Peter’s suspicions.
“Is he a friend of yours?” Peter asked.
Luke laughed bitterly. “Friend,” he repeated, his tone dripping with contempt. “Fuck, if only.”
Abruptly, Luke shoved himself up from the couch and left for the bathroom. Peter could hear water running in there for an inordinately long amount of time, and under that noise, muffled, choked-off sobs.
Damn it, Peter thought. Who the hell had hurt that kid so much Luke’d try to get his attention by getting himself arrested?
Luke hadn’t run in the night. That had been Peter’s greatest fear, that he’d run and then Peter would have to explain it to Olivia. But he hadn’t. He kept himself quiet and stuck to the Bishops like a burr, pale-faced and looking resigned. Even Walter’s enthusiasm about his ability only got him animated for a little while. They’d lost even that once Olivia entered the lab to talk to Peter.
“Come on,” Olivia said, tugging Peter to one of the offices so they could talk in private. From there they could see Luke pointing his palm at various beakers full of liquid, heating them to boiling under Walter’s directions. Only half his attention was on the experiment though; he kept one eye on Peter the whole time.
“Is it bad?” Peter asked. “Did Nina find out about him?”
“No, not like that. I had to talk to his mother, tell her that we’d found him.” Olivia hesitated. “She sounded… very enthusiastic to get him back. Too much.”
“Guilt?” Peter asked. “Luke didn’t sound like she and him got a long.”
“That wasn’t all of it. Five minutes after I hung up, we got a hit from some monitored numbers in a restricted area. Someone else in the government is interested in Luke Campbell,” she said.
“No shit. Agents with tazers and knock-out drugs for seventeen year-old kids,” Peter pointed out.
“Well, whoever got the call is getting an earful from Broyles for obstructing our investigation. I think this ‘Mr. Bennet’ has Ms. Campbell scared of her own son, enough to want to turn him in. If we get a chance to talk to her and get Bennet off his case, there’s a good chance he might be able to at least go home again. If he’s on probation, he’ll have to have supervision.” Olivia shook her head. “I’m getting ahead of myself, but there’s a good chance we can get him home to see his mom.”
Peter looked over at Luke, catching his gaze and smiling in encouragement. “He might be willing to try,” he said to Olivia. “I’ll tell him. Thanks.”
Peter broke the news to Luke in one of the back rooms, some place with privacy and a squashy couch to relax on. Which was damn important, because Luke had reacted to the news as if Peter had just informed him he would be executed at dawn.
“Shit, are you kidding me? She doesn’t fucking want me, no matter what she said! She’s feeling fucking guilty, maybe. Give me two days back home and she’ll be screaming at me about what a fuck-up I am, and then she’ll hand me over to that agency and they’ll throw me in a hole!” Luke yelled. “She knows about Sylar, and she’ll never let me find him again-.”
“Sylar was the one that killed the agent in your house, wasn’t he?” Peter asked, putting together a few important clues. “He found out about your power, right?” Peter knew about having a bad friend. As a teen he’d been too smart for his own good, with not enough common sense to keep him from getting sucked into doing things that, in retrospect, he was lucky he hadn’t been jailed or killed for. You found one charismatic person who told you you were special, and sometimes all common sense just packed up and flew out of your head. Especially when you were only seventeen years old.
“He didn’t do it! He killed other guys before then and after then, but not that guy. I did it! Sylar found out what I could do and Mom thought I was some kind of monster freak but Sylar thought it was cool and the agent got free and was gonna kill Sylar and so I fried him, I cooked him from the inside out and he just turned into goo right on my mom’s rug, I did it, I killed him, I did it for Sylar!” Luke gasped for breath, going pale as he tried to gulp in air.
Peter wanted to say something encouraging, but wasn’t sure how. From what little Luke had dropped about his home life, he’d been easily as desperate as a younger Peter for some kind of recognition and acceptance, but he’d had far less opportunity to find it. And when you were in that kind of situation, sometimes you’d grab for that acceptance the first time it came, no matter what form in which it arrived. You’d do anything to prove you belonged.
“And he left you behind,” Peter said, filling in the last piece of the Luke puzzle, the only thing that made sense.
“I killed someone for him and it wasn’t enough,” Luke said listlessly, sagging back on the sofa. “Now I’m a murderer and nobody fucking cares.”
“You aren’t having nightmares about Sylar, are you?” Peter asked. The paleness of Luke’s face this morning had matched Peter’s own as of late.
“What the fuck would you know about it? You never killed anyone!” Luke accused.
Peter looked away briefly, and heard Luke shift in his seat.
“Oh fuck, you did,” Luke corrected himself. “Like who? Where?” He leapt on Peter’s admission eagerly, wanting nothing more than to get himself out of the hot seat.
“A little town up north. Long story short, they were trying to protect their way of life and didn’t want us investigating them. They ran us off the road and then came back with shotguns. My dad was in the car and Olivia was out cold, so I took her gun and shot at one of the guys. He died-,” Peter’s words caught in his throat and he had to stop. It was straight self-defense, Olivia had said. If he hadn’t shot, probably all of them would have been killed.
“Olivia, she kill anyone before?” Luke asked.
“A few times,” Peter admitted, taking a deep, steadying breath.
“She talked to you about it, after it happened?”
“Yeah. A lot. She’s… she’s learned to live with it, when she has to. Says she has to remember why she does her job, and why it’s important,” Peter said. Olivia had been a hell of a lot more helpful than any shrink. Peter had done a lot in his life he wasn’t proud of, and a lot he was making up for, and Olivia had been able to help him through the shooting so at least he had one thing he didn’t have to face alone.
“Sylar never talked about it. I tried to, and he just ignored me or made me shut up,” Luke said, his voice thick. “Things were just going and I thought we could’ve just gone on a road trip forever…” Luke sniffed and quickly scrubbed at his nose and eyes with his sleeve to get rid of any tell-tale moisture. “I’m in deep shit, aren’t I?” It wasn’t a question so much as an acknowledgement as to how far off the rails he’d been going.
Peter had felt like Luke once, when Olivia had subtly threatened him with his past crimes to get him to return to the States and get Walter out of St. Claire’s. It was like free-falling, nothing to brace against, and knowing if you ever hit the bottom, you were going to break into so many pieces you’d never find them all again. He’d only felt that for a few days; it sounded like Luke had been feeling that for most of the past six months.
“You want to talk about it?” Peter offered, sitting down next to Luke on the couch.
Luke looked up and grabbed for the lifeline with both hands. He sagged back in the cushions, some of the tension finally leaving his body.
“Yeah. I do,” Luke said. “It’s not going to get me out of trouble though.”
“No,” Peter agreed soberly.
Luke took a deep breath and started talking.
And Peter listened.