amber: ⌠ ART ⊹ Panda&Girl ⌡ (◦ HEROES ⇨ the power of emo fringe)
you build a fine shrine in me ([personal profile] amber) wrote in [community profile] synaesthesia2009-04-19 11:42 pm

youth is the engine of the world. [political au]

youth is the engine of the world

fandom indesolution. [political au]
characters nathan petrelli, charlie dalton, + a multifandom cast of thousands.
notes okay so you know how i like confusing everyone by writing aus of rpg universes? yeah. this works as a really, really fucked-up crossover though, even if you've ignored every other [ profile] indesolution rpg fic i have posted. written in hard format with [ profile] exuberance during two sleepless san francisco weeks.

The first time Charlie shows up at Swayze's, it just happens to be what's unofficially referred to as Old Geezer's Night. There's Sofer, the man who thinks he knows everything about death, and Vilma Fachiri, who runs the kung-fu school. But between them is who he's really there to see — the politician that said his revolution was over.

Charlie needs to make Petrelli understand why his revolution is never over. Words on a screen aren't good enough; he has to be able to look this guy in the eye and show him that he's dead fucking serious about this. World change. (it isn't so unlikely or farfetched. After all, Welton had been his world, and he'd certainly tried to change that. Babylon shouldn't be any different — except, well. Successful.)

Sofer notices him first, unfortunately, and nods with just a hint of mistrust. Well, forget that. Charlie lifts his head high and steps in confidently, past the bartender, past the rest of the patrons, straight to their table.

"Hello, sir. I'm going to sit here." And he does, broad smirk firmly in place, right across from Nathan. No questions asked. There isn't time for questions.

They'd talked for hours. Most of it ended up being an exercise in tedium — Petrelli, unfortunately, treats kids like kids. Charlie keeps saying things that are just second nature to him; egotistical, self-centered, cocky, and Nathan takes him down a notch every time. Or he nods along, but it's so clear that he's humoring the boy. It's condescending, it's endlessly frustrating, it's— oddly kind of fun.

Charlie's still full of fresh rage from Cameron, Nolan, Hager, his father. He's determined to prove himself in this world. And if that means constantly trying to one-up Petrelli, no matter how many times he gets cut down, then that will work.

"You really saw my movie?" he asks, taking another shot of Jack. Rube and Vilma left long ago. Nathan nods, so Charlie presses on — "Was it good? Was I important?"

"I don't really remember, Dalton—"

He holds a hand up for silence, even though Petrelli keeps talking. "Seriously, either Charlie or Nuwanda. No one calls me Dalton." No one except Cameron and occasionally Knox; neither of them are here, for better or for worse.

A pause in the middle of recounting the little he remembers of the movie, and then Nathan decides. "Fine. I don't really remember, Charlie."

So. There's that. For a moment he glances away and starts to insist on Nuwanda (damn it) but it never comes out. Nuwanda was conceived in a cave full of smoke and teenage boys, and it stings of schoolyard rebellion and outdated lingo. Lipstick on his cheeks or virility paint on his chest, it all meant the same thing.

But, again: that was Welton. And this, thank the fucking lord, is not. The name should go. He'll find a new one. For now, Charlie is fine. He'll make do.

"I remember the teacher, Robin Williams — not his best work," Nathan remarks, interrupting Charlie's thoughts.

He blinks. "John Keating," Charlie deadpans. "His name is John Keating."

"This is going to be fun." Completely sarcastic — but then, Charlie's used to sarcasm, employs it often enough. Petrelli stands and holds a hand out to shake, barely a nod to the bartender that clearly means put it on my tab. "Go home and get some rest, Charlie. You shouldn’t' be out drinking with strangers, what would your mother say."

"She'd say, look at Charles, he found a direction in life." Nathan laughs a little, not even a courtesy laugh, and heads for the door. "Sleep well, sir," Charlie calls after him.

Alone in the bar, he smiles to himself and finishes off the last shot. Just a foot in the door. He'll make Petrelli respect him yet.

This ends up being easier said than done, certainly.

After getting settled in at the school (math and science even harder than he remembers, and English nowhere near top priority) he makes it a point to visit the government headquarters every so often. Show me how shit gets done," he yawns, sitting on the edge of Nathan's crowded desk and staring around the office. "It's got to be an exciting job, rule-maker. Never a dull moment."

"I write speeches," Petrelli says, not bothering to look up at the boy. "I read over propositions. I give all of you a voice."

All of us, Charlie thinks. He doesn't feel a particular kinship to the other ficcies, and he definitely hates that that's the one thing that ties them all together. An obsession with the fictional. Being real doesn’t surprise Charlie, though. After all, he knew it all along. "Like I said," he says with a shrug, "Sounds like a great time."

Every day he visit’s the office and ends up with an endless series of questions — why are you a politician? What was your world like? Why keep doing it here? Why's the food so horrible? Do you smoke?

"When's the revolution going to take place?"

He's staring at Petrelli from across the desk, chin against his palm, practically bored to tears. "When it needs to," Nathan replies, sounding equally bored — not by the paperwork, though. By that question. "And it won't be here," he adds. "It'll be in the streets, so maybe that's where you should be."

"Nah," Charlie grins. "You've got the power, right? So the people can talk and fight, but you're the only one who can make it really happen."

He's got a point, but Nathan just rolls his eyes and stands, straightens the stack of papers he's finally gotten through. "I have a meeting, Charlie. You're going to have to get out."


"Out," Nathan says forcefully, grabbing the back of Charlie's shirt and pushing him, just a little, toward the door.

And even though there's no hint of fondness anywhere in that, Charlie smiles as he heads out. "Fine, but I'll be back," he warns. And then, almost as an afterthought (as if it hasn't been on his mind since the very first day): "Hey, you like poetry?"

Petrelli is already halfway to the elevator and doesn't even dignify that with a response. He only waves over his shoulder and keeps right on walking.

Too busy for poetry, probably. Charlie grimaces at that thought and makes his way to the exit. There's no such thing. He'll just have to make Nathan like poetry, too.

Pens roll and papers scatter when Charlie drops the stack of books on top of Nathan's desk. "Byron," he declares with pride, pointing to each title. "Whitman, Tennyson, Shelley, and — my favorite — Ginsberg." His grin is huge, face-splitting, and Charlie leans over the desk, right into Nathan's personal space. "You're welcome."

"Yeah, you should keep these to yourself," Nathan says and eyes the covers with distaste. "I've got my own reading material." And then, in what he's sure is an act of charity: "Wouldn't want to deprive you of yours, either."

"Oh, you wouldn't be, sir," Charlie dismisses. Then he taps his temple and starts reciting, "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree..."

"Impressive," Nathan lies. "Now get out of my office."

Having made no headway on either of his goals after two weeks, Charlie goes home that night and vows to redouble his efforts. Maybe it's time to start vocalizing his own political ideas. Help Petrelli with his platform. Bring the revolution to the office.

"Whose woods these are I think I know."

When Charlie looks up, startled, Nathan puts a stack of printouts in front of him. "Read through those. Any that are actual, realistic complaints, put in my intray."

Charlie's protests are swept aside — "No, you just said... Were you quoting something?"

"I had a proper Yale education, Dalton. But I don't need to quote poetry to get my point across." He smiles his politician grin. Weeks, he's been waiting in silence for weeks so Charlie will understand he doesn't read poetry to be moved — not Charlie's sort of poetry, anyway. This, on the other hand, he learned in high school and its meaning only very recently revealed itself to him.

Charlie's face is priceless; he has that thin-lipped glare which he probably thinks is pleasantly neutral. "Who is it?" he asks.

Nathan can't resist. "I thought you knew your classics, Charlie?" The name isn't said any differently from how he would snap out Dalton.

"Only the relevant ones, sir," replies Charlie.

"Relevant to you, you mean," says Nathan, showing a hint of fondness for the egocentric little brat who keeps turning up in his office. "Come on, make yourself useful, there's work to do. And miles to go before I sleep." He winks infuriatingly.

"Don't you have a secretary for this shit?" Charlie complains, but Nathan's already shut the door behind him.

Charlie dumps the whole thing in his in-tray.

It's back in his lap within the hour.

"You don't have to try and impress me with poetry, sir," Charlie smirks, dropping a significantly smaller pile into Nathan's in-tray.

"Impressing you is surprisingly low on my list of priorities," says Nathan, flipping through the new paper and laying them aside with a sigh.

"So what is on your list of priorities? I mean, take charge, right, give us our rights, protect our children, all that campaign stuff, but really. What's on your To Do list?"

"I don’t have a To Do list," says Nathan, and then rubs a hand over his eyes tiredly. "God damn I miss my P.A. sometimes. He had my schedule down to the last minute."

Charlie goes to remark on that, but Nathan sees it coming and stands abruptly, laughing a little. "Shut it. Listen, it's almost 6:30, right now the top of my To Do list is going for a drink at the bar."

He gathers his coat and briefcase and heads for the elevators, Charlie sauntering behind him as though them going the same way is entirely coincidental. "Going to the Christmas ball?" Nathan asks him as they stand in the lift.

"Please, do I look like the kind of guy who goes to balls?" Charlie asks with feigned incredulity.

"You should ask Claire," is all Nathan says. "I think she'd like that."

"Wait, wait, are you giving me permission to go with your daughter or whatever she is?" Charlie asks, spreading his hands wide with a kind of mischievous, manic grin on his face. "No offense, but forget that. Claire's too nice for a guy like me, even if I would sweep her off her feet."

By the end Nathan's just staring at Charlie as though he isn't sure whether to laugh or smack him. "You mean she probably would have turned you down," he corrects. "Still, if you're not going, maybe you can help me write my speech. Lend your poetry magic to it."

Charlie gives him a sour look for the heavy sarcasm, but then his face clears and he shrugs a shoulder in that mercurial way of his. "Sure," he says. "I'll include some Christmas carols or something."

They don't always drink together, mainly because Nathan still thinks of Charlie as a kid in some ways, and there are things he feels more comfortable talking about with Rube and Vilma, even when he's so drunk the floor drops out from under him and he mumbles insensibly about people he knew in the Navy.

He makes a speech at the Ball about family and freedom and Charlie quotes Whitman's Ox-Tamer at him while everyone applauds. He's brought Kaitlin Cooper, but he takes Claire for a gallant turn around the dance floor, and when she blushes at something Charlie says Nathan puts a restraining hand on his brother's tense arm.

Despite his doubts, despite the disparaging voices from the population, he gradually gains power, inch by goddamn inch.

"You've gotta know them," Nathan tells Charlie. "I mightn't like them, but I know them all. I listen to what they have to say, I try and do something about it... but mostly I just watch them interact."

Charlie nods, puts his feet on the desk. Suddenly Petrelli's all scrutiny: "Have you been fighting?" There's a hint of a black eye, bruises around his collar bone.

"You should see the other guy," scoffs Charlie, but at Nathan's look, the one which means he's not in the mood for his bullshit, Charlie puts both hands palms up. "That cop Udou was mouthing off about you, we had kind of a scuffle."

Nathan thinks of Akira's name on his and Rube's shitlist, underlined in red, and grins.

Parkman turns up barely a month later and suddenly Nathan's filled with drive and passion. "This is the last leg," he tells Charlie, at one of the few times he's available. Mostly it's meetings, meetings, meetings (and a different colored tie for each one).

Some aren't with the government or the scientists. Some are in Nathan's apartment, with family and friends. Claire's roommate's made her little pastries and they're all drinking soda; Nathan, Charlie and Rube's a little more alcoholic than necessary.

"Raito Yagami's an uptight conservative bastard," Charlie tells Nathan after one of those meetings.

"You said that about me less than six months ago," Nathan says, ignoring him.

"I'm serious, haven't you seen what those guys on the network say about him? I can think of people who'd vouch for them. And for such a clean, all-American fucking guy, he was pretty quick to jump on your mind control plan."

"What's wrong with my mind control plan?" Nathan asks, mock-defensively.

"Nothing, sir. It's absolutely perfect." Charlie does actually mean it, probably because he's seen how disjointed and fickle the Babylonians can be, seen the way Nathan doesn't want power for the sake of power but won't be able to achieve his goals until he has it. Hell, even some of Charlie's suggestions are on the agenda.

Rube is reclining on the couch — sitting upright, by all means, but somehow giving the illusion of taking up the entire space. His aged face is schooled into scrutiny and intimidation, and the glass of brandy held loosely in one hand is already nearly empty.

"Nathan's running late," he says simply, holding Charlie's unfaltering eye contact as he pauses in the doorway.

But he enters the apartment anyway and goes to fix his own drink. "No problem, that's why we've got the spare keys."

He still hasn't spoken directly to Rube very much — not for lack of trying, though Rube is the master of a three-word remark that shuts down all conversation. That never stops Charlie, but it turns out that Rube is also excellent at ignoring people he deems unworthy, and being ignored is so much worse.

Then, like he's a fucking psychic — "Why did you even come here, Dalton?"

"Because I believe in Nathan," Charlie answers easily, reemerging with glass of wine in hand. "Why are any of us here? He trusts us." There he bares his teeth. "And because all of us want to change stuff around here. Guess you could say we're all attracted to power."

Rube's eyes roll almost imperceptibly, but it's enough to set Charlie a little on edge. "Don't give me that bullshit." His eyes narrow now, like a predatory jungle cat, and Charlie realizes that there might be some jealousy at play — after all, he's not even nineteen yet, and he's crashed the geeezers' club. "Why are you really here?" Rube asks, voice like gravel.

He doesn't get a chance to answer (baffled, because that is the real reason — most of it, anyway) because the door swings open. Vilma Fachiri sweeps in and the reaper sits up straighter, makes room for her on the couch, gestures to the glass of wine waiting. "Hello, Rube," she says almost fondly. Then, as if she hadn't seen him (and she had) — "Ah, Nathan's protégé is early."

"Petrelli's just late," Charlie points out. Vilma gives him a bemused half-smile as she graciously takes her seat, and soon the two undead are deep in conversation too boring and vague for anyone under seventy to bother listening in on.

A bang as the door hits the wall — Matt Parkman dashes in, winded and wild. "Am I late?" he asks frantically. "Udou was giving me trouble, I had to deal—"

"Nathan is stuck in a meeting," Rube cuts in with apathy.

Charlie, on the other hand, grins at Parkman — he's okay, for a cop. "How much paperwork did you stick him with?" he asks jovially.

Matt shakes his head as he takes his seat on the windowsill, still breathing hard. "Can't do that, Akira's starting to get it," he sighs. "If he figures it out, our cover's blown. I've got to tell Nathan."

"Have you tried hitting him?" Charlie's smirk isn't any more subdued than when he first showed up here. "I went for his knees once, and he completely spazzed."

"I like my job," the cop points out. "We'll leave the corporal punishment to you."

By the time Nathan does show, he's harried and frustrated and in no mood for bad news. "Tell me something good, people," he snaps, undoing his tie with one hand and taking Charlie's proffered drink with the other.

Rube and Vilma are never less than completely honest with Nathan, so they keep quiet. The truth is that there isn't much good to report, not with Rokudou being let out of maximum security. Even Parkman, the go-to yes-man, looks at a loss. So Charlie steps up to the plate, his smile confident and reassuring (though still too mischievous to ever be a politician's).

"Well, sir," he says, loud and clear through the stale air, "There's seventy-five percent complicity with the power registry, even without Parkman and your brother helping yet. People are actually seeing your logic." They grin at one another, though Nathan's is tired and forced. "Also," Charlie adds quickly, "The pirate hasn't said anything in a while."

"Silence isn't a good thing," Peter points out from his chair. Charlie just shrugs — the brother can be kind of a killjoy.

"Pirates and mafia dons," Nathan says darkly, finally settling next to Rube on the couch. "Hell but I miss New York."

It dissolves into conversation about the world three of the men left behind and about Sylar's moves in this one. Charlie tunes out and thumbs through a book of Whitman sitting on the end table, smiling to himself. He's making an impact after all.

"Hey," Charlie says conversationally, "Were you planning on going to that Valentine's Day picnic?"

Nathan gives him a shark look from over his newspaper. "Not like that," Charlie amends, laughing. "I'm already going with Claire."

"You're what?"

He waves a hand — "She was going to tell you eventually," is the explanation he gives, despite the fact that the picnic is in a day now. "Nah, Cordelia actually was bitching to me about her, of all people, not having a date." His eyes shine when they meet Nathan's, full of possibility that has absolutely nothing to do with politics. "I mean, she's a little annoying, but she hasn't maced me since the day she moved in, and— you know." He gestures indiscernibly and smirks, "She's a gorgeous woman."

It sounds nice, but Charlie manages to infuse the words gorgeous woman with more sleaze than any possible four-letter-word variants.

"Sure, what the hell," Nathan agrees, but he's smiling too. "Tell me more about her."

He could go on forever — she may not like poetry, but she does let Neil stay over and drink without much complaint (until she has to step over them in the morning, curled in a ball on the living room floor). Plus, she's turned Charles into less of a harsh reminder of his father and more of an affectionate nickname. And yeah, sometimes they do talk — "I've learned all about the many merits of Carrie Bradshaw," Charlie deadpans (though he doesn't really mind Sex and the City). "But she's an okay listener, and she puts some shit in perspective."

What he means is complex — Charlie avoids talking about his family and the world he left behind with Nathan, though a lot of bitter rage for his father tends to come out when he's drunk. But Cordelia hears it all and manages, in her own special (read: bitchy) way, to make him feel like less of a fuck up.

And she has visions. But Charlie won't tell Nathan that.

"It's stupid," he says one night after work, sprawled out on the couch with Chinese takeaway, because Cordelia still refuses to cook. "I read Ginsberg and Orlovsky and Kerouac but I'm a working stiff, I'm not actually living it."

She just turns up the movie of the night and Charlie rolls his eyes. He'll just have to talk louder, right over Meg Ryan's whining. "All the carpe diem stuff, too — I mean, this is day-seizing, it is. But this is also what all of us never wanted to do." Moodily he picks at his chow mein, because now he's got Cordelia's attention. "I work for a politician. Neil's thinking of joining up. It's no better than banking or being a doctor." He frowns at her — "I'm becoming my father."

"God, Charles, don't be so melodramatic." Cordelia pauses the movie irritably and turns to face him, one arm propped to hold an icepack against the back of her head. "Having a job doesn't make you like your dad. You're not hurting anyone with this. But it also doesn't make you any less of an annoying brat, so shut up and watch the movie."

She has a point, in her way. Charlie still doesn't feel any less guilty about going against the poetry he loves so much — whenever he reads Howl now, it's like Ginsberg is mocking him to his face.

Poetry is starting to take on a different meaning for Charlie, anyway. It's less about escape now than it was at Welton. Instead, he reads it and absorbs it as a study in all the different possible ways to say something. Charlie's getting better at picking apart Nathan's speeches, and more of his suggestions are being taken to heart.

"I want to write," he tells Nathan, months later. "Not even speeches, I just want to write. That's all I want to do."

They both know that Charlie's job of right-hand man/coffee and alcohol boy/speech proofer/complaint reader/general nuisance isn't a permanent one. It's not something he can do with his life; it’s a learning experience. But he'll be around for as long as Nathan is (forever, Charlie thinks secretly) so they've not talked about his future.

"Well, if you had stayed in school, you could have gone to the university and studied it there," Nathan says dryly.

Charlie's face contorts into disbelief and just a hint of disgust. "Their English program was shit," he points out. "That's why I dropped out." Nathan gives him a look, so he quickly amends, "One of the reasons. But a big one."

"This job isn't just peanuts," Nathan shrugs. "You're learning a lot." Charlie starts to protest that he knows that, but the man talks over him — "You can use it to write. Political commentary's a lucrative field."

"Not here."

They share a moment of understanding, however brief, before Charlie goes on. "I mean, the newspaper here's barely a dozen pages, and over half of that's not even useful. People on the network don't want to actually talk about politics, so no one there will listen." It's true, political talk over the computers mostly devolves into sniping matches between Rube and Ludluck (something Nathan constantly warns him will get him hurt one day; "Ludluck can blow me," Rube intones) and the angry loudmouths like Cox and Keller getting their punches in while they can. Charlie spends way too much time defending Nathan over the network, usually to little success — because the people who are angry enough to actually speak out are the stubborn hotheads. Much like Charlie, they're not ones to give up or give in.

"I'm just saying," Charlie continues, "If I want to write about politics in Babylon, it's either stick around here or get out and start seriously critiquing." He shrugs as well — there just isn't much he wants to critique.

"Being stuck here's not that terrible, is it?" Nathan asks, holding one finger to his lips as he adds a shot of whiskey to each of their coffee mugs. Some days, it's the only way they can make it to seven without putting a fist through the wall.

Charlie doesn't really have to answer that. He knows that if he didn’t like it here, if he truly thought there was a better opportunity out there somewhere, that he'd already be gone.

"What the hell, Dalton?"

Charlie's handcuffed and sitting in a wooden chair, staring frustrated at Nathan. There's blood in his shirt and a burn on the side of his face, though he can't remember how either of those got there. And that's exactly it — "You think I did this?" Charlie spits. "I don't remember shit. None of us do!"

Nathan looks more stressed than Charlie's ever seen him, and he paces across the visiting room, hand kneading at one temple. "So you all say, but there's reports—"

"What did I do?" Despite everything, Charlie sounds a little brighter at that.

"Don't get so excited," Petrelli snaps. "You maimed a civilian and helped Ludluck burn down a fruit stand."

They stare at one another for a long while, incredulous, before Nathan cracks a smile. "So that's how I know you're telling the truth," he explains. "Even if you wanted to burn down a building, I hope it wouldn't be a fruit stand — not to mention your taste in co-conspirators…"

"I don't remember it," Charlie says, unamused. "Any of it."

Nathan finally sits across from him and puts his head in his hands, heaves a huge sigh. "I believe you, I do. And Parkman's going to get you out." He ignores Charlie's grin and goes on — "You're going to have to help clear this up. You're on staff, so no one will believe you'd go out and wreak havoc, and if you can represent everyone else… We can start trying to figure out who's behind this."

He rattles at the cuffs to no avail, then looks back to Petrelli. "I'm on staff?" Charlie asks.

"Well, I don't pay you," Nathan says with a roll of his eyes. "But you might as well be."

"Why, sir," Charlie practically shouts, shit-eating grin in place. "Now you're just trying to sweet talk me!"

"Grow up, Dalton." But he laughs when he says it, and then Nathan's phone goes off and he leaves in a hurry, shoulders tensed and jaw grinding.

("Your boss is too fussy," Akira yawns from his bunk, legs dangling over the edge. He practically tears through a wall whenever Parkman makes his rounds, but in the downtime he's a pretty cool guy. "Kaito-nii was way different..."

Charlie's leaning up against the bars, bored stiff. "Yeah, no more Kaito stories," he says. "It's not like that."

"You wish."

A shrug of one shoulder. He waits until Parkman is out of ear- and mind-shot before answering. "Petrelli's a powerful man," he smirks. "But no, I don't wish. Well. Not anymore."

"Oh god, for the love of Starbuck, spare us," Warren Mears snaps from the cell across the hall.)

"He's a good kid!" Nathan says, slamming down the papers so they explode to the ground. He stops, stares at them in resignation, then begins to pick them up. "He's a good kid," he repeats quietly.

Rube watches. "For a world-weary New York politician," he says, "You can be surprisingly naïve."

"is it his age? I don't hear you complaining about Yagami."

"Yagami isn't in prison," points out Rube. "Yagami knows how to keep his mouth shut."

"Dammit, Rube, he's a rebel, but he's not a criminal." Nathan swings into his seat, reaches for the scotch in the drawer.

"Didn't know your platform distinguished between the two," says Rube, taking the glass slid across the table to him but only staring at the amber liquid.

"It does now," says Nathan, and tosses the contents back. A moment, and then, sadly: "He has so much potential. Right now he's young and stupid and obsessed with passion and pure concepts and poetry. But there's genuine spark there; a little more life experience and he'd make a great campaign rep, or a prosecutor, a speechwriter, a political journalist."

"But we have to put up with him in the meantime," grumps Rube.

"He wants to change the world. I'm just giving him the skill sets he needs to really do so."

"I wouldn't want to live in Charlie Dalton's world."

Nathan laughs. "Then you're lucky I'm not letting him have it just yet." He gives a softened grimace, his eyes pleading. "Give the kid a chance. Trust me on this; he wasn't acting voluntarily. We'll get him out."

Rube stares for a while, the glass swinging like a pendulum from his fingers. Finally he cracks a half-smile and says, "If you really think he's the first kid to not end up a disappointing fuck up, then I believe you." It's weighted with a thousand complications and conditions — if Nathan really thinks that, and if he's inevitably right, then, only then will Rube concede. No less.

It's a tall order, but luckily enough, Charlie's not one to disappoint.

Akira slams up against the bars on the door as they slide shut again, looking less like a kid cop and more like a madman. "Yo, Porkman!" he yells down the hall, eliciting a few snickers from the other prisoners. "Why's Dalton get to go and not any of us? You're a fucking hypocr—"

"It's just routine questioning, Udou," Parkman says wearily, leading Charlie down the hall. A lie, a lie, a lie — but Charlie plays along, looking terse and pissed off and struggling as they walk, making Matt practically drag him.

They make it into the questioning room that Charlie's become all too familiar with. Ky sits on the other side of the table and smiles gently as they enter. "Mr. Dalton," he says. "Officer Parkman tells me you may remember crucial details after all."

"Yep," Charlie agrees easily, straddling his own chair.

But it's all more lies, and he never has to explain this thing he may or may not actually remember. Parkman works his magic, a metallic vibration in the air as he stares, shaking, at Ky. Charlie doesn't have to say a single goddamn thing, Parkman does all the talking for him. The thinking, too. The poet just leans forward over the back of his chair and looks deceptively innocent. "You're free to go," Kiske says at the end of all of it, though his eyes are just a little unfocused.

Charlie lets Parkman remove the handcuffs and shakes Ky's hand. "Thank you, sir," he says with a smarmy grin.

They walk out of the prison together, and Parkman looks exhausted. "I had to convince him so that when people ask why you're gone and no one else, he'll actually have an answer." The cop buys them both a coffee on the way to Nathan's office.

"Thanks, I mean it." Charlie drinks it black, but watches Parkman's precise science of cream and sugar. "Buy one for Nathan," he adds. "I would, but my wallet's back home."

Parkman does as Charlie keeps on talking — "Flying's all right, and Claire's got it good, but you've got the most kickass power of any of us." (He says us like he's got a power too, and some days Charlie thinks that he just might. Petrelli has praised him on his way with words, so who's to say that isn't like a power? He can be a hero, too.) "You know you could control the world, right? Not just like a politician — you could really do it. You could get anything you want."

"It's not that easy," Matt snaps, pushing the coffee shop door open with his shoulder. But he puts a foot out to stop Charlie from exiting too and just stares for a few seconds, in the intense way that the boy knows by now means he's being watched. So he raises an eyebrow and lets the secrets fly — Parkman's face twists and he lets the door close in Charlie's way. "You don't know me, Dalton," he says irritably when Charlie catches up. "I'd never turn on Nathan. I don't want to control people like that—"

"You just did," Charlie yells, catching the attention of a few school kids. "What was that back there? I hurt people, just like everyone else, but I'm the one walking free. Ethical, Parkman. Real moral."

If he didn't have two cups of coffee in hand, Parkman would grab the mouthy poet and shove him against a wall, because they may just be words but they strike a huge nerve. "I didn't want to," he hisses, rounding on Charlie and getting in his face. "I did it because Nathan told me to. He wants you out, not me." They get along fine, but Parkman is a cop and will always have the mentality of one. Criminals are criminals, even if Nathan is ridiculously fond of this one. "He thinks you're going to be of help in the end — and I believe him. So what makes you think I'd ever try to— to usurp him?"

"Vocab word," Charlie hums, knowing full well that it came fresh from his thoughts. "Look, I appreciate what you've done for me, so let's agree to disagree."

"You're even starting to talk like him." Matt shakes his head. "Next you'll be telling me that you value my opinion."

"Oh, but I don't," Charlie smirks. "That's why he's the politician and I'm not." He grabs the extra coffee and inspects it — "You put in too much cream, he's not going to really like it." Parkman doesn't dignify that with a response, but Charlie can still reenter the office with his cocky swagger, knowing that he got to the policeman. "Back on board," he tells Nathan as they shake hands and collapses into his familiar chair at desk-side. "It's the unconquerable soul; it's why I keep coming back."

Black coffee, paper cuts and pencaps — sad that this is what he'd really missed while in jail. Still, at least he's found his niche in Babylon. The winning side, he thinks with a small, wicked smile, and grabs the top stack of papers off the desk. Time to go through draft after draft of speeches and make his own suggestion (too brash, Nathan tells him nine times out of ten — Charlie just doesn't have a grasp on political writing yet, but god knows he can critique and rip apart and satire incessantly).

Its not poetry, not by a long shot, but it's also not a bad job.

"I can't believe you dropped out," Neil exclaims, chasing after Charlie. "What are you thinking!"

"I'm thinking I don't want to waste the rest of my youth getting a half-assed education," says Charlie, turning and walking backwards as he laughs at Neil's old lady disapproval.

"What did Petrelli say?" asks Neil, shifting his bag to the other shoulder and bobbing his head with an awkward charm. "Seriously, Charlie—"

"Petrelli doesn't know," says Charlie, and the exhilaration on his face flickers for just a second. Neil remembers with a grey detachment the sudden shock of reality in Todd's blue eyes — the first time he'd really realized he'd have to disobey his father. Charlie, though, Charlie had hated his father, and Neil wonders if he doesn’t' see Nathan as some kind of weird substitute.

"It's okay, he probably needs you more there than here. I was talking to Aya, she said she stepped down from being his P.A.—"

"Seriously?" Charlie is thrown for a second. "He adores Aya and Haruhi, they're like daughters to him." But then the cocky grin is firmly back in place. "Still, that means he'll be a lot easier to talk to about the whole education thing. I can say I'll go back when we're less inundated—" he catches Neil's raised eyebrow and adds; "Not that I will, of course."

"She said I should try for the job," Neil says suddenly. "Aya, I mean." He grimaces awkwardly. "I mean, it's not what I want to do for the rest of my life but I kinda like Petrelli." Mostly because Charlie waxes lyrical about the man and the great things he's doing for Babylon at every possible opportunity.

Charlie clenches his jaw, then smiles; "Well, I'm sure any addition to the staff would benefit our—"

"Forget the political spiel, Nuwanda," says Neil, leaning forward and pushing at his shoulder playfully. "If you don't want me in your little political party, I'll find something else to do."

"It's just... it's dangerous," says Charlie, glancing around with a hint of melodrama. "A lot of weird shit's been going down recently. I don't want you involved if you don't have to be."

"Thanks, mother, but I can look after myself. And it's just paperwork and coffee-fetching, right?"

"I get Nathan's coffee," Charlie snaps, like it's a badge of honor. Neil's charming and an actor and supremely bright — Charlie isn't sure he wants him to catch Nathan's eye. For all his bravado that he's Petrelli's right hand man, despite his cheer in the face of more people taking a leaf from Vlima's book and calling him Nathan's protégé, a secret small place in Charlie's heart is positive he's going to be replaced.

Maybe Neil sees some of that in his eyes, because he backs off a little, trying to smile around his hurt. "I just thought it'd be fun to work together."

Fuck Neil's puppy eyes. "Go for the interview, whatever. Maybe I'll be your boss." He smirks, loops an arm around Neil's shoulders. "Maybe you'll end up becoming a lawyer — I mean, it's not med school, but you're getting scarily close to respectable there, Neil."

"Me?" laughs Neil, and the thought of med school is like an old ache, a long-healed scar. "You own a whole bunch of suits."

"Suits are classy!" protests Charlie. "The ladies love a poet in a tux." He waggles his eyebrows, and Neil whacks him lightly.

He's still laughing, though, and the sight of it lifts something in Charlie's chest. "You're such a prick," Neil says. "Come on, I've got to get home — some of us still have homework to do."

"Not my problem anymore." Charlie waves a hand airily. "I have homework in the school of life." Except Peter Petrelli claims Rachel Grey is avoiding the power registry because she suspects Raito of foul play, and Charlie desperately wants to be there when they discuss those allegations. Yagami's his age, but he isn't concerned about condescending to Charlie, and he won't invite his fiancée to meetings when they're both going to be there. It'd be nice to see him taken down a peg or two. "Actually," he amends sheepishly, "I've got to split."

"Getting coffee?" teases Neil.

Charlie nods thoughtfully. "Good idea. Depends on how crowded the café is." He pulls Neil closer into a kind of one-armed hug, smirks when Neil closes his eyes instead of the panicky flinching away of a few months ago.

"Hey, Karolina and George and Nico and I are doing a movie night tonight. Last Tango in Paris and pizza. You should come, if you can find the time." Neil's still close, still laughing. Charlie thinks of the way Nathan lectures him when he's had one martini too many — This job will chew you up and spit you out, Nuwanda. Make sure you keep taking time for yourself.

Sure," he says, pulling back and rumpling Neil's hair. "I'll see you then, slick." He winks, and grins, and waves over his shoulder as he walks away.

"I think we need to consider turning this into more of a democracy, don't you, Mr. Petrelli?"

Nathan's smile is a shade short of wanting to strangle the serious young woman in her burgundy suit. "I have confidence that even with the competition, the people of Babylon will know the sacrifices I've made for them."

Mitsuru smiles. "Then you'll be assured a position on the board, and you don't have anything to worry about." And she dismisses him, turns back to the rest of the people gathered.

Nathan doesn't seem bothered, but Charlie shadows him back to his apartment and watches as he pours himself a double without even bothering to get ice.

"Fuck the bitch," says Nathan with a quiet anger. "A quarter of Babylon are unconvicted criminals, a lot of them are children, some of them don't even understand what a political party is!"

Charlie stares at Petrelli's rage becomes apparent. "But like you said, if there was an election, you'd win. You've been here almost six months."

"It means nothing," Nathan says bitterly. "In the end everything I did was behind closed doors, paperwork in locked archives. Babylon thinks my speeches are cheesy and my policies right wing. Don't kid yourself, Charlie." He chuckles humorlessly. "I don't."

Charlie stands a little away from him, shifting from foot to foot, his brow furrowed. "Don't talk like that. We've come so far—"

"And how. Mind control? It's a nice way to win an election for the greater good, but I don’t' sleep any easier at night." He's pouring out another drink. "Fuck this place and its competent, selfish administrators. Fuck everyone who doesn't want to know, who wants to go on with their boring little lives and then complain when their inaction screws everything up."

"I didn't know you felt that way," says Charlie, surprised and acidic. "I thought letting people have their boring little lives was what we were working for."

Nathan pauses, runs a hand through his hair and stares at his drink for a moment like he doesn't remember getting it. "You're right," he says. But that doesn't make it any less frustrating." He slams his glass on the table and it cracks. Charlie's fist ball instinctually, and Nathan's eyes finally focus on his face. "I'm not gonna hit you," he says unexpectedly.

"I know," Charlie replies, grimacing. "But it's habit. Authority figures get angry, I'm usually on the receiving end." He shrugs a shoulder, holds out a hand for the bottle. "Still," he adds, interrupting whatever Nathan is so obviously about to say (I'm sorry, maybe, or something else pitying). "You look like you need to hit something. Ever consider boxing, sir?"

Nathan raises an eyebrow; it climbs higher when Charlie drinks directly from the bottle. "That's expensive scotch, you know."

"Take it out of my pay," Charlie says around the amber burn that seems to slide down his throat and into his bloodstream. "But seriously, c'mon. You can't be man of the year all the time. Maybe you could write angry poetry."

"Who the hell do you think you're talking to," asks Nathan, but he's laughing too. "I used to play football at college, and later with some guys at the DAs office. I kinda miss it."

Charlie has always been a soccer man himself, but balls and fields and competition have the same essential structure so he says: "Well, do you know where we can get a football around here?"

"School might have one." When Charlie starts for the door, bottle still in hand, Nathan grabs his arm; gently, Charlie's casual reaction to his anger still fresh in his mind. "Is now really the time, Charlie?"

"Well, it's almost dark, so people won't be around to watch their fearless leader being trounced by his second in command."

"Ha!" Nathan scoffs, then grins. "You're on. Let me change." He's already pulling off his tie as he heads for the bedroom. "Do you even know how to play football?" he calls.

"Not really," admits Charlie. "But I figure hey, you're old..."

"Hey, there's life in these old bones yet," Nathan says, returning, still pulling on a white t-shirt, possibly the most casual outfit Charlie has ever seen him wear. "Come on, we'll take the express route." When Charlie looks at him in confusion, Nathan holds out his arms like a plane, completely deadpan.

Realization dawns.

"I thought you weren't a cargo jet?"

"You're not afraid of heights, are you."

"No, sir."

Things are slightly different after that. Whenever the bureaucracy isn't going his way, Nathan plays tackle football with Charlie, and they yell about injustices and drinks themselves into insensibility until Ty Lee wakes Charlie up getting ready for school.

The geezer's club still doesn't approve. "I need this, Rube," Nathan insists quietly, but Rube's heard that slurred and British so many times that it isn't that effective. "I get sick of not being able to let my hair down, y'know?"

Vilma shakes her head gracefully and slowly, her legs crossed at the ankle. "Meditation, Nathan," she says. "Perhaps I could teach you flower arranging."

Rube's lip twitch and Nathan grits his teeth. "I'm still the same man. Youth isn't a disease."

"Unfortunately," Vilma mock-laments.

"Thankfully," Rube growls. He watches as Nathan ignores his drink in favor of his cell and wonders if this, too, is the Dalton boy's influence or if Nathan is simply not thirsty.

"Have you considered teaching?" Nathan asks Charlie one day, swiveling back and forth in his big leather chair. Charlie's sitting in the sunlight next to the window transcribing the latest batch of complaints, and he looks up in startlement. "I mean, you say the English curriculum's bad... What if you could improve it? I had a talk with the scientists about the importance of a well-rounded education."

At Charlie's face, Nathan holds up his hands. "Not for right now. I'm not saying you make a career of it, but maybe your opinions will shed some new light."

Teaching, after Keating, had been Charlie's plan B. But it's like all of his fleeting fancies, the I could... daydreams that colored every corner of his childhood. Professional soccer player, marine, musician, political journalist, teacher; it's all the same. He's not sure he could ever live up to Keating, much less transcend him — he's just not that kind of guy.


"I've thought about it," Charlie answers carefully. Thinking and doing are two very different things, he knows that now. "What that sounds like is administration, though."

He'd done it every day in English class, after all. Spoken without raising his hand to tell the teacher how this could be better. But Charlie also knows now that it's not enough to hand in your complaints and suggestions and just hope for the best once it's all in the hands of the higher-ups. He has to change it himself. Teaching might be the only way.

"I'd like to do that. Go talk to the scientists and the school." He's blatantly ignoring the paperwork now, stretching one arm idly over his head. "And if they'd let me come in and mess with the English curriculum, I wouldn't say no to that." It's a lot to ask, especially of Babylon (where the school is only slightly less staunch than Welton when it comes to administration changes) but Charlie has credit to his name now. Petrelli's right hand, Nathan's protégé, all the different names thrown at him. It means people are more likely to listen to what he has to say — a nice change, to be sure.

A smile spreads slowly over Charlie's face — that opens up the possibility of teaching his peers. Neil. Teaching Neil Perry English — he practically bursts into laughter at the very thought, because it's ridiculous. And tempting, really tempting.

His mind wanders back to reality and his eyes focus on Nathan again — "Well, you never know if you're good at something until you try," he grins. Writing is still Charlies dream; working on his own terms and getting paid for his words, but teaching isn't entirely out of the question. "Thanks," he adds, because having someone believe in his ability to not completely fuck everything up is still new enough to make his heart feel strangely light.

"I flew," Charlie says, sudden and inexplicable.

Neil's head is bent low over his math book, but his eyes lift to look at Charlie from beneath his lashes. "We've all had that dream, slick."

They've been sitting across the Wafflehousen table for hours now — Neil's got a quiz tomorrow, and Charlie's keeping him company, constantly ordering more food and coffee. (Rube mutters to Anya to ignore their table after the third order in just over an hour, but she's chatty enough where she can't possibly stay away.) It's starting to get dark out but they'll stay here for hours yet. "No, I mean it, I really flew." He holds out his arms in the same mock airplane gesture, face completely straight.

"Really?" Neil finally sits up, flagging down Anya with a charming smile for more blueberry pancakes. "Where'd you fly to, then?"

Charlie cocks his head like he's trying to remember (and he is, through an alcohol-induced haze). "Uh, football field mostly — but we did stop off so I could buy booze." He flashes a winning smile at his friend's poor confused face. "You're forgetting he can fly," Charlie finally says outright.

If he could just have a photo of Neil's reaction, he'd paper their office in it.

"Let me get this straight," he chokes once the laughter subsides (even if it's at his expense, Charlie still likes the sight and sound of it — it's not a crime to enjoy seeing your best friend happy). "You— you rode your boss?" And then it starts up again.

"Fuck you," Charlie says, but he's laughing too. "Forget I brought it up."

"Oh god, no, never," says Neil, who just looks positively giddy at this. "I'm never going to forget that. The great Nuwanda, political wonderkid, catches a ride with his flying boss." He kicks Neil under the table and hisses for him to shut the hell up, because god knows Rube Sofer is listening in for the smallest hint of rebellion. "Okay, okay, I'm fine—" But as soon as they're both taking steadying deep breaths, Neil starts laughing again and puts his head down on the textbook, setting Charlie off too.

Through a little argument later on, Neil ends up sleeping at Charlie and Cordelia's apartment. "I have a quiz—" he starts to protest.

Charlie holds up a hand to shut him up. "I have work," he points out. "I have to wake up earlier than you, moron." So he sets his alarm, and when Neil tries to leave again, he grabs his friend's arm and pulls him back onto the bed. "You're staying," Charlie says, and that's that.

"Fine, but you have to actually let me sleep," Neil agrees with a little reluctance.

"Of course," Charlie smirks against his best friend's hair. "Dead poet's honor." They manage it for a little while, and Charlie's just drifting off to a nice place when Neil's shoulders start to shake. Charlie gives him the benefit of doubt until a strangled laugh escapes, then they're both cracking up in that late night way. "I'm going to kill you," he breathes once they're finally relatively quiet again.

He can't see Neil's face, but he still feels him grinning as he says, "But then there'd be no one to make fun of you." Charlie's got nothing to say for that, just presses his face against the back of Neil's neck and lets his eyes shut.

("You're wearing a sweater vest," Neil grins from his position on the bed, surrounded by rumpled covers. His hair's a mess and he doesn't really have to be up for an hour yet, but Charlie's not exactly quiet as he gets ready for work.

And indeed he is. And a tie. And nice shoes. Charlie grimaces a little and gives Neil a thumbs up — "Kiss kiss," he says sarcastically, "Welcome to the future.")

Within ten minutes of the original entry, Charlie's knocking down Nathan's door (really just utilizing his spare key, but he kicks it open anyway) and heading straight for the man's room.

"You failed to mention that," is all he says, voice shaking, standing over Nathan's bed.

Petrelli starts awake and pulls a sheet up over his bare chest — "Jesus, Dalton, what time is it?"

His fist hits the wall, just because he's that pissed off. "That's not important," Charlie hisses. "What the hell is all of this about?" Papers fly in Nathan's face, printed off pages and comments.

They flick the light on and go over it together — it's Nathan's face, and it sure as hell reads like him, but Charlie knows that it can't be. It just can't. He would have heard about this — and he doesn't want to go home, anyway. He wants to stay here and fix shit. "It's not me," Nathan says dully. "I've been asleep, it couldn’t have been me. We don't even have the technology yet! I—"

"I'm going to Nue," Charlie growls, and leaves without another word.

Nue gets to the bottom of it as quickly as he can, but the culprit comes forward first — Warren Mears, infuriatingly smug about all of it. People are understandably angry with him, but no one moreso than Charlie.

"I wouldn't have guessed you'd be such a sore loser," Warren says through his own smirk, leaning up against the doorway.

He goes down in one well-placed kick to the stomach.

"Now you know," says Charlie, and stomps down as hard as he can on his ribcage. "Congratulations."

They fight until they're both spitting blood. Mears get in his fair share of good hits, but Charlie has unmitigated rage and adrenaline on his side — not to mention some actual training, and weeks of playing football against Nathan. He's quicker, he's sure as hell angrier, and he's fighting for two. "Don't fuck with Petrelli," he says through ragged breathing and punches the hard muscle and bone of Warren's jaw again, feeling his knuckles crack. "Believe me when I say that I won't hold back next time — and yeah, this is me holding back."

When Warren lands a good punch straight to the eye, Charlie throws him against the apartment wall and hits him again and again, until the soft flesh of his stomach gives and the nerd vomits on the floor. "Very cute, Dalton," he chokes without straightening up. "Sticking up for loverboy—"

The last punch is an uppercut to Warren's nose, hard and fast and full of so much rage that he might as well be back in the luggage room at Welton. "I'll kill you next time." Charlie leans down to get in the guy's face, smiling bloody through split lips. "And you know what? I won't go to jail. The advantages of the winning side, Mears. Think about it." One last shove against the wall before Charlie leaves, slamming the door behind him.

He doesn't bother to go home and change, just heads straight for Swayze's. He's a wreck — bloodied and sweating and grinning like a maniac despite it all.

"Mr. Dalton," Vilma says coolly, "There's something on your shirt."

"Uh huh." His voice is thick, still wiping off his lips every once in a while. "It's blood."

Vilma passes the scotch down to him, even if it'll burn his cuts. "I'm aware of what blood looks like," the mysterious woman smiles. But that's all she says.

"Nathan," Charlie says, leaning over the table and waving a hand in the man's face. "I think Mears knows not to do that again."

Rube keeps forcing glass after glass on Nathan, and he already looks pretty far gone, but still registers the blooming bruises and the red on his fists — "Good job," he says anyway. "And thank you, Nuwanda."

Sure enough, the alcohol burns so much that Charlie can't actually drink it, but he's already got a high from fighting, so that's okay. "Anything for you, sir," Charlie says lightly, then lays his aching head down on the table and listens to the their conversation, still reveling in the feel of cracking bone.

"No," Nathan tells the board. "Absolutely not. No children are gonna be taken from their parents and given to inexperienced young teens. End of discussion. What's the next thing on the agenda."

Nathan's bounced back from April Fool's with a vengeance. "Mr. Petrelli, our reasoning is quiet scientific—" someone begins.

"You want babies? Grow 'em in test tubes, not preteens. This kind of bull is exactly the kind of rights-impinging that makes your population so restive. We're citizens here too, and if you don't like it? Send us home." This isn't Petrelli the politician, or the DA, or the soldier. Nathan's learned to control his anger, focus it, direct it. "Now, what is the next thing on the agenda."

The board is quiet for a moment. "Food tokens," a young boy says, and the meeting moves on. The subject of the baby project is never brought up again.

"So, Nathan," says Charlie, his shadow falling over Nathan's paperwork obnoxiously. "My friend Neil wants to meet you."

"Neil Perry? Sure. Rube's told me you two spend a lot of time at the Wafflehousen."

"He listens in on our conversations," Charlie complains.

"And I bet you make them entertaining for him." Nathan sounds resigned to Rube and Charlie's war of silence. "I'm shocked it's taken you this long, Neil's a pretty bright guy." Charlie goes to ask how he knows that, but Nathan pre-empts him. "I told you, I watch them all, I learn about the people who live here."

It's less than a day before Neil's standing in Nathan's office, a little awkward. "Nathan Petrelli, Neil Perry," Charlie drawls. "And vice versa." They shake hands and Charlie is smug for no real reason.

"Charlie speaks highly of you," Neil says, charming despite himself. Since April Fool's he's stopped worrying about Charlie ending up second best. "And if it's worth anything, I think you're doing a good job."

"You're in the minority," Nathan says, but he smiles. "So, how are you finding the school?"

"It's different," Neil admits. "I'm doing okay though. Better now that I don't have Nuwanda here distracting me in all my classes."

"He's being modest," Charlie explains. "Neil's top of most of his classes, the brain."

"So, are you going to the college?" Nathan asks. Neil shrugs a shoulder, looking askance; this has been his main point of stress as the end of term approaches. "I don't think so? I want to act, I'm in the musical Bialystock and Bloom are putting on..." His lips press together defiantly, daring Nathan to say something about wasting his talent on acting — but there's guilt there, too.

"That's good," says Nathan. "The musical, I mean. This place is pretty lacking in the arts. Still, you should go to college too. Nothing to say you can't act and hold down a day job."

Neil looks as though the thought hadn't really occurred to him. "I guess..." he says doubtfully, but it's true that in Babylon life doesn't seem so much about devoting yourself to one career for the rest of your life. Not like home. "My father thought I should go to med school, be a doctor..."

"Forget your father," interrupts Charlie. "You should do what you want, right?"

Nathan doesn't entirely agree, but he still remembers a couple things about Charlie's movie, so he keeps his mouth shut.

"Anyway, if you do want a job while you're acting, I could probably find you something to do around here."

"Hey, thanks." Neil grins, glances around the office. "I'll keep that in mind." He looks at Charlie — "Anyway, I have to go, George and Karolina asked me to come help babysit their roommates..."

Charlie laughs. Nathan asks: "You know George Lass?" and both of them nod, Charlie with maybe a little hint of a smirk.

"We're friends," says Neil, amused.

"He threatened to kill me if I touched her," Charlie adds in cheerfully. "Rube, I mean."

Nathan doesn't look too shocked. "It was nice to finally meet you in person, Neil. Don't be a stranger, okay?"

"Nice to meet you too, Mr. Petrelli." He looks meaningfully at Charlie. "Walk me home?

Charlie's reluctant — "We're pretty overwhelmed here..." — but Nathan waves a hand at him.

"Don't be too long. And get me a coffee on your way back."

"The more things change..." Charlie sighs as they leave.

They aren't the only people in Babylon interested in sport, and as the days crawl by other people begin to take an interest; Faith Lehane passes by walking her dog one evening; Sasagawa Ryohei thinks playing after dark is EXTREME, but the most surprising addition to their alcohol-fueled game of rage is Cox, the loudmouthed doctor from the hospital. He seems to take particularly great pleasure in rubbing Nathan's face in the dirt before scoring try after try.

"You had soooo better not come crying to me when someone gets hurt playing this," he says, plucking the bottle from Charlie's hands.

"You're a doctor," points out Charlie. "Who else would we come crying to?" Cox is finishing off the scotch all by himself, pristine white coat hanging off one shoulder. "Give that back," he complains, but the good doctor just tosses what's left to Faith and pushes Charlie's head.

"Get back in the game," he barks. The matches are a little unfair — Faith is a beast, and Cox actually knows how to play (and win). That's why they go three against two, sometimes even four — if Rube's pet drunk happens to be stumbling around the park, then he'll join in and play terribly. He and Ryohei don't get that the game is about getting hammered and pissed off, but they mean well, so they stay.

Ryohei does have a tendency to forget the rules, though. Boxing is more his style. When he tackles Charlie for the third time so far that night, his apology is a booming "I AM EXTREMELY SORRY DALTON-SAN!!! TACKLING YOUR OWN TEAMMATES IS WRONG TO THE LIMIT!!!!" as he hangs his head.

"It's fine, Ryohei." But as soon as he's up again, Faith comes hurtling down the field — one of the downsides of playing with a Slayer is that when she knocks you to the ground, you stay there.

Which really isn't much of a downside at all, actually.

He can't complain when Faith straddles him and grabs the ball he's been hugging against his chest. What he can complain about is the force necessary for all of this — "I think you busted my kneecap," Charlie groans.

"Sorry, kid." But she doesn't sound sorry at all. In fact, Faith is grinning as she jumps back to her feet with ridiculous ease and calls, "Medic!" Charlie sighs in relief (Cox has been known to keep a bottle of Andrew Wells-strength painkillers in that coat of his) but Faith just points to the other end of the field. "Go long!"

"In pain over here!" Charlie tries to sit up with Mason's help, but the drunk Brit just loses his balance and falls as well. Meanwhile Cox is sprinting past Nathan for another unfair touchdown and pounding fists with Faith, matching winners' smirks on their faces.

Nathan helps Charlie limp home and manages not to laugh too loudly when the boy points out, "You could just fly and we'd win every game."

"Next time," Nathan says through his amusement, because in the end he's a competitive guy.

"A year," says Nathan, staring at his drink. His hair's rumpled and his tie's loose, hands splayed on the table. "They've been pulling people through that portal into their war ravaged world for a year, and d'you know what they want to do?" He looks at Charlie. "They want to have a parade."

"At least they aren't trying to dump infants on us," Charlie points out — when he'd heard about that he'd been filled with hilarity. And also very relieved it would never come about. He isn't the parenting type. "It's still bullshit."

"And we won't be the only ones thinking that," Nathan sighs. "Still, even if they complain, getting a night out to do something fun should calm most of them down."

"Does give you another chance to take out Cordelia, too," Charlie grins.

Nathan puts a hand thoughtfully on his chin, covering a small smile. "Does it?"

"And I can take Claire," says Charlie smugly. "She really likes me, you know."

"I thought she was too 'nice' for you?" asks Nathan, trying to smile around his concern. He doesn't want to have to kill his favorite member of staff when he inevitably breaks Claire's heart. But if he doesn't, Peter will. "Actually, I think Claire might already have someone she'd like to take."

"What?" Charlie asks.

"You snooze, you lose, Charlie," says Nathan, taking a gulp of his drink and studying the boy over the rim.

"Whatever, I could have any girl in the Dome." He grins. "Maybe I'll ask George, she and I have got a lot in common."

"I guess if you're really that tired of having a soul," shrugs Nathan.

They end up going in a group anyway, so Charlie ignores Rube's glare when he squeezes into a nonexistent seat between George and Neil.

"But hark," he murmurs, "What light through yonder—"

"Remember I can kill you?" George bumps his shoulder roughly, stares at the floats moving along the road. "So shut the fuck up."

"She loves me," Charlie whispers to Neil, and George pushes him off the bandstand — Neil laughs so hard he nearly goes down too.

"I can't believe he just tried to use Shakespeare on you," says Karolina, sliding into the newly vacated seat with a smile. "I mean, that's so outdated. You're losing your touch, Nuwanda!" she calls down to him, and though Charlie glares at the two as he picks himself up, he knows she doesn't mean it maliciously. He waves self-deprecatingly at a couple of Japanese teens who are laughing at him and brushes dirt off his trousers.

Neil hops down and joins him a moment later. "Are you okay?" he asks, hands stuffed in his pockets, head tilted to one side.

"Just fine, slick," says Charlie, looking up to see Nico's stolen Neil's seat and the three girls are giggling together over something. Charlie slides a hand through his own hair. "So, parades and fireworks, not as interesting as they sound."

"Karolina keeps telling me about the other parades she's been to, so I do feel kind of cheated by this one." Neil shrugs. "They're setting up the pavilions over on the other side of the park, we should go check it out, grab something to eat."

"Sure," says Charlie, and then with a glint of mischief in his eyes: "Race you."

They take off without another word. Neil has longer legs but Charlie's practiced, and when he pulls ahead he swerves in front to cut Neil off, turning to grin over his shoulder and tripping over a clump of grass. Neil collides with him and they both sprawl.

"That's twice today," rages Charlie, glad there aren't the same kids around to have seen that. "Am I turning into Knox?"

Neil doesn't say anything for a moment, just lies tangled with Charlie, breathing heavily, his pupils huge and dark. Then he suddenly looks miserable, pulling up and away. "Do you think they're ever gonna show?" he asks.

At this point, Charlie isn't sure he wants them to. But he grins with false bravado, sitting up and sliding over to get up in Neil's face. "I've told you, it takes time. They'll turn up eventually, all of them."

But maybe it isn't the right thing to say, because Neil stands abruptly, continuing to walk in the direction of the huge white tents they can see being erected close by. "C'mon," he says, voice blank and shoulders tense.

Charlie jumps up easily and pounds after him. "Neil," he says, draping an arm around his shoulder and gritting his teeth when Neil shifts a little away from him. "Neil, Neil, Neil. Don't be a spaz."

"I'm not!" protests Neil. "It's fine, I'm fine, I just miss them a little and—"

"They wouldn't want us to wait around moping for them, right? Carpe Diem." He winces inwardly at that old phrase, which now has the ring of cliché, but he knows Neil still stands by it and he isn't surprised at all when the other kisses him.

Neil stops abruptly and looks over Charlie's shoulder, gazing unseeingly at the fake horizon. "Let's go somewhere," he says quietly.

A grin spreads slowly over Charlie's face. "Sure thing."

Of course, it turns out the government put a chemical cocktail in the water supply and the food. At first, people thought there had just been "something in the air," but by the time Charlie comes into work the next morning Nathan is already up to his ears in angry complaints.

"Where the hell were you last night?" Nathan asks in a low voice, his hands massaging his temples. "I called and emailed and you didn't reply.

Charlie just grins and winks, and Nathan's hands slide across to cover his face. "Tell me it wasn't Claire or George," comes his muffled reply.

"It wasn't Claire or George," Charlie concedes buoyantly. "Enough gossip — don't we have work to do, sir?"

"You'd better believe it." Nathan's suddenly serious. "I've called an impromptu meeting with the board in charge of ficcies, I'll need you to be on network damage control the rest of the day. And the paperwork... Well." He gestures to Charlie's desk, where the stack of paper sways a little and a fax machine feeds yet more onto the pile. "Have fun."

But somehow, the idea of eight hours of grueling, boring admin duties doesn't make Charlie grimace as much as he might have yesterday.

(Neil's sprawled lengthways across the rumpled bed, head over the side and his hair all over the place as he watches Charlie upside down.

"D'you think Karolina came home last night?" he asks, thinking of Nico — or George — and the girls' tendencies to sleepovers. "I didn't hear her—"

Charlie's playing with his fringe, wet from the shower, and his eyes meet Neil's in the bathroom mirror. "That's not really surprising," he says with a grin, flicking his hair one last time. "You weren't really paying a lot of attention."

He wanders back into the room, buttoning up his shirt one-handed as he searches for a tie, and Neil's gaze follows him. "True," he chuckles sleepily, rolling onto his stomach and tangling himself further in the sheets. There's a moment and then; "Charlie," he says, tone inscrutable.

"Mmm?" Charlie has his keys in his mouth as he repacks his satchel.

"Write me a play."

The keys drop out of Charlie's mouth. Not quite the proposition he'd been expecting. "Huh?"

Neil sits up, his pale skin glowing golden in the light of the bedside lamp. His eyes have a familiar mania in them. "Write me a play," he says again. "You, me, Karolina, Nico, George. Between us, we could put on something really great. Really... memorable."

"Wow." Charlie wants to write, yes, but idle notebook scribblings are worlds away from an actual project. He grins at Neil anyway, moving closer so he can ruffle his hair obnoxiously and resisting the temptation to just be very late to work. "Okay, sure.")

Charlie clicks away from the word processing program any time Nathan glances over to check on him, but the truth is he's been lax with his work today. Somehow the knowledge that this isn't the rest of his life is strangely freeing, and he grins at the screen as he types the words ACT ONE.

"Nathan," says Parkman, sticking his head into the office, his face worried. "I need to talk to you. In private."

Ichihara Yuuko looks at him with clearly fake surprise and an equally fake smile. "Mr. Parkman," she murmurs, seeming to flow up and out from the chair in front of Nathan's desk, her hand waving an unseen breeze. "I was just leaving."

Nathan has on his I-dislike-you-but-I'm-being-pleasant face, and Parkman resists sifting to find out what they've been talking about. Yuuko is a blank spot in his perceptions, and he tries never to hear Nathan's thoughts, the despair that he could never make a difference here, that nothing would ever change. Even the witch doesn't believe in him, and god knows amidst the booze and credence she possibly sees the future.

Matt realizes he's listening to Nathan anyway and glances away. He takes the chair Yuuko vacated, watching as her slim white hand shakes Nathan's, and she leaves in a swirl of black hair and silk.

When the door clicks closed, Nathan slumps. "Something good, Parkman, please."

"I'm not sure if it's good or not," says Matt, still clearly uncomfortable and wishing they could do this over donuts and coffee instead of in Nathan's office, which always smells of stress and paperwork and secrets. "It's Yagami," he says. "Or, more to the point, it's his fiancée."

Nathan leans forward. "I thought we established she didn't know anymore than the other rioters when we released them all from prison?"

"That's true enough. But she brought me in a cake she'd made — I think she gets bored, sitting at home all by herself — but um, that's not the point." Parkman looks guilty, because listening in on people's thoughts, even if it's for Nathan, still seems a little... off. "I caught her thinking... Normally, she's all sweetness and flowers, but I overheard some things which could implicate Yagami."

"Like what?" Nathan's tune is suddenly sharp and he looks, if possible, more tired.

"Well," says Parkman, "She's been consulting with Rhode Camelot, to have her to do something for Raito... I didn't get a lot, but it definitely sounded illegal."

"Why didn't you—"

"Arrest her?" Parkman heaves out a breath. "I wanted to come to you first. The police would disregard things I overhear, and Raito's one of them. He's also your friend, and mine. I want your help, Nathan."

Nathan grimaces, and Matt can hear him calculating; if Raito was caught and found guilty, that could damage Nathan's standing in the community. Unless Nathan helped catch him. But they couldn't go via Parkman's mind reading alone — wait, is Parkman reading his mind right now? He glances up sharply.

"No," says Parkman, and then: "I can't help it!"

Nathan rolls his eyes. "Here's what we do. We investigate privately — I'll get Charlie in on this, he's always suspected Yagami. Maybe ask Near and Mello, Faith talks about them a lot." He seems to be thinking out loud. "We start monitoring Rhode Camelot and Misa. We go back through Yagami's work history — I might get Nue on that. We look hard, but we can't touch him until we have some solid evidence." Nathan bangs his hand lightly on the table to emphasize those last two words. "We can do this, Parkman."

For a minute, Charlie only stares wild-eyed at the gray ceiling and listens to the passing road sounds. He can't move his hands, his jaw aches like he's been hit, he's flat on his back and—

"Sorry," Matt Parkman says from the driver's seat, twisting his neck to glance briefly at the boy in the back. The dark circles under his eyes aren't helped any by the passing fluorescent lights of the city, and his voice is hoarse from sleep deprivation and caffeine.

Charlie sits up with a struggle. A cop car. He's in a cop car. "What the fuck, Parkman," he hisses. "Did you hit me?"

"I kind of had to." He looks out the windows but it's all dark, definitely nighttime, and he can't tell where they're going. "It snapped you out of it, but— Let me guess, you don't remember anything," Parkman sighs.

"I remember everything," Charlie snaps. And he does. Walking home from Neil's apartment, they'd been talking about starting pick-up soccer games and thinking about who they could talk into joining. Neil pretty much refuses to play drunk tackle football but he's said he does kind of miss sports, and just like with the half-finished play sitting on his laptop, Charlie takes that as impetus to do whatever his best friend wants. Because deep down, it still bothers him that Neil spent years pushing everything he loved off as just another thing that he couldn't have. Forget that; one of Charlie's new goals in Babylon is to show Neil that he deserves it all. And that he can have it. Easily.

A soccer team is a start.

But then — "No, wait, why the hell am I handcuffed? Nathan was there. He was pissed. Don't tell me he's throwing me into jail just because he's mad."

Matt stops the car (despite the radio telling him he's due to stay en route and not to make any detours, Porkman) and turns around fully, his face disbelieving. "Are you crazy? Nathan's in his office, up to his ears in complaints about this."


"Rhode Camelot," Parkman spits. He's not in any mood to deal with Charlie or his interruptions.

The boy processes this, leans his head back against the back of the seat. "But we've been monitoring her," he says blankly, "And I still don't know why I'm here."

As the car starts up again and Parkman keeps driving, comprehension sets in and Charlie's heart pounds in his throat. "You killed a man," the police officer tells him, sounding on the verge of a breakdown himself. "Rick Kramer, he worked for as a teller for the bank in the norms district and you'd never met him before. Apparently, according to certain eye witnesses, you had a gun."

"I didn't," he protests loudly over Matt's accusations. "Why would I do that? I don't even own a gun! This is bullshit, I was with Nathan, he's angry with me, you can ask him yourself."

They argue the rest of the way to the jail, where Charlie gets placed in an empty cell across from Warren Mears and Agito. They're all quiet, sullen, a little shaken — and as the prisoners file in over the next few days, it's always the same story. They never remember the kill. Parkman and Kiske look ready to collapse whenever they bring in a new guy. Akira and Mello and Argilla and fucking Ludluck, of all people, who sits far away from Charlie in the cell and looks perfectly calm. "This is so fucked up," Charlie mutters as Matt passes on rounds.

But Mello is the last to be brought in, and though the prisoners know nothing of what's going on in the outside world, something close to a revolution is taking place.

"Tell me what you remember."

Things have been quiet since Rhode Camelot was pinpointed and taken in for questioning. It led to the imprisonment of Raito, and the record-clearing of all the prisoners. Charlie thinks he should feel triumphant, but he doesn't. Not really. Just worn out, sitting on Nathan's couch with a glass of whiskey in hand, staring at his mentor. "You should know," he says, "You were there."

"For the last time, Charlie, they were illusions. Camelot was manipulating you guys." Nathan throws back his own drink and grimaces a little at Ty Lee's incessant chattering coming from behind the walls.

He shrugs. "I know," he says, a little quieter than normal. They hadn't had a chance to talk while Charlie was still in jail — Nathan had been too busy working around the clock to get everything hammered down. Not even Parkman had been around the prison that often. They'd been so busy, and Charlie feels guilty for not having been there, though he hears Neil and Haruhi picked up the slack in his absence. "Look, it's bad, can we just forget about it?"

Nathan's slipping his tie off and rubbing the spot between his eyes with his free hand. "Just tell me," he says.

"You're going to regret this," Charlie laughs mirthlessly. But he tells anyway. About how Nathan was there, out of nowhere, and after some idle conversation had tackled him ("But I thought tackling your own teammates was wrong to the limit," Nathan deadpans, trying to lighten the mood) to the ground. "You weren't happy with me," and he says it like it's the understatement of the century. "It was pretty hypocritical, though. About how I was throwing my life away on something I didn't really believe in. And — this was a good one, Petrelli — about how I can keep fighting it forever, but I really am just like dear old dad."

Nathan says nothing.

"You also hit me," Charlie adds, trying to sound light. "Kind of a lot."

He knows now that it wasn't really Nathan. But at the time, at the time — Charlie'd hit back, reflexively, because what else was he supposed to do? The images are starting to blur a little in his mind, but he remembers the feeling of it more than anything. So mad, so fucking angry; who's Nathan to say any of those things, where the hell does he get off making those comparisons. And betrayed, abandoned — familiar, of course, because Charlie came to terms long ago that anything he loved too much would end up hurting him.

These are the things he doesn't tell Nathan, though.

"Sounds like what Matt's dad did to us once upon a time," Nathan says darkly, then abruptly ruffles Charlie's hair and pours another scotch. "Parkman calls it a mindfuck. Which is a little vulgar, but."

He laughs again, still not really back to his old fighting spirit, but Nathan just looks at him with a guarded expression and says, "You know I'm not gonna do that." Charlie nods into his glass but Petrelli presses on — "You've got the potential to be more than your parents and what they expected of you. It's one of the benefits of being in this world. And for the record," he says, completely serious in a way that reassures Charlie more than politician grins ever could, "I don't think you're capable of being anything like your father."

Charlie smiles properly then and undoes his own tie, drains the glass. "Thanks," he says genuinely before getting to his feet. "Come on. Let's hit Swayze's, find Faith, and go play ball. The night's young, sir."

Stumbling home past midnight is a little difficult, and Charlie somehow ends up at the Aquarius building instead of his own. "You're drunk," Neil laughs as he lets him in, then explains at Charlie's raised-eyebrow look: "I was actually about to go to bed."

"Excellent," he says just a little too loudly and ignores Neil's shushing for the neighbors. "So was I!"

Neil's gotten too used to this — setting the alarm early enough for Charlie to wake up, complain about his headache and get ready for work, sleeping with someone breathing against the back of his neck. So he lets Charlie wander through the apartment, smiling to himself at the way he chatters on and on when he's been drinking and playing sports all night. It sounds painful and not so fun to Neil, but it always puts Charlie in a good mood.

"...Should probably meet up with the dean of the school this week," he's saying as he unbuttons his shirt and flops onto the unmade bed (Neil really had been reading and just about to fall asleep, he wasn't lying about that). "But, you know, who's to say they're going to want to hire an ex-con, right? Nathan says that it'd be bullshit if they didn't hire me because of something I didn't really do, but I told him, I said, you don't know what school administration is like. They're crazy, and they usually haven't gotten laid since the Paleozoic, so if I'm out of a job it's his fault and he'll just have to go down there and coerce them into it." Charlie smiles up at Neil's bemused face, like any of what he's saying makes any sense at all.

"You're going to work at the school?" Neil lays down too, still just the slightest bit awkward.

Charlie's face lights up with the sudden realization that he hadn't actually told his friend about The Plan yet. "Shit yes," he laughs and curls an arm around Neil's bony back. "Nathan said it was a reward — too bad it's a reward I have to work for, but I'm going to go in there and really change things. Maybe teach English, I don't know."

"It's good I'm graduating, then," Neil grins. "The kind of school you'd run scares me." He's joking, but in this state it confuses Charlie, and for the briefest of seconds he actually looks hurt. So Neil just laughs and snakes a hand through his hair — "Anyway, I'm glad you're out of prison now, Nuwanda. They'll probably still hire you. Everyone knows that you guys weren't acting on free will," he says lightly.

Just like with Nathan, he's not really talked about what led him to that jail cell, or the false memories he has of the crime. Charlie's eyes close when he feels fingers against his scalp — and he must be drunker than he thought, because he finds himself missing the mark a bit when he kisses Neil. "The play's coming along," he says suddenly when they break, and the look on his friend's face makes it all worth it.

There's a mania in his eyes, as dark as the rest of the quiet room. "You still haven't told me what it's about," Neil notes.

All Charlie does is smirk and close his eyes again, breathing deep the sweet alcohol and tobacco and soap and clean sheets. "Revolution of the mind," he answers simply, like that clears up every question in the world, and then he sleeps.

He's never heard of biting off more than he can chew. To Charlie, it doesn't matter, because he knows Neil will believe in him either way.