Elements of Truth

by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)

Author's Notes: Not betaed.

Okay, this story kind of tricked me. It is an NCIS story, but it's also way more of a Heroes story that I expected. The Heroes character who appears isn't just a cameo or a plot point. The story ends up being as much about him as it is about Tony. I didn't meant for it to go that way, it just kind of did. So, er, sorry! Hope you folks enjoy it anyway.

For folks who are familiar with Heroes canon, this story was thoroughly jossed by "Distractions" and "Run!" (the last two eps). I knew this going in (all Heroes fic is immediately jossed, due to the nature of the show), but I wanted to write it anyway, so I did. So, that's why this is an AU for Heroes. It takes place after "The Fix" and then just pretend that "Distractions" and "Run!" haven't happened.

Tony slid his key into the lock on his apartment door and turned it with a grateful sigh. Not that it had been a particularly long or hard day at work, but sometimes the hours just dragged by. Dinner, a hot shower, and a couple of hours with a favorite movie sounded just about perfect right now. Tony pushed the door open, stepped inside...

...and had his gun out and aimed before the backpack that had been slung over his shoulder hit the floor. "Who the hell are you?" Tony demanded of the man seated in one of his dining table chairs.

"My name is Nathan Petrelli," the stranger said, slowly unclasping his hands from where they were folded on top on one knee to show that he was unarmed. There was a small sports duffle sitting by one of his feet, but he made no move toward it withy any part of his body. "I have no intention of harming you in any way. I need your help."

Tony's instincts told him that the calm, clear statements were the absolute truth. Normally he would have weighed the fact that Petrelli had broken into Tony's home again his words and come up skeptical, but in the last six or seven months Tony's instincts had been scarily good and he found himself relaxing a little instead. Stepping further into the room, Tony slowly lowered his weapon and closed the apartment door without taking his eyes off of Petrelli.

The man didn't look like the typical breaking and entering type. He was dressed in a dark, pin striped suit that, to Tony's experienced eye, was obviously custom tailored and expensive. His dress shoes were polished to a shine, the shirt he wore under the suit jacket was pristine, and his red tie was perfectly knotted, the dark diagonal strips matching the suit to a tee.

Of course, there were plenty of thugs who dressed up, depending on their employers, but the confidence Tony could see in Petrelli was too understated for that. He was sitting calm and still, careful of Tony's unholstered weapon, but not afraid.

"What are you doing in my apartment?" Tony asked warily.

Petrelli's eyes flickered to Tony's still unholstered gun and back. "I'd be happy to answer that question," he said carefully, "but I think you'll have an easier time accepting the answer if you let me tell you something about yourself first."

That statement rang just as true as Petrelli's first three. Tony hesitated. In his experience, when total strangers wanted to tell you something about yourself, it was never a good thing. But Petrelli held his gaze calmly and steadily, and though there was a hardness in his eyes, there was also clarity and rationality.

Tony holstered his gun, pulled out one of the other dining table chairs and slowly sat down. "Okay," he said warily. "Talk."

Petrelli relaxed a little and leaned forward, his forearms braced on his knees, fingers laced together between them. "About six months ago," he began, intently, "you began to notice something different when you spoke to people. You could tell when they were being honest with you...and when they were lying. As time when on, you got better at it. You realized you knew the difference between a partial truth and a whole truth. You knew when someone only believed something was true and when it really was the truth."

Tony's mouth had gone dry, his palms damp. "I'm a trained investigator. I'm supposed to be a good judge of that sort of thing."

"Not this good," Nathan said, shaking his head once. "Not right every single time. Not even the best interrogator has a 100% success rate."

For a moment, Tony didn't want to ask the obvious question. Sure, he'd been curious about the sudden sharpness of his instincts, but they'd served him well, and he'd chosen not to look a gift horse in the mouth. He was doing good, closing cases faster and with more confidence, now that he had an inside track on the truth.

It seemed he'd finally found the downside. Tony couldn't not know what was true and what wasn't anymore. Not even when it came to himself.

He forced himself to voice the question. "How am I doing it, then?"

"Certain members of the population have..." Nathan paused and shook his head. "I was given a very long and complicated technical--yet somehow full of metaphors--explanation to deliver, but it boils down to this: some people are more genetically advanced than others. Six months ago some of us started to manifest abilities that had been dormant. Yours is a little more subtle than most, but it is a part of the same..." Nathan grimaced before voicing the words, "evolutionary event."

This was not what Tony had been expecting. Still, he knew every word was true. But true didn't mean clear. "Abilities?" he asked. "Like what?"

"Like seeing the future," Petrelli said calmly. Suddenly he smiled just a little, a flash of warmth there and gone again. "Like manipulating time and space. Like...flying."

Tony's eyebrows flew up and he sat back in his chair. "Now I know you're pulling my chain. None of that is possible."

Petrelli's gaze grew sharp. "Does it really seem to you like what I'm telling you isn't the truth?"

It didn't. But it couldn't be true, which meant Tony's new instincts had finally screwed up. He couldn't decide if that was comforting or not. "You can't be telling the truth," was all he said aloud. "No matter what my instincts say. None of those things are possible."

Sitting up straight, Petrelli studied Tony for a long time before pursing his lips thoughtfully and shaking his head. "I really didn't want to do this," he muttered. Tony reached for his gun.

Petrelli caught sight of the motion and raised his hands. "Hey, I'm not going to hurt you, you know that."

"I'm not inclined to blindly trust my instincts just now," Tony shot back, but though he left his hand on the butt of his gun, he didn't draw it.

"You'll know you can trust them if you'll let me give you a little practical demonstation," Petrelli coaxed, still holding his hands up.

Tony's eyes narrowed. "Demonstration of what?"

"Something impossible." At Tony's expression, Petrelli quickly added, "Human flight. May I stand up?" He nodded at the gun Tony hadn't quite drawn.

"Slowly," Tony allowed. "And not one step forward."

Petrelli nodded and rose to his feet, lowering his hands at the same time. After a moment, Tony nodded sharply. Petrelli jumped, just a little, and...didn't come down.

Tony stared, his hand unconsciously falling away from his weapon. Slowly he rose out of his own chair and walked around Petrelli in a slow circle. He crouched down and passed his hand under the man's feet. When he came back around to face Petrelli, Tony looked up at him and knew his wonder and disbelief had to be showing on his face. "How are you doing that?" he asked softly.

Petrelli sank down through the air to stand firm on the floor again and Tony realized with surprise that he was several inches shorter than Tony himself. "The same way you know whether or not someone is lying," Petrelli said. "I don't understand the mechanics or the genetics or the physics or whatever the hell goes into it. I just know that I can."

Sitting back down, Tony rubbed his hands over his face and tried to absorb the idea that...that superpowers apparently existed and that his newfound skill at interrogation apparently counted. "I could have done without knowing any of this, you know," he said, a little wryly.

"Believe me, I know exactly how you feel," Petrelli said, and Tony blinked at the intensity of his words and the complete honesty behind them. "But an acquaintance of mine has gone missing in uncertain circumtances and you're our best chance to find him."

Tony frowned. "That's not entirely the truth," he said flatly.

Petrelli blinked, clearly startled. "But it is," he said defensively. "Well," Petrelli paused, "he didn't go missing by himself. Hiro Nakamura and Ando Masahashi were supposed to take a painting to a Las Vegas businessman named Linderman. Linderman and I have business between us, so I gave him a heads up that Hiro and Ando would be contacting him. He called me two days later to tell me that they hadn't been in touch with any of his people and to find out what the hell was going on." Petrelli grimaced. "He wasn't pleased at having his chain jerked, as he said."

"You're leaving out a lot of details."

"I didn't figure you'd want me here all night," Nathan said dryly.

Tony snorted. "Well, details or not, that's all basically true. But your first explanation wasn't." Tony compared the statements Petrelli has made. "You said 'an acquaintance' had gone missing."

"Hiro," Petrelli said immediately. He sat down again. "I've only met him twice. I didn't think that was enough to count him as a friend."

Tony shrugged. "I don't know who or what decides what counts as the 'truth' when I'm teasing out the difference between what people believe and what's real, but that's the way this...ability I have sees it."

"Hmmm." Petrelli stared off into space for a moment, then shook himself and refocused on Tony, taking on an intense edge again. "So, will you help?"

"You haven't asked me to yet," Tony pointed out. "Or even told me how."

"Ah, right." Petrelli looked irritated for a moment, but whether at himself or at Tony, Tony couldn't tell. "We found out that Hiro and Ando had been forced into a van and driven away somewhere. We found one of the guys who took him and we want you to interrogate him. Please don't ask me how we learned any of that because the last thing I want to do right now is to have to say something else that sounds completely ridiculous."

"If you wanted my help," Tony snapped, "you ought to have been prepared to tell me everything."

Petrelli looked pained. "I can't believe I'm about to say this."

"Suck it up and spit it out, or I'm not going anywhere," Tony insisted.

A deep sigh. "My brother's girlfriend's ex-boyfriend can paint the future," Petrelli spoke as if the words were being dragged out of him. "He painted Hiro and Ando in the van about a day after they left, but they didn't know the context then. When they didn't show in Vegas, my brother and his...friends tracked down one of the other guys in the painting."

Suddenly that pained look made sense. Tony had the feeling he was echoing it now, because everything he felt told him that Petrelli was telling him the absolute truth. "Why me?" he asked plaintively.

Petrelli sighed tiredly. "Because according to Isaac--the painter--you can help. Presumably by giving us reliable information."

"Actually, that was more of a rhetorical 'why me'," Tony said wryly.

Petrelli waved one hand. "Sorry."

Tony waved back. "No problem." He stood and rolled his head, trying to loosen some of the tension in his shoulders. "God, I need a drink." He headed for the kitchen.

"Got enough for two?" Petrelli called after him.

Halfway across the living room, Tony paused and looked back at Petrelli for a long moment. "Yeah, okay," he said at last. "Come on."

Petrelli rose and followed Tony into the kitchen, leaving the gym bag he had yet to even glance at behind. Tony retrieved a pair of beers from the fridge and handed one to Petrelli where he leaned against the counter. "So when do you need me to do this interrogation?"

"Tonight, if possible," Petrelli said, and took a long pull from his beer.

Tony's eyebrows rose and he paused in the act of raising his own bottle. "I might get to New York before the night is out, but I'm not sure I'd trust an interrogation conducted in the early hours of the morning after a four or five hour drive and no sleep, and I sure as hell couldn't get back here in time for work tomorrow."

"The time crunch is why...part of why my brother asked me to retrieve you personally," Petrelli said. "I should be able to get you to New York in half an hour. Possibly less."

Tony blinked and lowered his beer without sipping it again. "But it's more than two hundred miles from here to New York."

"Just about two hundred, as the crow flies, but I wasn't planning on sticking to the speed limit," Petrelli said calmly, and took another sip from his beer.

"Jesus." Tony finally got to his beer and knocked back half of it in one go. "Jesus. How fast can you fly?"

Petrelli shrugged, a slightly discomfited look passing over his face. "I don't really know. I broke the sound barrier once."

Tony stopped himself from saying Jesus again and tried to focus on practicalities instead of on the thought of an unassisted man travelling faster than the speed of sound. He checked his watch. It wasn't even eight o'clock yet. Assuming he could get the presumed kidnapper to talk at all, it was entirely possible that he could be home before midnight. Maybe by ten p.m., if the guy crumbled fast.

He wouldn't even have to explain where he'd been to Gibbs.

"Something wrong?" The expression on Petrelli's face wasn't exactly concerned. More like wary...and a little bit calculating.

"Just thinking about my boss," Tony said shortly.

"We'll be back before he can miss you," Petrelli assured him. "You won't even look overtired at work tomorrow."

"That's what I was thinking."

Petrelli cocked his head. "You don't like lying to him. And these days you're a lot more sensitive to what counts as a lie and what counts as the truth." Tony shrugged uncomfortably, but he couldn't ignore the knowledge that Petrelli was telling the truth, and not just as he saw it. "But you can't be honest with him, either," Petrelli went on, his tone probing, almost experimental, "because he'd never believe you and you don't want to lose his confidence."

That...wasn't entirely true. Tony raised his hand to stop Petrelli when he started to go on. "Wait," he said. "That wasn't quite true. Break that last part down for me."

Petrelli raised his eyebrows, but complied. "You can't be honest with him." He paused and Tony frowned, concentrating. True, but...shaky. As if that truth could change. Tony motioned for Petrelli to go on. "He'd never believe you."

Tony let out a long breath. There was the untruth. But could Gibbs ever believe him?

"Maybe he would if you demonstrated it to him a few times." Tony glanced at Petrelli, who raised the hand not holding his beer. "I'm not a mind reader," he said. "It was just obvious from your expression."

Tony nodded absently, sensing the truth. "I'm not sure I want to tell him," he said out loud, slowly.

His ability worked just as well on his own words as on anyone else's, after all.

"Why not?" Petrelli's voice was neutral, as if he knew realized he was just facilitating Tony's own thought processes.

"This ability...it's not exactly normal," Tony mused aloud. "It's outside of the range of normal experience. And Gibbs tends to be wary of things he doesn't understand." Technology was the best example, but not the only one. "I don't want him to stop trusting me."

"You're assuming this is something he wouldn't understand," Petrelli commented.

Tony laughed, a touch hysterically. "How could he understand it?"

"Some people seem to be able to take these new abilities on faith," Petrelli said, his voice slowing thoughtfully with every word. "They don't need to be able to understand what they can do because it's tangible and demonstrable. They just accept them the same way they accept being able to run fast or having a good singing voice." He suddenly smiled, a fleeting expression. "Hiro is like that. I was still trying to ignore the fact that I can fly and he sits down next to me and cheerfully announces that he bends space and time." Petrelli shrugged. "Maybe as long as you show Gibbs that it's real and it works, it won't be a problem."

Tony wasn't so sure, but his sense told him that Petrelli was speaking the truth, that the possibility at least existed. Tony blinked. "Tell me Gibbs will accept it," he suddendly demanded of Petrelli.

Petrelli raised an eyebrow, but complied.

Frowning, Tony tried to tease the layers of truth out of the statement. It seemed kind of...fuzzy, or undefined. "Damn," he muttered. "I think there must be too many conditions for that to register as absolutely true or false."

"Good," Petrelli said sardonically.

Tony scowled. "Why good?"

"Wouldn't it bother you if you could learn the meaning of life just by playing twenty questions with someone?" Petrelli asked. "I'm couldn't stand the idea that everything in life is pinned down that firmly. If our actions have no effect on the world, then what are we even doing here?"

Thoughtfully, Tony took a sip from his almost forgotten beer. If he hadn't agreed with that at least a little bit, he'd never have become a cop.

"So, will you come help or not?" Petrelli asked, setting his empty beer bottle on the counter with a click.

When it came right down to it, not going with Petrelli wouldn't mean he was being any more honest with Gibbs. He'd have the ability regardless of how he used it. At least Petrelli had given him something more concrete to tell Gibbs. "Yeah," Tony said at last. He finished his own drink and set it down next to Petrelli's. "I'll help."

Petrelli let out a very discreet breath. "Come on," he said, stepping out of the kitchen. "Taking off from the roof will be easiest."

"And how are you going to hang onto me for an hour?" Tony asked warily, following him. "I'm not exactly a lightweight."

"I don't." Petrelli leaned down and picked up the small sports bag which he'd left in the living room earlier. He raised it briefly in illustration. "Tandem sky diving harness."

Well, at least he'd thought about this. "And what happens if I start getting windburn or something? Even if you're built for travelling at hundreds of miles an hour through the sky, I'm not."

Nathan looked thoughtful. "Wrap yourself in a blanket and yell if it hurts?"

Or not.