Author: Earwax PM
The best moments are the small ones. Nathan and Peter through the years.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Words: 4,079 - Reviews: 15 - Favs: 22 - Follows: 3 - Published: 02-09-07 - Status: Complete - id: 3384841
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Author's Notes: For my own purposes I made Nathan's kids younger than they appeared to be in "Nothing to Hide." Most of this will probably contradicted later on in the series.
(A Heroes Fic)
Nathan was eight years old when Peter came home from the hospital. Nathan's first memories of Peter were happy ones. His brother had been a cute baby, and not as demanding as Nathan first feared. Their mother found Peter's crooked smile charming while their father was bitterly disappointed that no amount of money could straighten it out.
Even at the beginning Peter wasn't good enough for dear, old Dad.
Nathan was their father's favorite son. He never asked to be loved more than Peter, and at times resented it. Not because he detested the honor, but because Peter knew he was loved less and that troubled the younger Petrelli. Nathan was the good son. He knew what was expected of him and fulfilled the role in full. Peter wasn't like Nathan. He couldn't conform to their father's desires. Peter was the second son and shared none of the responsibility of the first. Nathan was heir to the Petrelli line. From an early age he knew the importance of such a title. Nathan was his father's son whereas Peter had no father; at best he was a mama's boy, which amounted to nothing in Dad's eyes. Dad cared for Peter, but the truth of the matter was he only needed one son. Father became the role Nathan played because Dad didn't have the time.
It was Nathan who went to every one of Peter's Little League games and bought him ice cream even if his team lost. It was Nathan who watched E.T. twenty times over a two week period because Peter was obsessed with goofy aliens and flying bicycles. It was Nathan who sacrificed his Friday nights to hang out with Peter whenever his parents were busy. It was Nathan who followed Peter around their home for years because the mansion had too many unsafe spots that his brother delighted in exploring instead of watching Sesame Street like a normal toddler.
"Now, Petey," Nathan lectured in his most patient tone, "where aren't you supposed to go?"
Peter's four year old face scrunched up in thought. "Your room?" he answered slowly.
His little brother paused, struggling to find the right word. "The box!" he finally squealed, looking very pleased with himself.
"The dumbwaiter in the kitchen," Nathan corrected.
"Because I said so. Okay?"
"Okay," Peter answered. He always listened to whatever Nathan told him. For a few hours, at least. "Wanna color?"
No, Nathan wanted to play basketball with his friends, but he was stuck here with his clingy brother while Mom went out with her friends. He wished his father would hire a babysitter, or a nanny who spoke passable English. Nathan sighed, and thought of the increase in his allowance Mom would give him for this.
His brother beamed and ran off to get his crayons. Slowly, Nathan followed after him.
"Peter," he called, "careful on the stairs!"
Being a good big brother was worse than being married.
In addition to being Peter's de facto guardian, Nathan also held the honor of keeping his childhood secrets, trivial as they always were. Nathan remembered one incident that occurred when Peter was about nine. He came home late from school clearly upset and refusing to say a word about it. His mother had told Nathan to talk to Peter. His father was working – Linderman kept him on a short leash, and she never knew what to say. Nathan could usually cheer his brother up. It was his job to make sure Peter was happy. No one else in the household could be bothered.
"Hey, Petey, you okay?"
"I don't want to talk about it."
Peter always said that when he wanted to talk about something.
"Are you sure?" Nathan asked, trying to suppress an eye roll.
"You can't tell Daddy. He'll be mad."
"Alright, I won't."
"I got a detention."
"Again?" Nathan wasn't surprised. Detentions were a frequent occurrence for Peter, who was quickly turning into the problem child of the family.
"I fell asleep."
Also unsurprising. Many of Peter's detentions were due to his inability to say awake in class. Nathan sympathized; school was no fun when you were a kid.
"She wouldn't have noticed if I hadn't fallen out of my chair – what's so funny?"
"Nothing," said Nathan, who was now grinning despite his brother's glare. "It's just, how did you fall out of your chair?"
"I don't know, I was asleep."
"Don't laugh; everyone was laughing at me when it happened, even the nurse."
"Why was the nurse there?"
"She wasn't. I saw her about my arm. I landed on it, see?" Peter pulled up his sleeve to reveal a dark, ugly bruise that circled around his elbow.
Nathan whistled. "That's some war wound, Pete."
"It's not funny," Peter said reproachfully. "It hurts."
Nathan poked the bruise gently with his index finger.
"Ouch!" exclaimed Peter, swatting his brother's hand away. "Don't touch it!"
"You should put some ice on that."
"What if Mom sees?"
"Just tell her you fell down at the playground."
"I don't want to lie to her."
Peter never wanted to lie to anyone. Where that honest streak came from in a family full of lawyers Nathan couldn't say.
"Peter, it's not that hard."
His brother just shook his head.
"Fine – how about I get the ice?" Nathan could easily make the proper excuses if he needed to.
"And a fudgicle?" Peter asked hopefully. He was such a little kid.
"Sure, why not?"
Peter had been so young then. Everything had been so much simpler when covering his brother's screw-ups was the only thing of consequence Nathan had deal with.
At twenty-two Nathan decided to go to Bosnia. Neither parent supported his decision. Going to war meant putting Colombia U. on hold, and the marginal possibility of death, but that was second to putting law school on hold. Peter tried to talk Nathan out of enlisting, but Nathan was just as stubborn as Peter and would not be persuaded into staying for the good of his career or the comfort of his family.
"C'mon, Petey, it's just Bosnia. If I can survive New York I can survive the Middle East."
Peter was fourteen and failed to see the humor in anything his older brother tried to joke about. Peter was growing into quite the melancholy little teenager. Nathan was very careful to monitor his brother to make sure his teen angst levels didn't rise above the normal melodrama. He hoped their mother would continue to do the same in Nathan's absence, but he was concerned she wasn't nearly focused enough for the task.
Nathan flashed Peter his best grin. "I might even come back with a couple of nifty scars."
"That's not funny," his younger brother admonished, "you could really get hurt."
"I'm not going to get hurt."
"What if you do? What if you don't come back?"
Nathan would have enjoyed Peter's newfound morbidity if it wasn't being directed towards him and his untimely death.
"I'm not going to die, man."
"You don't have to go. Why would you even want to?"
Many reasons, all of which he couldn't tell his kid brother. There was Dad's recent heart attack that wasn't really a heart attack, and the possibility of a genetic link between their father's depression and themselves. At any moment Peter and Nathan could be stricken with such a disease. Nathan was confident he could handle it, but Peter definitely couldn't. Just the very knowledge of Dad's condition would devastate his sensitive brother. As long as the depression did not manifest inside Peter he would never need to know the truth about Dad's "weak heart." Nathan wouldn't breathe a word of it to him, neither would Mom and Dad. It was better for Peter if he didn't know just how deep their family's problems ran.
There was also the delicate situation with Linderman. Dad was too involved with him, and, by extension, so was Nathan. When - it was never a question of if; his fate had been decided long before he was born - Nathan went into law he would be expected to serve Linderman alongside his father. The mobster would own them both. The Petrelli name would still be tainted.
But, more than anything, there was Meredith. The two had dated for a couple of weeks over three years ago. They were each others' distractions, a break from loneliness, and destiny. She'd gotten pregnant. She refused to have an abortion and Nathan couldn't be a father. He didn't have the time. A baby wasn't part of the plan. Meredith didn't care about the plan. She couldn't see the big picture – how both their lives would change. The girl lived in a trailer for God's sake, how could she have a kid? She didn't have the money to support a goldfish.
In the end the baby was a girl with blue eyes and sunny curls. She looked like Meredith. Her name was Claire. Nathan had only seen the child a handful of times. She was bright, beautiful, energetic. He couldn't afford to get attached. He sent them a check every two weeks. It was enough.
A year and half later Claire was dead. The trailer burned down, only Meredith escaped. Nathan paid for the funeral. They buried an empty box. The body was fully incinerated in the blaze. Meredith was inconsolable. She blamed herself, a perfectly normal reaction, Nathan assured her over and over again wasn't true. She called him an asshole and a few other choice words he wasn't sure he knew the meanings to. She still had his number. They'd spoken a few times. Neither had anything left to say.
Nathan hadn't told his family about any of this. They were his shame, the dirty little secret he wasn't allowed to have. Nathan hid the pregnancy, and the birth, but he wasn't able hide the death. Nathan was a born liar, but even he couldn't be so cold. His parents knew something was wrong, but when they asked Nathan showed his teeth and choked out that he was fine. The answer was acceptable to the elder Petrellis, but not to Peter.
"Are you okay, Nathan? You look kind of out of it."
Peter had been asking that same question in all its forms for days now. He was persistent, and had not yet learned that everyone was entitled to their secrets.
"Nonsense, man, I've never felt better."
"Then how come your eye's twitching?"
And Peter knew. His brother may not have understood the reason for Nathan's unease, but his eyes – those damn eyes saw everything. Peter was searching him, probing through every layer of Nathan's façade trying to find something, anything, to give him a hint to what was bothering his older brother. Peter wanted to fix him. Nathan couldn't allow that. Peter shouldn't be able to gaze at Nathan and see his very soul. He shouldn't be able to identify Nathan's brooding as actual grief. His pain was something Peter couldn't witness, yet in that instant he saw something in his older brother so unlike him he wasn't sure what to make of it. Nathan thought he knew how to hide better than that.
Bosnia was his last chance to be free of his family. To be free however briefly from the secrets, the guilt, and the damn responsibility that threatened to overwhelm him. Nathan Petrelli loved what remained of his family, and Peter most of all, but the pressure was going to make him snap. He couldn't abandon them, but he couldn't stay with them either. Bosnia was the perfect solution.
Patriotic duty to his country was an afterthought.
"It's something I have to do, Pete. Look, if it makes you feel better, I promise I'll come back."
"You can't be sure of that."
Sometimes he wondered if Peter knew him at all. Nathan clasped his brother's shoulder. "Of course I can." Nathan wasn't the dying kind.
When Nathan was twenty-five he returned to the States fully prepared to resume his life from where he left off. He was older now, more patient. Meredith was a memory, Claire was a dream. His past was still hidden and his future still certain. Life was full of sacrifice. Nathan had coped with that in Bosnia. His family came before his desire for freedom, his desire for truth, or the whisper of absolution that wouldn't leave his head. He was through running.
They greeted him at the airport. With flowers - definitely Peter's idea. His brother's sense of fun had grown to be more warped than Nathan's. Dad admired his oldest proudly while Mom was dangerously close to crying into the roses. Peter tackled him to the floor, embracing his brother like he hadn't seen him in years; which was close enough to the truth. Behind them, Dad frowned at such an open display of affection.
"God, I missed you," said Peter, pure emotion shining from his every word. "How was your flight?"
"Terrible, I couldn't sleep and the food tasted like burnt rubber, but, hey, I've got something to show you."
"What? More medals?"
"Even better." Eyebrows raised, and practically daring an outburst, Nathan stepped away from his family and pulled up his shirt.
"Nathan!" his mother exclaimed. Her oldest was showing entirely too much skin for the JFK.
"See, Pete, no extra holes, the bullets just bounced off me."
If possible Peter's exuberant smile grew wider. Nathan would never admit to anyone how much he missed the particular quirk of his brother's mouth. "So you're Superman now?"
Nathan winked and whispered conspiringly in Peter's ear, "I've always been Superman, just don't tell anyone."
Peter breathed something about his ego being bigger than the entire state, and Nathan knew his brother was going to be okay.
At twenty-nine Nathan hated to go home. Peter was in college and had just refused for the third time to change his major from English to Pre-law. Peter had always loved fantasy, so of course he'd chosen a major that required him to read books all the time. Dad wanted another lawyer. To have a writer for a son would be a potential embarrassment to the family and Dad never paid more attention to Peter than when he was threatening to humiliate the Petrelli name. Nathan was a lawyer, he'd been one for nearly a year and he was damn good at his job. Still, two lawyer sons were better than one. Peter didn't want to be a lawyer. It was just as well, dreamers made poor attorneys.
Mom insisted on dinner. Even though the Petrellis were living separate lives they could sit down and have a nice meal together once in a while. Yeah, Nathan thought cynically, if we weren't so dysfunctional. And Heidi wondered why he hadn't introduced her to his family. He didn't want to scare her away.
Nathan was just about to enter the estate when Peter came running out, almost barreling into him.
"Hey, man, where are you going?"
"I can't be here right now." His brother's eyes were red and his face was flushed. Nathan knew Dad had said something to him, something terrible.
"I'll go with you," Nathan offered. Mom could deal with Dad. It was his responsibility to make sure Peter was okay.
The brothers ended up splitting a pizza. Peter refused to tell him the details of what he and Dad had clashed about but, after some coxing, Peter quietly admitted, "I said some stuff I shouldn't have, brought up Linderman. Dad said he wished I was never born."
Nathan could picture their father saying that if he was riled enough. He already had the perfect son. One was all he ever really needed. Another son left room for error, especially one as emotional as Peter. This was why Dad could never love Peter like he loved Nathan: Peter had always been weak. Weakness was intolerable to a man in Dad's position and a poor quality in a son. Nathan was a shark. Peter was a guppy. That's just the way it was. Unlike Dad, Nathan couldn't begrudge Peter for his failings. Nathan had enough strength for the both of them.
"He didn't mean it," said Nathan, lying through his teeth. "He just says stuff when he's angry. He didn't mean it."
Peter didn't believe him, not for a second, but he thanked Nathan for trying.
Shortly after that Peter dropped out of Pace. He wanted to "find himself" or some such nonsense. If Nathan hadn't known Peter as well as he did he'd have thought his brother had done it just to spite their father. Peter didn't have a malicious bone in his body. He was just a scatterbrained baby. Dad thought Peter was an idiot and the biggest disgrace to the Petrelli clan in the last century; this included their Great-Uncle Arthur who was notoriously convicted of sodomy back in 1912. Peter really messed up this time. For years he and Dad rarely spoke, and when they did their conversations usually ending in vicious arguments Nathan and Mom had to end.
The tension made things rather awkward at the wedding. Peter was Nathan's best man. Dad hadn't wanted Peter there, let alone next to Nathan during the ceremony. This was how Nathan was different from his father. Where Peter was not his father's son he was still his brother's brother. Nathan could never cut Peter out of his life. Sure Peter didn't turn out the way they all wanted, but he was still family.
Peter and Dad didn't speak one word to each other during the reception, though they seemed to have an unspoken agreement to constantly rotate around the dining room so that they could both converse with Nathan and Heidi without ever interacting with each other. Heidi thought their behavior strange, but Nathan had warned her what she'd be marrying into. The Petrellis were a psychiatrist's dream job. If they ever did get therapy the bills could support any one shrink for years.
Nathan was thirty. Peter was twenty-two. He should have been attending graduate school, but instead he was waiting tables at some Italian restaurant whose name Nathan couldn't recall. His brother was a Petrelli and above such menial tasks, but Peter said he liked the work. Never mind what Peter made in a week was what Nathan and Dad made in an hour. Peter claimed money wasn't important to him, which was just absurd. Money was important to everyone.
Nathan was still thirty when Simon was born. Nearly ten years after Meredith and Claire. Nathan tried not to think about them. This was a new beginning, a fresh start. Nathan was a father again, but now he was a father in deed as well as in word. He would love his new child with an intensity he never allowed himself to feel for Claire. Heidi wasn't Meredith and their child wasn't an accident. This child was wanted and Nathan was allowed to love him.
When Heidi went into labor Nathan was more terrified than she was. He stood in stark contrast to Peter, who was the calmest of the three. He was the one who drove Heidi to the hospital, ordering Nathan to stay in the backseat with her. That was his kid brother, always trying to help out in his own annoyingly assertive way.
"Heidi, don't be nervous. Remember: in and out, in and out."
"Peter, just shut up and drive the car," snapped Nathan, who'd had more than enough of his brother's (completely unsound) medical advice. "Can't you see she's in pain?"
"I'm driving as fast as I can."
"To do that I'd have to go up onto the sidewalk and risk running over pedestrians. That's illegal, right, Nate?"
"Smartass," Nathan mumbled; he knew he shouldn't have trusted Peter to handle the damn car. He clearly had no idea how to deal with traffic.
"Guys," interjected Heidi.
"What?" they responded together.
"Cram it, or I'm getting out and calling a taxi."
Simon came seven hours later. Mom and Dad were thrilled to hear they had a grandson. Heidi was fine; there were no complications for either her or the baby. Nathan's parents were in Vegas during the birth. Dad had important business with Linderman. Linderman: the name was a specter above his head, but Nathan vowed not to let the mobster ruin this day. Nathan had a son - a son with a wonderful woman he loved. He was starting a family of his own. He had a chance to do it right this time, a chance to make up for past mistakes. This was one of the best days of his life. Linderman's ghost couldn't change that.
"You should name the little guy after me."
Nathan glanced at his son lying in the nursery than to Peter. His brother was only half-joking.
"I think one Peter Petrelli is enough for this family," Nathan stated firmly.
"What's wrong with Peter Petrelli?"
"Nothing. It just sounds too much like Peter Peter. I don't want the other kids to call him Pumpkin Eater."
"What? I've never been called Pumpkin Eater."
"Maybe not to your face."
Peter rolled his eyes and Nathan laughed. They decided to leave the naming up to Heidi when she woke up.
Nathan was just shy of thirty-two when Peter announced he wanted to be a nurse. Why not a doctor? Nathan had wondered. Peter couldn't afford med-school, but he could pay his own way through nursing. Peter didn't want Dad's money, which was just fine because at this point Dad wouldn't have given Peter a dollar to keep himself from starving. Nathan didn't approve of his brother's choice, neither did Dad. Both felt Peter was capable of a less effeminate profession.
Nathan worried that this particular failure was the final straw, that Dad would disown Peter completely. Then, tragically but oh-so-conveniently, Dad had another heart attack and he and Peter reconciled to the point where they could converse without screaming. The friction was still there, but it had lessened to a certain degree. They were quite civil, almost pleasant, during Monty's birth, but the pact didn't last. Peter was too much of a disappointment. A nurse! What kind of a job was that?
Peter was twenty-six when he finally finished school. Dad couldn't even show up for his graduation party, not that his presence mattered. Peter was happy and proud of himself without their father's approval. In any case, Nathan was there in Dad's place to act as the voice of reason to his little brother. Looking back, that party was the last time the two brothers were truly happy in each others' company. After that it all went straight to Hell. Heidi's accident and Dad's final heart attack were just the beginning and, without a doubt, the following six months were the worse of Nathan's life.
Peter had whined about destiny, the comic book version of evolution, and a future that was just flat-out impossible. They were all connected, and everything happened for a reason. For the first time in his life Nathan couldn't call Peter a dreamer.