Merry Christmas, TSI!

The Space Between

By Denise (kdsch123)

"...Reborn and baptized in a moment of grace

We just need a break

From the headlong race…

This is a fine place

Shining face to face

Those bonfire lights in the mirrored sky

The space between wonder and why..."

From "Between Sun and Moon" - Rush

Peter Petrelli had wondered the first time he met Claire Bennett what a girl like that would be like to know, to hold in his arms. Briefly. He and Simone were still freshly whatever they were at the time, and Peter had dismissed it just as easily as Claire had waved goodbye in that high school hallway. But, now she was 18, and all the noble self talk he had kept himself down the past few months with sounded hollow. Things had changed a great deal since that first night in Odessa, he and Simone were long over, and Claire had been a part of his day to day life for months. It was this part of the day Peter hated most. Knowing she was there, on the other side of the door and untouchable. Being honorable sucked sometimes. Peter groaned and dropped his pillow on the couch.

"Night, Peter…" Claire's voice drifted from the bedroom doorway.

"Night, Claire." He heard the door close and sat down on the couch, wondering what the hell he could be thinking. Peter stretched out and folded his arms behind his head. Just got her driver's license three weeks before she'd arrived in New York. Claire was a kid. Tonight though, she just looked older, bossing his nephews around while they babysat for Nathan and Heidi, and she'd smiled at him, causing his intestines to tie into knots and other parts below his waist to suddenly take notice. Or, maybe not so suddenly. Peter sighed, ragged and deep and closed his eyes, trying to think about things not Claire. Nathan would kill him. Peter had seen that dark look of warning before from his brother, but the upside was as long as Claire was around, he'd recover fast from any beating Nathan tried to dish out.

"Peter?" Claire was in the living room doorway, tiny and vulnerable in pink pajamas, the top a bit too skimpy for Peter's comfort, but he guessed it was what girls wore nowadays to sleep.

"Can I talk to you a minute?" She walked over to the couch and sat down in the space he made for her, as far from him as she could.

"Yeah." Peter swallowed carefully around the lump in his throat. She smelled freshly showered and he wanted to bite her to see if she really tasted like the fruit smelling soap she used. This was not going well…

"Why don't you ever get too close to me? Micah will hug me, your nephews, too and no one else is afraid to be near me…." Claire asked, wanting to reach out and touch him, just as she would anyone, and then stopped. It wouldn't be like just touching anyone and she knew it. Peter had held himself away from her, but at the same time, made himself her guardian. Claire knew that Peter looked at her when he thought she wouldn't notice, and she knew that she spent a great deal of time wanting to push that hair out of his face, and that she wanted to kiss him more than anything. She waited for his answer, her heart fluttering in her chest like butterflies.

Because, when I'm near you I feel invincible, and I like it. But, he couldn't say that. Nathan would kill him. "Uh, well…we're together a lot. I just figure you need some space." When I'm close to you I feel like I can do anything and what I want to do most is kiss you, or to find out if your skin is as soft everywhere as it is on your face... It's a good thing she's not a telepath, like Matt, Peter thought to himself, closing his eyes again.

"Oh." She nodded. "I see." Her voice was soft in the dark, and made him think of things western, tumbleweeds and desert skies. "Well, it's just not normal. You're going to have to sit next to me sometime."

"I am now." Peter looked at her, and she grinned.

"You are." She squeaked, clapping her hands a little. "That's progress."

"Go to sleep." Peter said, and Claire nodded, resting her head on the pillow he'd brought out for himself.

"Peter?" Claire's voice was small. "Tonight, at Nathan's, I was looking at all the pictures they have up, you know in that hallway near the boys room?"

"Right, the pictures of Nathan and I when we were younger." Peter yawned. "What about them?"

"There were so many of Nathan, playing football and stuff. What were you like in high school?" She sat up, drawing her knees under her chin and wrapping her arms around her legs.

"I don't know." Peter answered and Claire giggled, stretching one leg to kick him lightly. She didn't seem to notice the jolt he got on the contact, but Peter sat up a little, moving slightly closer to her. "It was a long time ago. I'm not the same."

"It wasn't that long ago. You aren't SO much older than me, you know." She smiled. "Come on." Claire had moved too, and she was facing him on the couch, waiting to hear his answer.

"Quiet, I guess. I didn't play sports like Nathan did, and I wasn't as popular." Peter said, shrugging. "Cheerleaders didn't give me the time of day." Peter nodded, finished. His high school career in three sentences. Way to go, loser.

"But, you're cute!" Claire blurted, and then covered her mouth with a giggle. Peter blinked and she shook her head. "I'm sorry. I feel like I broke some rule, like talking in the library, or something, but you are cute. And, it doesn't cost anyone anything to tell you what time it is. That's just manners." She was teasing now, flirting a little, and Peter decided to go with it.

"Thanks." Peter reached over and gave her a gentle push. "That's one cheerleader. I'll have to go back and see if the ones from my graduating class will now. Maybe Hiro could help me out." His hand dropped to the couch, in the space between them, and Claire covered it with her own, fast, as if she knew Peter would pull it away. He just looked down at her hand on his, and then up at Claire again. "You should get some sleep."

"No, not yet." She smiled, shyly, and moved closer. "Tell me more."

"About high school?" Peter leaned back against the couch. "Nothing to tell."

"Did you go to your Prom?" Claire asked, wistfully. "Mine would have been tonight."

"Really?" Peter was surprised. "Why didn't you say anything?"

"Aw." Claire looked down, her hair blocking his view of her face. "I couldn't've gone anyway. After Jackie…."

"Wait." Peter went to the stereo, and turned it on. The music poured out, soft, an older ballad that Peter remembered being popular when he was a kid. New York, 1 am, the stereo on low was not unreasonable. It was insane. "Let's dance. Pretend it's your prom." Nathan's voice in Peter's head was drowned out by the music and Peter held out a hand to Claire. She smiled widely and stood, shaking her hair back from her face.

"Okay. Just one. This is as close to me as you've gotten since you saved me back in Texas. I don't want you to explode or anything." Claire settled into his arms easily, and Peter smiled at her, the scent of her shampoo making him feel slightly giddy.

"I won't." He put his arms around her, and for the life of him could no longer remember why he hadn't before. "See?" They started to dance, in the dark room, and Peter closed his eyes, trying to gain back some hope of self control. He tightened his grip on her, her hand in his, his arm around her waist, the thrill of her power flowing into him subsiding in the glory of having her this close. If it wasn't already dark, Peter was sure he'd have been blinded by it.

"Well, good." She giggled, and rested her head on his chest, letting Peter direct the dance. "Your heart is beating a mile a minute." She looked up at him, forehead creased slightly. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine." Peter opened his eyes, and brought his hands to her face. "I'm sorry about your Prom, Claire. You should have gone." He touched her cheek softly and she smiled. "You would have been beautiful."

"Aw. Thanks, Peter…" It was her turn to push him, and Peter caught her hand in his, pulling her close, and closing the distance between them, no more than an arms length, kissed her. It wasn't the kiss of an awkward high school boy who had been favored with a pity dance by a popular cheerleader, either. Those days were over. Claire gasped, and then yielded, wrapping her arms around him, her lips as urgent and demanding as his were.

She looked up at him, questioningly and for a minute, Peter hated himself. She'd never been kissed like this, touched like this…he moved away a little, feeling cold after being so warm with her in his arms. Too young, she trusts you too much.. Peter looked away, trying to make some sense of what he was doing, but was coming up way short.

"Don't." Claire said, grabbing at his shirt, sensing his retreat, seeing it in his dark eyes. "Don't come this far and leave me here. Peter, please, I want to be with you…"

"You are so young…so beautiful…don't you want to wait, for someone who'll deserve you?" Peter asked, looking down at her, and Claire smiled, understanding.

"Who could deserve me more than the man who saved my life? Who else could I wait for that could ever come close?" Claire replied, feeling older and wiser than the man who held her in his arms. "Peter." She shook her head. "Don't run away from me."

"I won't." He kissed her again, overwhelmed by the desire to be as close to her as possible. Their clothes were gone in a heartbeat, piles of discarded cotton blooming around them. Peter looked at her again, taking her in, overwhelmed, and sighed. Her eyes sparkled at him in the dark. "You're sure?" Her skin was indeed soft everywhere, softer than anything else Peter had ever held in his hands, still golden all over as if she'd only just left Texas.

Claire nodded slowly, afraid to hesitate at all. "I am." She shivered as his hand traced her hip. "More sure than I've been about anything." She didn't want to give him any more room to run away, either. There had been enough of that.

"Okay." Peter smiled, and led her to his room. Claire seemed to glow in the light that filtered through the blinds from the street lamp, a vision made of starlight. And she wanted him. He wanted to see her, but there was too much already, to feel her, smell her, oh god, to taste her that Peter could barely stand it now. He kissed her again, and then began to explore her with his mouth, down her neck, along her collarbone. He couldn't touch her enough, loving how she'd shiver or gasp when he'd find a sensitive spot, and then how she'd really moan when he'd go back to that place with his fingers or his mouth. Peter didn't have to remind himself to be gentle with her, either. It seemed to be the only way he could touch her at all.

"Oh…" Claire gasped, feeling Peter's mouth on her breasts. It was a thrilling sort of surprise and she giggled a little, running her hands through his dark hair. He looked up at her, and she sat on the bed, pulling Peter close to kiss him, the way he'd first kissed her, as if her life depended on it. They fell back onto the bed together, and Claire hated that she'd never done this before, that she was such a baby. It seemed unfair to Peter that all she had to go on was her mother's well meaning, vague explanations, middle school health class and the occasional R rated movie she'd sneaked into with her friends. "I'm sorry.."

"Claire, what? If you want to stop…" Peter said, immediately accommodating and Claire smiled.

"No, I'm sorry I don't know what to do…" Claire whispered, and Peter laughed, making tears sting her eyes. "I feel stupid."

"Don't be sorry and you are not stupid. Oh God, Claire, never be sorry for that..." Peter smiled, kissing her nose and lips and cheeks. "That's a good thing."

"Yeah?" She asked, unconvinced. "Really?"

"Really." Peter nodded. "Don't worry. This is a first for both of us. I'm nervous, too. Look." He held up a hand and Claire could see him trembling a little. "See?" He leaned forward and kissed her softly, taking her in his arms, giving her the space she needed, letting her find him when she was ready. It was the least I could do, since she'd waited for me this long, Peter thought to himself, loving the feel of her against him like this. After tonight, he'd never be apart from her again, that much Peter was sure of.

Claire relaxed in Peter's arms, kissing him, forgetting everything, every worry or fear she had. None of it mattered right now. It was just the two of them, in the dark and she wanted him close to her, as close as he could get and she rolled onto her back, pulling him on top of her. He didn't ask if she was sure, or if she was ready, but slowly, Peter lifted himself up, and kissed her from her neck to her belly button, and then back up to her mouth, letting her open her legs just enough to take his whole weight off her. There wasn't really any need to talk anymore, and they both knew it.

She opened her legs wider and Peter moved as carefully as he could, entering her slowly and Claire bit down on her lip, afraid to cry out. But, he didn't hurt her at all, and when she realized that, Claire reached up and kissed Peter, pulling him lower. What followed, as Peter began to move inside her, was the feeling Claire had been waiting for, being as close as possible to him, there was nothing separating them anymore. Not like all the songs, that talked about being complete, or being whole with someone, but something else, something more than that, Claire realized. Something very like an ache began to build in her, a slow and agonizing sweet ache that pushed tears from her eyes, forcing a ragged and surprised, "Oh, Peter!" from her lips as he kissed her again, needing that extra bit of connection with her. Peter lifted himself up a little, and Claire could see on his face that he was feeling what she had just minutes before, looking down at her in awe. Breathing hard, he smiled down at her and Claire reached up to touch his face, smiling back.

"Are you okay?" Peter asked, his heart beating so fast he could barely talk. Claire nodded and he withdrew, pulling her close and then the covers over them both. She cuddled up close and Peter could feel her breathing. There were so many things that he wanted to say to her, things that might sound odd to her now, but decided to wait. "Claire?"

"Yes, Peter?" She turned to face him, so beautiful that Peter could barely speak the two words he wanted get out.

"Why me?" The question had been on his mind from the minute she'd told him earlier. "Of everyone in the world, anyone who'd be richer, smarter, better…"

"Because when I'm with you, I feel special." Claire said softly, kissing his chin, his eyes. "When I'm close to you, I feel safe, and I like it. That's why. That's how I knew." With that, the space that existed between them was filled with something neither of them was ready to name, but there would be plenty of time for putting the labels on their relationship later. Claire kissed him softly and Peter hugged her close, drifting off to sleep, his face buried in her long, wheat gold hair. "Because I love you, Peter Petrelli." Claire whispered, sure that Peter was asleep. "And, I belong with you."