"Lonely Hearts and Valentines"

by Viv

Title: "Lonely Hearts and Valentines"
Rating: PG-13
Characters: Peter & Claire (friendship only, relax guys)
Summary: Claire visits New York to meet Nathan. Pure, (hopefully) entertaining fluff.
Spoilers: Spoilers up to 1.14 Distractions.
Disclaimer: Nothing is mine, just borrowing. All NBC's and Tim Kring's. Please don't sue!
Author's Notes: Futurefic, takes place after the exploding man has been stopped. Peter's in between missions and has time to relax, m'kay? This story focuses on Peter and Claire's friendship, with some interaction with Nathan. Trying to test out the Petrelli family and how well they'll get along.

This is not a sequel to "My Cheerleader, My World." I'm busily writing that at the moment, but with the dramatic reveals of Claire's bio-dad, I just had to get this out of my system.

Feedback is love.

Part 1: "Connections in New York"

Claire Bennet's life had taken a decidedly weird turn.

Instead of spending her Valentines Day being inundated with the usual array of fluffy teddy bears, chocolate hearts and flowers from the corner store (that's about the limit a teenage boy's mind and wallet will stretch on an allowance), she would be spending it in the most glamorous city in America – New York.

She had dreamed that her real parents – bio-parents rather, she wouldn't want anyone to think that she still didn't love her real family, the ones who had actually raised her (her mom and brother at least) – would be super rich, living in a penthouse in New York City. Maybe have a rich uncle or two to shower her with gifts and attention.

What could she say? Sometimes wishes did come true, in a way stranger than anything she could ever have imagined.

She had travelled to New York to meet her bio-dad; Meredith Gordon had given her the address without actually being at liberty to divulge much else besides his name. Nathan.

He would be expecting her, she had said, on the first of the month. When she had arrived at JFK, she had gotten a taxi straight to the said address, not knowing whether it would lead her down a path she would rather not find herself on.

What if he turned out to be a horrible person? He may have been rich enough to afford a house in one of the most exclusive areas in New York, but was it going to be enough? Would his wealth make up for almost 17 years of neglect? Meredith believed that he had genuinely thought her dead, but the same insistent thought nagged at the back of Claire's mind – if things had been different, if the fire had never happened, would she still have been meeting him for the first time now? Meredith had rather hesitantly explained that Nathan had a wife and two sons now, both much younger than her. He had agreed to meet Claire on the proviso that neither she nor Meredith speak to any of the papers in New York.

Claire couldn't have cared less about that. All she had ever wanted was to meet her real parents. The second half of that journey was now coming true, and she was terrified. But she sucked in her fear and breathed through it; she had come too far to not see this thing through.

The cab took her through impressive wrought iron gates, passing through lusciously tended gardens. This was a dream come true, because as much as she had hoped, wished, dreamed that her bio-dad was a wealthy businessman from New York, the reality far outstripped the truth.

The kindly driver helped her unload her bags. Claire's hands were shaking so much from the anticipation she could never be sure afterwards just how much she ended up paying him. She ached yet dreaded the moment of truth before her; the moment when she finally met her biological father would only be a few minutes away.

Her breath was becoming more ragged, as if she had just finished a race. Her heart pounded, vibrations from it pouring through her ears. Her hands perspired as she glanced at the imposing entrance, the entrance to the rest of her life.

She had to get a grip. Meeting Meredith had not induced the same waves of anxiety as those assaulting her now. She somehow thought – felt, rather – that his meeting would end up being more significant. Somehow, in every sinew of her body, even in her very bones, she got this insistent feeling that a new chapter of her life was going to open shortly in front of her eyes.

Claire breathed deeply, she would get through this. She had died many times before, but none of them had been as scary as this. This she was genuinely afraid of.

She pressed the door bell and waited with bated breath. She heard footsteps quickly approach, feeling somehow that her destiny was coming nearer with every step. They were light and unhurried; it was clear that they belonged to someone who knew their way around her remarkable surrounds. The door opened and she gasped in shock.

Peter Petrelli stared at her, mouth gaping in astonishment. "Claire?" He said incredulously, looking at her like she was a figment of his wildly deluded imagination.

The patio on which she had been invited was cool without being uncomfortably so. The winter was now winding down, and the first hints of spring was apparent in the air about her. Claire could smell the faint aroma of readily blooming roses; the sweetness of the scent calmed her frayed nerves.

The entire table was silent. Claire shifted slightly, feeling more than a little uncomfortable at all the staring that was being directed at her by four sets of very dark eyes. It was hard to believe that Claire was actually related to all of them – well, with the exception of Nathan's wife Heidi, who she wasn't actually related to but seemed actually quite nice though a little taken aback by Claire's, for lack of a better word, blondness.

Nathan was scowling, somehow managing to look shrewd yet friendly at the same time. He reminded Claire of a shark with a really good dentist. This was her bio-dad, the one who she had come all this way to see.

Nathan's mom – her grandmother actually, now that Claire thought more clearly about it – was staring curiously at her without a trace of discomfort. It seemed like she was used to getting her own way in a lot of things and staring down an ex-cheerleader turned granddaughter seemed to be one of the things that didn't phase Mrs Angela Petrelli whatsoever.

Heidi was quiet and thoughtful, giving her faint smiles through pursed lips every once in a while.

Only Peter – her hero in this situation as much as when they had last met – deigned to save her from the supreme awkwardness of the moment. From the moment Nathan happened upon them staring dumbfoundedly at each other at the front door, Peter had gone out of his way to show how welcome Claire was to the Petrelli family.

That was, once he had gotten over the enormous shock that Claire Bennet was not only the cheerleader he had to save in order to save the world, she also was incidentally part of his family. The irony and profoundness of it all did not seem to have been lost on him, and she instinctively knew that out of everyone sitting at the table right now, politely sipping their respective teas and coffees, he would always be her strongest friend and ally in the Petrelli clan.

He gave her a small wink and a bright smile, his eyes darting to his brother's stony faced silence. He flicked his hair back and rolled his eyes slightly at Nathan's stiff correctness, making Claire break out into a tiny giggle. The small sound was enough to shake everyone out of their stupor.

"So Claire." Nathan's – and Peter's mother she supposed – cleared her throat consciously. "Where do you live?"

They made small talk until the sun climbed westwards and began sinking into the Manhattan skyline. By that time, Claire was exhausted and tired out by the myriad emotions of the day; it felt like she had literally been through a meat grinder and was being reconstituted really slowly on the other side.

Sensing her exhaustion, Heidi was the one to suggest that Claire get some rest before joining them for dinner – if she felt up to it. She wasn't practiced enough at social niceties to give Heidi Petrelli a proper thank you. She sensed that the older woman was making every effort to make her husband's illegitimate daughter welcome in her own house, for which Claire was profoundly grateful.

Peter nudged her playfully on the shoulder, walking with her to the foyer where she had dumped her bags. "Come on, I'll show you to your room."

Claire nodded, suddenly overtaken by shyness. Looking up into his open, dark eyes, she fleetingly wondered whether she would have to start calling him 'Uncle Peter' from now on. As he gave her a teasing smile at her sudden bashfulness, she decided that it would be pretty stupid; just as she wouldn't be in a rush to be calling Nathan 'dad' anytime soon, Peter didn't really feel like her uncle. He was still the handsome, older guy who had given his life up to save her, thrown himself off a building so that she might be saved. He would probably always be her hero to her.

Nathan looked like he couldn't get away from her fast enough, but Claire wasn't offended in the slightest. It had been one thing wanting Meredith to really like her; she had always thought Claire had died in the fire. It was an entirely different thing for Nathan, who now had his own family. He must have worried where Claire would fit into his life – if he wanted her to.

Claire followed Peter up the marble staircase. She was so tired she didn't even take the time to marvel at the works of art hanging on the walls as they passed by them.

"That was awkward for you, huh?" Peter asked bluntly, giving her a pointed look. The good humour that had imbued him earlier in the day subsided as it modulated to suit her sombre mood. "Must've been tough for you."

"Yeah, just a little." She had to laugh a little at herself, sighing quietly. "This wasn't … I guess I didn't know what I expected."

"I can understand that." Giving her a comforting smile, he squeezed her shoulder affectionately. "If you ever need to talk, I'm always here, okay? Seriously, I'm … a great listener. Nathan's the talker, I'm the listener. Perfect family, huh?"

Already he was making her laugh at herself. "What does that make me though?" She mused, a smile cracking onto her features. "People say I'm a talker once they get to know me. Otherwise … I'm pretty quiet. Jackie, she – she was always the loud one."

"Well then." He paused, giving her a soft, sweet smile. "We'll just have to get to know each other better then. Only –" Here the smile dropped off his face, leaving a pained expression. "Please don't ever call me Uncle Peter. I feel old enough with the boys calling me that without you doing it too."

That made Claire descend into a fit of giggles. She couldn't have agreed with him more.

It was hard to believe that blonde, blue eyed Claire Bennet was related in any shape or form to the lean, piercingly dark eyed Petrelli brothers. Really, really hard to believe.

She had been staying with the Petrellis for a week now. She was constantly asking Heidi and Peter whether it was okay for her to stay so long, but both of them had insisted; Peter had done so warmly and openly, Heidi had been a lot more understated. Claire wouldn't have stayed if she didn't think Heidi was genuinely okay with her staying; the last thing she wanted to do was to make her feel like a stranger in her own home.

She had learned a lot about Nathan and his family in one week. For example, she hadn't known that being a Congressman involved doing so much stuff that had nothing to do with governing, like being fake nice to people and going to places he would later grumble incessantly about – but Nathan did all of it superbly. All his activities meant that he rarely spent more than two minutes at home; he and his mother were forever attending public functions and schmoozing with luminaries that Claire only had a very faint idea why they were necessary and/or important to Nathan.

Heidi had explained that being bound to a wheelchair wasn't conducive to being a Congressman's wife and had abruptly left it at that. She didn't seem to mind though, spending the bulk of her time looking after her boys. Heidi even spent quite a lot of time talking to Claire, trying quite genuinely to get to know her and talking to her about Nathan. Strangely, it was through Nathan's wife that Claire was learning about Nathan himself.

Of course, she learned a lot about her biological father from Peter too. He too had made a lot of effort to make her feel welcome and at home. He had explained that he was between careers at the moment, so made it his new 'mission' to ensure that she wasn't miserable staying with them. At first she had been grateful that anyone in the family talked to her, now that she had Peter looking after her, she felt a lot better about having taken the plunge to meet her bio-dad.

Peter had taken her all over New York, intent on keeping her occupied while Nathan was conspicuously absent. He took her to Central Park, to see the Empire State Building, Museum of Natural History and other cultural places that slightly bewildered her. She had giggled until her entire body racked with pain at his determination in getting her to all the famous stores; Macy's and Bloomingdales weren't safe when the pair of them were around. To top of their mischief, Peter had rather deviously blackmailed Nathan into giving them one of his black Amex cards for Claire's sole beneficial use, using it liberally to buy almost everything she gave even the faintest hint of wanting. Nathan had given it with a woeful look on his face and had commented lamely. "Use it as much as you want Claire, I'll … foot the bill." He had looked like he was having an aneurism and passing a gall stone at the same time.

Their system was a straight forward and rather simple one. Peter would enter the rather intimidating and incredibly fashionable stores with a cheerful smile, charming female and male sales assistants alike with his warmth and candour. He'd pull her forcibly into the store, keeping a firm grip on her in case she lost her nerve and bolted until they did at least one round, by which time Claire would have recovered from her nerves. If she began to even hint that she liked something, Peter would rather officiously wave the black Amex around, alerting every sales assistant in the vicinity of the tasty commissions on offer. They would flock like geese to placate her every wish and desire. She felt like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, except for the fact that she wasn't a hooker and Peter was certainly not … well, as old as Richard Gere, and that they were related.

So maybe not so much like Pretty Woman after all.

It was an odd irony she supposed, that after coming to New York to get to know her bio-dad better, she had instead gotten to know her bio-uncle a lot more than anyone else. With the exception of Zach, Peter had become her closest friend.

A lot sure could happen in one week.

He had also taken her to his apartment a few times. Heidi would sometimes shoot them strange looks, but if she thought their closeness was odd, she kept her opinions to herself. Since no one really seemed to care what the two of them did, she followed Peter around like a very annoying poodle he happened to have picked up. She reminded herself of Mr Muggles, but didn't mind the comparison at all.

It was strange to Claire at first having an older friend. She didn't really feel like dishing the gossip with him for example, mainly because it didn't seem like the thing to do. Peter had his own place and own life away from his family; he'd been and gone to college, refused to join a fraternity, had done volunteer work in both New York and third world countries, had travelled and had quit a career all by the age of 26. Talking to him and spending so much time together really opened Claire's eyes to what lay beyond in the big wide world. There really were more interesting things in life than learning cheers and being popular; there was friendship and experiences and sharing unique and genetic 'talents'.

Because best of all, she had finally found someone – well, people she supposed, including Nathan and Peter's other 'gifted' friends that she had met this week – that understood what it was like to be different. More than anything else, Claire's conversations with Peter revolved around their unique abilities – how they discovered them, how they were able to use them and for Peter, his struggle to get a grip on them.

This was why the struggle to find her bio-parents had been worthwhile. She finally felt that she understood where she truly came from and a little of why she was born this way. She hadn't yet seen Nathan fly (he only rarely did it to give his kids a special treat Claire was told) but Peter was more than willing to play with his power.

He also seemed fascinated by Claire's regenerative capabilities, so much so that she offered to throw herself off the roof to give him a good demonstration. He had looked at her in horror before she had sniggered. "Relax Peter, that was a joke. You know what those are, right?"

He had swatted her then, playfully tugging on her long, blonde hair. "Squirt."



"Do gooder."


Claire had paused, trying to contain her laughter. "Male nurse!" She managed to squeeze out, before she completely and totally lost it.

That had been yesterday on the roof of Peter's apartment building. When they had finally managed to return to Nathan's place last night, they found him pacing in the foyer, cell in hand.

"Where the hell have you two been?" Nathan had demanded angrily, fixing a steady gaze on the two of them.

The smile dropped off Peter's face, replaced with a frown. "Oh my god, take a breath Nathan. What's the big deal?"

"The big deal is." He indicated the time on his watch. "It's past midnight and neither one of you was smart or mature enough to answer your cell phones. This is New York for god's sakes, you could've been –" He gesticulated wildly, something that Claire also did when she was angry. It was an odd realisation at that moment. "Been killed or died or something. Jesus Peter, I would've expected this from Claire but you? You're 26 years old, grow up!"

"Hey!" Claire and Peter had protested angrily together, looking at each other before giving Nathan objecting looks.

Peter took a deep breath. "My battery's dead. That's why I didn't answer my cell."

Claire had whipped her cell out and realised why she hadn't answered any of Nathan's calls. "My phone was on vibrate." She had stated lamely, intimidated by the intense irritation on his face. "So that's why I didn't answer my cell."

Nathan had made an odd hmph noise. "Well. As long as you're okay." He said gruffly to her, not bothering to look at his brother. "You and your – both of your – abilities make you a target for things to happen. Do you get me? I'm not around much, and I'd rather not be saddled with trying to rescue the two of you from whatever madcap scheme my little brother's cooked up this week." He had ignored Peter's look of protest. "You're the older one now, you need to act like it." Nathan stared awkwardly first at Peter, then at Claire.

He had then shocked her by awkwardly patting her back, before giving her an uncomfortable hug. "Yeah, well, I'm going to bed. Good night." He had said gruffly, quickly walking upstairs.