Extra: Nocturnal Occupations
A/N: Takes place after the events of Chapter IV: Promise Me. The aftermath of the explosion.
They hadn't meant for it to happen.
Three days since they had averted disaster and death, two days since they were both cloistered into the family home, one day since she had seen him between frantic family members and meaningless doctor visits. She was only vaguely conscious of all of this as she quietly ascended the stairs, dimly aware of the late the late hour presented in the silence and darkness enveloping the house. Her mind was centered on one thing, the feel of Peter's limp and dead body in her arms, the remembrance of feeling his breath leave and his heart stop beating beneath her hands, the memory of his frightened and pained eyes as they lost their spark of life.
The need to see him alive, whole, and recovering pulsed through her so intensely it blinded her to everything else around her, only the intensity of her focus making her capable of staying on her feet as she opened the door, stepping into the dimly lit bedroom.
He was lying on the bed as she entered, soundlessly closing the door behind her. He was sprawled out across the bed, curled up into a crescent-shape beneath the sheets, and he seemed all right at first sight. As she stepped closer, she was able to make out the steady rise and fall of his chest, his skin pale but not the ghost-white that haunted her memory.
He opened his eyes as she drew closer, his dark eyes focusing on her as he smiled, "Claire."
And that was it, a simple smile, a whisper of her name, but it was enough to reassure. The harsh bite of relief swept over her, bombarding her, and strangely guilting her for her fears.
But as she crawled into the bed beside him, immediately wrapped in his embrace, felt him alive and breathing as he held her in his arms, she thanked the heavens above and whatever god would listen for that simple reassurance.
They thought that first night was a fluke, a one-time thing, a need for mutual comfort that would never happened again.
They soon found themselves to be wrong.
He watched her as she slept, as silently as the quiet night around them, as gentle a presence beside her as he had ever maintained. She was beautiful, and she was peaceful in her slumber, and he enjoyed watching the transition, to see her pretty face lose its shadowing worry, the constant overcastting fear she couldn't fully dismiss.
She looked most like a child when she slept, and she was the most delicate he had ever seen her, fragile and small as she curled in around herself, making herself as small as possible, seeking to protect herself even against the phantoms of the dreamscape.
She would whimper softly in her sleep, her face straining with new stress, and he had come to recognize the sounds, her fear and her distress. He reached for her hand, and her fingers curled around his almost painfully, her grip only tightening as her mouth formed a silent scream, and her body violently trembled.
He gently wrapped an arm around her, pulling closer from where he sat at the edge of the bed. She instinctually curled closer around him, her head nestling into his lap, her hands clutching at the fabric of his shirt. "Peter…stay."
"I'm here, Claire. I'm not going anywhere."
That one night turned into two, then three, until an entire week had passed of them sharing a bed, sharing the night together. Sleeping side-by-side, finding comfort and solace in their most vulnerable moments…
It was inevitable that their dynamic began to shift once more...
One week became two, and though Peter was surprised when Claire appeared at his bedroom door one night, hours before their usual time, he realized he really shouldn't be.
"Are we going to keep pretending?"
He arched his eyebrows, playing for dumb. "Pretending what?"
Claire sighed, raking a frustrated hand through the tousled hair that had fallen into her face. "I could go to my room, you could stay here, and we'd both try to sleep. But then we'd end up starting that game of who's going to break first. We'll toss and turn for a couple hours, someone will show up at someone else's door, and we'll finally manage to get some sleep. So, we can stop the act now and actually get a full night's sleep, or stress ourselves out even more."
The pregnant silence that followed seemed to last for an eternity, filled with tension and pain and thoughts they had never before dared to speak out loud.
She turned away from his gaze, the shadows cast by the darkness effectively hiding the expression in her eyes. "It's your decision, Peter, but I'm tired of games. I'm just tired in general."
He swallowed hard, glancing away from her as the wheels in his head began to turn, reflecting, remembering, fighting, thinking, contemplating, and considering all at once.
She gazed at him, perched on the side of the bed, his brown eyes distant and unfocused as his thoughts raced. He wore nothing more than a pair of gray pajama bottoms, bare-chested and barefoot. His body was lean and finely boned to the point of seeming delicate, but she was fully aware of the incredible strength lying dormant in the powerful muscles beneath his deceptive frame. She studied him, letting her eyes linger over each feature and perfection of him, committing to memory this side of the man she had come to care so much about.
Most especially the warm, smooth lips, with that endearing crook she so loved, currently creased down into a severe frown.
Peter cupped her face in his hands, drawing her closer, brushing his lips over hers in the gentlest of kisses. The contact felt so fragile to him, as if a single wrong movement or a harsher puff of breath would shatter its existence forever.
But she accepted his kiss, closing her eyes at the soft contact and touched her hand to his face in turn. He pulled back just enough to rest his forehead against hers, lightly exhaling. "This…it's wrong, but…"
"I know," she whispered, reaching up to rest her hand over his.
He was weak…weak and sick and horrible, but he couldn't help himself. And the woman beside him (child, his mind screamed at him, sixteen; just a child) didn't seem to object. But he mentally shook his head, remembering the maturity, the haunted look in her eyes that spoke of someone years older, and he pushed the nagging little voice away.
She kissed him again, a soft peck to his lips, and drew away. They never spoke of the kiss, or anything they would have or could have admitted in the aftermath.
Finally, he looked at her, and he gave her a crooked smile, though his eyes were serious. He lifted the sheets in invitation and she needed no other incentive.
What was this for them, he wondered? What did this mean, she thought to herself in the quiet of the night? What was it that kept them coming back to each other, again and again?
It was nothing, it was everything, and it was all things in between.