Again, please forgive any canon mistakes - I have only seen a few episodes of Heroes.
Peter stared at the piece of paper in his hand.
"Yes it is, Peter."
His mind reeled, and he tried to lasso one of the many thought screaming through his head at the moment.
"Is there any more?" Peter's mouth was dry, and he spoke in a whisper.
"No. Not…relative to the situation. You understand, I hope." Mohinder looked at Peter apologetically.
Peter shook his head, trying to clear out the fogginess building inside it. "Yeah. I guess."
His eyes grew wide and he turned very slowly to Mohinder. "What does this mean?"
"I don't know, Peter." Mohinder was packing his briefcase up, and began to stand. "I cannot offer you answers or explanations, only that Isaac painted what you are holding in your hands now. Which we know is significant in some manner, by that very act."
"She's my niece," said Peter.
"I know." Mohinder spoke with pity.
"I moved here to get away from her. From this," he said, as he shook the paper.
"I assumed so," said Mohinder.
Peter's face crumpled, but he did not cry. He put a fist to his forehead. "I don't want this to happen."
Mohinder put a comforting hand on Peter's shoulder. "I know that. I am not here to make any sort of judgment. I am giving you what's already yours."
Peter looked at Mohinder with shock. "Mine?"
"The painting," he replied, and gestured to the picture.
"Right…" Peter looked at the picture in his hand.
"Well, I am sorry to be so abrupt, but I have a pressing appointment, and the freeways in this city are nearly impossible to navigate. Please excuse me."
Mohinder gravely shook his hand as Peter let him out of the door. "Take care of yourself, Peter. You look exhausted."
Peter did not answer, did not hear Mohinder as the door shut behind him. His plans were already forming, and he didn't have much time.
Peter fidgeted on the cab ride. He fidgeted at the ticket booth. He fidgeted at the gate, all six hours of the plane ride, and so badly that the cabbie thought he was on meth when he dropped him in front of the Petrelli palatial home.
But Peter was running on pure adrenalin. He wasn't going to waste precious time on his mother or Nathan and why wasn't anyone answering his knock?
Finally, Nathan's face appeared through a crack in the door. "Peter?"
"Yeah. Let me in."
"Peter. It's been awhile." His brother clasped him in a hug.
"What're you doing home in the day?" It was late afternoon. Peter paced the floor nervously as Nathan sat on one of the large leather chairs lining the entryway to the Petrelli home.
"Didn't she tell you? Today's move-in day for all freshmen at Rutgers. I took her myself," said Nathan, and took a small sip of what looked like brandy. That's why he was so relaxed. Nathan was far from an alcoholic, but was infinitely more reasonable on the occasions that he had a drink or two.
"Why?" Peter was surprised. Nathan hired people to do that sort of thing.
"Well, she asked me to." When Peter's eyebrow curled at him sardonically, he chuckled. "Alright. And it's a nice photo op."
Peter shook his head roughly and could feel the stress of the day, the week, the last four months lancing itself over his brother. "A photo op…a photo op? Nathan, she's your daughter, not a photo op! Have you ever even hugged her when there wasn't a lens pointed at you?"
Nathan laughed softly. "Ah, come on, Peter. She was 15 when she moved here. I didn't expect any sort of real parental relationship with her. She doesn't need it."
"The hell she doesn't! How do you know that?"
"Because she's an independent girl, because she loves Bennett like a father, for all that she's mad at him. I offer her a place to live, a place to keep her safe, my name. It's enough." Nathan stood and shook back the rest of whatever was in his glass.
Peter was shocked. "Do you realise what you sound like, Nathan?"
"Sure do, Peter. I sound like a man who's taking care of his family. Which is more than I can say for you." Nathan looked angry in that quiet way of his. "You flaked out on us big time. I'm used to that from you, but I don't think she was. Or your mother. They were both very disappointed."
"Oh no, don't you put this on me, change the subject and think I haven't seen you do it a million times! Why can't you love her like she deserves? She's your daughter – why can't you love her like a daughter?" Peter yelled in Nathan's face.
"Because she's not my daughter!" Nathan set his glass down onto the marble end table with a clang. "Satisfied?"
Peter felt his legs trembling, and sat down abruptly onto the leather couch. "What?"
Nathan looked at his brother in the cool way he usually reserved for board meetings. "You heard me."
Peter didn't speak. Couldn't.
"I believed it, at first. I did sleep with that girl, around that time. I thought it all made sense. The money I offered her seemed worth it to shut her up at the time. And before I knew it, Bennett had screwed it all up, and his daughter wanted a new home, a new start. So, she came here to live. With me." Nathan spoke simply.
"Why didn't you tell me," said Peter coldly.
"You didn't need to know. What she needed at the time was clarity – some space to live her life, in a home where she didn't need to hide her abilities, where she was surrounded by people who understood her. I gave that to her, and I don't for a minute regret it."
"Well I don't for a minute believe you'd do that out of charity," said Peter.
"Peter, I'm not the bad guy in this situation. She needed a place to stay. I gave that to her. She needed protection. With all of us here, she was much more so than on her own. As we were. She's loved by Heidi, by you, by the kids, and I'm very fond of her myself."
Nathan paused. "She's one of us. She should be with us," he said significantly.
Peter was quiet for a long moment, and looked at his brother coolly. "How did you find out?"
Nathan chuckled again, back to the buddy politician mode. "Of course I had a DNA test done. I'm not an idiot."
"Does she know?"
"No. Keep it that way," said Nathan, gesturing with his fingers nonchalantly.
Peter stood up from the chair. "No."
Nathan frowned and stood to face his brother. "Peter…"
"Shut up," said Peter. "Just shut up." He backed up to the door.
"Why do you want to ruin this for her, Peter? Are you so…mad at the world that you want to make everyone as pissed off and disappointed as you are?"
Peter didn't hear. He was already through the door, down the hallway, and halfway to Rutgers.
He stopped at his old apartment, briefly. His key still worked, thank God. They hadn't rented it out yet. He threw the door open and walked in.
Lined up against the wall were cardboard boxes, packed up last month by his mother and her, in the impression that he was never coming back.
He had so much to apologise for to her. He thought the words in his mind over and over, what he would say, how he would say it. I'm an idiot. I was horrible. I thought I was doing the right thing, but I wasn't.
Peter wouldn't let himself go beyond that. He wouldn't ask her for things she wasn't ready to give. He was going to let her set the pace, if any. If she didn't want him, she'd be well within her rights.
He had to root through seven boxes before he finally found it. His backpack, from college. It was a ripped-up piece of dark yellow canvas. A trusty vessel that had seen him through undergraduate and nursing school. He opened the flap carefully, and put his hand inside it. He pulled out of it the scarf that she had made for him all those years ago, the one he swore never to wear again.
Now he twisted it around his neck, the sweltering September heat be damned. He walked over to the small balcony and opened the doors. Should he risk flying to Rutgers? It wasn't (relatively) far away, and he hadn't been away from Nathan too long.
He was going to set his behavior by hers. If she treated him like an uncle, he would be one. If she treated him like more…well, then…
He was about to push off from the wired balcony when he heard footsteps.
The feet of a dancer on wooden floor.
He heard her breath hitch, like she'd been crying. He didn't dare turn around, in case he'd only imagined it.
He felt her step onto the balcony, and soon arms were wrapped around his middle, tightly, and she was crying into the back of his shirt.
"Hey, hey…it's okay," he said, steering her around to face him. "What's the matter?"
"Nothing," she said brightly, wiping her eyes and sniffing. "I've just missed having my Uncle Pete around."
Something twisted inside him.
She leaned her arms onto the balcony rail. "Don't think I'm not mad at you for not taking me to Rutgers today. Everyone saw Nathan carrying my suitcase. God, what a photo op for him," she said, sniffing again, and wiping any last vestiges of crying off of her face.
"I'd much rather have had my cool uncle take me. But I forgive you, you're only a few hours late," she said teasingly.
Peter smiled though he felt sick inside.
"So, how long are you staying for," she said chattily.
"We need to talk," he blurted out.
She looked at him seriously. "I know. I need to apologize…for being so stupid. At my party."
"I didn't know what I was saying…and I was tipsy. If I could take all those words back, I would," she said.
He tried to speak but she rattled on. "I'm just a silly girl, I-I just…I want you to forget I said that stuff…and come back. Here. Come back to live. It's your home. I'm sorry I scared you off-"
"Scared me off?" Peter interrupted. "You didn't scare me off, I left because I had to-"
"To get away from me? Because I said those things? Peter, I'm sorry I was so stupid. I thought I was feeling something, and I know now that I was just being an idiot. But we can go back, can't we? You can forget what I said, right?"
She stepped closer to him, and looked into his eyes. "I'll do whatever you want to do, Peter. I'll be your little niece if you want me to. Just…don't leave me again." Her voice broke on the last word and she lowered her head.
"I don't want you to be my little niece," said Peter, and put his arm around her waist. "I want you to be my Claire."
She raised her eyes to his in confusion, mouth parted. He looked at her face seriously, searching…waiting.
And then she smiled, slowly.
He wanted to kiss her more than anything right then, but before he did he had to tell her. "You're not my niece. Nathan told me today…he had a DNA test done…"
"What?" Her smile disappeared.
"Nathan's not your father. I'm sorry, I don't know anything more than that at the minute, but we'll figure it out, and-"
"You're not my uncle?" Her voice was incredulous.
"No," he said, and knew he was grinning like an idiot.
She turned her head a bit, processing. Peter watched her intensely.
Then, she turned back to face him, and pushed herself further into his arms.
She spoke seriously. "You totally need to kiss me right now, Peter Petrel-"
A slow breeze skirted around the couple on the balcony, softly blowing the girl's long hair around the face of the boy as her mouth curved into his. He wound his arms tightly around her. For the first time in four months he felt well. Whole.
A few moments later, he tucked her head under his chin, and sniffed deeply. "Mm. Almonds."
She looked up and smiled. "Yeah."
"You always smell like almonds."
"I know," she said.
"And you would bring me that almond cake, and then my whole apartment smelled like you. You drove me crazy," he said. "Did you know?"
He felt Claire smile against his chest before she spoke. "No. But I was hoping."
A/N - Complete! Hope you guys liked it. Thanks for letting me dabble in your universe, Heroes fans. I'll go back to Harry Potter now :)