Disclaimer: All owned by NBC.

Spoilers: Until the The Hard Part

Thanks to: Resolute for beta-reading.

Timeline: Set between .07 and The Hard Part


"You're afraid of her," Peter said.

It was a typical Peter pronouncement; overly emotional, too insightful and yet missing a major point at the same time.

"Don't be ridiculous."

"Yes, you are," Peter said, and followed Nathan into the kitchen. That was what late night cravings for something to drink, something cool and free of the dust collected in his study: Peter on another crusade.

The memory of Peter dead, flesh already cold when Nathan touches it, eyes blind an unable to see, is as bad as the reality was a day ago, and for a moment, the relief at Peter's presence is dizzying enough to make Nathan unable to breathe.

"That's why you're avoiding Claire. You're afraid of her."

"I think I can handle myself with a teenager, Pete," Nathan says in his best sardonic voice and goes to the fridge. You can tell Simon and Monty haven't been in this house during the last week when you open it; it has been filled by the servants, everything is in its place, and easy to find. Sterile perfection.

For no reason at all, he remembers Meredith and home-made ice cream, years ago, during one of the far too warm Texas nights; strawberry ice cream, spilled all over her fingers. The taste of her skin when he licked it away, the sound of her laughter.

"She can't die either, you know," Peter says, ignoring Nathan's remark completely, and looks at him with his familiar brown eyes, all shadows of death and blindness banished. It's simultaneously reassuring, infuriating and disturbing, this certainty of his. "You don't have to be afraid of losing her."

Time to give Peter another reality check.

"She doesn't belong to me to begin with, Peter. I'm sorry, but that's how it is. I could have been her father, all those years ago. I wasn't. I'm not afraid of losing her, I'm afraid of losing the election."

Peter takes the bottle of water Nathan is holding in his hands and closes the fridge. He does look annoyed now, but instead of launching in a tirade about selfishness, he retorts, stubborn as ever:

"You are her father."

He remembers the burial. One coffin, for both Meredith and the child. They hadn't let him see the remains; not enough left for an open casket, Mr. Petrelli. Are you sure you don't want an urn? No? Well, it's your funeral. You're paying for it.

Now he wonders whose body had provided those human remains he had followed, wearing his dress uniform. There had been some friends of Meredith's there as well; those who knew him didn't talk with him, all too aware he had not been there when it happened. Had not been there all those months earlier, either.

When Simon was born, when he held his son for the first time and heard him cry, Nathan wondered, for a moment, if Meredith's daughter had cried like that, if that had been the last sound Meredith heard on the night of the fire, and it had taken all those well-honed skills at deception not to let his proud smile slip.

"Did you ever consider Claire might be better off not being my daughter, Peter?"

There will be a lot of children burned to ashes if Linderman is right. If they are all right, every one of them: a dead painter, his brother, and the man who hoards prediction in his vaults like the withered orchid he brought to bloom again in front of Nathan's eyes. Dead children, dead women, dead men, and no coffins for any of them.

"Like I said," Peter returns. "She's here to save us."

Which isn't a reply at all, and could be further proof Peter never listens to what he's told. Or it could be proof Peter listens far too well, especially to what he isn't told. But then they both have far too much practice with each other's lies.

There is an obvious diversion available here: attack. It's on the tip of his tongue to tell Peter the main reason why Peter is so insistent that Claire should be claimed is that he wants to keep her, his personal embodiment of hope. Irrefutable proof that he was right to fly to Texas on the base of a painting, right to risk his life, and will be right to do this again in the future.

It's late, though, and Nathan feels too tired to lash out. He just raises an eyebrow.

"I'm still thirsty," he says and looks pointedly at the bottle Peter is holding. Peter makes a face and practically throws it at Nathan. The water is still cold, cold as ice; nothing of Peter's warmth transferred.

"Just tell me one thing," Peter says while Nathan drinks. "What do you see when you look at her? Your daughter or just some strange girl?"

The first time he saw her was on a cell phone. Blond curls, sad eyes; face shadowed. Seen and avoided, as he left Meredith's trailer, telling himself that it was for the best. But without an audience, his lies lacked conviction. The second time he saw her was when his life had ended anyway, and then she started it again.

She looks like me and she's smart, like you, Meredith had said, and his mother had already made pointed comparisons to herself, which was her way of staking a claim. Nathan doesn't see either Meredith or himself in Claire. But her eyes are familiar nonetheless. He puts the bottle back in the fridge, and as he shuts it, his right hand remains pressed against the polished chrome.

"I see your niece," he says softly, and in the silence that follows, Peter's fingers close around his.