Heidi Petrelli knew there was something off about her husband from the moment she returned home with their sons, wanting to blame his preoccupation on the upcoming election; but then, as the rejuvenation of her ability to walk kept her euphoric but befuddled at Nathan's hesitant response.
There was a clouding to his expression as he accepted his new position as Congressman Petrelli, and as he delivered the formality of his speech, there was a catch to his smooth, confident tones.
There was something chaotic going on within the background, an underlying tension that frustrated and disconcerted her as she struggled to understand what was happening. She found herself utterly unable to reach out and bring the unknown occurrences into her comprehension as Nathan paced and made harried calls on his cell phone, worried and stressed and pushing the envelope of his new position, struggling…
Scrambled phone conversations, "…bomb…killer…city…Linderman…dead…Peter…"
Evident reprieve in his voice, "Claire…Peter okay…?"
Relief…potent and practically palpable upon her husband's countenance, a world-weariness slipping from his shoulders as he unexpectedly embraced her, his mouth warm against hers as he kissed her with a gentle passion…a way he had not touched her in a long while.
He squeezed their squirming boys into a heartfelt embrace, his eyes soft with relief as he gazed at her over their heads, dropping kisses to their hair.
"Nathan? What's going on?"
"What about Peter…?"
"…he's proved himself to be a stronger man than I could ever be…"
He smiled, his eyes misting over with unshed tears, "…they've saved the world…"
At the hospital, Heidi stood at her husband's side as a befuddled doctor reported to him Peter's surprising lack of injury despite the burns sustained by several other bystanders at what authorities were calling a radiation accident.
As Nathan badgered the poor physician for details, Heidi caught a glimpse of her recently elusive brother-in-law, her eyebrows shooting up with incredulous surprise as she took in the sight of him.
He stood at the opposite end of the hospital corridor, his head bowed and that lanky dark hair one of the only clues to his identity. He was surrounded by a few others- a tall black man sporting a broken arm in cast, a seated blonde woman holding a sleeping adolescent boy, a short Japanese man bearing stitches at his brow casting anxious glances at a nearby hospital room.
But what was most surprising was what he did next. He raised his head, fixing the intensity of his gaze on the only other female nearby, the slender, curly-haired blonde girl standing beside him.
She watched as he whispered something, something that caught the girl's attention as she looked up at him, pretty blue-green eyes tear-stricken and miserable. Peter brushed his hand against a damp, glistening cheek, wiping away a few stray tears.
He stepped closer until he was flush against her back, placing his hands over hers. Though the contact should have been casual, there was something stirring, oddly sensual about the way his skin slid over hers, their fingers entwining.
His cheek pressed against her hair, his lips moving to form words Heidi was too far away to make out. The girl was so painfully young- a vulnerable-looking teenager whose closeness to Peter she would have frowned upon in any other circumstance- but there was a cloud of intimacy surrounding them, a spark of connection and comfort as if the two were within a world of their own.
It was something too strangely beautiful to ever interrupt.
They stayed the night in a pricy hotel suite provided by the city sponsors, and it was not until the next day that the family was able to return to their home. It strangely reflected her previous arrival the day before, but what greeted them as they entered the tasteful, silent front foyer of the house.
The sound of laughter broke through the air: clear, ringing, definitively female, followed a few moments later by deep, rich reverberation of a male voice, a murmur and a chuckle, echoing with more of the light, carefree giggling.
Pounding feet followed, and then the sudden appearance of the same girl from the hospital flying around the corner, face glowing with delight and smile broken out, followed closely at her heels by a surprisingly playful Peter, handsome face a-lit with a mischievous grin.
He made a grab for the girl, hauling her to him. She squirmed against his hold, the two of them skidding to a stop- socked feet against the hardwood floor- and Peter dug his fingers into her ribs, mercilessly tickling her sides.
The girl's indignant reply followed, along with more carefree laughter, "Peter!!"
The sound of Nathan clearing his throat put a stop to their play, drawing guilty expressions from both as they suddenly realized they were not alone.
The girl went ghostly pale as she observed Heidi and the two curious boys, a disapproving Angela, and a nervous Nathan. Peter rested a hand against her shoulder, and the girl rested her hand over his, his larger fingers curling around hers in silent reassurance. She looked apologetic for reasons Heidi did not yet understand.
"Nathan…I'm sorry…we didn't realize you'd be home-"
Nathan held up a hand to silence her, shaking his head. "No, it's fine. I'd have to do this eventually." He shot a sidelong glance at his brother, "Peter, will you…"
He trailed off, and Peter nodded at the unspoken thought, leading the girl by their still joined hands out of the room. In the meantime, Angela shooed Monty and Simon toward the staircase, intent on taking them to their playroom to give them privacy.
Nathan's face was solemn as he turned back to her, and for all his political finesse, his words were jumbled and nervous as he delivered to her the first line of one of the most bizarre conversations of their marriage, "Her name's Claire. She's my daughter."
Nathan's child…Nathan…Claire…her stepdaughter…Peter…Claire…uncle and niece…
She was not sure what connection bewildered her more.
Almost against the strange odds presented by her husband's past, strangely summed up in the way Angela scornfully referred to Claire as Nathan's "youthful folly", she could not help sympathizing…liking…and eventually caring for a great deal, this young, warmly caring girl, uprooted and scared. Between herself and Peter- the one everyone knew was closest to Claire- they strived to make her feel at home.
And of course, as mistress of her home, she was particularly conscious of the goings-on occurring within the walls of the Petrelli manor.
The sound of Claire's voice, whispering her uncle's name in such intimate tones, froze Heidi in her tracks as she passed by the open doors leading out to one of the second-floor balconies.
She leaned against her cane, grabbing one of the door edges for further support and she sidled a little closer, a threat of suspicion lurking at the edge of her mind as the pair standing in the shadows outside came into her view.
Her stepdaughter was against one of the walls, pressed back against the sheetrock surface by the close proximity of Peter, who loomed over her with a hand braced above her head, his eyes intense and staring down into hers, expression unreadable. Claire's was pained, tears gathering in her eyes at she gazed up vulnerably at the man before her.
"I know the score, Peter," Claire continued, her voice low and pain-filled, "Why do you need to push the issue?"
Peter reached up, tucking a stray curl behind his niece's ear before he let his fingers gently glide down her cheek. Claire leaned into the touch, her eyes closing as his thumb stroked along the subtle curve of her jaw.
"'Cause I'm tired of fighting, Claire. It's not doing either of us any good."
"We've talked about this. We can't chase some fantasy we can never have."
"…I know…I know that we…can't…but don't you want to know…? Just once…"
He leaned closer, brushed his lips against her forehead, against her temple, whispering once more, "…just once, Claire…"
And the kiss that followed was something so painfully expected from the moment she saw them together in that hospital.
Her eyes downcast, Heidi quietly closed the balcony doors, giving the pair their privacy.
Her heart ached too much for the two of them to do otherwise.