Disclaimer: All owned by NBC.
Spoilers: Massive for How to stop an exploding man.
Author's note: I'm actually firmly in the "Nathan is alive!" camp, but who am I to pass up the opportunity for good angst? Besides, everything might not be as it seems in this story.
Thanks to: Yahtzee, for beta-reading, and Cadesama, who keeps inspiring me.
In the end, Claire insists that they take Peter with them to Texas.
It had taken the little girl, Molly Walker, to find him. He is healed, completely, but he didn't talk, not with her or her father or anyone else. Dr. Suresh suggests they should bring him to his mother.
"No," Claire says sharply. Dr. Suresh opens his mouth and closes it again. Turning to Claire's father, he says: "Well, shouldn't at least someone tell Mrs. Petrelli that he's, well, alive? And that the Congressman is…"
Peter raises his head, glares at him and walks away. Claire goes after him; behind her, she hears her father tell Dr. Suresh that he just elected himself to the job. They part ways with the others soon after that, and use the coordinates Molly gave them to track down Lyle and Mom. Peter is in the back of the car her father rented, still silent, and Claire counts his breaths for a while, to be sure he was still alive.
She remembers Ted Sprague and what it had felt like, standing next to a man while he turned their house into ashes. Claire regenerates, but her body feels pain as intensely as it did before she could do that, and her body remembers. Skin burning, hair burning, and there is nothing to breathe but fire. When Nathan turned around to look at her before going to Peter, she could see he knew this was waiting for him.
She still has no idea what she thinks about Nathan, but when she listens too long to Peter's silence, that is what she feels, every time. Being burned alive.
So she tries not to do it too often, and talks with her father about future plans instead. He says they need to go back to Odessa once Mom and Lyle are found; the Primatech building there is full of secrets no one should have, and now that the Company is breaking down, anyone could grab them. Anyone usually meaning nobody good, and Claire nods.
Mom and Lyle are found in due course, and Mom is the one to make Peter come out of his silence, once she's done with fussing about Claire and telling Dad how worried she's been. It's not when Mom makes him eat soup at the next inn they can find, no, or when she asks Dad whether he doesn't think Mr. Muggles deserves a medal for remaining with them through everything; it's when she passes out right in front of them, Claire has a moment when she freaks out, remembering Mom in the hospital, and Lyle actually screams, probably remembering the same thing. Peter, voice calm and not at all rusty from disuse, says he's a trained nurse, checks Mom's pulse, pupils and asks about her medication. Then he improvises something with the salt on the table to bring her to.
Later on, he talks with Dad about memory losses, and somehow this ends up as the official justification for Peter living with them; taking care of Mom, as a nurse. He does that, he talks with her, and with everyone else, but not in the way she remembers him talking. The passion, the urgency is gone. Instead, he sounds, well, professional, and Claire knows she should find that reassuring and definitely better than his silence, but she doesn't.
He never looks up to the sky. Not once.
Her father offers to teach him more about his powers, and Peter, utterly polite, says this sounds like a good idea, and he would like to learn, but he doesn't have any powers left. He uses the letter opener on Dad's desk for a demonstration; there is a thin trickle of blood across the palm of his left hand, and it doesn't heal, not at all.
Dad says nothing to this, but he tells her later that it has to be psychosomatic; no one's power ever disappeared, and he has been watching and testing people with powers for longer than she's been alive. That's another thing Claire doesn't want to think about; what Dad did to people like her. She tells herself it's the Company's fault, and he only wanted to protect her by cooperating, but if he joined the Company before she existed, that wasn't always true. At any rate, Dad keeps telling Peter about telekinesis, about pyrokinesis, about precognition, and Peter listens, but with the same distant, polite expression he has most of the times, and he never tries to do anything.
Dad never mentions the power of flight, though. Maybe he doesn't because they never had someone to study who possessed it, and maybe he doesn't because it might be what makes Peter change again, and he thinks Peter not using his powers is better for everyone, in the long term. There is nothing to stop Claire from mentioning it, of course. Nothing but the memory of not pulling the trigger. If she had; if she had done it when Peter asked her, the first time… but she doesn't really wish that. She had aimed for his skull, to be absolutely sure it would work, and he couldn't have recovered from that, not with his brain matter splattered everywhere. He'd have died.
Sometimes she wonders whether he hates her for that; for not killing him before Nathan arrived.
Sometimes she's angry with Peter, and there is no way to show it, because there is nothing he does or says that is wrong, that she could justify getting upset about. She just wants to yell at him and wants him to yell back. She wants to say that she has given him her family, a real family, not that horrible travesty of it in New York, and why wasn't it enough, didn't they talk about using their powers for good before, and where had that gone?
But she's silent, and sneaks out to climb to the roof of the new house they've moved in to. The sky is clear and entirely smog free here, unlike New York, and she remembers the gun in her hand, replaying the scene again and again, and yet she can't make it go differently, because she doesn't truly want to, she doesn't want to make that exchange, and she's afraid Peter knows that, too, and hates her even more for it.
When she found out Nathan could fly, she had wondered, just for a moment, whether he would take her flying if she asked, and then reality had caught up with her. Claire thinks about flying and jumps, but falling for a few seconds before her body hits the ground isn't flying at all. She feels her bones knit together again and knows that she, at least, is alive.
One evening they all play monopoly, and Claire gets into an argument with Lyle about whether she passed when she should have gone to jail. It's a relief, arguing with Lyle, something utterly and completely normal and true, right until she looks up and finds Peter watching the two of them with a wistful smile. It's the first one, and she's both glad and angry again in a way that mystifies her.
In a way, it's a relief when Angela Petrelli shows up, because it gives Claire someone she can and wants to be angry with. Angela is as she remembers, sharp and elegant, black costume, pearls, and of course she picked a moment to arrive that had Claire's father being at Primatech, where he's busy taking over and reorganizing so that no one else does. Claire's mother looks slightly overwhelmed, and Claire feels fiercely protective. Peter has been told to go on a walk with Mr. Muggles just an hour before Angela's arrival, so he should be back any minute now.
"You're not welcome here," Claire says, and her mother looks shocked at her tone. Angela doesn't; neither does she move from the couch she has just regally sat down on.
"I am not here to take you away, Claire."
"As if you could."
"You have made your choice quite clear, and I respect it," Angela continues as if Claire hadn't spoken. "I have come to see my son. My only surviving son."
She turns to Mom, and a careful shade of vulnerability creeps into her voice.
"I have lost my husband and my older son within less than three quarters of a year. Surely, Mrs Bennet, as a mother you understand. I need to see Peter."
Mom did get a brief summary of events in New York, but Claire hasn't gone into details about the Petrellis, and now she wishes she had, because it looks like Dad didn't, either. Mom immediately looks sympathetic and understanding.
"You haven't done a very good job of keeping them safe," Claire says, deliberately using the words Angela had said to her father on the phone, "have you."
"Claire!" Mom exclaims. Angela looks at her, dark eyes not unlike those of either of her sons widening just a little. The edges of her mouth curve slightly upwards.
"Oh," she murmurs, "oh, Claire, we are family."
And that's the horrible thing; Claire knows exactly what she means. She doesn't want to, but it's there, and it has no place in this living room with Mom who is good and kind and the best mother anyone could hope for.
Then Angela's expression changes, and Claire, turning around, knows Peter has come through the backdoor. He stands still and stares at his mother. Mr. Muggles races to Mom who picks him up and, in a tone of unmistakable relief, tells her dog he needs to be fed immediately. In the kitchen. Where she tries to drag Claire to, too.
"She is his mother," Mom says in a tone that is unexpectedly sharp for her. It's on the tip of Claire's tongue to say "you have no idea", but this is Mom, and there are things you don't say to Mom if you love her. Besides, it's an Angela phrase.
Nothing keeps her from listening through the door, though, even if she can't see their expressions.
"You knew," Peter says, and there is the emotion Claire has missed from his voice all these weeks, and now she wonders whether she really wants it back. "All this time. You knew, Mom."
"I want you to come back with me to New York, Peter."
"Why?" he asks, and Claire holds her breath, wondering if Angela would really dare to make a declaration of maternal love. Angela's voice does retain that shade of vulnerability she had earlier, but it's mostly even and matter-of-factly.
"For one thing," she says, "Heidi has finally agreed that he's not missing, and there will be a funeral service. Do you really want the boys to go through that without you? Nathan's sons? Speaking of the boys, there is their future to consider. Given that you seem to think the fact I tried to spare your brother and yourself the knowledge of certain circumstances as long as I could was a wrong decision on my part, well, who do you suggest should tell Simon and Monty? Heidi? And…" Her voice slips up, just a little. With another woman, Claire would suspect she had started to cry.
"I miss you."
There is a silence beyond the door. Claire has her hand on the handle when her mother pulls it away again. "Honey," her mother whispers, "this is between mother and son. You'd be furious if anyone interrupted you and your father, too. Now come here and help me feed Mr. Muggles."
"Heidi deserves the truth," Peter says, sounding a bit muffled, and Claire hopes that didn't mean he is hugging Angela. "And the boys."
She thinks of the glimpses she had gotten: the woman in the wheelchair with her dark hair and blue eyes arriving, and the two sons. Nathan greeting them.
There's my girl… guess what I have for you?
It's not like she wanted him to be her father. She already has a father. The best. And yet seeing him with his two sons had been worse, in a way, than the time when she heard him tell Meredith he didn't want Meredith to call her back.
Stupid to think about that now. Angela was a bitch, but the horror of it was, she had a point. Several, in fact. And Peter…
"But I won't go back with you. There can't be a funeral if there is no body, Mom," she hears him say, and is relieved enough to finally join her mother and Mr. Muggles. Peter's voice, adding something more about Heidi and those two children who were and yet weren't Claire's brothers, gets drowned out by Mr. Muggle yapping at her, and so does Angela's reply, which is pitched lower still.
After Angela has gone, Claire finds Peter working in the garden. Mom wanted a flower bed, so she had bought fertilizer. The way Peter picks up the still sealed sacks without effort seems to be just a little bit stronger than human, but maybe she's imagining things. Then he goes for a shovel, and starts digging.
"So," Claire says. He looks at her, really looks at her and teaches out to brush hair out of her face she hadn't been aware of.
"I'm glad you're alive, you know," he says, and it's only then that she recalls the cop, Matt Parkman, could hear people's thoughts, and the implications of Peter meeting him. Except that Peter's powers were not supposed to be working anymore. "And back with your family. They're great people. All of them."
"You don't want to stay," Claire says. She can't read thoughts, but she thinks she has started to decipher Petrellis.
"It's a good family," he says. "But it's not mine."
She doesn't say "but you told your mother you didn't want to go back with her, and didn't she leave without you?" She doesn't ask "so does that mean you're going to visit your sister-in-law and her sons, but not Angela?"
Instead, she says: "Wait here. I want to show you something."
Going to her room and pulling it out of the chemistry textbook where she put it, because even nosy Lyle would never look there, is quickly done, and she manages to get back to the garden without being intercepted by her mother, who had made ominous noises about needing to talk about Claire's behaviour during Mrs. Petrelli's visit. Peter hasn't moved, and the wrongness of that hits her, once again. It's as if he's in a cell again, like during their second meeting, only one with invisible bars. She hands over what she has taken during her first night in the Petrelli mansion, stolen because she wanted to and because she knew, even then, that once she left she probably would not go back there, no matter what anyone promised.
"There were so many photos of the two of you," Claire says, hesitatingly, "but I liked this one best."
There they were, arms around each other, smiling into the camera. My two boys getting along for a change, Angela had said, and Claire hadn't been able to turn her eyes away from the photograph, recognizing Peter from Odessa, and next to him the man she hadn't seen more than a few seconds, leaving and entering Meredith's trailer.
Peter looks at her, takes the photograph, and she thinks she can see it; a ripple going through him, as if he's not really there but a hologram projected from somewhere. For a moment, she's afraid he's going to go invisible on her. Instead, he takes a deep breath. There are tears in his eyes, the tears that the explosion had seemingly burned out of him, and he falls on his knees on the earth he has just cut into far too fiercely, but finally, for the first time since she found him, he looks up to the sky.