Claire's decided she's earned the right to spend the rest of the day in bed, so she impishly tells her dad that's just what she's going to do. He looks fondly down at her, gives her a peck on the forehead and agrees saving her biological father's life does warrant some sort of reward.
Her day – what's left of it – is complete by a soft knock on the door, followed quickly by Peter poking his head in. His hair's still flying in all directions and it's clear he's made absolutely no effort to flatten it which gives Claire the giggles; she doesn't stop even when he comes fully inside, sits at the edge of her bed looking rather put out.
She titters, gesturing to his hair. His eyes shoot heavenwards and he sighs a little dramatically. "Oh." Quickly flattens it then pokes her in what he imagines is her tickle spot, quite offended. "You don't have to laugh. It gets messy when I don't brush it. I just need some product."
She only stops because he does look a little hurt, figures it's not nice to laugh at him to his face. Her smile does linger though; she can't help it but does attempt to sound contrite. "I'm sorry."
"You better be." He pokes her stomach and this time he does find her tickle spot, and for a few moments she's a girl again with no pressing concerns other than getting away from his eager hands.
She's squirming and he's climbing onto the bed to pursue the battle, hands searching and finding just the right spots. Claire's in the middle of an eruption of giggles when their game's halted by her dad clearing his throat loudly in the doorway.
Peter looks up, smile falling from his face rather sheepishly as he scrambles off the bed, clears his own throat in turn. "Noah, we were just –"
Her dad ignores him, looks at them both quite seriously. "Nathan's awake again."
Their reunion with a fully conscious Nathan is as emotional and tear filled as she thought it'd be. His brush with death is still harrowing enough to remind everyone how precious life is, and so even Nathan's trademark brusqueness is missing when Claire, with her dad and Peter, finally get to the hospital.
Claire's so relieved and happy – yes, happy – to see her biological father awake and well breathing, she misses the silent, dark haired figure with the porcelain face sitting on the other side. Once Claire retreats from the hug she'd rushed to give Nathan to make way for Peter, she catches the other woman's eyes on her, catches how Heidi's gaze lingers over her hair and eyes.
She knows even without Peter's power what Heidi's thinking. She's trying to see bits of her husband in her; doesn't know whether it'll hurt more or less if she sees anything of Nathan or Petrelli Claire's inherited.
Claire clears her throat, thinks absurdly of how much throat clearing there'd been today but yeah, she doesn't know what else to do. The room's feeling claustrophobic between the emotional greeting between Peter and Nathan, her dad looking on silently, Nathan's two boys chatting inanely to Angela, oblivious to the drama, not to mention Heidi and her aforementioned scrutiny.
There's no grand gesture from the older woman though. She and Heidi stare uncomfortably at each other over the general chatter, over Nathan's bed and no introductions are made for which Claire is eternally grateful. What Heidi does do is nod ever so slightly; just that small acknowledgement of her existence is enough to put Claire at ease and she doesn't need anything else from her or them; she has her dad and Peter and they're all that matter to her.
Peter's face is streaked with tears which Claire finds really touching; she's glad she's part of a family who truly love each other, just like she loves her dad. It hadn't been clear until now how important Nathan was – is – to Peter and once again she's glad, so glad, her powers helped Peter save this person who's so clearly the centre of all these lives around him.
Things finally settle between the brothers though and when they do, Nathan beckons to her. Suddenly the din subsides and the room is eerily quiet like the volume's been turned down by an omniscient hand. Heidi stands and gathers her sons, looks back at Nathan with a slight nod. "Come on boys, let's get you a special treat now that daddy's here. How about some ice cream?" The boys' cheers echo as they disappear down the hall.
Nathan looks expectantly to Angela. "Mom?" Looking a little put out Angela assents, exits the room and Nathan's just about to say something when his eyes catch on something behind her.
Or rather, someone. He squints hard, looks her dad up and down. "Do I know you?" He asks pointedly; it's obvious he knows who her dad is already.
"I tried to kidnap you once." Her dad replies, unfazed and absurdly calm, meeting Nathan's stony gaze. "In Vegas." He adds, as if that settles the issue.
It's a credit to Nathan that he doesn't spontaneously combust right there and then, judging from the fury that lights his eyes. "That's right. And you are –?"
The silence hanging in the room is so thick Claire thinks of knives and cutting through it or some cliché or other, but the danger's over relatively quickly and before she knows it, Nathan's smiling crookedly. It's really strange because – yes, it reminds her of Peter's trademark smile which somehow tells her – more than anything else – how alike they are. "Told you I never forget a face."
"I'll have to remember that." Her dad murmurs, nodding at Nathan. The two men share what begins as a flinty eyed glare but ends much more amiably. Though they don't do the requisite handshake, Claire realises it's enough to maintain the peace; she makes a mental note to ask her dad what it means later.
Her dad moves to go; it's like he has a power of his own, so attune he is to her, knows how much she wants to talk to Peter and Nathan about everything that's happened. "I'm sure you have a lot to talk about." He kisses Claire on the forehead. "I'll be outside if you need me."
"Thanks Dad." She catches Nathan's expression and realises how peculiar seeing that must be for him, his biological child being someone else's daughter. The thought makes her stand rather awkwardly, like a deer caught in headlights and the brothers' equally intense gazes.
"Mom tells me I have you to thank Claire."
"For being alive."
"Oh." Claire shuffles on the spot, looks awkwardly down at her feet. "I didn't do it on my own. I had Peter."
"Yeah, you did." The softness of Nathan's voice, the care and – yes, love – gives her the courage to look up; when she does Peter's there, smiling and she's never seen him so happy before, not even in their dreams. "And I'm grateful. I just want the two of you to know that. I'm grateful for my life."
"Nathan, I'm sorry –"
"I hope you're not about to apologise for jumping out the window." He interrupts, voice gruff with emotion. "'Cause you know saving my life probably cancels that crap."
She returns his smile gratefully, knows she doesn't need to be plagued by guilt again for her actions that fateful night. She's been absolved of her sins for lack of a better word.
Peter probably knows his brother a lot better than she does but even Claire senses this is a rare moment they're sharing. When the intensity of their relief passes Nathan will return to his calculating self and Peter and Claire will have doubts again, doubting themselves and their abilities to do good in the world.
But for now, she feels her connection to both of them, making her feel safe, together – a family. And that's all that matters.
Claire's promptly but politely dismissed when Heidi returns with Nathan's sons; they're relatively well behaved for kids with ice creams but she understands Nathan's real family has just entered the room. So she smiles and quietly withdraws; is surprised however when Peter follows her out.
The lopsided smile is there again. Maybe it hadn't left his face. "What?"
He shrugs. "Thought I'd give them some time to talk, be a family you know. Just like us." He playfully punches her shoulder, the smile dropping slightly off his face. The gesture's a little awkward like he's trying to make a point, but for all their intimacy she doesn't get what it's supposed to mean.
This is precisely what she misses about their dreams; wonders now that all the drama's over whether they'll be sharing any more. Misses their crystalline reality where she didn't have to guess what he's trying to say, misses their connection in its purest, most unadulterated form.
"Um …" Most of all, she misses them. In this world, reality, whatever, she's 16 years old with all the adolescent awkwardness that attaches to that age and he's 26 and a hospice nurse who happens to be her uncle.
"Let's get some coffee." He must have seen or more likely sensed her discomfort; he leads her with soft arms past her dad and Angela who wait patiently a few doors down. Her dad quirks his eyebrows and leaves it at that, but both of Angela's brows shoot heavenwards; it's lucky Peter ushers them both past quickly otherwise Claire's sure they would've been stopped.
She thinks she'll be able to relax when she's got a cup of steaming coffee in her hands, but she doesn't. Instead they stare in heavy, thick silence at each other, long and hard enough for her to start wondering what colour Peter's eyes really are. She's always thought of them – seen them – as hazel, but under fluorescent lights they're almost dark enough to be brown, with specks of green maybe. She can't decide.
"What're you thinking?" He asks, then catches himself. It sends both of them into peals of laughter, shattering the awkwardness into a thousand, million pieces of absurdity.
"Can't you just –?"
"Yeah." He grins into his cup. "That was a pretty stupid thing to say, wasn't it?"
"Not stupid at all." She can't help the fond lilt that attaches to her voice. He's her hero, always will be, and heroes are genetically incapable of being stupid. "Well, maybe a little."
"I say a lot of stupid things. Can't help it, when I feel something, it just comes out." Smirks a little sheepishly, dark bangs flopping over his face.
"Really? That's hard to imagine." She's teasing but there's more than a grain of truth to it. She really can't imagine him being stupid or silly in any situation. "I guess I'll just have to judge for myself."
"I guess you will. We'll have plenty of time to get to know each other." This time the silence isn't awkward or stilted, it's all comfort and ease and everything she imagines being with him will always be. Relishes the thought of just being with him, wonders fleetingly whether he'll find it stupid to hang out with his niece but figures after all they've been through they're hardly just uncle and niece anymore, if they'd ever been.
Something else occurs to her then. "You absorbed my power. You could've healed Nathan without me."
He laughs; to his credit rather sheepishly and not without a small amount of guilt. "Maybe, probably. I'm not sure I could've done it alone. I … have trouble controlling my emotions as it is." His stare is solidly dark, murky and serious all of a sudden. "I wouldn't have wanted to bet Nathan's life on me."
"You thought I was a better bet?" She squeaks.
"Sure." He downs a large mouthful of coffee, dark eyes sparkling with so much mischief it's hard to reconcile that to respecting one's elders and besides, Peter isn't that much older than her. "You may be short, but you're a lot stronger than you look."
In response she attempts to assault him, tries thumping his chest but he's too agile for her, backing up quickly so she's left swinging at empty air, self-satisfied smirk plastered on his face.
She sticks her tongue out. "I'll so get you, old man."
"One day maybe. One day."
They're back at the hotel and it doesn't take her any time at all to gather her things; she only literally had the clothes on her back after the explosion and the only things she's picked up since were the essentials required for basic hygiene. She's not even equipped with a hairdryer or curlers and that's saying something drastic for Claire Bennet.
Her dad is silent and curiously unyielding on their drive back from the hospital, the Bennets leaving the Petrellis by Nathan's side as he begins his slow recovery. At first she'd thought they'd be going back in a short while but when he tersely asks her to gather her things and put them in the car, she frowns and another possibility surfaces in her mind. "Dad, we are going back to see Nathan, right?"
She hears him take a deep breath, knows that something awkward is coming. "No, we're not."
She waits, patiently waits for an explanation because if there's one thing she's learned from all of this, it's to trust the people she loves. But when nothing's forthcoming she bursts impatiently, frustration already beginning to colour her tone. "What? Why not?"
There's a sigh; she turns to confront him but his back's still toward her, his jacket is in his hands and even from this angle she senses it's going to be something unpleasant. "We're not going back. We're going to California. Now."
He turns, unfazed by the furious sparks spitting from her eyes. "We're going to California. Mrs Petrelli's taking over Linderman's organisation. She's asked me to head up their operation on the west coast and I've agreed."
"What about Peter?" She adds awkwardly. "And Nathan? We can't just leave him here. And you – how can you work for those people again, after what they did to us? To Mom and Lyle?"
"Mom and Lyle are safe. They're safe, Claire, because of Mrs Petrelli." Her stomach flip flops in reverse, floored by guilt and relief and a lot of other things she's not able to express. She'd assumed after her dad's mad dash to New York with Matt Parkman and Ted Sprague that the rest of their lives would be spent running, separated from her mom and brother but now – is he saying what she thinks he's saying?
"Are they coming to California with us?"
"Yes, they are." He closes the distance between them, enfolds her into a hug and something like tears of joy well in his eyes. "We're going to be a family again."
"But how?" Left breathless with surprise and disbelief, she blurts out the next thought in her mind without thinking. "What about Peter?"
"I'm not sure what his plans are, but I assume he's going to be staying in New York with his family."
"But –" Claire sees where this is heading and it's a bittersweet realisation. "Why California? Can't we stay in New York?"
"Claire." He's trying his hardest to be patient and despite everything it feels like he's telling her what's going to happen instead of discussing it with her like equals, which grates at her. "Mrs Petrelli's asked me to look after the west coast operation. I need to be on the west coast. I need to protect you, and I can't do that if you're not with me."
It all sounds perfectly reasonable and yeah, it makes sense but she can't help feeling like she's being torn in two by the thought of being so far from Peter. Guilt and remorse fill her up too because she should be a hundred percent glad their family's going to be reunited, but she can't help it. Peter's her family now too, as much as her dad and mom and Lyle and the thought of being so far from him hurts, really actually hurts, like someone's just punched her hard in the gut.
"Can I at least say bye to everyone? To Peter?" She asks in a stupidly tiny voice, hating the pleading in it.
He shakes his head sadly. "I'm sorry Claire bear. We're booked on a flight to LA in an hour."
She's finally angry, honest to god angry. "What's the hurry? I can't say bye to anyone? After everything that's happened, you expect me to just leave him? Leave them?"
He zips his bag, the sound for some reason echoing finality, like his decision. "You'll see them soon. Mrs Petrelli's invited us over for Christmas, so you'll see them – you'll see Peter then."
Her eyes widen; she opens her mouth to say something but nothing comes out. His last words put everything into context, like pieces of a puzzle being assembled right in front of her. Doesn't know if the last words he said were deliberate or a slip of the tongue, but knows that it's part of the reason why she's being relocated as far from New York as possible. It doesn't take a genius to put two and two together and really, Claire's no genius by any stretch of the imagination.
She wants to be angry, but can't. It's strange and elusive but she understands why, understands their concern. If she isn't who she is and privy to the connection pulsating between her and Peter she may be worried too by their intimacy. The very thought of them thinking that about their closeness seems to sully what she shares with Peter, but knows they can never, ever understand what they share, knows it can never be categorised definitively or explained. So she doesn't try.
She understands but it doesn't mean she has to be happy about it. She glares at her dad who stands unfazed by her anger, whips around to head down to the car.
Her new room is barren and cold, which is stupid considering it's California and within driving distance to LA's supposedly mild climate. There's also absolutely nothing in her room expect for a mattress which her dad promises will be transformed into an actual bed when her mom and Lyle arrive tomorrow morning and they'll go on a shopping spree never rivalled in the history of the Bennet family.
She's still sulking over their abrupt departure from Alabama, can't believe that only this afternoon she'd been sitting in the hospital cafeteria drinking yucky coffee with Peter and now she's in a brand new model house with absolutely nothing to remind her of home. The house is so new the smell of paint still permeates the air; everything is quiet and dark outside and she suspects in the daylight she'll discover they've landed in one of those awful housing estates that have their own rules about ugly lawn ornaments and how tall their grass can be before it has to be mowed.
She resolves to find the ugliest, gaudiest thing she can tomorrow and put it out on the lawn for all their neighbours to see.
She hasn't talked to her dad for hours and continues the trend, stomping into what is to be her room (very large with its own walk in wardrobe but it's not nearly enough to make up for leaving Peter and Nathan) and slamming the door behind her. Crashes onto the mattress after covering it with sheets they'd gotten on their way from LAX, wanting to wipe the afternoon from her memory.
Doesn't know whether it's her calling him or him calling her, but even before she closes her eyes she feels him there, with her in the warm, sultry air.
They're back in the field of gold, the place she'll forever associate with him and him alone. The sun shines down on them, gentle breeze ripping through their hair, tangy, salty smell of the sea at their backs. "We had to leave." She says ruefully, looking into eyes that truly remind her of home.
"I know. My mom told me." She senses more unspoken words, so she waits patiently. Knows that he knows that she knows, and they both smirk at the thought with no end. "She thinks it's better you grow up away from all of this. Whatever 'this' is." Gestures around them, a veritable haven and Claire would describe it as heaven but knows it's only a poor facsimile of the real thing. But it'll do for now.
"She doesn't know, does she?" Claire asks, whimsically smiling at him.
"Does your dad?" He rejoins, answering her question. Her dad suspects, already knows they're capable of sharing dreams, knows it's a possibility they'll continue to do so. But maybe is resigned to the fact that he won't be able to stop it; maybe is even comfortable with them sharing dreams because they're just dreams.
Which is ironic, because her dreams with Peter aren't just dreams. She can't decide what's more real to her. Is she just a girl dreaming of a life with her dad and sharing reality with Peter?
"I'm going to have to start at a new school." She grumbles; it's all in good nature and he knows it. Tolerates and even is amused by it, reaching out to twirl tendrils of golden hair absently in his fingers.
"You'll be with family. That's what counts, isn't it?"
"But I won't be with you." She mumbles but doesn't colour, knows here and now he feels the same way. "I wanted to get to know you. For real."
"You know it's real." He looks at the lighthouse in the distance, listening to the roar of the waves. "You'd find me boring anyway. I was a nurse, you know."
She giggles. "I know. A –"
"Don't say it."
"A murse." She erupts into a fountain of giggles and suddenly he's there, tickling her. Knows her weak spots now and she succumbs embarrassingly quickly, can't even muster enough energy to retaliate to find his weak spots.
He doesn't relent until she's breathless from laughter, breathing hitching and she has to scream and scream for him to stop. When he finally does she's lying face up, glorious sunshine obscured by Peter's self-satisfied expression, his bangs tickling her face. "You seem to have a habit of tickling underage girls."
His smile widens, no trace of awkwardness in his features. "Only if they're my niece." Makes no move to withdraw his hands and she's glad, being with him feels like a part of home she's been missing for so long.
He's home, and she's glad he's with her. She draws him close, sinks deep into his chest, happy to touch this home she'll never be parted from ever again. He gathers her in his arms; feels his muscles rippling as he holds her tight against him.
So she closes her eyes, and sleeps with him by her side.
Author's Note: Well, it's finally finished! I hope you enjoyed the story, I must admit I did like writing it, especially from Claire's POV. The style is somewhat new to me but after this experience I think I'm going to keep it. Drop me a line to let me know what you think, I always enjoy hearing comments.