SUMMARY: AU for "Five Years Gone," Futurefic. Five years in the future, Claire's on the run and seeks out Peter in Las Vegas.
SPOILERS: HUGE ones for 1x20, "Five Years Gone," and 1x23, "How to Stop an Exploding Man"
This is an idea I would have loved to see play out during "Five Years Gone," but TPTB were not on my side. What if Matt didn't discover Claire at the Burnt Toast Diner? What if she left immediately, like HRG urged her to do, without even telling Andy? In my wacky brain, the idea EXPLODED. After I picked up the pieces and squeegeed the windows, I decided to sit down and write it. Please enjoy!
PS: This story contains my own pet theory about how Peter got his scar. I had to play around a bit with the events of "How To Stop an Exploding Man" to make it fit, but since the future of "Five Years Gone" was clearly different from how the future will be after "HTSEM," I don't think it's out of the question to say it COULD have happened like this.
When she walked through the door, Peter felt a moment of existential uncertainty. She was dead wasn't she? But... no, he'd saved her. Homecoming, five years ago. Save the cheerleader, save the world. That had turned out to be a lopsided deal in the end. He'd saved the cheerleader, sure. But saved the world...?
He downed his whiskey in one swallow. The alcohol had lost its burn years ago; these days it tasted like candy and maple syrup. He poured himself another glass, then turned his attention back to Claire.
Claire. That was a name he hadn't thought of since... Well, since he blew up a city and killed millions of people. That kind of thing tended to leave a man preoccupied. Deep down he'd always known she survived; if he was able to live through it when he was literally standing at ground zero, then Claire surely would have made it out alive. It had just been easier to keep her locked away in the back of his mind. Somewhere he didn't have to worry about her being shipped off to one of the "special" camps; trapped behind chain link and barbed wire; irradiated so she couldn't breed. BREED. Like she was an animal; livestock. Nathan's own daughter.
He shook his head, dispelling the thought. That was a dangerous area, even five years down the line. She was still a knockout, brunette or no brunette. Niece or no niece.
"Jesus, Peter," he muttered, rubbing his eyes with a weary hand. "You're not drunk enough to be thinking like that."
First Hiro had come wandering into the club, Ando in tow, and now Claire was here, too. It was like every ghost he'd tried to forget was suddenly knocking down his door. He'd been debating seeking out Hiro for the last few hours; had almost decided to make the trek to Odessa to find him. But now that Claire was here, he wasn't so sure that was a good idea...
He was invisible. She hadn't seen him. This was the time to walk away from the bar, go upstairs, and fuck Niki like a madman. Claire had made it this long without him; she wasn't going to go weak in the knees like some starry-eyed kid again. Hero worship had died the day the world took its heroes and turned them into cattle.
Those were all very good reasons to walk away, but they were trumped by one thing: her smile. That dazzling, white smile that he could remember now clear as day, making him wonder how he could ever have forgotten it. The smile she'd given him when he sat up, bloody and coughing, the day she pulled that shard of glass out of his head and brought him back to life. The smile that said she was glad he was there, glad he was alive; it was a precious thing.
And it was missing.
The Claire Bennet who stood there now, alone and forlorn in the entryway to the Pretty Kitty Club, looked like she'd forgotten how to smile. Her soft doe eyes were rimed with weariness as she bit her lip nervously and cast anxious glances into the shadowy corners of the bar. She was looking for someone, and there was only one person she knew in Vegas.
"Hey, Marco." Peter didn't take his eyes off Claire as he drew the bartender's attention.
Marco had long ago gotten used to Peter's tendency to wander around invisible, so he didn't so much as blink at the disembodied voice so close to his ear. "Yessir?" He calmly continued wiping down glasses.
"The girl by the door. Get her a room upstairs, on the house."
Marco glanced up briefly, then looked back to the glass in his hand. "Should I tell her who it's from?"
Peter hadn't yet looked away from Claire's petite figure. She was still, in a way, that sweet kid with the sad little smile he'd met five years ago in Texas. Only she wasn't a kid anymore, and even the sad smile was missing.
"You don't have to," he answered Marco's question, his voice little more than a rough whisper. "She'll know."
The room Claire found herself ushered into was massive compared to her modest apartment back in Midland. The front door opened into an open concept loft, with a simple sleeping area marked off by Japanese screens near the multitude of windows that comprised the far wall. Claire gave Marco a nervous smile as he opened the curtains, letting some light into the heavy darkness. "I don't know how much to tip you," she said, fingers flexing around the shoulder strap of her duffel bag.
Marco gave her a reassuring smile as he recrossed the room; it was the first reassuring thing she'd seen since receiving her father's warning the day before. "None needed. Make yourself comfortable."
"Thanks," she murmured, looking down.
"Hey." She looked up to find Marco watching her sympathetically from the doorway. "It's going to be all right."
She managed a crooked smile that didn't quite reach her eyes. "Yeah," she murmured.
Marco nodded, gave her one last smile, and quietly closed the door.
The first thing she did was drop her duffel and turn the deadbolt. Her hands were shaking but she managed to fasten the door chain with only a little difficulty. Once that was done, she crossed the room, picked up her duffel again, and sank onto the careworn sofa that dominated the loft's living area. Apart from the sofa and the bed, an outdated dining set and a mismatched pair of dressers, the room was largely unfurnished. The space felt hollow and haunted.
She laughed bitterly. "Guess that makes me the ghost."
"I think that'd be me, actually."
She nearly jumped out of her skin at the unexpected voice. "Jesus...!" she screeched, one hand flying to her mouth, the other to her heart. "Peter!" She looked around frantically. "Where are you?"
He appeared in front of her, wavering into existence like a mirage. "Hi, Claire," he murmured, dark eyes fixated on her face.
She leapt to her feet and pummeled him with her small fists. "Don't you EVER! DO! THAT! AGAIN!" she yelled, exclamating each word with a punch. It was like hitting a brick wall, but she didn't care. "You scared me to death, you bastard!"
Peter grabbed her hands. "Claire, stop it," he said firmly.
Furious, she kicked him in the shin.
"OW! Claire!" He gave her a firm shake. "Knock it off!"
"You scared me!" she exclaimed, struggling in his hold. "I'm so sick and TIRED of being scared!" Tears stung her eyes. "Dammit, why did I even come here!"
"Claire. CLAIRE!" He shook her again then released her hands, wrapping his arms around her and crushing her against his chest. "It's me," he told her firmly. "Just me." She felt him kiss the top of her head. "I'm sorry I scared you. Okay? I'm sorry..."
It had been so long since she'd heard the sound of his voice, and Claire found herself pressing her ear to his chest to listen to him breathe. "Peter..." she whispered, squeezing her eyes shut in an effort to hold back her tears. It didn't work.
"Shhh," Peter soothed, stroking her hair as she sobbed into his shirt. "It's okay. I've got you." He kissed the top of her head again. It was the most tender thing she'd felt in years; gentler even than Andy's giddy kisses. "You're safe."
Her sobs doubled and she wound her arms around his waist, holding on for dear life. This was why she'd come here. Peter always kept her safe.
"Can I ask you a question?"
Peter chuckled, his head bent over a carton of Chinese noodles. "If I said no, would it stop you?"
"No," Claire replied impishly, finishing off an egg roll. "But I like to be polite."
They were sitting on opposite ends of the loft's sofa, eating Chinese takeout and listening to some kind of alternative industrial grunge rock station on a portable radio. It wasn't the kind of thing either of them usually listened to, but it was easy to tune out when they were talking, and it filled the awkward silences when they both ran out of things to say.
Peter laughed softly, shaking his head as he curled more noodles around his chopsticks. "Ask away."
"How'd you get the scar?" There was no accusation in her voice, and no teasing. Just quiet curiosity and, buried deep under layers of caution, earnest concern. Like all evolved humans, she'd clearly learned over the years that asking questions could be dangerous.
He didn't meet her eyes, focused instead on his food, chewing slowly to buy himself time. The scar. He hardly noticed it anymore. It was a part of him, like his hands or feet. He barely remembered what he'd looked like before Nathan's election; smooth face, soft eyes. Claire was flicking through remembered images of him in her mind, and they poured into Peter's brain like half-forgotten ghosts. Had he really been that wide-eyed? That shining?
"Peter?" Her voice cut through his introspection, snapping him back to the here and now. "Did you hear me?"
He poked at the rubbery noodles in the bottom of the carton, appetite gone. "I cut myself," he answered, though he knew she wouldn't believe him.
He was right. "Cut yourself?" she laughed in disbelief. "Peter, you're indestructible. I should know; you got it from me, remember?"
"Doesn't matter," he said, stabbing more forcefully at his food. "That's what happened."
"Why are you lying to me?" Her voice was harder now.
"Why are you so damn eager to know?" he snapped, finally raising hard eyes to her face.
Claire didn't flinch. "Peter, the last time I saw you, the world hadn't ended. I could trust people. Now it's five years later, everything's gone to Hell in a firey handbasket, and you're lying to me. YOU. God, you're the only person I thought I could trust. I came here to find you. Is it so much to ask for a little goddamn honesty!"
For some reason, the outburst made his lips twitch in a phantom smile. "I don't think I ever heard you swear back in the day," he murmured.
Claire fumed silently. "Yeah, well, times change," she groused.
The truth of that statement cut across his abdomen like an acid-tipped dagger, and he closed his eyes as he tried to swallow down the bile that threatened to surge up his throat. Sometimes he let himself wonder what the world would have been like if there had been no explosion; if Nathan had never been elected to Congress, then the White House; if Peter himself had never woken up one morning convinced he could fly. Would he still have been a nurse? Would he be happy? Would all those millions of people who died in the explosion still be alive? Would he still have believed in destiny?
Petal-soft fingers touched his face, and his eyes snapped open as Claire slowly traced the raised flesh of his scar. "When I first went into hiding, I used to think about you," she murmured, the rancor gone from her voice as her eyes followed the path of her fingers. "I used to think, 'It's okay, Claire. Peter's out there. He's going to make everything all right, and then you can go home.'" She shook her head, her fingers curling against his cheek. "I was such an idiot back then."
"No you weren't," he answered reflexively, simultaneously wanting her hand to stay against his skin and wishing she'd take it away. "I tried. I tried so hard to fix things, Claire."
"I know you did." She stroked her thumb over his scar again, sending a shiver down his spine. "It was you, wasn't it." Not a question √ a statement.
"What was me?" he asked, knowing perfectly well what she meant. She was projecting her thoughts at a deafening volume that even the radio couldn't drown.
"The bomb." Her tone was level but not flat. He caught the faint break in her voice as she said bomb. "You were the bomb that blew up New York."
Hearing someone else say it was like cold water waking him from a sound sleep. "It was Sylar," he answered automatically, his mouth working independently of his brain.
"I was there, remember?" she told him. "You gave me a gun, told me to shoot you if you couldn't control it. But I never got the chance. Nathan and Angela loaded me onto a private jet and had me halfway to Cape Cod before I could find you again."
The memories were filtering back like something out of a dream. It was hard to remember the events that surrounded the explosion, though the explosion itself he could recall with picture perfect clarity. "You got away," he mumbled, lost in his own head.
"Eventually, yeah," she said. "I found my dad; disappeared. But it was too late by then."
He remembers burning, hands glowing white hot, the pavement beneath him turning molten. He remembers Sylar laughing, dying, enjoying the irony that a so-called hero would be the one to kill millions of innocents. He remembers Hiro, the little Japanese man with the big sword, who disappeared as quickly as he'd appeared. He remembers the way the sword hit the ground, lost, forgotten, a metallic clang that rang through the roaring in his ears.
He remembers picking it up.
"I tried to stop it," he rasped, lost in introspection. "I tried. There was... Hiro dropped his sword. I didn't have anything else. Nobody..." He flinched, hands clenching as he remembered. "It was the only way..."
Flesh and bone parting under the blade like a melon. The sick sensation of metal spearing through his brain to emerge the other side, dripping with red blood and gray matter. The scream he could barely hear even though it came from his own throat; the muscles tensing in his arms as he pulled the hilt DOWN, and the blade rocked UP...
"It didn't work..." Claire's voice was as small and tight as his own.
"It would have," he rasped, leaning into her touch. "I was too slow. Too damn slow. Jesus..."
The explosion melted the sword, melted Sylar, melted Peter's face and flesh away. Turned Kirby plaza to dust and more of the city to rubble. Turned humanity into a contest between those who were born and those who were born special. Turned his brother into a monster, his friends into corpses, his life into the eighth circle of Hell.
The rest of him returned unblemished, unmarred. But the scar never healed. Some never do.
The food sat forgotten on the coffee table, leaking the last of its heat into the still air. Peter hadn't spoken since his last revelation and Claire didn't press him, content to play with his fingers as she held his hand. It was weird that the silence between them, which should have been miserable and awkward, was actually the most comfortable silence they'd shared so far. It was the lack of secrets, Claire decided; the airing of old guilt. The 800 pound gorilla that sat between them at the start of the night had shrunk down to a quarrelsome but manageable monkey that was taking turns leaping from Peter's back to Claire's, over and over again.
"If you want to hate me, it's all right." Peter sounded like his voicebox had been soaked in battery acid, and it made her wince. "You can join the club."
"I don't hate you, Peter," she murmured, still staring at their hands, knowing he still had his head resting agaist the back of the couch with his eyes closed. If he'd been looking at her she would have felt it.
He laughed bitterly. "Because I ruined your life and destroyed the world?"
"You didn't ruin my life," she murmured and ignored his derisive snort. "You're not the one who made it a criminal offense to do what we do. You're not the one who made everybody afraid of us."
"Yes I am."
"No you AREN'T."
"STOP." She dug her fingers into his wrist and looked up. His profile was placid but she could feel the tension swimming beneath his skin. "You always had a martyr complex, Peter, but you never hated yourself or the world because of it. This isn't you."
"Like you said, times change." He tilted his head to the side, opening his eyes and staring at her. "Who are you?"
She blinked for a moment, confused. "What do you mean? I'm Claire."
"Are you?" He reached up with his free hand and tugged on a lock of her straight, dark hair. "The Claire Bennet I knew had soft, curly blond hair and a smile that could light up a room. Do you know how to smile?" His fingers touched her lips.
Claire shivered, remembering for a moment what it had been like that first day years ago at Homecoming. A tall, dark and handsome man had come out of the night to save her from the dastardly villain. All he'd been missing was the white horse and shining armor. She recalled how she'd felt in the aftermath; behind the terror and guilt, she'd felt wanted; special. Necessary in a way that being co-captain of the cheer squad couldn't begin to match. Claire Bennet fell a little bit in love with Peter Petrelli that day, and no matter what had happened in the interim, she was still a little bit in love with him today.
Truth be told, as his fingertips traced her lips, she had to admit that it was less "a little bit" and more "a whole lot."
She looked away, pulling back far enough that his hand dropped to rest on his stomach. "Of course I know how to smile," she argued, feeling flustered and embarrassed. He was her uncle; what business did he have paying attention to her smile or the texture of her hair? Who did he think he was, making her remember girlhood crushes that had never gone anywhere? "There's just not a whole lot to smile about these days."
He laughed without humor and passed a weary hand over his eyes. "Yeah," he agreed. "Tell me about it."
She debated telling him about Andy. Andy had made her smile. Sweet, dimpled Andy; all farmboy heart and guileless charm. It broke her heart to imagine what he must think of her now. The only comfort she could draw from the situation was that at least he'd be able to find someone better with her gone; someone less likely to get him killed, injured, or otherwise screw up his life.
It still hurt, though. A lot.
"When was the wedding supposed to be?"
Her gaze snapped up, eyes wide. "What? What wedding?" she stammered.
Peter gave her a bemused smile and tapped his forehead. "Telepath, remember?"
She blushed bright red. "Next month," she murmured, looking down at the weave of the upholstery.
"I'm sorry, Claire."
She shrugged uncomfortably, plucking at a loose thread in the cushion beneath her legs. "That's life, right? You roll with it or you go crazy." She dared a look at him. "What about you? Anyone special in your life?"
"Sort of. Her name's Niki, but she goes by Jessica."
Claire had a mental flash of a poster on the marquis outside; a tall, leggy woman wrapped around a stripper's pole. "The one on the sign?"
He shrugged noncommittally. "I don't know why we're together," he admitted. "We just sort of... found each other." His eyes dimmed. "Her husband's dead, and her little boy died in the explosion."
Claire bit her lip in sympathy. "I'm sorry..." she murmured.
"She's never really moved on," he mumbled, as though she hadn't spoken. An unpleasant grin twisted his mouth. "Neither have I, actually. Maybe it's karma. My penance."
"Does she know-"
"It FEELS like penance," he went on, staring sightlessly at the coffee table. "She hates Sylar so much for what she thinks he did to her son. She won't even say his name. She doesn't know it was me; that the one she's really hating is the one she sleeps with every night. I wonder if it would even make a difference if I told her. She thinks she loves me, and I think I love her, but there are days when I hate her for reminding me of all the things I did wrong, and days I know she hates me for trying to make her move on." He shook his head. "They say it's a fine line. I never really understood that until now."
Claire hesitated a moment before sliding closer to him and carefully resting her head on his shoulder. She allowed herself a soft exhalation of relief when he didn't push her away, and slowly relaxed against his arm. "You used to smile, too," she murmured. "Back in the day."
"Not like you." She was grateful to hear a touch of amusement in his voice.
"A smile's still a smile. Do you even remember how?"
"When the mood strikes me, yeah."
"I'd like to see that."
She closed her eyes and gripped his hand between both of hers. "I missed you, Peter," she whispered, aware of tears prickling her eyes and burning in her throat.
His free arm wrapped around her shoulders, pulling her in close to his body. "I missed you, too, Claire," he murmured, pressing a kiss to the top of her head before resting his forehead against hers.
"There were days I thought I'd never see you again." Her words were tight, her throat constricted. "My dad said you were in Vegas, and I wanted to see you, but things were so dangerous..."
"Shhh..." He kissed her cheek, and if it was a little less than chaste she wasn't going to argue. "You'll be safe here. I won't let anyone hurt you."
"I'm not a porcelain doll," she protested, but the tears on her cheeks took all the force from her words. "I can't be broken."
"I know." He kissed her tears away. "That doesn't mean I can't protect you."
"Save the cheerleader, save the world? Peter, you're backsliding."
"You're not just some cheerleader," he argued softly, and Jesus, his lips were so close to hers, brushing the corner of her mouth. If she turned her head just a fraction of an inch...
"What am I then?" she whispered, voice breaking. "Everybody and their cousin is after me. I can't go to sleep without looking over my shoulder." She curled closer to him, soaking up his warmth like a sponge. "What makes me so special, Peter?"
He sighed, his warm breath brushing over her mouth. "You're Claire," he murmured, as if that explained everything.
Her lips parted ever so slightly. "That's not a reason," she whimpered.
"It's enough," he whispered, and kissed her.
The instant their lips met Peter knew it was wrong. He also knew he wasn't going to break away unless she told him point blank to stop. There were thousands of reasons why kissing Claire was a bad idea, starting with the fact that she was his NIECE and ending with the fact he was a mass murderer (albeit unwilling). But absolutely none of that mattered to his love-starved brain, and instead of pulling away he found himself pressing closer, drawing her slender legs across his lap so his arms could curl around her properly. The taste of her exploded on his tongue, a mix of lip gloss and sweet and sour pork. He couldn't get enough of her; wanted to swallow her whole. His hands moved of their own accord, mapping the dip between her shoulder blades and the soft, effortless curve of her spine down to her tailbone.
"This... what are we doing?" Claire panted between kisses, her soft lips hungrily attacking his own. If he'd been a poet he could have written a book of sonnets about her lips alone. Niki's lips were too often pinched, cold; a hard mouth; a grieving mouth. Not so with Claire. Her mouth was warm and full against his, welcoming him in. Her soft tongue probed at the roof of his mouth and he almost lost his mind, pressing his hands into her flesh with bruising force, knowing she could take it.
"We're breaking the rules," he rasped, burying one hand in her thick, chocolate-brown hair and drawing her in for a deep, agonizingly perfect kiss. The world shrank to a mere pinprick of light in his periphery as he focused on her lips and the soft, keening whimpers she poured into his mouth. Her small hands clutched at his shoulders, pulling him closer and closer.
She swung around into his lap, straddling his legs, and God save him, her breasts were pressing against his chest and her nipples were two tight pebbles through the thin fabric of her shirt. He hadn't realized how short the denim skirt was that she wore, but as she settled on his thighs he became all too aware of the heat pooled between her legs. He moaned, his hands sliding down her back to grip her hips.
"Is this wrong?" she whispered against his lips, her fingers making deep furrows through his hair as she held on for dear life. "We shouldn't do this..." A hungry, helpless kiss; a brush of a thumb across his temple. "I shouldn't want you. You don't know... I used to dream..."
"Shhh..." Peter moved one hand from her hip to cup her cheek, feeling wetness there; quietly-shed tears. He kissed her again, softer this time, reassuring. "Claire, I've wanted you since the hallway at Odessa High." He closed his eyes, pressing his forehead against her shoulder and trying to bring his breathing back under control. "You were so young, and so vulnerable. People were trying to kill you, and I had to protect you, but Christ, I wanted to touch you." His lips found a bare patch of skin at the crook of her neck, and he sucked gently for a moment, gathering his thoughts.
"I wanted to kill my brother when I found out you were my niece," he murmured. "But if he hadn't been your father, I never would have met you at all."
They held each other quietly for a few minutes. Peter closed his eyes, boosting his mental filters to keep Claire's thoughts out of his head. She deserved her privacy; deserved a chance to be alone in mind if not in body. He could hear her heart pounding, coupled with the shaky rhythm of her breathing. It was an oddly soothing combination, and he pressed his lips against her pulse point so he could feel as well as hear it.
"They changed the rules." Her voice vibrated against his lips as she whispered, and he felt her shift closer, her flat belly pressing against his own. "We can't break the rules if they already broke them; they made us into monsters. So much for a brave new world. They're nothing but a bunch of cowards." Soft lips touched his temple and Peter felt his heart stop for a full second before starting again at triple speed.
"Brave new world, brave new rules," she murmured by his ear. "Rule Number One: we get to write the rules." Her fingers combed through his hair. "What do we want Rule Number Two to be?"
Peter raised his head, stared into her eyes. The nervousness was still there; the anxiety of doing something so taboo. But her gaze flicked to his mouth and he watched her pupils dilate as she licked her soft pink lips.
He touched her cheek, bringing her dazed eyes back to his. "Rule number two," he murmured, voice ragged. "This isn't wrong. Okay?" He drew her face down, hands shaking, and pressed their foreheads together, whispering the phrase over and over again. "This isn't wrong... This isn't wrong... This isn't wrong..." He closed his eyes, lips moving without sound.
Claire's voice was soft. Her hands cradled his cheeks. So delicate. It had been so long since anyone had touched him this tenderly, and the pain of too many wasted years seared across his chest, squeezing his lungs.
"Peter, look at me. Peter..."
The sincerity in her voice was too much. He let out a shuddering breath and opened his eyes, his lashes brushing over her lips.
Claire smiled, stroking a hand down his cheek. "It's okay," she murmured. "I know you're scared. I'm scared, too." She traced the outline of his mouth. "I trust you, Peter. Take me to bed."
Claire wasn't a virgin, and she hadn't been one in a long time. When she'd first gone on the run she'd turned rebellious, and wound up sleeping with some guy she picked up at a coffee shop. On reflection she'd known it was a mistake, and she always regretted giving her virginity away to a complete stranger whose name she couldn't even remember. But he'd had dark eyes and emo hair, and the name didn't matter anyway because she cried out "Peter!" when she came.
He didn't bother to ask for her phone number after that, and she didn't offer to give it.
That was six names and five years ago, and now she was being carried to bed by her dream lover. Who happened to be her uncle. Who also blew up New York. And really, didn't it just make sense that her love life should be as screwed up as the rest of it?
When they reached the bed she saw that the covers had already been neatly turned and the pillows plumped, and she couldn't resist an impish smile. "That telekinesis comes in handy, doesn't it?"
"It makes it easier to get boxes off high shelves." He returned her smile with one of his own, and for a moment they were almost normal. Just a guy and a girl about to make love after being apart for much, much too long.
Her head touched the pillow as he laid her on the bed, and she drifted back to reality. Peter sank onto the edge of the mattress, gazing down at her, and Claire gave him a dreamy smile. "Whatcha thinkin'?" she asked, tracing his jaw with her fingertips.
He leaned into her touch. "You're absolutely beautiful," he murmured with a smile, kissing her thumb.
Claire blushed and bit her lip to mask her smile. "I haven't gotten to shower since last night, and my make-up's shot to hell," she protested.
He shrugged faintly, unconsciously rubbing her arm. The sensation sent pleasure darts throughout her body, warming her from head to toe. "You're still beautiful," he assured her. His fingers moved to her hair, wrapping a slender tendril around a fingertip. "You've always been beautiful...," he murmured.
Claire tilted her head, watching his hand as he played with her hair. "The last time I saw you I was a blond," she murmured, apropos of nothing. "That feels like a hundred years ago."
Her eyes widened as her hair morphed in a heartbeat, going from rich brown to shimmering gold before her eyes. "It wasn't that long ago," Peter murmured.
"How... How did you do that?" She turned surprised eyes in his direction.
He laughed softly. "Neat, isn't it? It's just an illusion." He fondly stroked her soft golden curls. "I met this woman once. Candice Wilmer." He covered Claire's eyes for a moment and she fluttered her lashes against his palm. "She could make people see whatever she wanted them to see. Like magic." He took his hand away.
Claire gasped. The Peter who hovered over her wasn't the Peter who'd been there when he covered her eyes. The scar was gone, and the rough stubble. His hair was no longer slicked back, and instead hung over his right eye. Her hand twitched up automatically to tuck it behind his ear. "Peter...," she breathed.
He kissed her inner wrist. "This is how it should have been," he spoke quietly. "You and me, like this. Back before the world went crazy."
"It never would have happened," she reminded him gently. "We still paid attention to the old rules back then." She cradled his cheek in the palm of her hand, marveling that the illusion could even turn his skin smooth despite the lines of anxiety she knew were still there. "No more lies, Peter," she murmured, brushing her thumb across his cheekbone. "I'm tired of pretending all the time. I want this to be real."
Tilting her hand, she passed her palm over his face, and the illusion melted in its wake. He gazed down at her, scarred and hardened, but with the same soft brown eyes she remembered from their first meeting at Odessa High. With a little giggle she combed her fingers through his slicked back hair, trying to tease it into its familiar emo style.
"Having fun?" Peter asked, amused. His hand was resting on her stomach, but far from feeling awkward, Claire could feel her skin tingling with anticipation.
"Yes," she answered, gently tugging on his forelock. "I like playing with your hair."
"Do you now?"
"When did this start?"
She giggled as he kissed her wrist. "I always liked your hair. It used to flop over your eyes and made you look like a puppy dog."
He laughed, eyes bright, and Claire's heart swelled. "I did NOT look like a puppy," he argued, grinning and tickling her playfully.
She batted his hand away, laughing. "Yes you did!" Her fingers combed through his hair a few times, loosening it up and draping a thick hank across his right eye. "There," she observed, fussing a few seconds more then letting her hand fall away. "That's better."
He arched an eyebrow. "I meet with your approval now, is that it?" he teased.
"Yes." She gave a firm little nod, then bookended it with a shy smile. "What about me?"
Peter leaned in and kissed her sweetly on the tip of her nose. "Brown, blond √ you could be bald, Claire, and you'd still be beautiful."
She could feel herself blushing bright red. "Leave it blond," she murmured, resting her palms on his shoulders. "Sandra had brown hair, not me. I don't want to be Sandra when I'm making love to you."
"No more lies?" Peter echoed quietly.
"No more lies," Claire agreed, so softly she almost couldn't hear herself speak.
He nudged her gently with his nose before lowering his head to seal his mouth to hers. He tasted like whiskey and wontons, and she loved it. His tongue moved past her lips, stroking the top of her mouth, and she loved that, too. Her stomach muscles clenched and fluttered as his fingers moved under the hem of her form fitting shirt, and she definitely loved THAT.
Apparently Peter did, too, because he moaned softly into her mouth as his hand passed over her smooth, flat belly. "God, I want to see you naked," he breathed, pressing his nose into her cheek and panting.
Claire smiled and kissed the corner of his mouth. "Okay," she whispered, wriggling out from under him and kneeling in the middle of the bed.
"What are you doing?" Peter asked, turning onto his side, a curious expression on his face.
"Shhhh..." Claire reached out and laid her finger over his lips. "I'm giving you what you want. Now hush."
Her fingers hooked under the hem of her shirt and she slowly drew it up her body, taking the time to let him enjoy every inch of revealed skin. The bra she was wearing wasn't anything special, just a simple scrap of navy blue lace and satin she got off the rack at Wal-Mart, but it could have been the latest from Victoria's Secret judging by Peter's expression as she pulled the shirt away and tossed it to the end of the bed. "Careful, Peter," she teased softly. "I think you're drooling."
He glanced up from her chest and found her eyes. "Could you blame me?" he asked, voice low and hoarse.
Claire barely had time to blush before he'd crawled across the bed and pressed his lips against her bare stomach, nipping and sucking, circling her navel with the tip of his tongue. Claire moaned softly, letting him bear her backwards to lean against the pillows. "Do you like my belly, Peter?' she cooed, stroking his hair. "Do I taste good?"
He muttered something unintelligible in answer, sending pleasant vibrations through her body, and she purred in response. Still stroking his hair and watching him with soft eyes, she began unzipping her skirt, feeling as the denim parted over her hip. She laughed when she felt Peter's telekinesis take hold of the material and drag it down her legs while his hands held her waist, keeping her from wiggling away before he was ready to let her go. "No fair," she complained playfully. "I can't do that to YOU."
His mouth left her stomach as he rose up over her, propped on his elbow to gaze into her eyes. "You do more to me than you could possibly imagine," he whispered, brushing his lips across her cheek.
Claire's eyes fluttered shut and she shifted onto her side, cuddlng against his chest, hands clasped under her chin as if in prayer. His arm draped over her waist, holding her protectively, and tears sprung to her eyes as she realized that for the first time in five years, she wasn't afraid. "Peter?" she asked shakily.
"Do you have any tricks for getting out of your clothes without taking your arms away?" She sniffed, quickly swiping a stray tear away.
He laughed softly and kissed her forehead. "I can think of something," he mused, nuzzling her hair. "Close your eyes."
"They already are."
He rolled them over. True to his word she never left the warm circle of his arms, but she felt... something. A shift. A strange rushing sensation that was over as quickly as it had begun.
And she could tell without looking that he was naked.
She opened her eyes; found her vision filled by the muscular tableau of his bare chest and shoulders. Slowly dragging her gaze upward, she found him smiling down at her through his hair. "What'd you do?" she asked.
"Phased through my clothes."
She blinked. "You mean you just..." She wiggled expressively in his arms. "Just rolled out of them?"
Her eyes sparkled. "That is so COOL." Then she paused, thought, and added, "Kind of gross, too, but mostly cool."
Peter laughed and kissed her. "I love you, Claire," he said with a grin against her lips.
Claire felt her heart explode at the words. She didn't even know if he was aware he'd said them, but they rang in her ears like church bells. Wrapping her arms around his neck and hooking her leg over his waist, she pressed her full body against him and whispered, "I love you, too." Then she kissed him, because she couldn't think what else to say.
Blood was rushing past Peter's ears, probably on its way south, and it took every ounce of his willpower to keep from ripping off Claire's bra and panties so he could finally touch and taste every inch of her body. He rolled them again, this time ending in a sitting position with Claire perched in his lap. Her eager mouth was exploring his throat and collarbone, and he moaned. "Claire..." He squeezed her tight around the middle. "I have to take-"
"I'll do it," she mumbled between kisses, and clearly she'd developed telepathy to go along with her regenerative abilities because she rolled out of his lap long enough to kick off her panties then scrambled back again. "Better?" she panted, then kissed him deeply before he had a chance to answer.
Peter wanted to laugh. This was too much! Five years he'd been suffering under a mountain of guilt and paranoia, but a few hours in Claire's presence and all he felt was contentment. It didn't matter that she was his niece, or that she'd been engaged until just recently, or that he himself was in a more-or-less serious relationship with a woman who was asleep just downstairs. The rest of the world fell away and all that remained was Claire, warm and golden in his arms, the moist warmth between her legs pressing against his stomach as she gripped him between her thighs and attacked him with her lips.
She'd told him she loved him. Nobody had done that since... since before the end of the world.
"Claire," he murmured, finding her lips and kissing her deeply. She melted into the kiss, her frantic movements easing as she draped her arms over his shoulders. Good. That's what he'd wanted. His hands slid up her back, and she sighed into his mouth as he unclasped her bra. "Like that?" he asked softly as she let him pull the bra off and toss it away to join the rest of her clothes.
"Feels nice," she sighed, rubbing her breasts experimentally against his chest and groaning. "Ooh... Oh..."
Her skin was smooth and tan, like honeyed silk, and Peter's hands felt clumsy and rough as he stroked her thigh. "I'm going to make love to you, Claire Bennet," he murmured by her ear.
"Yes, please," she whimpered, pressing her face into his shoulder and tightening her legs around his waist. "I don't want to move..."
"Shhh..." He slid a hand under her bottom, lifting her easily. She moaned as cool air rushed between them, and he shushed her with a soft kiss. It amazed him that he wasn't shaking as he took her wrist and guided her hand between their bodies, wrapping her slender, delicate fingers around his cock.
Claire's lashes fluttered open and she gazed at him, pupils dilated like rock pools in her sea-green eyes. "This is real," she murmured. "Not a dream."
He nodded. "Yeah."
Tears spilled down her cheeks as she smiled. "Thank God," she whispered, and kissed him as she sank down.
The moment her warm, tight heat wrapped around him, Peter was deluged in a sea of images. Jumbled memories √ half hers, half his own √ clouded his vision and made him ache. He remembered their first meeting; the shine of her lip gloss in his jail cell; the color of his eyes when he was dead, and the way he looked at her when she brought him back to life; a pink cellphone with her lip prints on the grill; a shard of bloodied glass...
Claire's cry cleared his vision, and he felt her trembling in his arms as her slender hips rocked against his own. "Peter, please," she begged, fingers buried in his hair. "Peter...!"
He stared at her in awe; her flushed cheeks, swollen lips, shining green eyes. "God I love you," he breathed.
"I love you," she panted, nodding rapidly. "I love you... Peter...!"
He tilted her backwards, reveling in the way her freshly-golden hair spread out across the blankets like a halo. She was gasping for air, which did incredible things to her chest, and Peter decided that when this part of their reunion was over he was going to spend a few hours paying sole attention to her breasts. But right now...
"Oh... God, YES," Claire moaned as he began to move. Her hands clutched at his arms, seeking purchase as her hips moved in rhythm with his. "Yes, PLEASE..."
"I'm here," he rasped, throat tight with emotion and lust. Pressing his face into her throat, he moaned, "I'm here... "
Her fingers scrabbled at his back as she stretched her one leg out to the side, displaying some of her cheerleader flexibility so he could sink deeper. "Oh... Oh God... oh God oh God oh GOD OH GOD," she keened, pressing on his tailbone with one delicate hand, trying to push him deeper and hold him still at the same time. "Right there! RIGHT THERE!"
His thrusts were getting shorter now; tighter. He focused all his concentration on the sounds Claire was making. He could taste her arousal like perfume on the air, and it filled his lungs like fire. Reaching out, he gently touched her thoughts, careful not to go too deep.
"YESSS!" she screamed, and his mind was flooded with deep, primal pleasure in hues of red and gold. For a moment he couldn't breathe as Claire's orgasm washed over him both physically and mentally, filling every sense as she shuddered and exhulted beneath him.
His own orgasm was a crude, earthbound pleasure compared to the out-of-body experience Claire's climax had given him. It almost wasn't worth it to finish.
Almost. But not quite.
Claire was on top of the world.
Her feet were propped on the pillows, but her head was most definitely in the clouds. Peter's warm weight was the only thing keeping her from drifting away entirely. She snuggled beneath him, giggling dreamily as she stretched her toned legs, pointing her toes at the headboard and wiggling happily. "That was AMAZING," she sighed, reaching her hands above her head and arching up from the bed in a full-body stretch.
Peter mumbled his agreement, and Claire giggled again. He'd been spending the past few minutes ardently exploring her breasts with his lips and fingers, and she was more than happy to let him continue. "Having fun?" she teased playfully, ruffling his hair.
"Mm-hmm," he hummed, closing his lips around one nipple and sucking gently.
"Mmmmm..." Claire closed her eyes, feeling her hips rock in gentle rhythm with the suction of his mouth. Tilting her head, she kissed his tousled hair, breathing him in. "I felt you," she murmured. "In my head, before I..." She blushed. She'd just had incredible sex with a man she loved to distraction, but she still couldn't say the word orgasm without blushing like a schoolgirl. "I felt you," she repeated softly.
Peter raised his head, gently kissing the hollow of her throat before meeting her eyes. "You did?" He brushed her hair back from her face.
She nodded, gazing up into his face. "It felt like butterflies in my head," she murmured, tracing his scar with a gentle fingertip.
That made him smile, which in turn made Claire smile. "That's a first," he admitted, rubbing her side.
"I liked it," she assured him, playing with his hair. Her blush deepened. "It sort of... helped things along."
He dropped a sweet kiss on her lips. "You, my dear, are adorable," he grinned.
"No more than YOU, sir," she teased back, raising her head to nuzzle him lovingly.
They stayed that way for several quiet minutes, enjoying each other's presence. Claire knew the real world was going to intrude eventually, and their little bubble of contentment was going to burst, but right here, right now, she was comfortable and warm and in love. The rest of the world could take a long walk off a short pier as far as she was concerned.
"What do you want to do next, Claire?" Peter finally murmured, breaking the silence and poking the first hole in their happy bubble.
"What do you mean?" she hedged, looking at his lips to avoid his eyes.
"You came here to be safe," he explained quietly, "and I'll keep you safe. I won't let anybody hurt you." He kissed her forehead and Claire let her eyes drift shut. "But we can't hide who you are forever. We can't hide US forever."
"I don't want to hide us," she murmured, running her fingers over his collarbone.
"Me either." He rested his forehead against hers with a sigh, and Claire raised her eyes to watch him. "We could leave," he finally suggested.
"And go where?"
"Anywhere. Somewhere less conspicuous."
"Like where? Peter, we're going to stick out like a sore thumb no matter where we go."
"I know that. I just..." He shook his head faintly. "I don't want to lose you again, Claire," he told her. "And if we stay here, I'm scared that someone's going to take you away from me."
"You mean Nathan?" she asked softly. When he didn't answer she knew she'd hit the mark. "Oh Peter..."
"I'll take you somewhere green," he murmured, brushing his thumb against her breast. "I'm sick of the desert. I'll take you somewhere to match your eyes."
The sentiment made her smile. "Somewhere on the ocean?" she asked, stroking his cheek.
He leaned into her touch. "Anywhere you want," he assured her.
She was tired of running. She'd been running for the past five years with no finish line in sight. For some foolish reason she'd believed that finding Peter would somehow put an end to her wandering. Of course he was right √ Nathan knew where Peter was, and he was bound to find out about Claire one way or another. They weren't safe here, either of them. If Nathan found out his brother was sheltering her, or worse, that his brother was SLEEPING with her...
"You'll stay with me?" she asked, voice tiny.
"I'm never leaving you again," he answered without hesitation.
She blinked through her tears and offered him a tender smile. "My dad told me once that home was wherever our family was together," she murmured, cupping his face. "It was a long time ago, and I haven't had a family √ a real family √ in years."
She tugged him down for a long, lingering kiss, pouring her years of loneliness and fear into the connection between them. Peter wrapped his arms around her, holding her tight against his chest.
"Rule number three," she whispered against his mouth. "Home is with each other, and it doesn't matter where we are. Agreed?"
He nodded faintly, brushing her lips with a shaky kiss. "Agreed."
She smiled, tears prickling her eyes. "Okay then, emo boy," she murmured, tugging on his ears. "What do you think about Seattle?"