Written for 13fears at LJ for the prompt, "Xenophobia: Fear of Strangers"

A Stranger's Gain

Claire doesn't like Peter's new girlfriend, but she tries to not let it ruin her graduation.

At first, she feels miffed that Peter would bring an "outsider" to her graduation - an event she considers precious and rewarding for all the hardships she's endured. She doesn't mind if the entire Petrelli family is here; Angela, Nathan, Heidi, her half-brothers, and then Peter too. However, when she glances behind her to catch Peter's eye, she's surprised to see a tall leggy blond sitting next to him, holding his hand and resting her head on his shoulder.

Though as much as she tries, she can't shake the anger, and the rest of the day she feels like a twisted knot. She goes up to get her diploma, setting aside her thoughts of Peter's girlfriend and giving the world the brightest smile she can. She, after all, deserves it. She wants Peter to see her happy and bright, beyond the sad little girl he considers her.

And when she steps out of the exit line to her family, she's scared and not ready to meet the woman who has captured her Peter's heart. She bites her lip, and the woman extends her hand before she can hug Peter.

"Hi, I'm Niki Sanders," she says warmly. And the woman looks her over, and Claire notices she has a sadness behind her face - much like Claire does.

She takes the woman's hand, smiles, and her world falls into a daze. She can't look at Niki and Peter too deeply, so she separates herself from everyone, tightening her soul inside a little cocoon. If she lets go, she knows she'll just cry. She'll cry because she's always known this would happen; she can never have Peter the way she wants to and he can never have her.

Claire doesn't want to cry on her graduation day, so she smiles and wishes Niki and Peter the best. Her uncle seems relieved, and Claire knows he's not using his powers well enough. He's blinded by his new romance, this shining woman right beside him - a place Claire can never be.

Peter gives the woman a quick kiss to her lips; Niki giggles, and Claire secretly wishes Peter would delve a little deeper into her mind and know her true feelings.

But she knows he'll never do that. Peter respects her too much to dig into her heart - one of the million traits she so sorely loves about him.

When her father invites the Petrellis over to dinner, Claire gives him a sour look and Angela catches it. Her grandmother remarks that they have to catch their flight and that Claire already looks tired.

Claire gives her grandmother a grateful smile before they leave. Peter gives her one last hug, and Niki says she's glad to have met her. Claire only smiles but tunes her out. She doesn't want to know that voice; she doesn't want to even look at her face so she turns away. The Petrellis leave, and Claire can only stare at Peter's back.

She knows that's she's going to see him even less now. The phone calls will be less and less. The endearments will turn cold and sparse - ringing more like family and less like the cheerleader he's destined to save.

And the time and space between them will become wide - the light of his life owned by a stranger.