Disclaimer: Characters and situations owned by NBC.
Timeline/Spoilers: Up to "Nothing to Hide", with background info from "Six Months Ago". Covers mainly the period of the first three episodes.
Thanks to: Kathy, for beta-reading, and WeeWarrior, for inspiration.
The first time Peter mentions his dreams about flying, Nathan reacts with blind panic, quickly followed by anger. Peter only gets to see the anger, which is just as well.
Nathan hasn't stopped being angry since their father died. It's just that the anger keeps changing focus, from Linderman, for having had some mysterious hold over their father for years, to himself, for having been ready to go through with that betrayal in the courtroom, to Pa, for at last succeeding in his attempts to get out of being the head of the Petrelli family. Nathan doesn't doubt for a moment that his father knew what his sons were about to do, and that suicide was his answer. They might just as well have killed him themselves. But when he stands in front of Peter, Peter who is still protected by ignorance about all the previous attempts, he finds himself unable to say so and says "just be grateful he never knew his sons were about to stab him in the back" instead.
Some of the anger is for Peter, too, which helps when Peter wants explanations about why Nathan goes from intending to prosecute Linderman to accepting money for his campaign within a week of their father's funeral. Nathan doesn't even consider telling him about his secret deal with the FBI. Not just because Agent Quesada insists on complete secrecy, or because of a fear Peter, with his tendency to flaunt his emotions, wouldn't be able to keep this particular secret, and only partly because he doesn't want Peter anywhere near Linderman. Peter is just the type to believe he should join his brother's effort to bring their father's mobster pal down. No, it's mostly because Peter being accusatory and wounded offers a great opportunity to finally vent a bit, and Nathan needs that. He makes a lot of cutting remarks about naiveté and moral superiority complexes and Peter's general childishness. What he doesn't say, not once, is: "You shouldn't have sided with me against your own father. You shouldn't have been on my side."
That would be unforgivable. Besides, Nathan likes to think he's still rational about everything, his bizarre hallucination during the… accident notwithstanding. It didn't happen. It couldn't have happened. If it happened, he is something even more unnatural than a son who is responsible for his father's death, and his contribution to getting his wife crippled is far worse than having accepted the D.A.'s request regarding Linderman. So it never happened. Nathan is able to believe that until Peter starts talking about flying. And talks. And talks. And never stops.
Despite being the most ambitious and hence the busiest of A.D.A.s, Nathan always used to find time for his brother, but no longer. He tries to brush Peter off on the phone, he finds some other place to go to when Peter shows up at the house or in Nathan's office. Only this doesn't stop Peter talking about his dreams and his ideas about flying, and it's additionally sabotaged by the fact Nathan is worried when Peter doesn't show up at regular intervals to visit his brother, because he immediately suspects something must have happened. He can't talk to Peter anymore, and he can't let him go; they are in a vicious circle, and if Peter would only stop with his mania about flying, maybe they could get out of it, but Peter doesn't.
It's 6.10 in the morning, Nathan never forgets the time, when what's left of his hope that at some point, his life will get back to normal again is destroyed altogether. There is his brother, his little brother, standing on a rooftop and yelling about this being his time to be someone. Then Peter jumps. It's all the times of finding Pa in the bathroom, or his locked office, or finally in the garage. It's watching Heidi screaming his name while the car crashes, and yes, that happened, he saw it, he saw it from an impossible distance above the ground. It's worse than any of that. Peter falls, he falls, no sign of flying, none at all, in a few seconds he will hit the pavement, and he'll be dead.
Nathan doesn't realize he's up in the air again until his hands touch Peter's arms, and Peter looks at him in stunned disbelief.
Afterwards, when he's sitting on the pavement with his unconscious but otherwise unharmed brother lying next to him, Nathan draws a few shuddering breaths, then he feels his stomach lurch and gets away from Peter barely in time to throw up. He's not able to clean himself and be the public façade of Nathan Petrelli again until last night's meal and this morning's coffee are well and truly done with. The anger, on the other hand, is still there. If anything, it has got worse.
He is something that shouldn't exist, he truly is, and that other, unnatural thing in him is going to eat everything normal in Nathan's life if he lets it, like a cancer. It's already taken Heidi's legs, and the happiness of their marriage; it will take his career, everything he's worked for, if anyone ever finds out. And the worst thing is, he can't wish it away anymore. If not for whatever bizarre circumstance has made Nathan into a freak of nature, Peter would be dead right now. As realizations go, Nathan could have really done without this one, but he knows it's true: if he had to choose between a life that left Heidi uncrippled, which is how it would have been if he had remained in his seat, hands on the wheel like any normal human being, but Peter dead and splattered all over the pavement, and the current fucked up mess he's facing with Peter alive, Heidi in her wheelchair and his career threatening to implode, he'd pick the current mess every time.
He hates Peter a little for that.
So when Peter wakes up and of course immediately wants to talk about flying, it's not that difficult for Nathan to say: "You jumped, Pete" and to lie about having picked Peter up from a fire escape. Because Peter did jump. He jumped, and he didn't know Nathan had the ability to catch him. Peter trusted in something that wasn't there; Peter can't be trusted with his own life. No, it's perfectly easy to lie to Peter and to ignore the hurt, betrayed expression in his brother's eyes. If Peter is set on getting himself killed, just like their father was, Nathan is not going to let him, and nobody said he'd have to be nice about it.
Later, his mother tells him she has informed Peter of the truth about their father's death, at last, and Nathan thinks he understands why. His own relationship with his mother is complicated and includes periods in which he doesn't understand her at all and periods in which he understands her far too well, with the latter being far more disturbing than the former. This is one of them. She is as angry as he is, but she'd never show that anger to Peter openly; instead, she channels it by taking away Peter's protection from that particular old secret.
The trouble is that Peter is a Petrelli, too, which is something most people who know them all do not believe and even Nathan forgets at times. He gets a reminder when being summoned to that cursed rooftop Peter jumped from, again. Peter is as good as any of them at recognizing vulnerabilities and striking. First, he asks whether Nathan knew about their father, and after he's made sure of that, he threatens to jump again if Nathan doesn't tell him what he wants to hear. "We already played this game," Nathan says, but they haven't, not really. Last time, Peter at least didn't know what he was doing. This time, Peter does.
It's frightening and humiliating and galling beyond measure, this awareness that one person has that much power over you and your life isn't really your own, will never be your own, because of that. Nathan says "we flew", but he might as well have said, "you win", and his hand, wiping his mouth, shakes a little. Peter chooses this time not to believe him and simultanously manages to demonstrate he does indeed share Nathan's unnaturalness, hovering above the ground, and when Nathan points that out with a silent gesture because he doesn't trust himself not to yell at this point, Peter wins all over again in another fashion. His face transforms into a smile of wonder and delight the way it hasn't done since before their father died, and the embrace he pulls Nathan into doesn't allow for any of the distance that has grown between them during the intervening months. Even the anger has no place there, not at this moment. "Did you see that," Peter whispers, "did you see?" and Nathan finds himself murmuring back, "yes, I saw", all protective sarcasm and fury gone, swept away by the tide of emotions that is his brother.
It doesn't last, of course. But it makes Nathan decide on his next course of action, which has to be drastic. For one thing, it really is just a matter of time before some journalist will find out about Peter's brief stint in the hospital and its reason, and makes the connection to his father's medical history. This is just the kind of thing that happens in a campaign. For another, and just as importantly, he can't allow himself to give up. That moment on the rooftop was a warning sign of how easy it would be. Giving in to Peter and Peter's notion about embracing this freak of nature thing, and giving up on everything else. There has to be a barrier, something Nathan can put between himself and Armageddon, and after some pondering, he comes up with the ideal method.
Strictly speaking, it's not necessary for Peter to be there during the announcement. On the contrary, it's risky to tell him to come. To ask him to come, even. It would be far easier to let him find out via the papers the next morning, and there would be no danger of Peter making a scene that way. But Nathan thinks of Peter calling him that morning to watch him fall from a rooftop, he thinks of Peter threatening to jump a second time, and he comes to the conclusion that Peter making a scene is a risk he's willing to take. Nathan needs to present the bill for those stunts in person. He has to.
So he makes his speech. He talks about his father in his best sincere voice, and it's odd how the polished phrases enable him to to keep anything out of them he actually feels about those years of knowing his father didn't regard them as enough of a reason to stay in this world, about betraying his father to his death. Then he gets to the point, the true point of it all.
"As many of you might have read, my brother Peter had an accident. But what I have kept from the press thus far is that Peter barely survived a suicide attempt."
He looks straight at Peter when he says this, Peter in the same suit Peter wore on the day they would have faced their father in court if he hadn't killed himself, that day of their shared betrayal, face naked in stunned disbelief the way it had been when Nathan caught him in the air on the morning all normality left broke down. You jumped, Nathan thinks. You jumped. All the anger pent up for months has been the fire he needed to hammer every single word of this speech, and now that he speaks those words, he feels it leaving him, escaping with every breath he takes.
"My first instinct was to keep his illness hidden. But no one should suffer alone. Because we're all connected somehow," says Nathan without breaking eye contact, and Peter turns and leaves. By the time Peter shows up again, much later, after everything is over and Nathan is on his way to his car, Nathan feels almost light-headed and able to breathe for the first time in months. He has taken control of his life again. The cancer inside is still there, but he'll be able to manage. Somehow. He'll even be able to manage Peter.
Peter steps out of the shadows and punches him, an inexperienced punch compared to brawls Nathan remembers from his days in the Navy, but incentive does make up for lack of martial arts. "You son of a bitch," Peter yells, and Nathan signals his security guards to let him go. He can feel the bruise forming on his cheek, but it's nothing to the dizzying relief inside. If it weren't for the security guards and for the entire inappropriateness, he'd laugh.
"Easy, Pete," he says, "that's our mother you're talking about."
Peter barely gets out another angry phrase and then goes for a second punch, and again Nathan has to tell the security guards – who aren't really much use, come to think of it, always responding too late, and how much is he paying these guys again? – to let his brother go. He doesn't feel tempted to strike back. They're even now, and he has his life back.
"You get it, right?" Nathan asks.
"Yeah, I get it," Peter says, all youthful bitterness, and leaves. Which would be a happy ending of sorts, except for the part where Nathan, having returned home where the boys are asleep as they should be and Heidi, after hearing the speech went well, goes to bed immediately, finds himself standing on the terrace instead of following her. It's a bit ridiculous to stand there because it's not exactly a warm night; the rain that started during his speech is still pouring. He feels it soak through his shirt and pants, and makes no move to go inside. It must be that lingering feeling of relief and the absence of anger, but he finds himself closing his eyes, just savouring the simple sensation of the water cleansing his face, skin, entire body. And then, covered by darkness and the rain that ensures every sensible person is inside, he focuses. Both times before it happened by instinct, a motion born of panic. He's not afraid now. He just wills it to happen, and it does. Nathan finds himself rising, rising and there is no one to lose or catch, no one to doom or save. It's just him and the wind and rain.
It doesn't take long; he won't allow it to. When he returns to the terrace, he feels resignation set in, because he knows all too well he can't blame this one on Peter. The next morning, a crazy Indian runs after him, who just happens to share the name of the author of the book Peter had been trying to shove at Nathan all of the day before, and it's as good an excuse as any to show up on Peter's doorstep. So much for managing his life and his brother. Nathan doesn't really expect Peter to take the money he offers, and when Peter picks the brunch their mother organized to woo the press for his return visit, he's not that surprised, either. Somewhat angry, but not surprised. The anger feels more natural than the relief ever did.
Peter is himself, doesn't take no for an answer and starts another game right there and then, with double talk in front of the New York Journal's representative as his weapon of choice, and as their eyes meet over the breakfast table, Nathan decides this is part of being alive. This anger. This pull.