Disclaimer: I don't own anything to do with Heroes. Tim Kring does.
I have to be honest, I'm not sure where this story is going (apart from around and around in my head!). I have lots of ideas, but I'm not yet decided which direction I'm going to take it. It's AU from 'Fallout' onwards, so if that isn't your kind of thing, then look away now. I took the idea of Nathan having Peter declared mentally unwell and just ran with it from there. Peter hasn't quite gained his edgier, more self-assured attitude yet. So I'm sorry, but this chapter is a feeler to test the waters. If you feel brave enough to be my guinea-pigs, then that would be lovely
Two weeks ago.
Two weeks ago they had sat around a table, just like this. Only then, the table had been covered with papers, and glasses of water on disposable paper liners and with desk lamps and black ballpoint pens. Two weeks ago, one of those pens signed a simple dotted line on those same papers and suddenly, just like that, everything had changed.
Now, instead of papers and pens and lawyers, the table was filled with the finest china and chilled wine and with two brothers. It was the same as the night before and the night before that and, the young man knew, it would be the same the next night.
"Eat your soup. It's good." It wasn't a suggestion.
Peter continued to absently push his spoon around the depths of his bowl, seemingly fascinated by the ripples and swirls he could make on the surface. Habitually, he swiped a longer strand of his dark hair behind his ear. It slipped out again moments later but he made no move to readjust it.
The young man glanced up, eyes momentarily skimming over the lean features of his older brother as he sat, leant forwards slightly in his chair, appraising the younger Petrelli. There had been a distant question in Peter's eyes as he had held his older brother's gaze before flicking his eyes back to his untouched meal.
"Your soup," Nathan clarified patiently, obviously willing to, for the time being, play along with his brother's mood. "It's getting cold. It'll be time for the main course before that spoon has made it to your lips."
Peter took a steadying breath, willing his jaw not to set in just that line that told Nathan what he was really thinking: how he was torn between wanting to scream, to break away, to shake his brother out of his self-righteous crusade. Yet at the same time, torn between wanting to run into the safety of those strong arms, so like the father he longed to have had, to soak up all the advice, praise and support the older man could offer him and to relax into the security which came from just blindly following his brother's orders. Two weeks in and he was only just learning to hide it.
In alarming contrast to the permeating silence, Peter scraped his chair back across the cold, marble floor, yet he didn't stand. "I'm going to pass on dinner. I'm going up to my room."
"Peter." That one word, enunciated in just that way, in just that tone of voice but it carried with it the weight of a thousand lectures and the severity of a myriad of reproachful looks. The boy didn't even have to witness the sharp focus shining through in the dark eyes opposite him, to feel his options draining away from him. Just like always.
Without a word, he pulled his chair back into its place but made no move to pick up the spoon. Inaudibly, a sigh of frustration passed his lips, just as it did his brother's.
Throughout their lives, Nathan had been convinced that, contrary to his brother's belief, he knew what was best for Peter. From the moment Nathan had held a wriggling bundle of baby brother in his arms, he had verged ever so close to simply ordering his younger brother into submission, whether it be about bedtimes, suitable female friends or even the cessation of crazy 'flying', save-the-world talk. The age difference between them, coupled with Nathan's bearing beyond his years and Peter's youthful, wide-eyed naivety, apparent in those even younger than he, had secured an easy, natural relationship between the two brothers. One led, the other followed.
When Peter had been a small child, left under his brother's supervision while his parents wiled away the hours with their various occupations and distractions, this has been the natural order of the universe. As Peter had grown however, Nathan's grip had loosened and his sibling drifted further and further from control. Eventually, control had been replaced with an awkward, if affectionate balance, sometimes twinned with a sense of cruelty, unapparent in their earlier years. Now it seemed, finally, Nathan had a new reason, a new natural order to follow.
Legal Guardian. It was a title, ominous and odious in many ways but one that opened up a gateway of opportunities. Whoever would have thought that Peter's obsession with saving the world would be a blessing rather than the curse Nathan had assumed it to be?
The temptation to simply lecture the resistance out of him, to restrict and confine the fighting will surging within him, the impulse to deftly and purposefully swat the back-talk away – this Nathan resisted with the years spent practising the mastery of his reactions. He was a politician, schooled and bred from the cradle whether he liked it or not.
Nathan's voice brought the brothers back to the present.
"You can sit there as long as you like, Peter, but we both know you can't take your medication on an empty stomach." Nathan's tone of voice was its usual: calm and unwavering. "So whether or not it gets reheated time and again, you will be eating it." Peter's eyes darkened a little more and the lines creasing his forehead deepened. If there was one thing he knew with certainty though, it was that Nathan, while the master of spin-doctoring and deceit, was seldom one for bluffing or idle threats.
Faced with the prospect of a severely prolonged dinner, the young man reluctantly picked up his spoon again and pooled the smallest volume of soup in before swallowing it. He didn't look up to see Nathan's approving nod.
"There's a man coming by tomorrow," Nathan continued, blissfully brushing over the clogging silence. "He's part of my campaign party. There's just a little work to finish up, but then I'll be done for the weekend, I promise." He leaned over his bowl and smiled at Peter. His brother's eyes flicked up and back to him, once. Nathan could detect the muscles in his little brother's jaw, tighten and his shoulders square.
Peter's voice held a hard, almost painful tinge to it: "I'll stay out of the way." His throat felt as though it was constricting and it was with great effort that he forced the liquid down his gullet.
Nathan leaned back in his chair, waving a dismissive hand in the air. "You don't have to," he remarked, glibly. "You're welcome to stick around if you want to."
The answering smirk had crossed Peter's face before he could reign it in. His brother may think he was crazy but he surely didn't believe he was that stupid, too? "That's okay, Nathan. Your crazy baby brother will stay safely tucked upstairs, never fear."
Nathan put down his spoon and pushed his bowl away from him, fixing Peter with a serious stare. Peter met his gaze head on, this time, the determination to try and spot a sliver of guilt work its way through to the surface of his brother's schooled mask was overriding his desire to maintain a sullen distance between them.
"I never said you were crazy, Peter." Nathan enunciated each word, perfectly.
"No," he shot back. "Thanks to you, that's just what the courts of New York think. Or don't you remember the hearing your people organised? "
For a moment, Nathan did not respond. He merely pressed his lips together in a tight, thin line. Peter gave him a half smile. His brother's hackles were raised, even if just a little.
"I would say, Peter, that your running around the city, raving about flying, saving the world and blowing up New York, went some way to forming that opinion as well."
"I wasn't the one who brought it to a judge's attention!"
"No! You were the one who jumped off the roof of a high-rise building. You were the one who woke up from a near-death coma and just ran away from the hospital. You were the one who got arrested – twice. Need I go on?"
"You had me listed as mentally unstable!"
"An opinion that the state psychiatrist fully adhered to, by the way and you know where you'd be right now if I hadn't intervened."
"Back in my apartment?"
Nathan stood, without warning. Despite himself, Peter couldn't help but flinch, then draw back a little as his older brother strode towards him. However, Nathan stopped before he reached his sibling and knelt on the floor, in front of him, placing a hand on his shoulder and gently rubbing his brother's arm. Peter eyed him warily but did not shrug away from his touch.
"I know this is important to you, Pete. I really do. And I want to help you. We'll talk to Suresh, both of us – get some answers; find out what's going on with us. You want that, right?" Nathan's thumb continued to rub light circles on Peter's shoulder and his eyes were searching and insistent. "Right, Pete?" His voice was low and soothing as he leaned in closer to his brother. Despite his need to cling to the angry present, Peter's mind drifted back to happier moments of childhood that Nathan's proximity was currently evoking – waking from nightmares, cold and alone, only to be suddenly held close to his older brother who was murmuring gentle nonsense words to him, rubbing comforting circles on his back. Peter glanced down at his lap. He didn't answer but instead started running the fabric of his hooded shirt between his fingers. Absently, instinctively, he had leaned ever so slightly, into his brother's touch. He shrugged one shoulder – the one Nathan was not, currently holding – in a gesture of indifference.
"Hey," he continued. "You know where those doctors wanted to put you, yes? Now I know this isn't your apartment, but this has got to be better than the alternative? Right?" Again, the one-shouldered shrug, this time accompanied by a reluctant moment of eye contact. For a moment, Nathan's heart lurched. The unhappiness in his brother's eyes was tangible – unmistakable. He briefly wondered how he could continue to keep his brother away from everything he longed to do. However, the image of Peter's death, his impulse to jump off buildings, based on a recurring dream, his uncanny ability to find trouble wherever he went: these things strengthened the elder Petrelli's resolve.
"I'm trying to keep you safe, Peter: from the world and from yourself. I'm your big brother – that's what I do."
"Whether I like it or not?" Peter's voice was hollow, resigned - at least for the time being.
Nathan's small smile was genuine, but determined. "Whether you like it or not." Abruptly, Nathan placed a light kiss on his brother's forehead before giving his shoulder a light squeeze and carefully standing up. Peter understood that the conversation had ended. He turned, wordlessly, back to his bowl as Nathan signalled the waiting staff, hovering at a respectable distance from the table, fearful of interrupting the moment.
The soup was removed, the main course brought in and, as Peter leaned back in his chair and stared out at the rain, pouring in sheets against the glass of the window, he sighed and took another swig of wine.
To be continued… (I hope!) Thanks for reading this far. BTW - There is a back-story to this, but I deliberately haven't gone in to it in this chapter.