Title: "Trick Or Treat" As always, feedback is love!
Characters: Peter/Claire, Peter/Caitlin
Summary: "You won't catch me, zipping around with my underwear on the outside." Peter can't remember saying this, but Claire sure does. Which gives her an unfortune advantage over her memory-challenged uncle. Takes place in the not-too-distant future (no spoilers incorporated).
Spoilers: 2.04 The Kindness of Strangers
Disclaimer: Nothing is mine, just borrowing. All NBC's and Tim Kring's. Please don't sue!
Author's Notes: Fluffy ficlet that somehow went a little deeper than intended. Inspired by Halloween decorations I've seen in the US and it has been pointed out to me that I haven't posted anything lately. ;-)
As always, feedback is love!
"Trick Or Treat"
Peter doesn't know what the hell is going on at the moment.
First he wakes in a small, dark box, chained and shirtless to cold, damp metal. It turns out to be the side of a rusty shipping container sans stolen Irish mob goods. Which didn't look good for him, cast adrift without money or even a decent shirt to his (unknown to him) name. There's also a big gaping hole where his memories should have been, but of those, he still knows nothing.
Luckily, things have improved. Although he hasn't recovered his lost memories from Before, things have turned out as well as he could have hoped for in his position. Except he can't remember what it's like to hope, so he can only imagine.
He finally opens The Box one fine day at Caitlin's urging. He'd listened patiently to her, weighing the consequences of opening the door to his past. Like Pandora, he hadn't been able to resist. For good or ill he was him, wonky smile, inverted nipple and all. It was useless to deny any part of himself, least of all his past.
He fingers the small wooden box at the corner of the table where he had so carefully placed it a moment ago. Mid morning sunlight streams through open windows, casting a golden hue over the room.
He's about to go to Costa Verde, driven by emotional blackmail of the highest order. It's a complete mystery how a man with no memories – and consequently no substantial tie to his former life whatsoever – could have been blackmailed into making this visit by a grouchy, slightly insane man who claims him as a brother.
The man with the haunted eyes – Nathan, he corrects himself – had been surly when he suggested to Peter a few days ago - sitting at a rather seedy bar downtown in a desperate attempt for some brotherly time – that he should "haul ass" to SoCal. The bar had the rank smell of Guinness left to seep into rich, musty wood, reminding Peter of the only home he knows – the Cork pub where he had come to know Caitlin.
He feels no affinity to Nathan or to the old things his brother had salvaged from his apartment from the "lower east side". He can't picture it, so he doesn't. It's useless pining after irretrievable things anyway.
"I'd go see her if I were you. You don't know – you have no idea – what we've both been through."
"Who?" Peter's still having a hard time matching faces to stories and histories. Hell, he has trouble responding to his own name.
"Claire. Your – the girl you saved in Texas." He doesn't know Nathan very well, but he'd detected his brother's urge to roll his eyes. It seems like a very Nathan thing to do, not that he has anything to base that on. "You scared the shit out of us you know. Chasing some girl half way across the country to save her. Jesus Christ you were a nut job."
"Us?" A lot of his side of conversations these days involves uselessly repeating things back to people like a broken record. He thinks he's heard it all and yet when he hears one more incredible thing about himself or his family, he recoils again with surprise, like a lab rat being shocked repeatedly in a maze.
People being able to fly, read minds, instantly regenerate – if he isn't able to do these things himself (and more), he'd have had a hard time believing it. As it is, most days he has a hard time believing it anyway.
"Me and Ma." Nathan had eyed Caitlin warily, but if his impatient brother would have let him get a word in edgewise Peter would have told him he doesn't have to worry. Caitlin's content to sit and listen, absorb Peter's life with him. Meeting Nathan had been a godsend – his brother had summarised Peter's entire life in a few short hours.
"Oh." He doesn't know what to make of Nathan. The man seems perpetually at breaking point, yet Peter knows he won't see his brother break down any time soon.
"Yeah oh ." Nathan had leaned in, the close proximity ensuring Caitlin is well and truly left out of his confidence. "Claire had a tough time with you – gone. You know? You maybe … I mean, as long as you're here –" Nathan shoved a small stack of photos toward him, most of which featured Peter and an adorable girl, all streaming blonde tresses, brimming eyes and a smile to die for. She's smiling in the photos, but seems just a little sad.
He wonders why she's so sad; wonder translating into need in a heartbeat.
He stares hard at one picture in particular, taken at a park he can't identify. Peter's holding the camera and trying to take pictures of the both of them, together. The picture comes out at an odd, unflattering angle, but it sings to him all the same. They're both smiling and he has one arm wrapped around her small frame, with the other holding the camera. She's very small, compared to him at least, but one word rings in the hollowness where his memories should be.
She's the unbreakable girl, but she isn't, really. He knows better, but doesn't know how or why.
"Where does she live?" Peter murmured, wide eyes meeting Nathan's. The photos had aroused his interest and since Nathan is so keen for him to meet this Claire girl, he's willing to do it. For his brother, and his family.
"Hmph. It's about time!" Claire turns out to be as incredibly small and blonde as she looks in the pictures. Judging from the quelled fury spitting from her eyes, Nathan had been right. His – and he can't quite get a handle on it – niece, is one fiery broad, even at 16. Maybe hot tempers run in his family as well as special abilities.
"We missed our connecting flight." Peter mumbles, tugging Caitlin behind him. She had been partially hidden from Claire's view by Peter and when she emerges from his shadow, he doesn't miss Claire's shock as they step into the house together.
His niece. Nathan had dropped that bombshell shortly after Peter had agreed to see Claire. He thinks he'll never stop discovering surprises about his past.
Shock turns to chagrin then hurt before a cold, brittle smile tugs at the corners of her cherry lips. He's bewildered by the rapidity of her expressions, chasing each other across smooth features in a game of hide and seek. Beside him Caitlin shifts uncomfortably, not sure what to do. Peter empathises with her.
"Claire?" He's not sure what caused the change but he's determined to get to know – again – this girl he'd rushed across the country to save. If he had felt such compulsion to save her life before, surely they were meant to be friends? Why else would he have done such a thing?
Some of her coldness melts but the brittleness remains. Her eyes now suffuse with warmth and she suddenly embraces him, keeps him in a stranglehold he's loathe to escape. "Oh my god Peter, you're alive." She clings so hard he thinks he hears the breath literally whoosh out of his lungs. He's obliged to drop Caitlin's hand to return the gesture and finds Claire surprisingly – he can't quite describe it – finds her surprisingly –
Surprisingly like home.
He brushes the feeling aside; it's yet another piece of his life that doesn't make sense. Her earnestness melts his awkwardness and he suddenly laughs, spins her around a few times. Her peals of laughter are like bells chiming in the breeze. "It's me."
She's still laughing and giggling and her eyes are so, so green with flecks of sunlight that flame from her in golden spirals. "It's you. Oh god, when Nathan rang – "
"I know, I was there."
"And you're alive! But –" Her face falls quickly, too quickly. He wants to erase it; chase away her fears.
"You don't remember." She's so tiny and vulnerable, he wants to hug her again. Or assure her everything's going to be okay because he's here now. "You don't remember anything about me."
His answering smile is shy almost, spidery and tentative. He doesn't remember, but wants to. Do his bones feel the pull of the familial connection, even if his brain has no memory of her? "No, I don't." He says carefully, eyes full. "But it doesn't mean I can't get to know you. Again. Would you … would you like that?"
She nods so eagerly, blonde hair bouncing and at the back of his mind, he knows how this must look to Caitlin. He trusts her warm heart though, trusts that she understands why he has to do this.
Incredibly, Claire seems to catch his thoughts. Her eyes drift to Caitlin still standing serenely by the door. Afraid to impinge on their strange intimacy maybe, to invade a past that only includes this golden haired half-woman in front of him.
Claire's smile is so incredibly warm and sincere now, the ice has broken. "I'm sorry, I didn't –"
"This is Caitlin." Peter jumps in, wants to remedy his inattention. He had wanted Caitlin to come with him, to share his past for the first time like he was sharing it. He hadn't meant to leave her out.
"Caitlin." Claire mouths her name as if memorising it. Peter thinks her eyes narrow in speculation, but it's gone a moment later when Caitlin smiles and Claire gets a dangerous twinkle in her eyes.
She skips lightly to Caitlin's side. "Do you guys celebrate Halloween in Ireland?" Caitlin smiles gently, smirking at him. He doesn't know what's coming, really. "Well, good. It'd be like your first one, American style. Only we don't have to go trick or treating 'cause that's dumb. We're way too old for that." She pokes him for no reason. "And since you can't remember a thing, it'll be like your first Halloween too. We could have a party and dress up and everything!"
He grimaces rather theatrically. "Er, what would dressing up involve, exactly?"
He doesn't like the wide grin spreading across her face. "Well, it's funny you say that. You don't remember you told me once that you wanted to be Superman, do you?"
Peter looks down at the costumed half of his body, highly doubting he ever wanted to dress up as Superman. His suspicions are confirmed when he interrogates his wayward niece, sitting on the edge of her bed looking way too innocent for his liking.
"I'm not so sure about this." He eyes her uncertainly, his mind racing with ways to get out of putting the other half of his – for want of a better word – costume. How on earth did he allow himself to be talked into this?
"Oh come on Uncle Pete. You told me you've always wanted to. You know, wear your underwear on the outside. That red … the red suits your, um, complexion." Her snort is hard to miss.
"It looks kind of … you know." Caitlin's grin – smirk rather, if he had to be honest – is beginning to look too much like Claire's, and it bothers him. They're laughing at a joke and it appears to be at his expense.
"Like what? Sexy?"
"Kind of … you know … Um –"
"Silly." Claire supplies, unleashing a peal of giggles.
He wants to growl in frustration, laying the blame squarely at the door of his pretty little niece. "You, don't call me Uncle Pete, it makes me feel ancient. And you – " He tries glaring at Caitlin, who just smirks serenely back. "You shouldn't encourage her. I feel ridiculous. How come I have to dress up first?"
"Kids, dinner's ready!" Mrs Butler, Bennet or whatever their name is at the moment – calls from the kitchen.
Claire shrugs, edges closer to Caitlin. "Two girls against one. You lose. Put your underwear on already! We're dying to see."
"Did I hear talk of underwear?" As if his embarrassment isn't complete enough, Claire's mom pokes her head into the room, eyes quickly turning from alarm to speculation. A second later, her gaze is joined by Mr Muggles, too impossibly fluffy and well groomed for Peter's liking.
How come no one has to wear red underwear but him? At least the stupid dog can share his humiliation.
"Peter's being a pain mom. He won't put on his costume." Claire whines while Caitlin smothers her laugh with a pillow.
"I just don't feel comfortable wearing underwear on the outside." He can't help mirroring Claire's petulant tone. Two can play at that game.
"Aw, go on sweetie, you'll look good." Caitlin really shouldn't be egging Claire on. She doesn't need any more encouragement.
"No, it'll look stupid."
"You won't." His niece counters. "Only a little."
Claire's mom steps fully into the bedroom, purses her lips as she looks rather closely at his crotch. "Hmmm."
Mr Muggles barks, once.
"I don't think you'd look stupid." Mrs Bennet/Butler finally says, then winks ever so subtly at him. He isn't sure whether Claire or Caitlin catches it. "I'm sure Superman has nothing on you."
Mr Muggles barks, loudly, in agreement or not Peter doesn't know.
So Peter puts on those god awful red underpants and wears it on the outside, sending the three females into peals of giggles.
After dinner while Caitlin is being entertained by Sandra and Noah, he finally has Claire to himself. There's something he desperately wants to ask but he's afraid it may be too needy or clingy or a whole bunch of other similar words Nathan had used to describe him to, well, him.
They're sitting in the Bennet/Butler's small gazebo and the faint whiff of perfectly tended roses permeates the air. It feels like he's ascended into a sweet, succulent dream with a golden haired angel by his side. Not that he's ever going to tell anyone that, because it's trespassing onto the wrong side of creepy uncle territory.
"Can I ask you something?" He laughs self-consciously, ducking his head. "It's kind of silly."
Unlike earlier in the evening, there's nothing of the joker about Claire now. She's all seriousness, everything from her sincere expression to the deep seated fog swirling in emerald orbs. "Nothing you do could ever be silly to me."
Although clichéd, there's nothing clichéd about her sentiment. It's sweet and trusting, and he revels in it. "I … am I who you knew before? Or am I … different?"
She doesn't shy away from the loaded question, tilts her head to consider it seriously. "You're different. But the same. I don't know – does that make sense?"
It does and it relieves him, oddly. He doesn't know why he asked, but it seems important that she thinks he's essentially the same person he used to be. Like he didn't really lose his life, only his memories. That he can still be that person in the box even without memories that made that Peter. Doesn't know until this moment whether it's possible, but knows it is now.
Instinctively he leans in, kisses her chastely. "Thank you."
If she's blushing, he pretends not to notice. It's a small detail but he catches it anyway, averts his gaze to take in the beautiful garden in moonlight. Knows he doesn't have to explain the complex emotions raging through him at the moment because she understands; somehow she'll always understand.
When her small hand creeps into his, he doesn't hesitate. He draws her close, careful to avoid her gaze as she sighs and leans against him in the warm, still night. He imagines her closing her eyes and so he closes his too.
Sees the truth in the oily darkness of his mind, sees the truth that sets him free.
Memories can be created anew, fashioned from future experiences. But connections - like his with Claire - can never be erased, not while they both exist to care, to feel ... to love.
They sit, the smell of her like strawberry kisses in the light breeze, Peter luxuriating in the knowledge that he feels like he is again, Peter Petrelli – with or without his memories.