BETAS: dragonydreams and acalmingtempest - thank you both. Any mistakes are mine not theirs.
NOTES: This is written for jessieflower in the LJ community heroesheroines ficathon #1. The prompt I took was: Heidi Petrelli-centric. She finds out about Claire Bennet. Can be either before she and Nathan "separated" or afterwards.

She sat back in the chair, chewing on the pencil's eraser she'd slid into her mouth as she explored Nathan's office. She didn't normally do this. She was the ideal wife in that aspect, she supposed. She supported him and stood by him no matter what. And chose not to push on the subjects she was kept in the dark about.

And there were many subjects in the Petrelli household that she was kept in the dark about. Most intentionally. And yet, she didn't push.

Things had changed lately, though. Things were happening that left her feeling unsettled, uncertain, and wondering if she should worry for her boys.

A girl, a young woman really, had joined them. No explanation offered beyond her being a friend of the family. No one seemed to give a reasonable explanation as to why she was there during the school year, though, or why she'd come with no notice.

Heidi was, as usual, supposed to accept that. And she did, until she started questioning the looks the young woman exchanged with her husband.

She was a little young to be a mistress. While she wouldn't put it past him to have one, she knew he wouldn't go so far as to bring the woman home to live with them.

Besides, the looks weren't that of lovers. Or really even friends. So, that made her wonder. Just who was Claire Bennet and why was she in their home? Where had she come from? Who did she belong to?

She also couldn't ignore that Claire seemed to make Heidi's mother-in-law a little nervous. And that was something Heidi didn't think she'd ever live to see happen. Nothing rattled Angela Petrelli.

Add to that the fact that Claire and Peter seemed to get along very well, yet didn't seem to know one another too well.

All of these things led to her being here, sitting in Nathan's home office, basically spying. Angela was out with Claire and the boys were playing quietly together on the other end of the house.

She'd found nothing on his computer to shed any light on just who Claire was and what she meant to her family.

So, she'd resorted to searching through his files. If she were discovered, she'd claim to be looking for something the boys needed for school. Copies of all important papers were kept in Nathan's office. Originals, of course, were in safe deposit boxes.

She would probably never be able to explain why the handwritten note captured her attention. She didn't recognize the writing, maybe that was what had caught her eye. The sticky-note was on the outside of a clasped manila envelope; the seal had been broken. She probably would have attributed it to something for the election and wouldn't have looked at it if the note hadn't indicated that Nathan and Angela's signatures were required.

His mother was involved more than she probably needed to be in Nathan's life, but last she checked there wasn't anything he was involved with that required both of their signatures. He was a grown man after all.

That had been twenty minutes ago. She was still digesting what she'd read.

Not only had Nathan had changed his will, adding Claire Bennet's name as one of his beneficiaries, but Angela Petrelli also had opened a trust account for the girl. And if Heidi had her facts straight, the trust fund was set up similarly to that of Simon and Monty.

So, what did that mean? Claire was too old to be the result of an indiscretion on Nathan's part. He hadn't talked much about his life before they'd met when it came to relationships. His father had mentioned to Heidi once that Nathan had lost someone in a fire. Angela had come into the room and the conversation changed quickly to something else. Heidi had never thought to revisit the topic, now she wished she'd been a little more attentive. That brief conversation had been years ago and, of course, Nathan's father was no longer in a position to reveal family secrets to her.

Did Nathan have a daughter?

It appeared that way, and yet she believed - firmly - that he'd had no reason to hide her existence from Heidi. She would have loved and married him anyway.

"What are you doing in here?" Nathan's voice broke into her thoughts. She looked up, startled. He didn't look upset or angry at her invasion of his privacy, merely curious.

"I was looking…"

"Did you find what you were looking for?"

"I'm not sure."

His eyes fell to the still empty manila envelope and the stack of legal documents that had been in it lying next to it on the desk.

"You have some questions?"

"I guess I do," she said.

She knew then that it was true; Claire was his.

"Why did you…"

"I thought she was dead," he said softly. He must have realized how unbelievable that sounded. "Really, I did," he said, walking over to the mahogany credenza and pulled out a file.

There wasn't much. A couple of newspaper articles, but it was clear he was telling the truth.

"How did she find you?"

"Would you believe it was chance?"

"Chance? Of all the people in the world…"

"She met Peter."

"What is she doing here?"

"She's in trouble, she needs our protection. And we need her," he said softly.

"We?"

"Peter. Me," he said. She thought she heard a mumbled 'the world' under his breath.

"How long have you known?"

"A few weeks, not very long."

"Before she came here?"

"Yes."

"Why didn't you…"

"Tell you? I honestly didn't think I'd ever see her. She was adopted, has a good family."

"And when she showed up here?"

"I had no idea what to say to you."

She quirked her brows at that.

"Heidi," he said, picking up the newspaper articles and putting them away.

"It must have meant something if you've kept the articles all these years."

"Of course it did. I had a daughter, I thought she'd died."

"You should have told me. I'm her step-mother. I'm responsible for her. What if something happens to her while she's here? What would I tell her mother?"

"Which…"

"The mother she'll be returning to," Heidi said, cutting Nathan off from his question.

"She'll be fine, Heidi, and you're no more responsible for her than you were an hour ago before you knew who she was."

"And she is okay with it? Being here, not telling anyone who she is? I'm sure you realize she could ruin any chances you have of getting elected."

"I do, she does as well. She hasn't said anything, but I think she realizes it's the way it has to be. I'm not her father, not in the true sense of the word, Heidi. She has one, who loves her very much. Certainly more than I could have at the time. You and the boys are the best thing I've done in my life. I just don't know what I would have done. We were so young. Mom handled everything. I would have been useless to her, and probably resentful for her standing in the way of my plans."

Heidi sighed softly, glancing at the papers. "Didn't you think I have a right to know our boys have a sister?"

"Yes," he said simply. "I could have handled this better, but Mom pushed me into making a decision. She's here, knows who I am. I may never see her again, but I have to do something for her."

"Because she knows who you are?"

He shrugged. "That probably sounds terrible, and it sounded better in my head."

She set the pencil down on top of the papers and pushed the chair away from the desk. She took a deep breath and stood, walking to the window. She felt him behind her. It was still so strange to her, being able to walk again. She had no idea how Mr. Linderman had done it, but she wasn't one to snub her nose at such a gift. And that was how she looked at it. Every day her feet took her where she wanted to go, that she was able to chase after her boys was a gift.

His arms went around her and she rested her head against his shoulder.

"This is a lot for me to digest."

"I understand."

"They can't find out."

"Who?"

"Simon and Monty. They're so young, they're liable to let it slip to someone they shouldn't."

"That was part of the reason I didn't say anything, the fewer people that know the better."

"I'm not even sure what I'm supposed to say, this changes…"

"It changes nothing, Heidi. She's not here permanently."

"But you can't tell me why she's here?"

"I'm not sure you'd believe me if I tried."

She turned then to face him, stepping out of his arms.

"I won't say anything, Nathan. You've worked too hard to get where you are to ruin it over something like this. But you need to decide how much you trust me. You've known for weeks about her and haven't said anything. You know why she's here; yet seem to feel I can't be trusted with that information either. Either I'm your partner in this marriage or I'm not."

"Of course you are, Heidi. It's complicated."

She rolled her eyes and walked away from him, stopping at the door.

"I'm going out for a while."

"Heidi…"

"I'm not leaving you, Nathan, though I think most women in this situation would probably at least think of doing just that. I just need some time away from you, this house, your mother." It went without saying, she didn't want to see his daughter right now either. What she would have given to have a little girl. Maybe that's what bothered her about the situation. She loved Simon and Monty with everything she had, but there was still a part of her that ached for the love of a little girl.

"Would it help if I said I'm sorry?"

"It's a start, but no, I still need some time."

Her eyes met his and she saw that he understood, even if he didn't want to. She knew marrying him; it wasn't going to be easy. They were a powerful family; she had joined it with her eyes open. She just hadn't expected this. A daughter. A living, breathing child who wasn't really a child any longer.

It didn't really change anything in the grand scheme of things. If what Nathan said was true, anyway, and she wanted nothing from them. And yet, it changed everything. How could she let the girl leave here, knowing that Nathan could, from all appearances, just let her go and never see her again?

That was a lot to digest. Was he uncaring? And did he feel that way about her? The boys? Or was there more to it?

Unfortunately, she doubted she would ever truly know. It was just the way Nathan was, she'd grown to accept that as much as she disliked it and wished he were more forthcoming emotionally.

So, it did change things. Their dynamic and, really, their relationship. And that was a lot to stomach, because she wasn't sure she was ready for that kind of change. She'd find out, though, and she firmly believed she'd be stronger for it in the end.

And wasn't that the way it was supposed to be? You took what life threw at you and moved forward, taking from it what you will. She wasn't one to just persevere. Nathan knew that, had to be banking on that fact.

There were times, after the accident, she'd wanted to give up. She'd wondered if Nathan wouldn't be better off without her. Simon and Monty were what had kept her going, though. As bleak as her days were, and there were some that made bleak look positive, they always managed to put a smile on her face and give her the will to go on. She wanted to see them graduate, get married, and become parents themselves.

"Heidi…"

She turned then, hand on the doorknob. He was standing behind his desk now, looking regal, powerful, and authoritative. And damn if it wasn't sexy on him.

"Take as much time as you need, but I hope you won't be gone long. The boys will miss you." He cleared his throat, taking hold of the same pencil she'd been chewing on. Had that only been moments ago? "Their father will miss you, too."

"Thank you," she said simply and turned to leave. She had no intention of being gone long, but it would be good for him to sweat it out for a little while. To wonder and to worry. And maybe, just maybe, he'd be ready to tell her the truth when she got back. She wasn't sure if that was too much to ask for, but she could hope.

The End