Title: Story Hour 101
Characters/Pairings: Nathan, Peter
Warnings: May cause cavities.
Spoilers: Takes place about twenty years before the series begins, so probably none.
Summary: Nathan accompanies his little brother to story time at the library. Neither one of them is happy about it.
Disclaimer: Heroes and the associated characters don't belong to me. Neither does Goodnight Moon. Or the "Let's Get Ready for Story Time" finger play described in the story.
Notes: I was having a bad week recently, so I decided to write a bit of fluff about Peter and Nathan as kids to cheer myself up. I blame my traumatic experience filling in as a last minute substitute for a children's librarian on both counts.
Story Hour 101
Six-thirty on a balmy Tuesday night and Nathan fantasized that in those glorious years before his parents had had the indecency to thrust upon him the unwelcome responsibility of a baby brother, he never would have had to endure the public humiliation that was escorting a four year old to PJ story hour. As it was, they were between nannies and his mother's contribution to the socialization of her youngest child ended at calling the public library closest to their summer house in upstate New York and registering Peter for the weekly event. Since missing story time for a few weeks while they looked for a new nanny was out of the question, Nathan got stuck with the job. His only consolation was the fact that Peter, sitting solemnly in the backseat of his car, was possibly even less happy about the last minute substitution than he was.
"We're here," Nathan announced unnecessarily, hoping to spark some life into his sulking brother. Had he been feeling more charitable, Nathan might have felt some sympathy for Peter. It seemed that nannies were always disappearing from Peter's life just as he was getting used to them. This constant turnover was Angela Petrelli's jealous way of making sure Peter didn't get confused about who his mother was, even if she didn't play much of an active role in raising him.
"There's Mrs. Seely's car," Peter said, perking up a little as Nathan struggled to center the car between the two designated yellow lines. He'd had his license for nearly a year but hadn't had much opportunity to use it in the city. "The red one. Look." Peter pressed his finger to the glass.
"I'm not even going to ask how you know which one is the librarian's car," Nathan said, glancing at Peter in the rearview mirror. "Do you like her or something?" He made kissing noises, just to torture his brother. He already knew that Peter's former nanny had made friends with the children's librarian and often spent time talking with her out in the parking lot after the program.
"I do not!" Peter yelped, scandalized.
"You have a crush on her," Nathan continued. "And I'm going to tell her. I'll say you want to ask her to marry you." Warming to his subject now, he started in sing-song, "Peter and Mrs. Seely sitting in a tree…"
"Stop!" Peter said, growing agitated now. He pulled at the silky lining of the tattered blanket he'd brought with him, stretching it between his fingers so that Nathan thought it might rip. It wouldn't be the first time Peter's safety blanket had suffered many such traumas in the past, but Nathan wasn't really interested in handling that kind of disaster on top of everything else, so he gave in and stopped teasing his brother.
"Are we late?" Peter asked as Nathan came around the side of the car in case he needed help getting out. But Peter had already managed to climb halfway out on his own.
"We're on time," Nathan said.
"Then why is everyone else here already?" Peter asked, pointing to the other cars in the parking lot.
"Maybe the library's just busy tonight," Nathan said. He reached for Peter's free hand--the one that wasn't gripping the blanket--and tugged. "Come on. Let's go inside."
But despite his concern at being late, Peter was hesitant. He approached the building as if he had never seen it before, chewing on his lip. In Nathan's hand, his thumb flexed as though he wanted to stick it in his mouth for comfort, but that bad habit had been firmly trained out of him early on.
"What's wrong?" Nathan finally asked once they were in the lobby and Peter had stopped altogether. "If you don't hurry, we really are going to be late."
Through the glass in the door to the library, he could already see a bunch of kids gathered around a tall woman with bouncy gray hair. A group of adults stood to the side, milling around each other with relieved looks on their faces, glad to be left alone for once. Nathan felt his own sense of relief when he saw that the other kids, like Peter, were dressed in pajamas and carrying blankets and stuffed animals under their arms. He hadn't quite believed Peter when he'd explained earlier through his tears with no small amount of impatience that kids were supposed to wear their pajamas to story time. Apparently the "PJ" in "PJ story hour" wasn't just figurative.
"Peter?" Nathan said, tugging on his brother's hand a little.
The door to the library creaked open suddenly and the same gray-haired woman Nathan had seen inside came out into the hall and crouched down so that she was eye level with Peter, even at some distance.
"Is someone feeling shy today?" she asked. It occurred to Nathan that Mrs. Seely probably thought he was some strange teenager harassing a little kid who'd gotten separated from his guardian. He bristled a little at the thought. "Aren't you going to come in, Peter?"
Peter hid behind Nathan and shook his head.
"You're not?" Mrs. Seely said, pretending to be saddened. But not seeming at all surprised, Nathan noticed. "But I would miss you if you weren't at story time with us. We've got a really good one today. It's one of Mrs. Seely's favorite books and I want you to hear it."
Peter didn't move.
"I'm really sorry," Nathan said, embarrassed. "He's being kind of weird tonight."
"Oh, that's all right," Mrs. Seely said, standing from her crouching position. "We always have a little trouble getting in the door, don't we, Peter? But once we're inside we have so much fun reading and playing."
Nathan raised an eyebrow. "You mean this happens a lot?" he asked. He could hardly believe it, given the excitement he saw in his brother every Tuesday night when it was time to get read for story hour. What could he be so afraid of?
"He's just a little shy," Mrs. Seely explained. "I'm Catherine Seely, by the way."
"Nathan Petrelli," Nathan said, taking her proffered hand and shaking it the way his father had taught him. "I'm Peter's older brother."
Mrs. Seely's mouth fell open in an exaggerated expression of surprise. "You didn't tell me you were bringing Nathan tonight, Peter," she said. She turned back to Nathan, whispering conspiratorially, "You're pretty famous around here, you know."
Nathan was mildly dismayed to hear this, but didn't show it. "Really?" he said. "Because, you know, you're pretty famous around our house, too. Peter's always talking Mrs. Seely this and Mrs. Seely that. We were beginning to think--"
"I am not!" Peter shouted, jumping out from behind Nathan. He pushed a little at Nathan's leg. "I told you not to say those things."
"Well, there you are," Mrs. Seely said, distracting Peter from the potential conflict Nathan had instigated. "Why don't we go inside and get our carpet squares so we can start the story. You can let everyone meet Nathan, okay? Won't that be fun?"
Peter bit his lip but grabbed for Nathan's hand and nodded. They followed Mrs. Seely into the library's small program room where most of the other kids had already gathered with their parents. Familiar with the routine and comfortable now that he'd apparently passed the threshold, Peter took two small mats off of a pile by the door. He then sifted through a bunch of yarn necklaces hanging on a hook and picked out one with a sun made of construction paper dangling from it. Nathan saw that Peter's name was neatly printed across the sun's face by some adult hand. He was mildly impressed that Peter could pick out his nametag from the others still hanging on the hook.
"You can read your name, Pete?" he asked, putting the necklace on his brother as Peter found them a spot big enough so that they could sit together. It was difficult since the room was already crowded with parents and children. At Peter's nod, Nathan said, "That's pretty good. I couldn't read or write my name until I was in school. You're a step ahead of me."
Peter ducked his head shyly at the praise, gesturing for Nathan to sit on the mat that had been selected for him. Satisfied, Peter sat on his own mat but, predictably enough, didn't stay there long. Because they had been made late by Peter's sudden bout of shyness, they had to sit at the back of the room. Peter couldn't quite see around the bodies sitting in front of them. He hesitated for a moment before Nathan rolled his eyes and pulled Peter onto his lap so he could see better. In his head, he could hear his father's stern voice reminding him that Peter needed to learn independence, but decided to ignore it just this once.
Mrs. Seely took her seat in an armchair at the front of the room. For the first time, Nathan noticed that she, too, was wearing pajamas: a dark blue fuzzy nightgown that hung just below her knees. On the chest, Tweety Bird sleepily hugged a teddy bear. Nathan thought she must have been wearing a robe out in the hallway because there was no way he could have missed this choice of attire before. It was a little scary seeing an adult in pajamas with cartoons on them like that.
"She's going to sing the song now," Peter informed Nathan in a whisper.
It was all Nathan could do to keep from groaning. Nobody had told him there was singing at these things.
But sure enough, Mrs. Seely was beginning to sing and, though the words weren't familiar, Nathan recognized the tune as the song "Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush." Quietly from his lap, Peter sang along and mimicked Mrs. Seely's motions.
"Can you turn your ears up high?" she sang, tweaking her ears. "Can you turn your ears up high so that you can hear?"
A few of the kids giggled, tugging at their own ears and then widening their eyes when the second verse told them to.
"Now we're ready for story time," Mrs. Seely continued in the last verse. "Now we're ready for story time. Let's get started now."
There was some scattered clapping among the adults, but the kids were quiet at once, their attention rapt. Peter leaned forward in Nathan's lap a little as Mrs. Seely held up the night's book: Goodnight Moon. Nathan felt this choice was all too predictable for a bedtime story hour, but settled in to listen anyway, the familiar words washing over him as he remembered them from his own childhood.
"In the great green room there was a telephone and a read balloon and a picture of--"
"The cow jumping over the moon," Peter murmured before she could turn the page.
"The cow jumping over the moon," Mrs. Seely echoed.
As Mrs. Seely read, Nathan wondered why it was his mother had never sent him to story time when he was little. He was old enough now to know how lame it was, but he saw how he might have liked it when he was Peter's age. Maybe it was because when Nathan was younger, he'd already had a built-in network of playmates consisting of the children of his mother's friends. He'd gone to school for the first time already knowing who he was going to sit with at the lunch table. He didn't need that special effort to find kids his own age to interact with.
Peter, on the other hand, had been a late and unexpected addition to the Petrelli family. Their mother's friends had all stopped having babies long before Peter came along and so Peter's exposure to other children was severely limited compared to Nathan's childhood experience. He had no regular playmates other than his revolving nannies and Nathan, who was already dreaming of next year when, instead of coming upstate to stay with his family, he'd be enjoying a final summer with his high school friends before leaving for his first year of college. Peter had been raised in a world filled with adults and the hope was that these regular story times with other kids would lessen his natural social handicap when he entered kindergarten, even if they couldn't lessen the blow of Nathan's impending abandonment.
"Goodnight stars," Mrs. Seely was reciting at the front of the room when Nathan came back to himself. "Goodnight air." She turned the page. "Goodnight noises everywhere." She made a show of yawning before setting the book down. "My goodness. Mrs. Seely is getting sleepy."
Nathan glanced down at Peter and noticed that his eyelids were drooping ever so slightly. His regular bedtime was seven o'clock but he was allowed to stay up late on nights when the library had its program.
"Why don't we all pick a book to take home with us tonight to read in bed?" Mrs. Seely suggested, gesturing to a display set up on a table at her side. The parents and their children immediately began to circulate around it while Mrs. Seely watched, seeming pleased.
Nathan tugged at Peter's sleeve. "Do you want to pick out a book or do you want to go home?" he asked, hoping for the latter.
"I want to look at the books," Peter said, shaking off his tiredness and standing.
"Okay," Nathan said, suppressing a sigh.
He hung back as Peter made his way to the front of the crowd, examining the covers of each book on the table without touching any of them. The kid standing next to Peter--a little boy wearing dinosaur pajamas--glanced suspiciously up at Nathan before stage whispering to Peter,
"Is that your daddy?"
Nathan nearly choked.
"No," Peter answered matter-of-factly, lifting his chin. "That's Nathan. He's my brother."
The kid looked up at Nathan again. Nathan raised an eyebrow at him, but he was not intimidated.
"He's too old to be your brother," the kid insisted.
"He is not," Peter replied.
But his tone was patient, non-confrontational. It was almost as though he was acknowledging that, in a way, the other kid had a point. Nathan knew it, too. At seventeen, he wasn't really old enough to be anybody's dad but the parents hovering near their children were still closer to his age than they were to his father's. Another consequence of having a second child later in life.
"I want this one," Peter said, turning to Nathan, holding up a book with an orange and green cover that was maybe a little too familiar.
"Don't be stupid, Peter, was just read I Goodnight Moon/I " he said. "Pick something else."
Peter frowned. "But I like this one," he said. Despite his protest, he turned back to the table and began taking a second look at the other books.
"Little ones have a high capacity for repetition," Mrs. Seely said from behind Nathan, causing him to whirl around in surprise. She shrugged, smiling indulgently at Peter. "He probably just wants it because he recognizes the cover. Most children learn to read by memorization first. That's how he knew which nametag was his when he came in."
"Oh," Nathan said, not sure what to do with this insight into child psychology.
"Peter's a sweetheart," Mrs. Seely went on as if Nathan had given her a reason to believe he in any way doubted the truth of this. While he might have favored a description closer to "pain in the ass," he couldn't deny that Peter had his moments. "He talks about you all the time. He tells the other kids you're Superman."
"That's probably because he makes me play Superman whenever I get stuck baby-sitting him," Nathan explained, rolling his eyes. "He always wants to be Clark Kent. I don't think he gets that they're supposed to be the same person."
"Maybe not yet," Mrs. Seely said with an inexplicable wink. "So, tell me, how old are you, Nathan?"
"Seventeen," he said. "I'll be eighteen soon, though."
"Good for you," Mrs. Seely said as if this was some special kind of accomplishment. "Going to college pretty soon?"
Nathan nodded, eyeing Peter warily. But Peter was distracted, talking to some of the other kids. Nathan wondered if the only reason Mrs. Seely was talking to him was so that Peter would be forced to interact with the other children rather than clinging to him.
"I don't know where yet, but I know I want to go Ivy League," he said.
"And do you know what you want to study?" Mrs. Seely asked.
"Law," Nathan said automatically. It wasn't a question. It was just a fact.
"Very good," Mrs. Seely said. "Well, I'm very glad to meet you. I hope you come to some more of our little story times. Maybe I could meet your mother one of these days."
"Sure," Nathan said because it was more polite than some variation on Don't hold your breath.
She smiled and walked off, going to mingle with the other adults. Meanwhile, Peter was patiently waiting for Nathan to notice him again. He hugged to his chest a copy of Goodnight Moon covering the title with his arm as if Nathan wouldn't notice that it was the same book from before.
"Oh, fine," Nathan said, stroking Peter's hair.
Peter grinned happily.
Back at home, Nathan carried a dozing Peter up to his room without bothering to announce to their mother that he was home. He thought he could get away with placing Peter in his bed and creeping out of the room, but just as he was pulling the covers over Peter, his brother held up the book he'd been lovingly clutching since they'd left the library.
"Do you want me to read that to you?" Nathan asked, sitting on the edge of the bed.
"No," Peter said, sitting up. "I want to read it to you."
Nathan raised a skeptical eyebrow but sat back as Peter opened the book.
He didn't read so much as he took cues from the pictures on the pages, retracing the story he'd just heard with a few minor mistakes and more than a few major embellishments. He gave the bowl of mush an entire life story that sounded a lot like the story of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" before skipping to the last few pages.
"Goodnight stars," Peter recited. "Goodnight air."
"Goodnight people everywhere," they said together.