Title: Beauty From Pain
Summary: After the events of season two, Peter and Claire meet to talk.
Pairing: Paire if you want to see it. None if you don't.
Spoilers: None for season 2, other than Elle. This was written for a friend who hadn't yet seen Season 2, so there are no spoilers. There is, however, some vague hints to what has happened, but if you haven't seen Season 2, fear not.
Lifting the cardboard cup to his mouth, Peter barely felt the hot coffee scorching his tongue and the roof of his mouth as he chugged down the black liquid. He checked his watch again. She was supposed to have been here five minutes ago. Peter was getting jittery. He vaguely thought that maybe he should have gotten decaf when he heard the chimes of the door open.
Peter's heart began beating rapidly as he caught sight of blonde hair. Mouth suddenly dry, he was about to get up and greet her when she turned towards him and he saw that it was someone he'd never seen before in his life. Sighing to himself, he sank back down in the booth, emptying the last of his coffee. He ran a hand through his short dark hair and closed his eyes, wondering how stupid he looked sitting here and waiting for someone that wasn't going to show.
Opening his eyes quickly, Peter sat up awkwardly, a sense of relief flooding him. Claire nervously tucked a piece of hair behind her ear, smiling softly at him. "Hi," he said, smiling back. Standing, he regarded her for a moment; she looked older, tired, softened and hardened at all once.
After an awkward moment of hesitance, he put his arms around her and she hugged him back, pressing her face against his chest. He thought that he felt wetness of tears on his shirt, but ignored it in favor of just enjoying holding her. Her arms encircled him tightly as he stroked her hair, trying to memorize how soft it was. Leaning down, he whispered in her ear, "I'm glad you came."
Leaning back, her eyes caught his and they were misty with emotion. "I wasn't sure if I should," she said softly. "I thought…well, I thought just about everything in the book." She stepped back, crossing her arms over her chest and eyeing him carefully. "It is you, right?"
"It's me, Claire." Peter reached out and took her hand in his, squeezing it as comfortingly as he knew how. Finally, she nodded and smiled again. He cleared his throat and gestured to the booth. "So, um, sit down." Once they were at least physically comfortable, he said, "How have you been?"
Her laughter held no mirth or amusement, only bitterness. "I've been better. And, you know, considering how things were in Texas…" He did know. The pain in her eyes was obvious. "But, um, what about you?"
"I've also been better." He suddenly wished that he had more coffee with which to busy his mouth.
"New York's still standing," Claire pointed out. "The world was saved."
"Not from anything I did, that's for sure." It was a dark statement and Claire clearly recognized that as her eye's narrowed in concern. He allowed her to take his hand softly as he silently brooded about the second time he narrowly missed killing thousands.
She hesitated a moment. "Peter, did something happen?"
Inhaling deeply, he let the air out slowly in both an attempt to calm himself down and stall for time. "A million things happened. The work of a hundred lifetimes…" Her gaze was confused and compassionate as she watched him in silence. Desperation prompted him to tell her, wanting to hear her say that it wasn't his fault and that he was a good person. At the same time, the logical part of his brain was scared of her understandable hatred, the fear that she would no doubt feel underneath. As he stared into her eyes, the light green orbs held a depth of suffering that he didn't recall ever seeing before. He couldn't add his own pain to that. Shaking his head, he said, "I don't think I'm allowed to talk about it. I don't really want to talk about it."
Nodding slowly, Claire said, "I heard about…" Her voice cracked as she trailed off, Peter closed his eyes in a desperate attempt to ride out the mental images, a lump forming in his throat.
"Yeah," he finally said, choking on the words. "I think everyone heard." As the tears welled up in her eyes, Peter suddenly realized that this must hurt her too. Although he hated seeing her in pain, it was nice knowing that he wasn't alone in this.
Taking a deep breath, he attempted a smile. "What's been happening with you?"
"I don't really wanna talk about that either." They sat in silence for a minute until Claire genuinely smiled at him. "You cut your hair."
"Oh, yeah," he said, running his hand over his head. "Yeah, I did."
"It looks nice. I almost didn't recognize you though."
Peter nodded slowly. "I wouldn't be surprised. I've changed."
"Almost blowing up New York City and then disappearing for a few months can do that to a person," Claire said, a hint of bitterness in her voice. Peter looked at her in surprise and she simply lowered her eyes to the table. A sudden cell phone ringer sounded near them and Claire fumbled in her purse. "It's probably my mom. I should take it."
Standing, Peter nodded again. "Yeah, that's fine. I'm gonna get some more coffee. Do you want anything?"
As Claire finally found her phone, she said, "Iced vanilla latte?"
He walked away as she answered, heading back in the line for the counter. It had been almost a minute when she felt someone come up behind him. That someone gently touched his back and he felt the soft breath on his cheek as they whispered in his ear, "Hey, you."
The familiar voice froze him cold. He said a quick prayer to whatever higher being that might be that this was the product of an overactive imagination, then turned around. The blonde was leaning against the dessert cabinet, one leg crossed over the other in a light grey skirt, the black fabric of her blouse making her blue eyes stand out. Peter swallowed hard. "Elle."
"I can't believe I ran into you here of all place," she said, smiling like the cat who had trapped the canary in a corner and was about to disembowel him. "Small world."
"Too small," he said in a harsh whisper. "What are you doing here?"
She pouted. "You aren't happy to see me?"
"Not even close. You need to get out of here, Elle."
"Now, Peter, is that anyway to talk to an old friend?"
He started with surprise. "We are not friends!"
"Oh?" She raised an eyebrow in disbelief. "If I remember correctly, you were the one who kissed me."
"Well, you were the one who…" He hesitated a second, lowering his voice. "The one who struck me with lightning!"
"Like you've never done it…" she said with an eye roll. "It was all in a little fun."
"My shirt burned off!"
"Like a said, a little fun."
Taking a deep breath, Peter lowered his voice. "Elle, you need to leave. Now."
She smirked at him, inching closer. "Or what?"
"Sir? Did you want to order something?"
Both Peter and Elle turned to the barista behind the counter. He cleared his throat and attempted a smile. "Um, a black coffee and an iced vanilla latte."
The barista paused from typing the order into the register. "What size?"
Peter could already feel the caffeine from earlier wear off and he was getting a migraine that his healing power had yet to tackle. "Large."
She sighed. "Sir, we don't have large. We have—"
"Look," Peter said quickly. "Just give me whatever qualifies as a large in this lame Starbuck's knockoff, okay?"
The barista rolled her eyes as Elle giggled, wrapping her arm around one of Peter's biceps. "Someone's testy! I'll have a decaf hazelnut. Coffee makes me a little nuts." She looked up at Peter with all the innocence she could muster. "Maybe you should try it too, honey."
"I am not your honey!" He turned to the barista as she started to type it in and insisted, "We are not together!"
Elle ran a hand up and down the inside of his arm, shocking him lightly but not enough to be seen. "Aw, they're so cute when they play hard to get, aren't they?" The barista smiled briefly, then went to go make the drinks.
Peter attempted to pull his arm away, but Elle was holding tight. "Look, if you don't go away, I'll—"
"What, Peter?" she asked, seriously in a lowered tone. "You certainly won't start a scene here. That could be very bad… We all know what happened last time, and…"
"Don't!" he barked loudly, looking at her murderously. "Don't you dare talk about that!"
Elle seemed taken aback at his reaction, but her fear melted into a smile. "Awww, don't be so upset."
Peter opened his mouth to tell her off when a soft voice said, "Peter?" He turned towards Claire, whose eyes widened in disbelief. In a shaky voice, she said, "What is she doing here?"
He frowned. "You know her?"
Grinning, Elle removed her arms from Peter and rested her hands on her hips. "Well, well, well. Two for the price of one. This is getting more and more interesting."
Claire shook her head furiously. "I can't believe you, Peter!" She stormed out of the door and even the bell sounded angry.
"Claire!" he called after her. He shot Elle an angry look, then followed the other blonde quickly. "Claire, wait!"
"What's wrong, Claire Bear?" Elle said from behind them. "Not happy to see me?"
"Shut up!" the cheerleader yelled. She attempted to run towards Elle, but Peter grabbed her by the shoulders, holding her back.
Peter pulled Claire close to him, shouting over her shoulder at Elle. "Just go home to daddy, Elle!"
The older blonde smiled, crossing her arms over her chest as her eyes narrowed in on Claire. "Maybe we should all go home to daddy."
Claire surged forward and Peter barely kept his grip. At the same time, his anger got the better of him as he sent a telekinetic force wave at Elle. She looked surprised as she fell back, grabbing on to the hood of a car to keep her balance. Claire looked at him in shock. "Peter…"
He stepped in front of Claire, glaring across the parking lot in fury. "No, I'm through protecting these people and I'm through protecting her! You want a fight, Elle? You got it!"
Grabbing his arm, Claire urged him back. "Peter, she's not worth it. Come on, we'll leave, go talk some place." He didn't move until she pulled him with more urgency. "Come on!"
Peter hesitated, then nodded tersely. Pointing a finger at Elle, he said, "Don't follow us!" To prove his point, he looked around before he spotted the company SUV and sent a small bolt of lightning to each of the tires, instantly deflating them. She glared at him in anger and he matched her look for look before leading Claire away.
As Peter pulled his rental car into traffic, he glanced quickly at Claire in the passenger seat. "How do you know her?"
"How do you know her?" Claire snapped back.
Peter was silent, watching the road in front of him, though it was nearly devoid of cars. "I…I got mixed up with the wrong people…" He resisted the urge to close his eyes, knowing that he'd never get his deposit back on the car even though he and Claire would immerge without a scratch. "Look, is there somewhere around here we can go and talk? The beach or something?"
Claire shook her head quickly. "Not the beach," she said, voice hoarse. "Anywhere but the beach." After a minute of silence, she said, "There's a park up here on the right. I think there's a lake or something."
Nodding, Peter pulled into the parking lot. They continued to remain in silence as they exited the car. Claire's eyes lit up as she saw an ice cream vendor. "Be right back."
"You…want ice cream?" he asked her retreating body. She seemed to buy something and jogged back to him, handing over a bottle of water and carrying two others. "One for you, one for me, and one in case she comes back." Peter nodded; it made sense. Claire managed the smallest of smiles. "Come on, the guy said the lake was this way."
They walked along a path through high trees and soon came to a large lake. Although there were benches along the path, Claire kept going forward until they were just a few feet from the water. Peter assumed that it was in case of Elle and sat down next to her. Claire was soon shaking her head and scoffing, causing Peter to look around for Elle, Bob or the Haitian. Finally, Claire said, "Swans."
Peter blinked. "What?"
She pointed across the lake where a bunch of swans were gathered in a group, just floating across the water's surface. "I hate swans."
Raising an eyebrow in amusement, he repeated, "Hate swans?"
"Don't look at me like that," she said, grinning. "Swans are not the nice creatures they pretend to be. It's all a façade. They may look pretty, but they will attack you at a moment's notice. They're vicious too. It's all a false sense of security. One wrong move and they are no longer your pretty friends."
Peter snorted. "Sounds like Elle."
Claire rolled her eyes. "Well, sometimes I want to throttle swans too, so I guess it fits." She eyed him carefully. "So…she was part of the bad crowd you fell in to?"
"Kind of," he said with a sigh. "I…I thought I was helping with things. But I was wrong. I was being fooled. It just seemed so right. But it was wrong. I was wrong."
"We all are," Claire said softly. "We all try to do what's best and we're all wrong." Her shoulders suddenly shook with sobs as she buried her head in her hands, tears flowing. Peter wrapped his arms around her, pulling her against his body. She clung to him, body shaking with anger and sadness. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry…"
He shook his head, realizing that he was crying with her. "Don't be, Claire."
"It's just…" She broke off as the sobbing began again. "It's just so hard… Everything's falling apart. And every time we try to fix it or just set it back the way it used to be, it just…crumbles. It's always one step forwards and a thousand steps back. I just don't know what to do anymore."
"I know," he whispered. "I know…"
Claire sniffled loudly. "God, and on top of everything else, there's swans!"
He followed her gaze to where two swans were approaching him. After a moment's hesitation and checking their surroundings, he sent lightning at both of them. Claire laughed loudly as they took off back towards the water. Pulling away, she looked at him, eyes dancing with shock and amusement. "Torturing small animals now? Is that a new habit you picked up?"
Shrugging, he just grinned at her. "I got you to smile."
Her smile only grew wider. "Yeah, I guess so." They leaned against each other, looking out on the lake until Claire laughed again. At Peter's questioning look, she said, "I was just thinking about what those people back at the coffee shop must have thought about us."
He groaned under his breath. "Probably that we were on some lame reality show or something. Those are still big, right?"
She nodded. "They probably thought you were my boyfriend who cheated on me or something. That's what it looked like, at least."
"Claire, I have to tell you something," he said solemnly. "I…was seen with another regenerator." It was her turn to look confused and he just shook her head. "Trust me, I'll explain later."
"We have a lot of stuff to talk about later," she said softly. "I just…want to spend time with you right now."
"Same here." He wrapped his arms around her again, pulling her close and rocking her gently. He gently placed a kiss on her forehead before she tucked her head under his chin.
Claire reached for his hand, holding it tightly. "Peter…I don't want to lose you again."
"I don't want to lose you either," he assured her, pulling her tighter to him.
"No…" She shook her head. "I don't…I don't want to have to worry about where you've gone or when you're leaving or if you're going to come back. I just…"
His heart broke at her light sobs, her tears not yet dried out. "I know, Claire. I don't want to put you through that." He tilted her head up to look her in the eye. "I promise to do everything in my…powers not to leave like that again. At least not without telling you first."
After a moment's hesitation, she nodded, her face a picture of determination. For a minute, she looked exactly like Nathan. The thought both warmed his heart and made it ache. Peter stroked her hair, resting his lips on her forehead, cheeks, nose. He kissed her softly on the lips before pulling her against him again. Her hand held fast on his, as if she suspected that he would disappear at any moment. "I'm not leaving you, Claire," he said gently, continuing to hold her.
"I know. I just want to feel you with me." She squeezed her eyes shut tightly. "I want to know that I'm not alone anymore."
"You aren't. I promise." He kissed her head once again, rubbing her back at the same time. "I love you, Claire."
"I love you too, Peter."
She leaned back against him and they looked over the lake as the sun in the sky began its descent over the horizon. He knew that soon they were going to have to talk about everything that had happened, everything that was bound to happen soon as a result. Secrets and darknesses would come to light and they would have the face the future with all of its insecurities and fears and promises of pain. Peter knew that together they would face it, just as they had done in the past. He wasn't sure of anything but that. And at the moment, they were not at the threshold of death or destruction,or the complete annihilation of the world. This was the brink of something amazing and life changing and full of love.
Peter looked down at Claire's face, then out over the lake.
And it was beautiful.
A/N: My first Paire fic and also written before I had completed watching season one (yeah, I saw season two before one). Please be kind and any constructive criticism would be helpful.
Questions, comments, reactions, and reviews are greatly appreciated.