"They threatened her, Nathan. They held a gun to the back of her head and threatened to kill her if I didn't comply. I can still hear the cock of that hammer…the look in her eyes, so scared, the way she was shaking but trying to be strong."
Nathan stood in the doorway to the living room, watching the pair seated together on the sofa. He frowned deeply, his brow furrowing as he fought for words.
"I protected her the best way I could. She might have forgiven me for the hurt I caused her for that protection, but I haven't forgiven myself. So I don't expect you to forgive me. But by God, Nathan, she's alive. And she's home."
His eyes caught Claire's, full of angry betrayal, and Nathan changed his mind, looking between them once more with a tense expression and a clenched jaw. He gave up with a sigh. "We'll talk in the morning," he said quietly, and retreated, stomping passed them and down the hall, likely headed for his office, and the liquor cabinet that resided there.
Silence fell over the pair left behind and they shared a look, Peter's eyes dark with tired frustration, Claire's bright with the glisten of quietly gathering tears. Claire rested her head on Peter's shoulder, Peter slipping an arm around her shoulders in response. She leaned against his side, fitting to him so seamlessly it was more than natural. Her hands coming to wrap around his neck, her fingers clutching at his neck, and he turned toward her, felt her trembling.
He moved his arms to her waist and pulled her into his lap. She tilted her head up, her cheek smoothing over his as they moved so their foreheads touched. She let out a shaky breath, shifting so she straddled his hips, desperate to be closer to him.
Still shaking, she burrowed her face into the crook of his neck, finding the warm, smooth skin she had been craving, rubbing her nose against his nape with relief. Peter tightened his arms around her and buried his face in her hair. Brushing his lips against her neck, he breathed out slowly, closing his eyes.
Later that night, Peter went looking for his niece, after Claire had been missing for nearly an hour after they parted company to get ready for bed. A bed they had no longer been sharing for nearly a week now. Though he wasn't sure if the same would hold tonight. Back when they were captives, Claire had always clung so close to him after a beating, but she had been the one who so strongly advocated the need to now sleep apart.
They were idly lying on his bed, Peter's arm draped around her stomach as Claire rested her head on his chest, fingers drawing nonsensical patterns against his naked skin. He deeply inhaled at the contact, the muscles of his bare chest contracting and then relaxing beneath her touch.
"Penny for your thoughts?" she murmured softly, slowly running her fingers up his arm. The fine hair dotting his forearms was soft beneath his fingers, smoothing out when she traced over the definitions of his bicep. The contrasts of his body had always fascinated her; so blatantly, powerfully male, but capable of being so gentle with her. She gently pressed a kiss to his shoulder, waiting for his answer.
He blinked sleepily, "Mmm, I don't know if they're worth that much."
She tilted her head up to look at him. "Why don't you let me be the judge of that?"
He swallowed against the harsh lump rising in his throat. She noticed his hesitation and propped herself up on an elbow to see him more clearly. "What is it, Peter?"
"Claire…" he sharply inhaled, exhaling again in a harsh rush of air. "I don't want to lose you."
She gave him questioning look, reaching over to stroke his face. "What brought this on? Is it what we talked about earlier?"
Earlier that evening, Claire had made the unexpected announcement that she now felt comfortable attempting to sleep away from him. This was to be the one last night she wanted to spend curled up at his side.
"…I'm just…" He shrugged, unable to convey the full feelings.
For a long moment, Claire didn't speak, and the more the silence extended between them, the more Peter's stomach knotted with continued insecurities. And then she was wrapping her arms around his neck, guiding him to lay with her, Claire sinking back onto the mattress as she pulled him atop of her. She ran one hand through his hair, keeping the other around his neck to tenderly stroke the dip between his shoulder-blades. "Talk to me."
With a deep sigh, Peter relaxed against her body. "I don't want to be selfish, sweetheart, but I don't want to let this go. I like being close to you, and I'm not just talking in the literal, physical sense. I know it's not logical, but I feel like I'll lose that after tonight. Like you'll drift away from me."
"Peter…I like being close to you, too. It feels good…special. It's closer than we've been since…" A light blush touched her cheeks. "You know…" He did know, and it felt wonderful that they had rediscovered the closeness and the connection without having to define the line as a sexual relationship.
She brought a hand to rest against the back of his neck, brushing her thumb against his hairline in a slow, continuous stroking. "I don't think there's any single word for what we are, Peter, but I don't want to lose what we have either. Not after everything we've been through. I won't let it happen."
It was moments like this when he remembered the incredible amount of strength this seemingly frail body chose to hide. All the times he felt so badly compelled to shelter her, protect her, hold her close until absolutely nothing in the world could harm her, he often forgot she harbored a compulsion to do much the same for him.
"Besides," she continued humorously, her eyes holding a mischievous glint, "I'm kind of pregnant with your kid. If that doesn't connect us, I don't know what does."
Peter gave her a warm, languid smile, turning into her touch to kiss her palm, "Why are you so good to me, Claire Bennet?"
"Because you're my hero. You're the person I trust most in this world. I love you."
"I love you, too."
The bathroom was his next place to look, and though he received no answer to his polite knock, he could hear the water running. He and Claire were alone in this part of the house, surrounded only by guest rooms, and it was without second thought that he went in.
The first thing Peter heard upon softly closing the door behind him was the unmistakable sound of Claire's crying. It was never a heavy sound, she neither sobbed nor wailed, something adapted during their captivity. They'd done their damn best to keep to the old adage; never show fear, never show weakness. Instead, it was a quiet, gasping rhythm of shuddering breath, something that would not be audible to just anyone above the noise of the running shower. But Peter was closely in tune with Claire, and he knew the sounds of her distress better than his own breath.
He partially pulled back the curtain, exposing the sight of her. She was huddled in the corner of the bath, knees drawn up to her chest and head buried in her arms as she quietly cried.
Her head whipped around to face him, her eyes widening at the sight of him. "Peter?" she wiped at her eyes, making a sound halfway between a sniff and a mortified laugh. "I'm sorry. I just can't stop crying."
"You don't have to apologize."
The first hit caught him completely by surprise. By the second, some of the shock had begun to wear off. The third came with a profound sense of betrayal on both sides.
His grocery bags hit the concrete of the garage floor hard and Peter heard the cracking of the eggs he'd picked up. Nathan fell over him with fierce, furious fists, and the two men collapsed to the ground.
"Nathan! Fucking hell, Nathan, stop!"
"My daughter. My fucking daughter, Peter!"
He watched for a moment, thoughtful, and then suddenly decisive, he stepped back. Her eyes widened as he pulled his shirt over his head, reaching down to his belt. "Peter, Nathan and Heidi…"
"Are on the other side of the house. Even if, I don't care. Do you?" His eyes were soft but questioning as they met hers and slowly, Claire shook her head. He smiled, finishing with his belt and then the button and zip to his jeans. Socks and underwear followed and fully nude, he stepped into the shower with her.
He was immediately enveloped in a wet heat as he closed the curtain behind him, reaching out to give her a hand up. A tight embrace, bodies pressing together with loving intimacy. Hands glided over flesh, hot, wet and sleek. The added slickness of soap as they washed. The taste of water on skin, simple and clean, as lips pressed to cheek, neck and shoulder.
"I never wanted to see that happen to you again," she whispered, face cradled in the crook of his neck.
They were entwined tightly, his arms around her, and Peter sighed, leisurely caressing a hand up her back. "I never wanted you to," he admitted softly.
He knew that eventually, he and Claire would have to admit to others the deeper feelings between them, that it was practically impossible now to go back to a purely platonic relationship. But for now, he supposed his brother would be too caught up in his own demons to notice the changes between his daughter and baby brother, things that could no longer be attributed to the need for comfort the more time passed and both slowly moved on from their ordeal.
At least he hoped they were moving on. Today may turn out to be a major setback for them both, Claire especially. He could only hope beyond hope that he was wrong.
Claire nuzzled against his neck, pressing a kiss to his pulse point, pausing at the steady fluttering beneath her lips, and she smiled. He felt the smile and he returned it with one of his own, brushing his mouth against her temple. She was warm and wet and soft, and when she shifted against him, he was hit by that awareness of her, beautiful and precious to him, bringing up attractions and passions no one else ever could and it stirred him in a wonderfully tricky way.
With new clarity, Peter realized Claire must have gone ahead and told her father about her pregnancy without him. Though falling into the familiar guilt swamping through him was tempting, instinct won out over letting his brother pummel him to death. Nathan might have been the boxing champ during his military career, but he was the one who had taught a teenage Peter how to defend himself against bullies.
Years working behind a desk versus the months Peter had spent conditioning his body during his imprisonment, Peter managed to dislodge Nathan's hold on him and deftly maneuvered out from underneath the older man. He stood up, holding his hands out in front of him in a placating gesture.
"Nathan, wait! Let me explain!"
But Peter had underestimated his brother's temper, as Nathan moved to attack him again.
Heat spiked through him, sudden awareness that it wasn't just the woman he loved and cared for, pressed against him, but a beautiful woman- breasts and curves and legs, and that heat did nothing but grow. He closed his eyes as something pulled in his loins, inwardly berating himself as Claire felt the unmistakable evidence of him hardening at her hip.
He looked away uncomfortably, attempting to pull away. But Claire held tight to him. "I'm sorry," he murmured guiltily.
She shook her head. "Don't worry about it." She rested her head against his chest. "I just want you close."
He leaned his chin against the top of her head and sharply exhaled. "Okay."
Peter understood Nathan's rage, his sense of betrayal, he really did. But after over a year of beatings and other physical intimidations, the familiar feelings of anger, fear and helplessness overruled his rationale, and he felt betrayed himself. For over a year, those guards had belittled him, demeaned him, made him feel like so much less than the man he was. And now his brother was managing to do the same.
Those feelings were clearly echoed in Claire when she and Heidi found them a few minutes later, Claire screaming and crying for Nathan to let him go, to just stop. How many times, Peter thought guiltily, had she seen him beaten down and bloody? How many times over the last year had she been helpless and afraid, as a direct result of seeing things done to him?
In the end, he was the only one not surprised at the way she clung to him after Nathan rolled off him, hands frantically moving over places she logically knew had already healed over. He held her tightly, even more so as she began to tremble from her silent sobs.
They stepped out of the shower as the water grew cold, Peter wrapping a towel around his waist, holding out her robe to her. She slipped into it and as she was pulling it closed and belted it tight, Peter watched her with warm eyes. "You know," he said matter-of-factly, "My eggs ended up all cracked earlier. I guess I'll have make you something other than omelets in the morning."
Flipping her hair to expertly twist a towel around the wet mess, she straightened up to arch an eyebrow at him. "That omelet you were bragging about earlier, the one your college roommate taught you to make because it was good for hangovers?"
He waggled a finger at her. "Hey, I'll have you know that's not the only reason we made them. Eggs have plenty of protein. They're good for you."
"That's true. But I'm pretty sure the bacon and hash browns you're supposed to stuff in that thing aren't."
"Hush. There's plenty of veggies to balance it out. It's not like you don't need the calories anyway."
That must have been the most roundabout way she had ever heard a guy tell a woman she wasn't fat. She rolled her eyes and he leaned down to playfully nuzzle his cheek against hers. Her nose wrinkled up for a moment and he looked down at her questionably. "What?"
She smiled wryly. "It scratches."
He ran a hand over his face, remembering his mind had been elsewhere so much lately, and it had indeed been several days since he had shaved, creating a mess of stubble that itched against his face. He moved to rectify it and when she shyly asked if she could do it for him; he had no reason to object, leaning against the counter to fulfill her request.
They were quiet as she worked up lather between her hands, her fingers lithe and gentle as they guided the razor across his skin, only pausing to cup his chin in order to angle his head. He reveled in the feel of her touching him so softly, rinsing and then gently padding a towel to dry him off. She ran the back of her fingers along his jaw-line and he smiled at her. "Better?"
She nodded. "Better."
"Glad you approve." He commented wryly.
She glided her fingers over his skin once more, murmuring softly. "Smooth."
He mimicked her actions, stroking her cheek. "Soft," he countered.
He leaned his forehead against hers and they smiled at each other. They said nothing, letting the many things filling the silence speak for them.