The following weeks brought change between them. Claire was still quiet, still hesitant, but there was now a warmth, and slowly she began unfolding to him. Peter took salvage in the little things - brief smiles, diffident touches, conversations that perhaps were not meaningful, but allowed him to delve a little deeper into her mystique. As the days wore on, her reclusive attitude gingerly dissolved, and Peter could see glimpses of his Claire starting to return. They'd spend just about all their time together. Peter would wake to long, brown hair splayed across the pillow; and Claire would drift off to slow, gentle breathing in her ear.
He soon discovered there was a push and pull amidst them. As Peter cooked for her, bathed her, sent her to bed feeling safe; Claire in return would let him further into her world. He learned about her time at Pinehearst as he served her a plate of scrambled eggs and bacon. He learned about the loss of her parents when he cut down her fingernails after a bath. He learned about her many, many suicide attempts as she lay, tucked up in his arms in the dark.
One particular morning, after they had finished discussing the day's weather (a conversation that both had found a painless way of quashing the newly-formed morning awkwardness), Peter presented Claire with her routine breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon. She picked at the eggs, nibbled at the bacon, whilst chatting idly away to Peter about anything and everything.
"… I wanted to go once, but my husband didn't want to, so we didn't."
Peter's brow creased as he poured her a glassful of orange juice. "Husband?"
"Mhm," she burbled softly, pushing the eggs around her plate. "You know, Harry."
Claire's eyebrows wrinkled to mirror Peter's, looking up at him. "No? Oh! No, I guess you wouldn't, then. Well, I have a husband – had a husband."
"When was this?" Peter questioned, and perched himself at the place opposite her.
She shrugged. "Not long ago, six or seven years perhaps. Harry van der Rohe. Lawyer, part German, part English, though born and bred in Manhattan."
Peter watched as she mused over her memories, sifting through the reminiscences of her time with Harry, her aged green eyes glassy.
"In retrospect, to be honest, he was a horrible man…" Claire finally spoke, breaking her silence with a faint mutter. "He was hateful, selfish, arrogant – you get the drift."
"Then why did you marry him in the first place?"
She shrugged with a wry smile. "I suppose I loved him."
Peter paused. Nathan hadn't mentioned anything about a wedding… Which was understandable, Peter soon realised, as the man had been six feet under for the past God-knows-how-many years.
Not tearing his gaze away from the patterns he was tracing on the tablecloth, Peter spoke. "So, did you two get a divorce then? You know, if it wasn't working."
He looked up to see Claire shake her head, dark hair fluttering. "Nuh uh."
"Nope," she replied casually, her voice light and breezy. "He died in a car accident thirteen months into the marriage."
Peter's lips formed a small 'o' when she looked up, a rueful grin playing on her lips. But his eyes met hers, and they glimmered with tears. "I'm sorry."
She shook her head again. "No, don't be. That's the very reason I left – I couldn't deal with the pity anymore. So I upped my sticks and I ran."
He met her sorrow smile with a slight nod respectfully, and she stretched out her arms. "So what about you, Peter? Any wives? Or husbands, y'know, if that was your thing."
"Nope, none at all," he twinkled back, unable to stop himself from breaking into a wide grin. "A few girlfriends – no boyfriends, mind you – but nothing exactly… substantial."
Peter raised and dropped his left shoulder, a minimal shrug. "Some ways yes, some ways no, I suppose. I just never found the right person for me."
"Mm…" Claire murmured in agreement. "Anything exciting? Apart from saving the world and stuff, obviously."
He sighed, and ran a finger around the thin rim of his glass. "Not really… After Nathan and everyone passed, nothing really escalated to anything. Life became a blur, you know?"
She nodded surely. "Everything else just became death, natural and easy and soft and peaceful. But then there was me, very, very alive. Black and bleak and bloody and more and more life… No wonder suicide became appealing."
A peel of wry laughter rang from deep in his throat, hoarse and forced as if he hadn't laughed in a long time. "Hard times, hm?"
"You have no idea," Claire replied with a droll curl of her lip, before letting out a weary sigh. "Peter, do you ever wonder when our stories will begin to take a turn for the better? 'Cause I think we're owed a happy ending…"
Peter's mouth twitched into a grave smile, and he tried his best to hide the vacancy in his eyes as he answered her. "To tell you the truth, Claire, I can't see there being an ending for us at all."
And she didn't dare look up for her dead eyes to mirror his.
Part deux, as you can see. Part deux of trois possibly. I enjoyed writing it too much to stop, I suppose. Reviews, as always, are much appreciated.