Word Count: 1,856
Characters: Peter/Claire (canon)
Summary: Peter is imploding after the events of 3.13 "Dual" and no one seems to notice but Claire.
Spoilers: Everything to Volume 3.
Disclaimer: Nothing is mine, just borrowing. All NBC's and Tim Kring's. Please don't sue!
Author's Notes: Originally started as my fic for the heroes_exchange on LJ, but it veered a hard right from the prompt so I'm starting from scratch with that and posting this. Bringing some post-Christmas cheer to everyone, no doubt!
Peter is slowly imploding and no one seems to notice but Claire.
She sees it so clearly it almost blinds her, wonders how anyone else can miss his slow disintegration. Maybe it's because there's no fuss or fireworks, he doesn't drink to drown his sorrows and there's no complaint but don't they get it?
This is Peter and this is just the way he is; he's suffering in wretched silence because he's used to being ignored, brushed aside until someone's grand scheme goes awry and they need him to save the day.
Claire sees it all so clearly and yet she feels powerless to stop it.
She watched as The Company's New York facility goes up in flames, her and her dad and Angela. Every lick and bellow of flame taunts her, reminds her that she's lost Meredith, a second mother she had only just started to know. She knows it ought to be a comfort that when it counted, Meredith had been willing to sacrifice herself rather than put Claire's life in danger.
But it's scant comfort and she doesn't want it. To be comforted cheapens her biological mother's death; to feel anything at all, unbearable. All she'd wanted to do was to throw herself into the flames and dare it to consume her, prove once and for all how indestructible yet vulnerable she really is.
Of course she hadn't, not because she's far too sensible to put herself in danger after Meredith had just sacrificed herself but because her father disallows it and she knew that when it comes to Claire's safety, there was no arguing with logic.
Still, she'd been angry and hurt and refused to be consoled. It'd blinded her to everything, so much so that she didn't know when or how they return to Angela's house but they did, somehow.
She's only roused from that primordial anger by the sight of Peter standing motionless in the centre of the lobby like he has no idea why he exists anymore.
There's a flurry and he's in Angela's arms in an instant. Claire's thoughts grudgingly thaws as she watches the silent consolation of mother and son until her dad ushers her into the next room. No words necessary because they understand.
Claire has just lost a mother but she senses that Peter's lost a great deal too.
* * * * *
If she had been tired, the gentle murmuring from the study would almost certainly have lulled her to sleep.
But she's not and so it's only mildly annoying listening to a conversation taking place that's so blatantly not for her ears. No doubt her dad and Angela are discussing what Peter was able to tell them about what happened at Pinehearst; Claire had only caught bits and pieces and if she had been in a better frame of mind she might have cared.
As it is, she has no desire to know what they're saying, not about Pinehearst or Arthur, not any of it. Claire doesn't care whether the world's in danger or not or whether it needs saving, again, because she's got more immediate things to worry about.
She glances at the stairs, bites her lip, wonders for the millionth time whether she should go up to see how Peter's doing. Even without specifics, she guesses a lot had happened to Peter after leaving for Haiti and a big part of her burns to know what and why and when.
She steals a glance at the study door, still resolutely closed, makes the decision she should have made an hour ago.
She takes the steps two at a time, only stops to gather her thoughts before knocking hesitantly on the door to Peter's old room. There's no response so she goes in anyway because even if he had wanted her to go away she wouldn't have gone.
Claire maybe half expects it, but seeing him curled into a ball in the darkest corner of the room still takes her aback.
She watches him for a few moments; panic rising as he neither reacts nor acknowledges her presence. Slowly she makes his way to his side, remembers briefly the cuts and bruises that had dotted his skin only an hour ago but now there's nothing left of his injuries but the haunted look in his eyes.
The pieces start coming together in her mind. He'd somehow got his powers back and used her ability to heal; she gets the biggest sense of déjà vu. She brushes it aside to think about later because now isn't the time.
He murmurs something but she doesn't catch it. She thinks about asking him again but knows instinctively she needs to wait. The only concession she makes to her wishes is to allow her hand to creep into his.
She's careful to not react when his fingers curl around hers, gently at first but then it starts to shake and his grip tightens until it would have hurt a normal girl with no abilities so it's lucky for both of them that she doesn't feel pain anymore.
"Peter?" She wants to deluge him with questions but knows better than to push. Senses he'll tell her in his own time so she waits; watches and listens to the silence stretching like a bubble around them.
She realises that the shaking has extended to swallow him whole and so she does the only thing she can, throws herself around him like a shield and hopes he can feel she's there.
It only takes a moment for him to break and shatter into a thousand million pieces, collapsing into her arms but Claire isn't scared. He's her friend and hero and his heartbreak only galvanises her. She listens patiently as the shaking becomes trembling and then descends into outright sobbing, soft and silent but she can feel how damp her hands are, hands that cradle him as he rocks in grief.
She makes comforting sounds, knows there isn't much she can say without knowing what happened and doubts whether she would've had the right words anyway even knowing all the facts.
His silent breakdown subsides; a final painful shudder and he's once more perfectly still, pale and handsome like a Greek statue.
It's only then she dares to speak again. "I'm here for you."
His voice is hoarse when he finally speaks. "Thanks Claire. For everything." She hears him sigh faintly, before hauling himself into a sitting position. She ignores his red rimmed eyes and the sorrow that languishes in them, the eyes of a hero who's suffered more to save the world than anyone knows.
They sit in companionable silence for a while. She knows he'll let her in when he's ready.
"I killed my dad, Claire. I … I pulled the trigger. The bullet would've hit him if Sylar hadn't intervened. I killed him."
"Sylar?" She takes a moment to digest it, puts the fractured pieces of Sylar's taunts at the facility together. Swallows down bile and panic because this isn't the time for it. "You had to. Even Angela said so."
"I know." He's still holding onto her hand for dear life. "He was my father. He would've killed me and destroyed the world. I know. But … "
"But you loved him anyway. And now he's gone."
She dares to look into his eyes, his soul. Drinks in their anguish because that's the least she can do for him. "You loved him, even after everything he did. Because he's your dad. He held you in his arms when you were a baby. Who knows, maybe he might've changed a nappy or two. And I think he must've loved you, in between all the crazy."
"I was named after his grandfather. Dad used to tell me about him. He was from Sicily, wanted to see the new world. Land of the free, where you could become anything you wanted to be. He used to say that, I had his spirit. Free and reckless. I'd always … I'd always thought it was a compliment. In his own way."
She blinks back tears. "It was."
He looks at her, expression inscrutable. "Maybe." Tries to smile, but fails. "I was so angry with him when I pulled the trigger. I can't help but think – if I'd been calmer, more in control maybe it would've been better, but – I wasn't. I was so angry Claire and I –"
"You pulled it because it was the only way to save the world." Her conviction surprises her. "It doesn't make you any less of a person and … it doesn't mean you loved him any less. I know you, Peter. You're a kind, caring person. You could never be a truly bad person."
"How do you know?"
She dares to crack a smile, recalls the last time she said it to him. "Because you're totally my hero. And there's no way my hero's a villain."
This time he returns the smile and she kisses him impulsively, a soft brushing of lips. It's meant innocently but the electricity that passes between them makes her colour, but he's enough of a gentleman to brush the potential awkwardness off.
He smiles that crooked smile she adores, reaches out to tuck a stray hair behind her ears. Gently kisses her forehead and rests maybe for just a moment too long in her hair, breath ticking her neck.
"Thanks, Claire. For everything."
She brushes his sincerity off, momentarily embarrassed. "You should get some rest. You look terrible."
"Oh I do, do I? A moment ago I was your hero."
"A red and splotchy hero, yeah."
She delights in seeing the colour come back onto his face. "Then I should get some rest then."
"Yeah, you should." She can't exactly express the relief that only now floods through her, seeing Peter's burden slowly lifting before her eyes.
He gets up with some effort, stretching cramped limbs before throwing himself boyishly onto the bed. Is shaking his shoes off when she yanks them off for him.
He looks up at her in surprise.
"What, you think I'm going to let my splotchy old uncle alone to angst after all the effort I've put in? Shove over."
"Hey, I'm not that old." Despite his protest he shifts, allowing her to snuggle against him.
Claire buries herself into his chest, revels in the feel of his arms around her and closes her eyes. She sees Meredith yelling to her in the last moments of her life, an upside down Sylar as he cuts open her head; sees the bullet meant for her dad from Elle's pistol zooming towards her. Shudders at the collective horror of those memories but thinks she'll be able to face them again tomorrow.
Because tomorrow she'll be able to tell Peter everything, pour her heart out to him like she'd done once before. And he'll be there for her because he's her hero and he's shown her how much a hero could bear to save the world, and then, everything will be all right.