A/N: This is really late, but oh well. I was in a lingering Christmas mood.
--A Very Bennet Christmas--
He had never felt so nervous in his life.
The ringing of the doorbell startled him out of his distraction, Peter consequently drawing his hand back from the bell as if caught on fire. When the door swung open, he winced. He stood before Noah Bennet feeling very much the frightened child, anxiously shuffling his feet as he glanced up at the older man through the dark hair shading his eyes.
He cleared his throat, managing a wan smile. "Hello, Mr. Bennet."
"Peter." His expression was unreadable, having more of that adolescent nervousness fluttering in the empath's chest. The way Noah was watching him, studying him, he felt like a subject in a lab experiment, every nuance of him being monitored and analyzed. And then, as if by magic, the look in Bennet's eyes lightened, uncloaking into something softer, something Peter still couldn't decipher but felt much more at ease with.
"I take it you're here to see Claire?"
Noah stepped out of the way, motioning for him to come in. "She's in the living room."
"Thank you, Mr. Bennet."
Noah gave him a genuine smile, arching an amused eyebrow as he spotted the parcels in Peter's hands. "I thought I told you to call me Noah."
Peter returned his smile, a little tentatively, as Noah closed the door and guided the younger man toward the inner house. "Sorry. Noah."
"Mr. Muggles, that's not for eating!"
A sudden exclamation from a room over caught both of their attention, causing eyebrows to arch and smiles to appear as the two men stepped into the living room, watching as a small fur-ball came racing through the doorway, a full-size hambone hanging from his mouth. How he managed to lug it after him, Peter had no idea. Claire was at the dog's heels, rolling her eyes at her mother's distressed murmurs from the kitchen behind her. She and Lyle, rustled up from his place in front of the computer, managed to free the bone from the canine before he choked on it. Sandra Bennet appeared behind them, her eyes wide and her hand against her breast as she scooped up Mr. Muggles, both chiding him and smothering him with attention at the same time.
Noah shook his head, his mouth twitching with laughter. "Sandra, why don't I help you with dinner?" he called out. "Claire, come greet your guest."
Claire curiously raised her head from the chaos, and as her parents disappeared into the kitchen and her brother returned to his games, Peter's eyes met those of his niece for the first time in nearly six months.
Time stopped, the world ceased spinning on its axis, reality, as he knew it came to a standstill. He forgot what it meant to breathe, to remember anything beyond that moment, even something as simple his own name.
And then she whispered to him, the sound of the name given to him at birth, and it all came rushing back to him, his identity, his existence, and his place in the world. "Claire, Claire…" her name passed from his lips in a steady repetition, a mantra meant to ground him, to convince himself he was not dreaming.
She whispered his name once more, tears shining against her face. He tried to smile, failing miserably as he reached out to her, hesitantly, slowly, for her image had been an apparition in his imagination for too long, and he feared her disappearing.
But suddenly, she threw her arms around his neck, pressing against his side. She was tangible and very real as the warmth of her body, the feel of her, soaked into him. "H-hey," he muttered, wincing at the shaky quality to his voice, "Haven't I told you before that I hate to see you cry?"
"I'm sorry. It's just been so long."
"I know what you mean." He pressed kisses to her hair, cradling her all that tighter against him. Over a year since the explosion in that fateful November at Kirby Plaza. Another five months before they saw each other again. Eight weeks they were allowed to stay together. Six months they were separated and "suggested" they could stay in touch, but not see each other in person.
Peter hated them for that. His mother. His brother. He couldn't help resenting even Noah Bennet a little for agreeing to the idea.
She buried her head in his chest, her arms loosening their choking hold but not showing sign of releasing him any time soon. And Peter found, he really didn't mind. He rested his cheek against the top of her head with a happy sigh. He stroked her hair, marveling at the changes in the girl…no, the woman…in his arms. The first time they had met, she'd been a scared but brave sixteen, now a beautiful eighteen full of confidence and grace he couldn't help but be proud of.
"Dude! Gross! You're under the mistletoe."
Two heads turned to face Lyle's over-exaggerated expression of disgust, Claire sticking her tongue out in his direction, Peter blushing lightly as he and Claire separated. Soft laughing came from Sandra's reappearance in the kitchen doorway, watching them amusedly. "Lyle, leave them be. Go wash up." As her son reluctantly did as told, racing up the stairs to the bathroom, Mrs. Bennet turned her attention back to her daughter and the uncle who seemed more like a nervous suitor. "Will you be joining us for dinner, Mr. Petrelli?"
"Uh…I wouldn't want to intrude…"
"It's no trouble. We've got plenty."
Still Peter hesitated, but an insistent tugging at his shirt collar had him looking down into eager green eyes. "Peter, please stay. You can't just drop in and out again. I just got you back."
He reached down, tucking her hair back behind her ear. "Hey. S'okay. I'll stay."
Sandra watched their interactions with a sad smile, taking his assent to stay and stepping back into the kitchen to give them their privacy. Suddenly remembering his primary purpose for visiting, he broke their gaze. "Hang on." He picked up a flower bouquet he had accidentally abandoned in their fervor to get to each other, sheepishly handing them to her. "These are for you. I think they ended up a little bruised. Sorry."
She shyly smiled at him, holding the roses with care as she breathed in their fragrance. "They're beautiful. Thank you."
She reached up to stroke one cool petal, watching him thoughtfully. "The color…what does it mean?"
"Lavender?" He cocked his head, his mouth curving into a crooked grin. "Love at first sight. Enchantment."
She arched an eyebrow, smirking as she slipped her arms around his neck, leaning up on her tiptoes with a discreet glance at the mistletoe above them. "Peter Petrelli, are you saying I have you under a spell?"
His breath caught, taking in the mischievous glint to her eyes. "I might be."
She was close, so close, that the scent of her filled his nose and made him dizzy. Her breath danced across his skin, hypersensitive to even her slightest proximity. Soft lips found their destination against his cheek, and he breathed in deeply, turning his head to nuzzle against her hair. "Then again, maybe it's just the real thing."
"Merry Christmas, Claire."
She kissed him again, this time chastely against the mouth. "Merry Christmas, Peter."