Word Count: 2811
Spoilers: Through Shades of Gray, extremely vague for Cold Snap
Warnings: Incest, angst, getting jossed in only a handful of hours
Acknowledgment: Thanks to jin_fenghuang for the super-quick beta
Nathan and Claire hover by the window as long as he can deem safe, watching the agents ransack the house, keeping an eye out for Claire's adoptive mother and brother. Nathan has no idea what he'll do if the agents turn on them, he really doesn't, but he can't just leave them alone in his mess without a backward glance.
Eventually, the agents remember their heads, though, and force his hand. The first crack of gunfire erupts and he shoots into the sky, Claire clutched tightly in his arms.
They break Mach 1, Mach 2, Mach 3 before he realizes he doesn't have anywhere to go. He circles back, flying over farmland, wind whipping wetness from his eyes and hushing the soft squeaks of annoyance Claire makes at his uncomfortable grasp. Tilled soil gives way to mountains, and then desert. There's a glint on the ground that seems familiar -- but it can't be...
It is. They land outside the Fly By Night diner. A faintly nostalgic smile touches Nathan's lips.
Claire pauses while trying to straighten her wind-tangled hair to take in the diner's name.
"You're kidding," she says flatly.
"At least I'm wearing clothes this time," Nathan replies, walking away from her demand for an explanation of what that means. He lingers in the door, waiting for her to catch up, and propping it open to usher her through.
Claire eyes him suspiciously, backing into the diner and then turning on her heel to survey the truckers collected at the counter as if she expects an ambush. The sight should turn his stomach, but Nathan feels unexpectedly light, free. This is what he is supposed to be doing, who he's supposed to be with. This is the right place to start over.
Hand gentle on Claire's back, fatherly almost -- has it been that long since he even tried to parent one of his children? -- he guides her to a booth.
He picks up one of the menus, lamination peeling up from the corners, and peers over it at her.
"Waffles?" Nathan asks, hiding his smile.
"No," Claire replies slowly, giving him an odd look. "I'm a little waffled out."
His cell phone rings out the stupid default Nokia tone suddenly, and Claire jumps in her seat, glaring at him. He shrugs lightly, pulling it out. He'll have to toss it. Danko's not stupid enough to overlook a GPS tracker in Nathan's pocket.
Nathan flips the phone open, wondering whose slow enough not to know he's the program's new enemy number one.
He frowns, reading: FAMILY SHOULD STICK TOGETHER. PETER IS IN VERNON.
Claire's eyes widen and she leans forward excitedly, levering Nathan's arm so she can look at the phone. She springs immediately from her seat, hand still on Nathan's arm, trying to pull him along when she realizes he's not moving.
"What are you waiting for?" she snaps.
Nathan raises an eyebrow, waiting calmly until she sits back down, huffy and not at all chastened.
"You should have some dinner. Peter, and I can't believe I'm saying this, can take care of himself."
Claire rolls her eyes, either an I'll believe that when I see it or a What? You're pretending to be a Dad now? It's hard to tell. He really doesn't know Claire any better today than he did when they first met.
They eat, chit chat as strained and awkward as at any fund raiser Nathan's ever attended, but slightly more paranoid. Claire's eyes dart at every sound in the diner, wearing down the euphoria Nathan felt earlier at finally acting decisively, finally shaking off "the greater good" and "political ramifications" to do one damned thing he was absolutely sure was right. Guilt creeps in around the edges, and Nathan can't help but remember the last time he did "the right thing" he ended up in a burn unit with a missing brother.
Despite his cool demeanor, he can feel Rebel's message burning in his pocket like it's a hot coal. Step into the sky once more and he'll have his brother back. He'll have redemption. The temptation is too sweet not to believe in.
Eventually, Claire's burger only half finished, his Reuben barely touched, Claire pushes her plate toward the center of the table and stands. She cocks an eyebrow at him, and his protest that she should eat a real meal dies on his lips when he realizes his leg has been bouncing impatiently under the table the whole time.
They pay. Claire climbs into his arms like a pro, saying only, "old boyfriend" when he gives her a look.
It's less than an hour to Vernon, but Nathan feels every second of it.
It took some practice for Nathan to learn how to land. The trick is to descend slowly and then turn the power off, fall to the ground. It's weirdly like switching between breathing and drinking, and he still doesn't always get it right.
He does this time.
Almost before he touches down, Claire is pushing him away, shoes soft on the wet grass as she runs toward a man leaning against the trunk of the big larch tree they built their tree house in all those years ago. Nathan follows more slowly, eyes picking out the shadowed details of his brother's face. He gets close enough to see the bruising that's still around Peter's left eye when Claire flings herself into his arms, contact against his bad shoulder dragging a visible wince from Peter.
Nathan can't help the flash of jealousy he feels watching them together. He will never have that ease with his daughter; he may never have it again with his brother.
He's not close enough to hear their words; the mutual anger at him obvious enough from the angry look Claire shoots back at him. Peter's head dips closer to hers, she cradles his jaw, and there's a brief glow so soft Nathan isn't even sure he sees it.
When is he going to stop doubting his eyes? There had to be a glow, because Peter had to take Claire's power. Right now, he's brushing a grateful kiss across Claire's forehead, sheen of pain gone from his face, shoulders properly square once more. Healing doesn't prevent exhaustion, though, and dark circles are visible underneath Peter's eyes when Nathan finally draws near.
Arm's length, no closer. Peter gives him a sardonic look, and Nathan shakes his head subtly, trying to pretend he's not afraid Peter will just fly off again if he gets half a chance.
Nathan can't think of anything to say. Looking into Peter's eyes, his mouth goes dry.
Impatient, Claire says, "We should keep moving."
"Rebel says we'll be safe here for the night. I believe in him," Peter replies, gaze not wavering from Nathan's and not acknowledging the deliberate attack of the phrase, the second time Peter has done it in less than a week. I'm done believing in you, Nathan.
A lot has happened in that week.
Claire looks between them, and Nathan feels guilty again. She's never had the chance to learn the ins and outs of the family, there's never been a chance to teach her. The situation is always too urgent. It is again, now more than ever.
Peter is the one who breaks away, shutting Nathan out so quickly it's like he's not even there. Peter puts his hand on Claire's shoulder, points to the old back door they still haven't replaced. Nathan realizes no one has even told Claire where they are. Maybe he should mention this isn't actually breaking and entering.
"Go ahead in, Claire. The door doesn't latch right. All you have to do is give it a kick, won't even break it."
She nods, hugging him closely again before whispering, "You should sleep."
Peter's jaw works, but he manages a stiff nod for her. "Night, Claire."
"Night, Peter," she says. Her wary gaze flicks up, "Nathan."
"Linen's in the closet on the second floor," he says, by way of explaining who owns the property. Claire's eyes widen momentarily, pieces clicking together, and she glances over at the house before frowning at both Nathan and Peter. "Good night, Claire."
She goes, but not happily, feet dragging on the ground, probably tracking mud into a house no one has visited, let alone cleaned, in years. Nathan studies her retreating back; Peter studies him.
Finally, he breaks the silence, "Why are you here?"
Nathan bites back the smarmy "Rebel sent me" that immediately comes to mind. That's not what Peter is asking. He thinks. Peter's eyes, once clear windows into his every intention, are shuttered and hard.. His voice is flat, every part of him screaming his indifference to Nathan's answer.
Forgetting himself, Nathan steps into Peter's space, hands reaching out automatically to touch his brother's shoulders. Peter tilts his head, faint smile reminding Nathan the cost of what he just did, but he permits the move. He doesn't run.
"Danko knows," Nathan says with difficulty. "He pushed me out a window and took over."
"And he sent agents to kill Claire," Peter assumes, rightfully, no trace of recrimination in his voice. No trace of anything. "That explains why they were after Mom."
Fuck. I … forgot. His own mother and he didn't think of it? Nathan feels suddenly shaken at just how out of control things are, how many variables he forgot to consider.
Peter sees, and anger flashes in Peter's eyes before he looks away. When he looks back, his eyes once more on Nathan's steady, unreadable. Underneath Nathan's hands, Peter's shoulders relax almost imperceptibly.
"She's inside. Trying to sleep."
"To dream for us," Nathan says in a soft exhalation. It's small comfort, silently offered, but he will take it. Peter was there to pick up the pieces. Running after him, cleaning up the mess.
Like Nathan once did, before he turned everything upside down and gave it a good shake.
Nathan opens his mouth, trying to find a way to verbalize that feeling, thank his brother, apologize, right when a light flicks on in the edge of his vision. Peter turns quickly, reflexes heightened by paranoia. Nathan moves more slowly.
It's the kitchen light, but that sight alone doesn't still Nathan's nerves. There are two figures rather than one puttering around, and it's only after a long moment that he concludes that it's Ma who joined Claire, not some stealthy agent.
A stealthy agent who likes having tea with his targets, Nathan thinks, rolling his eyes at himself.
He tilts his head a little, trying to get Peter to laugh at him, but Peter just looks at him quizzically, like the idea is foreign.
"She was worried. You should talk to her."
Nathan nods, steeling himself. He deserves this, as much as he ever did as a child. More, since back then his infractions were usually corrected on the basis that he had been sloppy to get caught, not that what he was doing was wrong.
He tries very hard to convince himself that's changed. He doesn't feel bad solely for getting caught. It's deeper this time. He knows that it would never have worked, not even if he had better control, not even if he listened to Bennet more...
Peter gives him a suddenly sharp look, and for one wild moment Nathan worries that his brother heard that thought. But no. Every report, every encounter with Peter confirmed him only using one ability at a time. He ought to have Claire's right now. Unless that was just cageyness? Downplaying his power to get the agents to underestimate him? He'd done it before, telling Nathan his only ability was flight.
Wary again, this time of Peter, Nathan asks, "Are you coming?"
"Someone needs to stand watch."
"I thought that was Rebel's job?" Nathan responds, eyebrows raised.
Peter ignores him, walking back to his post under the tree house. Not a great vantage point, really, but it does serve well to hide his slender form. Peter reaches up to pop his collar against the Vermont chill, crossing his arms against the chest, eyes finding Nathan's again briefly.
"No one knows everything."
Dismissed, Nathan thinks, wondering when his little brother acquired their father's commanding tone. Heart aching, he can't bring himself to leave just yet.
It's not a dodge. His mother's reprimands could hurt no worse than standing here, watching Peter stoically ignore him under the tree house they built together so many years ago.
He walks over slowly, carefully, aware that he may as well corner a startled animal. Peter tenses, but otherwise shows no reaction to Nathan.
"Mom was worried," he repeats, eyes gazing out into the darkness, breath a warm puff into cool air.
"I know, Pete," Nathan starts. "And I'm worried about you."
Peter's jaw works, but he remains silent, and Nathan closes the last of the distance between them. Is this how it will be now? Peter running and Nathan trying to catch up, trying to get close enough to make things right?
Nathan slides his hand up Peter's arm, firm on his shoulder and reaches out with the other to turn Peter's face. Before he can, though, Peter breaks, turning fast with anger hot in his eyes.
"What do you want from me?" he grinds out. "Do you want forgiveness? Fine, I forgive you. Now leave."
It's only now that Nathan takes a good look at his brother: days old stubble that stands out against pale skin, cheekbones that seem sharpened even from the last night he saw Peter, and a familiar fall of black hair into his eyes that just serves to highlight how much Peter has changed.
All the lightness Nathan has felt since Danko exposed him melts away, leaving only stark, raw fear. He doesn't know how to undo this.
Words failing him, Nathan's hold on Peter shifts – one hand pushing Peter's bangs back, the other falling to his waist as his head dips to catch his brother in a kiss. Soft, just a brush of his lips against Peter's.
There's a muffled, pained sound from Nathan, from Peter, he doesn't know, and it snaps whatever control he had. His lips crush against Peter's, begging, full body pushing Peter up against the tree.
Peter groans, arching into Nathan, hands finding purchase on Nathan's shoulders, legs shifting to allow Nathan closer still, mouth opening under his kiss.
Fuck, this is... Insane is one word that comes to mind.
Nathan slides his hand down Peter's flank, under his coat and then under his shirt, feverish to do more but without any idea what it should be.
"No," Peter gasps out, making the decision for him, shoving him away suddenly and violently.
Nathan stumbles back, barely catching himself from falling. The barest span of seconds away from Peter makes an immense difference, and he feels sick. He just forced himself on his brother. His hand tightens into a ball, knuckles white and creaking as he fights a new, disorienting level of self-hatred.
"You don't get to do this to me!" Peter shouts, indifferent to how sounds carries out here. "Not now, not after everything!"
"Pete..." Nathan starts, mouth dry, not even sure what it is he is trying to defend. What Peter is accusing him of. Because that anger, that fight in Peter's stance, it's not about the kiss. It's about the kiss coming now.
Maybe he did want this, once. Maybe it's just too late.
Nathan looks down, acknowledging that truth to himself before looking up again. Because in Peter there has always been hope, always another chance for the future.
"Pete, I was wrong. I know that. I did horrible things."
"Nathan," Peter says, cutting him off. His eyes are bright, his mouth twisted in bitterness. "None of this, none of it is the worst you did. The worst thing you ever did was make me love you.
"And you don't ever get to do it again."
Nathan feels something wither inside him, that feeling of possibility from earlier dying with Peter's words.
He breathes out once, heavily, feeling the weight of the words between them, trying to confirm there is still air in the world.
He nods stiffly.
Eventually, Peter climbs up to the tree house, ostensibly for a better vantage point. Nathan follows with his ability, ending the evening the way he began: hovering beside a someone he has betrayed, aware of the irreproachable distance. But this time, it does not feel like a new beginning.
He wonders if it feels like the end for Peter, too, or if that is long past.