Peter is thirteen when he kisses his first girl (a classmate while playing spin the bottle at the eighth grade graduation party), fourteen when he kisses his first boy (overdoing it on wine coolers after a Live concert) and two weeks past fifteen when he manages to accept that he liked both kisses equally. It still takes over six months to work up the nerve to tell anyone, and even years later he's not sure what kind of insanity overcame him that the first person he tells is Angela.
He doesn't plan it out; he just comes down one morning to find her at the table lingering over an espresso and the paper's society section and knows This is it. "Mom?"
He shifts his weight in the doorway as she takes her time acknowledging him, long enough for him to wonder if he'd actually said anything or had just imagined it. "Yes, Peter?"
"I, um…." The moment of truth feels like a thousand pound weight. "I have something I need to tell you." He thinks he sees a smirk curl up the corner of her mouth and tells himself he's being paranoid. "I think I'm…I mean..." He stuffs his hands into his pockets and clears his throat the way Nathan does when he's preparing to give a speech. "I think that I might be bisexual," he says, and even though his voice cracks on that last word he thinks it still comes out suitably defiant. He leans against the wall and braces himself for the inevitable scene.
Angela turns the page of the newspaper. "Of course you are, dear."
Peter blinks. He hadn't really expected hysterics --- this is Angela Petrelli, after all --- but he had thought there'd be...well, something. "Mom, I'm serious. I know you don't want to hear it, but..."
"I heard you, Peter." She takes a sip of espresso; she hasn't actually looked at Peter since he entered the room.
"Well...good, then." He has to admit, this is going much smoother than he'd expected. "Good. I'm glad we could...um, talk. About this." He turns to go, feeling exhilarated and confused all at the same time. "I'll tell Dad tonight."
He freezes. When he turns back all he sees is his mother still reading the paper calmly as ever, but then she catches his eye for just the briefest second before neatly folding the paper and leaving the room
By the time his father comes home that night those two words are all he can think about. Peter pretends to be so engrossed in the baseball game that he doesn't notice his father come in until Arthur is standing right behind him. "So, how are the Mets doing?"
Peter's mouth is dry. "Losing."
Arthur tsks, a sound that raises the hair Peter's arms. "That's why your brother and I switched to the Yankees. There's no point in backing a loser."
Peter feels his window rapidly closing but can't make his voice work. His heart is pounding so hard he can barely hear the game. As the last Met batter strikes out his father shakes his head. "You need to know when to cut your losses, son. You'll never have success otherwise." Peter listens to his father's heavy step as he climbs the stairs, then curls up on the chair with his arms around his knees.
It takes five years for Peter to build his courage back up. This time he's planned things out better; he's living on his own, in an apartment paid for with his own money. He's transferred to a college within his price range and even if his father does react badly, well, there's really nothing Arthur can do to him. He arranges to drop by the house when he knows his father will be there alone.
He kills twenty minutes trying to look casual before Arthur comes out of his home office. "Peter! I didn't know anyone else was here."
"Yeah, well. I had some stuff I needed to pick up."
"For the new apartment, of course." There's the slightest pause before the word "apartment" that tells Peter exactly what his father's opinion is of his new place. "I think I've been supportive of this need you have to feel independent, but are you sure you want to go through with this? You're moving into a rough neighborhood. Your mother's worried."
"I can handle myself." He runs one hand through his hair and takes a deep breath. He's not going to let this chance pass him by. "Dad, I need to talk to you about something."
"Do you?" Arthur's lips quirk up; he looks like he's been waiting for this. "You need some money, is that it? Don't worry, I won't let Nathan or your mother know."
"No, no, Dad, that's not it. It's..." He wonders if it's not too late to back out of this. "Remember my friend Brian? He helped me move in?"
Arthur adjusts his cuff links. "Peter, you're a generous kid but if you think I'm going to help support any of your shiftless friends...."
"Dad, it's not about money!" Being angry actually makes things a little easier. "I'm trying to say that he's not just a friend."
Arthur's smile fades. "Why are you telling me this?"
"Because I thought you should know."
Arthur turns around; Peter has a second to think that maybe he's going to get off easy with both parents before his father speaks again. "If you applied half as much energy towards your studies as you do thinking up new ways to disappoint us you might actually be able make something of your life."
His father's words are like an electric shock; he feels paralyzed, rooted to the floor. Years later he would wonder if his father had used an ability on him or if he really had just been that terrified. "Yeah, I know," he says, wondering how he could have thought this would go differently, "me being bi is just one more disappointment."
"Do you think I care about that?" Arthur turns to face him and Peter flinches. "As long as you stay out of the news I don't care what you and your brother get up to. What has me upset is did you think I really wouldn't be able to see through such a transparent grab for attention?"
It takes a moment for his father's words to actually sink in. "You...think I'm just doing this for attention?"
"Nathan is about to be named an Assistant District Attorney. This is an important time for him and I am not going to let your jealousy ruin his big day."
"This has nothing to do with Nathan...."
"This has always been your way, Peter. As soon as your brother achieves something, you always have to be right there to steal the spotlight. Did you think I hadn't noticed how your announcement that you wouldn't need the family's money just happened take place right around your brother's wedding? I'm surprised you didn't pull this then. Made it part of the toast."
"Dad, I would never...."
Arthur sighs, and Peter knows he's not listening. "This is our fault. We've spoiled you. Overindulged you. You can thank your mother for that, she would always tell me not to be so hard on you, that you'll come around. That you're just a late bloomer." He crosses his arms and stares until Peter can feel himself shrinking. "I suppose you're planning to bring this...person to Nathan's celebration dinner next week."
Peter narrows his eyes. "What if I was?"
"You would love that, wouldn't you? To have everyone talking about you instead of Nathan, the actual guest of honor. I won't allow your antics to overshadow him. He's worked too hard."
"This has nothing to do with Nathan!" It's the first time he's ever raised his voice to his father in anger; Arthur's posture stiffens, a sudden glint in the man's eye that Peter doesn't recognize. "Nathan won't care who I bring, he'll barely even notice I'm there. All you care about is what everyone else will think." Arthur's expression is like trying to read stone, and suddenly Peter feels reckless. "C'mon, Dad, you think we all don't know what you do? You're a mob lawyer. I gave up caring what you thought as soon as I realized who you work for. I'm an adult, I don't need your approval to do anything anymore."
"Is that so?" Arthur's voice coats his words in ice. "Son, the only reason you're breathing right now is because of my approval." Peter wants to laugh, the threat seems so ridiculous, but Arthur takes a step closer and the look in his eyes wraps cold bands around Peter's spine. Suddenly he doesn't feel nearly so brave. "I'm being very lenient, Peter. I've allowed your little show of independence because I had hoped it would give you some direction, but carry it too far and it will end. Don't make me force you to behave."
By then Peter's backed up against the wall; Arthur reaches out and grabs his chin, forcing Peter to look in his eyes. "You have so much potential," Arthur says, after a long moment. "And you seem set on squandering it. If you want to waste your life I won't stop you --- at least with Nathan I still have one son who's willing to have a positive effect on the world --- but you will at least comport yourself as a member of this family. Am I clear?"
Peter's ashamed of how much he's shaking. He doesn't know this man standing in front of him and wonders if he ever did. "Well?" Arthur demands.
"Yes, sir," he whispers. Tears burn the back of his eyes as Arthur lets him go and turns away, as casually as if they'd just finished discussing stock options.
"This won't come up again," Arthur says, smoothing out a crease in his sleeve, and Peter recognizes the warning. It would only be years later that Peter would realize how lucky he was to have gotten off with just a warning.
The days leading up to Nathan's party are like being tied into a tighter and tighter knot every second. He changes his mind constantly on what to do; one moment he wants to defy everyone, bring Brian and just let them deal with it, the next he hears his father's voice and his hands start to tremble. Even worse is the seed his father has planted: is he just doing this to get a reaction? Even if he wasn't to start, isn't that what he wants now? The doubts echo in his mind like a drumbeat until he finally breaks and extends the invitation to a female friend.
As he'd expected, Nathan is too busy basking in adulation to be more than distantly polite. Peter does everything he can to fade into the background; when he introduces his date to Arthur his father's at his warmest and most charming; it's the first time Peter can remember his father looking at him with approval.
Afterward as he's sitting opposite his mother at the catering table and wallowing in self-loathing, Angela catches his eye and raises her champagne glass to him, an unmistakable I told you so expression on her face.
Nathan is rising fast in the DA's office and impossible to get a hold of; when Peter finally manages to wrangle an audience he's already had a week to dread the conversation. His palms are sweating by time he steps into Nathan's office, but by then he's had this conversation twice and tells himself he's prepared for the worst.
"Pete! It feels like years since I've seen you." Nathan crosses the room and puts his hands on Peter's shoulders, a controlling-the-room gesture Peter recognizes as one their mother used.
"I've seen you in the papers," Peter says, tossing that day's copy of the Post on Nathan's desk. "Romero's not exactly president of your fan club."
"Romero thinks I want his Assembly seat. It's all politics, Pete, you can't believe anything you read."
"Do you want his Assembly seat?"
Nathan smiles. "I'm weighing my options." He drapes his suit jacket over his chair and sits on the corner of his desk. "How's nursing school going?"
Months in, and Nathan still can't help saying "nursing school" without making it clear that he thinks it's hilarious. Peter's long since given up fighting him on it. "Pretty good so far." He takes a deep breath. "I met someone."
Nathan's eyes light up. "Really! Congratulations. I can't wait to meet her. What's her name?"
Peter knows he's not going to get a better opening than that. "John."
He watches Nathan's smile freeze. "Don't kid around, Pete."
"I'm not kidding. C'mon, you know me, you know I'm not kidding."
"But...." Nathan blinks, trying to recover his composure. "You like girls. I know you like girls. Just look at that girl you took to the prom...."
Peter rolls his eyes. "I know you paid her to ask me, Nathan. Mom told me."
"But you liked her," Nathan insists.
Peter sighs. "Yes, I liked her. I like girls. I just...." He drums his fingers against the armrest, trying to find the right words. "I like guys, too. I like John."
Nathan bows his head, his hands clasped in front of him. "I just...I don't know what you expect me to say."
I'm happy for you, Pete. I can't wait to meet him. Peter realizes he's clenching the arms of the chair and forces him himself to relax. Finally, after several long seconds Nathan sighs. "This is just very bad timing."
Peter's almost certain didn't hear that correctly. "Bad timing?"
"Pete, you have to understand, this is a very conservative field. I'm finally getting to the point where I'll be the primary prosecutor on cases. Things like the wrong tie can sway some judges, let alone...." Nathan trails off, doesn't gesture toward Peter, doesn't name him, but Peter knows exactly what he means and feels the blood burning in his cheeks. Then Nathan keeps going. "And I wasn't kidding about running for office. This isn't exactly a liberal district; I have to be very careful how I present myself...."
"Well, I'm sorry my life is such a big inconvenience for you," Peter says, grinding the words out between his teeth.
"Pete, you know that's not what I mean," Nathan says, although it certainly sounds exactly like what he means. He lets out a heavy, put-upon sigh and Peter has to strangle down the urge to punch him right off the desk. "Let me worry about all of that. I can handle it. What we have to plan out is how we're going to break this to Ma. I think our best bet is to get to her first, and then Dad...."
Peter waves that plan away. "I already told them. Years ago."
Nathan's mouth hangs open mid-word for a second. "You told them before you told me?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I did. It went about as well as this is going, actually." He stands up so quickly the chair tips over backwards, something it takes him a second to notice. "I shouldn't have bothered coming. This was a mistake. I don't know why I keep making this mistake, but I do. Nathan, if my life is such a problem for you then just stay away and we'll both get what we want."
"Pete, don't leave. C'mon, we can still talk about this."
"I'm done, Nate." Peter stalks out the door, Nathan still calling after him, but Peter isn't really surprised when Nathan doesn't actually do anything to stop him.
He doesn't see or speak to Nathan again for more than four months. He keeps up with the news, though; shortly after the argument Nathan gets what he was angling for: to be a primary prosecutor on a case. It's the case Nathan picks as his debut that catches Peter's eye; instead of picking something simple and flashy, something that will please his constituents he chooses the mugging of a gay couple in Bryant Park. His handling of the case is what really makes the news; he not only rejects all of the plea deals offered by the politically connected defendant but classifies the assault as a hate crime, a move that increases the seriousness of the charges while drastically cutting his chances of getting a conviction. Things get so heated Arthur meets with him personally to try to get him to back down; Peter overhears gossip that Nathan might be torching his career before it even starts.
When the verdict is handed down and Nathan gets his conviction on all counts suddenly everyone calls him a genius. The papers hail him as a crusader, a champion against crime, and it looks like he's opened a score of doors with one politically savvy key.
The day after the verdict is handed down Peter drops by his office. He throws himself into the chair in front of Nathan's desk and studies his brother for a minute; Nathan doesn't look at all surprised to see him --- in fact, he doesn't even look up. Finally Peter slides that day's paper over the desk, Nathan's stern face staring out from the front page. "You wanna tell me what this is about?"
"Justice, Pete." Nathan's voice is rough enough that Peter wonders if he's been drinking.
"Bullshit. I know you. Everyone's talking about you like you're some kind of political mastermind, but I know you. You like to play the odds, but this was the exact opposite. It was like this was personal." And Peter already knows the answer, or at least he thinks he does. He just needs to hear Nathan say it.
Nathan doesn't say anything for a long time. "You know, that one kid had the same birthday as you?" he finally says, almost as if he was talking to himself. Peter feels his stomach churn. "He's still in the hospital, you know. Went to see him once. Whole time I was there, it wasn't his face I was seeing. God, Pete, if something like that ever happened to you I...." He clears his throat. "Yeah, I guess it was a little personal. All I could think about was putting that son of a bitch behind bars for as long as I could."
Peter knows this is how his brother apologizes. "Thanks, Nathan."
"Look, Pete, I don't like how we left things that day. I didn't mean to make you feel like I wanted you to change or hide or anything like that. You're my brother, I want you to be happy."
"I think you and me disagree on what 'happy' means, Nathan."
Nathan laughs at that. "Yeah. Yeah, I know we do." He turns in his chair; Peter can tell he's intentionally trying to lighten the mood. "So, how're things going with...."
Nathan trails off; Peter lets him hang for a second before supplying the name. "John?"
Nathan nods, hiding any embarrassment like a pro. "Right, right. So, are you two...."
"Nah. It didn't work out."
"It wasn't because of what I said, was it?" Nathan says, his expression clouding. "I didn't want that...."
Peter rolls his eyes. "Not everything's about you, Nathan. Sometimes things just don't work out."
Nathan doesn't look like he entirely believes that. "Still, I'm sorry anyway."
"Yeah, me too." Peter watches Nathan for a minute; for a man praised for keeping a cool head he doing a lot of fidgeting. "All right, just say it. Before you explode."
"I still don't believe you told them before me."
And while Peter knew that's what was coming, he throws up his hands in frustration anyway. "It's not a competition, Nathan."
"Yes. Yes it is." Nathan gets up from behind the desk and starts to pace. "Everything in life is a competition, Pete. Everything important, anyway." He leans against the wall, his arms crossed in front of him; Peter wonders how Nathan had managed to swing the conversation to be about him. "So. Ma. Dad. How did that go?"
Peter lets out a long breath, painful memories momentarily flooding back. "Not great," he admits. "About what you'd expect."
"I just wish you would've told me. I could've backed you up."
"You were at school," Peter reminds him. "Or in the army."
"So, what, did Ma take all the phones out of the house? You said you told them years ago. Why did you wait so long with me?"
The more Peter thinks about it, the more he realizes he doesn't have a good answer. "I don't know. I guess...maybe I was worried about your reaction the most. I didn't want to change things."
Nathan sighs and walks over to him. "Pete, look at me," he says, hands on Peter's shoulders. "You're my brother. Nothing in the world could ever change that, and I'm sorry if I ever did anything that let you think otherwise. You can't go through life worrying about what other people are going to think. Promise me you'll put yourself first from now on, okay."
It's an easy promise to make.
Still, when Nathan announces his candidacy for Congress it's clear --- if unspoken --- that Peter should probably keep things quiet. He tries not to wonder what it means that Nathan would clearly rather have the tabloids speculate that Peter's crazy than know that he's bi.
But by then he's already fallen for Simone Deveaux and tells himself that means it doesn't matter as much. Shortly after that he jumps off the roof of a building and suddenly everyone's problems are much more serious.
"That egg cream is the size of your head."
Claire's eyes gleam as she swirls her straw around the monstrously large drink. "Well, what's the point of having a super-metabolism if I don't take advantage of it?" She takes a sip and lets out a rapturous sigh. "Besides, it's your fault. You got me hooked on these on my last visit and they don't exactly have them in California. Not in Costa Verde, anyway."
Peter settles in across the table; as satisfying as his new paramedic job can be at times, it doesn't offer much in the way of days off. He's been waiting almost the entire week for the chance to rescue Claire from his mother's company. "Having a good trip?"
"I am now."
"Good." He worries the inside of his lip, wondering for the thousandth time that day if this was really a good idea. "I have something I need to tell you."
"Finally." She rests her chin on her templed fingers. "You're not really great at hiding it when something's on your mind, you know."
"There goes my great acting career." He runs one hand through his hair. "God, I don't know why this is always so hard."
Her eyes fill with alarm. "Are you okay? You're not having…I don't know, side effects or something from the serum, are you?"
"No, no, nothing like that. It's just…." It comes to him too late that it probably would have been smarter to do this at the end of the day, just in case things went badly. "Look, my family's all about keeping secrets from each other, and I know how much damage that causes. I don't want there to be big secrets between us."
She nods. "I know exactly what you mean. You've met my dad."
"Yeah. Yeah, I guess you do. It's just…." He taps his fingers against the table. "I don't want this to change anything…."
She grabs his hand to stop the nervous drumming. "Peter. Just say it."
"I'm bi. It has a pretty good chance of coming up at some point, so I wanted to make sure I'm the one you heard it from."
"Oh." She blinks once with surprise. "Is that it?"
"Is what it?"
"I mean, is all you had to tell me? You don't have…I don't know, some kind of horrible power that you need to confess and you're building up to it or anything, are you?"
"What? No. No, that's it." She's still looking at him like she's waiting for another bomb to go off. "You're really okay with this?"
She quirks up one eyebrow. "It's not like it's a really big deal." She takes a long, thoughtful sip. "Actually," she says, in a confessional tone, "I think it's kind of cool that you're coming out to me. No one's ever done that before. I mean, Zach was gay and the whole school knew it, but he didn't pick me to come out to or anything. Who else knows?"
"Of people we both know? Just my parents. And Nathan. I told them…wow. Years ago, now."
She wrinkles her nose. "That must've been fun." Long-buried memories flash back to the surface; he doesn't realize he's squeezing her hand until she speaks again. "That bad, huh?"
"Yeah. Yeah, it was pretty bad. Well, actually mom was just…weird. Dad was bad, Mom was weird." He pauses. "You know, a lot of my childhood made so much more sense when I found out Mom could see the future."
"What about Nathan? How'd he take it?"
He shrugs. "You know Nathan."
She rolls her eyes. "Great. So bad and weird."
"You don't cut him any slack."
"You give him too much." Then she says, with as much innocence as she could, "So, is he cute?"
"What? Is who…."
"This guy. The one you're interested in. I bet he's cute."
"I never said there was any…."
"Oh c'mon, Peter." She grins up at him. "Look, you went all this time without saying anything. You said that you thought it had a pretty good chance of coming up. That means there's a guy." She leans back, waiting for confirmation. "Tell me I'm right."
He sighes. Sometimes Claire reads him so well it's as if her power is mind reading instead of healing. "Fine. There might be a guy."
Her eyebrows shoot up. "Might be?"
"We're just going out for coffee. It might not be anything."
"I knew it!" she says, practically bouncing in her seat. "So who is it?"
"His name's Hesam. We work together, we ride on the same ambulance. That's why we're taking things slow. And keeping things quiet."
"I won't tell anyone. I promise." She gives him as sideways smile. "As long as I get to meet him."
"Well, I have to see if I approve!"
"Claire, we're getting coffee, not getting married."
"You can do that in some states, you know. And Canada." He gives her a look and she stops the teasing, looking at him with her chin propped up on her hands. "I'm happy for you. I really, really am. I hope you two have lots of coffee."
Peter doesn't know why he feels so emotional now, but it takes a moment before he can speak. "Thanks."
Her eyes shadow, watching his reaction. "This went good, right?"
"This went great."
"Not bad or weird?"
"Not bad or weird," he repeats.
"Good." She comes around to his side and half pulls him out of his chair. "Come on. Your mom gave me money to buy 'presentable' clothes. I think I'd rather get you something nice for your date."
"It's not a date."
"Sure it's not."
He rolls his eyes, but it's all show. That moment when Claire smiled at him --- not a forced smile, nothing ugly lurking underneath --- he felt the anxiety of the past fifteen years slide away. He feels weightless. "I have a better idea." He leads her to a quiet area of the nearby park, looks around for bystanders, then carefully wraps one arm around her waist and zooms towards the sky.
She shrieks with laughter and holds on tight. "Peter! What're you doing?"
He only shrugs as he soars up through the clouds. "I just feel like flying."