Title: Just Her Type
Spoilers: through V4, including graphic novel #132 "Scenic Route"
Warnings: a little bit of underage sex
Disclaimer: Heroes belongs to Tim Kring, NBC et al
A/N: Thanks to jin_fenghuang for the beta! Originally written for the Heroes Exchange over on LJ.
Summary: Starting a relationship with Claire, Alex measures himself against the other men in her life. And he can't help but wonder if he's really what she's looking for.
Alex didn't know much about Claire, aside from his first impressions – she was too hot to be talking to him in a comic book store, her mom was pretty awesome, she was his hero, and she'd given him the best kiss of his life.
He learned a lot more about her from West, traveling together under Rebel's direction, after Claire's father helped them stage another get away in the desert. West told Alex about the Company, Elle and Bob and Mr. Bennet's death, all of it too insane to imagine.
"Claire's too brave for her own good," West said, staring pensively into their small camp fire.
"That I can believe."
West didn't reply, either tapped out of stories, or too inwardly focused to continue. Alex doesn't know him well enough to tell. He does know regret when he sees it, though. He could tell West missed her, that he knew how badly he blew it.
And Alex had to know.
"What did you do, man? How did you lose her?"
How can I avoid that?
West already told him about Claire's plan to reveal them all to the world and how he'd refused to go along with it – Alex had read too many mutant registration plots to think that was really a good idea, but maybe it would have prevented the mutant registration plot he was living – so Alex thought maybe that was it. West just wasn't brave enough for Claire.
"I don't know," West says after a long while. "Sometimes it felt like she never really saw me, even when I crossed lines I shouldn't have. Like she was looking through me to see who she really wanted."
The idea didn't surprise or worry Alex, much as it seemed to befuddle West. Freshman year of high school, he bumped into Jamie Cho coming out of Civics and fell instantly, stupidly in love. It wasn't until Junior year that he even got the nerve to talk to her, and then three weeks of dating before he actually realized he was talking to his image of her while the real Jamie stared into space, bored to tears by his explanation of the Kyle versus Hal dispute.
Shaggy hair falling in his face, Alex couldn't help but notice the similarity in looks between himself and West. He remembered what heard the female agent chasing him said to Claire, muffled as it'd been while he hid in the crawlspace hidden behind the Bennets' pantry. He was just Claire's type.
So maybe he had a shot after all.
Alex and West made their way to the Resveration, figuring the isolation would make up for the lack of anonymity. They spent another week there, under a lean-to on a Mr. John's property, not so much helping with th sheep as hindering, before the cheap, disposable cell phone in Alex's pocket vibrated.
"WE WON – REBEL," the simple message read.
West shaded his eyes against the sun, leaning over Alex's shoulder to see the news for himself.
"I guess we go back," West said, not sounding nearly as happy as he could.
"We go back," Alex repeated, excitement already overtaking his relief. He looked up into the bright sky, the glaring sunlight so much the same as California's that it was almost impossible not to envision how it would shine off Claire's hair.
They hitchhiked back, since Alex was friendly with West, but not friendly enough for a mid-air cuddle, and they went their separate ways in Costa Verde. It was kind of cool knowing he wasn't the only freak in town, and Alex made a mental note to look West up on Facebook sometime.
But not before he swung by Claire's.
He went home first, since he wasn't a creepy, obsessed stalker or anything, checking in with his parents and weathering his mother's sobbing kisses. It wasn't too hard to fall back into the routine of community college, where he was miraculously still enrolled, and Sam's Comics, where he was doing penance putting unsold stock onto backer boards for flaking out on them.
It would have almost been easy enough to forget his life on the run, without the line of freckles the sun had drawn across his cheeks and without the driver's license Lyle Bennet sacrificed that he kept in his pocket.
Finding the license again was actually what reminded him. A week and a half after returning to his life, digging through a pile of less than fresh laundry to find something wearable, he found the jeans and, more importantly, the stiff rectangle of Lyle's license with his face.
The Bennets weren't in the phone book, or the reverse directory, so he got dressed – in Dockers and a button down, and he wasn't overdoing it, right? – and decided to take a stroll over to the Bennet house. It wasn't far, as it turned out, and Alex managed to build up steam as he walked, thinking over what he'd say to Claire.
He slowed once he came within sight her house, startled by the scene in front of him: a stack of boxes on the walk, a rental SUV, and Claire sitting on the steps, arms wrapped around herself, eyes downcast.
She's moving. I missed my chance.
Alex felt his breath leave him – funny, since he didn't think he really had to breathe.
"Hey," he offered, hands in his pockets, standing before her.
Surprised, she looked up, expression brightening for just a moment. "Alex? What are you doing here?"
"I came to say thanks," he said. Alex pulled a hand from his pocket, brandishing the license at her with a flourish. "And to give this back."
Claire laughed, reaching out to take it. She turned the card end over end in her hand, thumb nail sliding under his picture to peel it out.
"You know, Lyle is still a terrible driver. I don't think Mom wants him to have it back."
Alex smiled and shrugged.
"I know. I just... I wanted to see you." Claire smiled again, ducking her head, and he added, "Before you move away."
"Before I--" her brow furrowed and then cleared. "I'm not moving, Alex. My Dad is."
"Oh." Alex sat heavily beside her, feeling like a heel. He remembered their talk about marriage – her conviction that it wasn't worthwhile because it always ended in divorce. "I'm sorry."
"It's not your fault. It's nobody's," Claire started, before cutting herself off. "No, that's not true. It's Dad's, and it's been coming for a long time. I just wish we could go back."
She wrapped her arms around herself again, staring out at the damning evidence of her parents' break up on the sidewalk. He looked down at the top of her head for a long moment before making a decision. He wrapped an arm around her shoulder, relief washing over him as she leaned into it.
"I don't hear any shouting. That's a good sign, right?" he tried.
Claire snorted, but didn't pull away. In fact, sh huddled a little closer, even as her voice took on a stronger, more cynical tone, "That's only because both my Dads are in there."
"Oh. Oh. Has that been, you know," Alex fumbled, trying to find a delicate, yet comforting way to ask. Damn, this shouldn't be so hard. His best friend Drew's Mom had left Drew's Dad for another woman last year, and he was all over being understanding then. "Has it been hard, adjusting to that?"
"Not hard, so much as... weird? I mean, I'm just now getting used to seeing Nathan without some kind of disaster happening. And I know we all agreed to be a family, not a company, but I get why seeing Dad and Nathan together freaks Mom out. Last time they worked together, it didn't exactly end well."
"So, is that what they're doing? Trying to convince her not to freak out?"
"That's what they told me, but I think Dad's still convinced it's not the end. They signed the papers, Dad has an apartment in DC, and he still thinks this is temporary," Claire said, ending on a sigh that just confused Alex further.
"And Nathan is okay with that?" Alex asked, eyebrows climbing.
"I don't think Nathan has it in him to judge Dad," Claire confessed. "He always acts like he has no heart, but I think he really sympathizes with Dad here. His wife left him too, for basically the same reason."
"For being gay?" Alex asked in a sympathetic tone.
Claire turned against his side to look up at him. There were frown lines between her eyebrows as she stared at him.
"I'm adopted, Alex," she explained slowly. "That's why I have two Dads."
"Oh. Uh." Well, now he felt like a complete tool. He was pretty much batting zero right now, arm around the shoulders notwithstanding.
"Oh, no, it's an easy mistake to make. I mean, Petrellis are pretty metrosexual. And you've met my Dad. If there's anyone who you could call flamboyant, Noah Bennet is definitely..." Claire giggled, before she abruptly realized what she was saying, and her face blanched the universal shade of "Oh God, did I just visualize my parents with a sex life?"
Alex would have offered sympathy, but he was too busy putting the names "Petrelli" and "Nathan" together, realizing where he had heard them before.
"Your father is Senator Petrelli?" he asked, horrified.
Claire winced, offering a pained smile.
"He's not as big a dick in real life?"
"Claire," he hissed. "He's the one who tried to send us all to Genosha!"
At her blank look, he clarified, "Before the mutants were in charge, I mean. When it was a prison."
Claire opened her mouth to defend the man who had damn near been responsible for a genocide, and the weirdest period of Alex's weird life, but before she could get the chance, the door behind them opened. Claire scrambled for her feet, but Alex looked down, rather than up, seeing expensive wing tips. He rose more slowly, crossing his arms and setting his jaw.
With his luck, he expected Mr. Petrelli had heard their entire conversation.
If he had, he gave no indication. Instead he just studied Alex, before smiling – cool, sharp, and dazzling.
"You must be Alex, right? Claire mentioned you."
"Senator," he replied, hoping his voice stayed steady and appropriately reproachful. Some of the mettle in his tone must have stayed steel – although, really, wouldn't adamantium be better? – since Mr. Petrelli's mouth ticked into a strained, condescending smile.
"I know that you may never understand my position, in the past, or what I am trying to do now to right those wrongs," Petrelli started, what little fatherly manner he had disappearing behind his politician's facade, "But I want you to know that I am working hard for your forgiveness. And now, I'm working hard to protect us all."
Petrelli nodded, but gave nothing further away. A feeling of discontent fell over Alex. He was tempted to pout, but in the name of manliness, settled instead for a hostile glare.
"Alex, really. He means everything he's saying," Claire said, stepping close to put her hands on his shoulder. Gradually, against his will, he felt himself relax into her touch, before backing down with a sigh.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Petrelli," he said as politely as he could manage, offering his hand. Petrelli took it in a quick, tight squeeze before leveling another look at his daughter, expression unreadable to Alex.
"And what does this one do?" he asked, jerking his chin toward Alex, seeming almost... amused.
"That's none of your business," Claire replied, "but he doesn't fly, if that's what you're asking."
Alex started to laugh. "I'm not We--"
His words trailed to a gob smacked, awkwardly dangling end as he watched Nathan wave to Claire and jump into the sky, rocketing away.
Alex stared at the vapor trail, before darting a look over at Claire. The love and awe in her eyes as she looked to the sky left an uneasy feeling in his gut.
The flying thing didn't matter – that's what Claire, Mr. Bennet, Mrs. Bennet, and Alex told himself. It hadn't helped West had it? So what if Alex's power was about half as cool as freaking Aquaman's and would certainly never compare to Supes himself? Alex was a pragmatic sort of guy, his pristine Transformers collection aside. He had self-confidence, damn it.
So it only took him another week to get the nerve up to ask Claire out properly, after feeling Mrs. Bennet out to make sure he had her approval.
They had several very mundane, very enjoyable dates. Alex tried to explain the finer nuances of the DC multiverse to Claire, and she tried to explain her family tree. Equally complicated issues, it turned out, and Claire hadn't had any retcons to untangle and sort it all out, so he was pretty sure he had the advantage in streamlined story telling.
There was one part in particular that he was stuck on.
"So, you're saying your uncle.."
"Peter," Claire confirmed with a nod.
"Yeah, your Uncle Peter came to save you from a psychotic serial killer based on a series of paintings painted by a stoned comic book artist after a time traveler from the future.."
She gave her ice cream a lick, supplying, "Hiro Nakamura. I saw the kid version of him in the past once. But that's a whole other story."
"Uh, yeah, okay," Alex said, mind spinning. Man, why was Pre-Crisis continuity so easy to understand and her life so hard?
They were walking down the Costa Verde boardwalk. He looked out to sea, concentrating on picking up the thread of what he'd been saying. "So Hiro Nakamura from the future came back to the past to tell your uncle to save you from a serial killer, which he did, without ever even knowing you were related?"
"Or that he'd live to tell about it," Claire said with a fond smile. "Peter has a bad habit of falling off of buildings."
"Then it's a good thing his brother can fly?"
"Oh, Peter can too. He used to be able to do everything. He was the best of us all."
"Was?" Alex asked carefully. He hoped he wasn't stepping into another emotional minefield.
"He is," she corrected, stepping close to him. She looked up into his eyes, and for the first time, he truly understood what West meant about Claire looking through him. "He is the best of us all."
It was a difficult feeling to brush off, and one that soured the rest of their afternoon together. Alex ended up making excuses to leave early for the first time since, well, ever, eyes on his shoes to avoid the hurt in Claire's green eyes.
He thought about it later, eyes closed to visualize the figure she cut against the faded blue of the sky, the deeper blue of the sea. Head upside down on his ugly, dumpster rescued couch in his apartment, he tried to pin point what it is that upset him. Her hand had been warm on his arm, smile small and sweet. It was just her eyes.
But those same eyes were teasing and sultry on their next date, making Alex think he just imagined it.
Alex was surprised when Claire shoved him onto his bed two days before her birthday, stripping off her shirt and flinging it somewhere near his Transmetropolitan collection.
"Claire," he gasped as she straddled him. "Don't you want your first time to be special?"
Or legal? the part of him still aware she was seventeen asked.
She seized his hands, guiding them firmly to her breasts, before working to unhook her bra herself. She dropped the it to the floor, arching into his touch.
"I don't need special, trust me. I have had more than enough of special."
Claire leaned down for a kiss, her hair brushing against his neck, making him shiver. She placed her hands on his chest, just feeling the beat of his heart beneath her palms.
"So many awful, adult things have happened to me," she said with a shrug. "I thought it was about time good adult things happened too."
And who was he to argue with that?
His name was still on her lips as she curled up against him after, pillowing her cheek on his chest. He craned his neck to look down at her, pushing her sweaty hair from her face.
"I can see why people like that," she murmured, making him chuckle.
Alex's eyes were slipping shut to the calm rhythm of Claire's even breathing when he felt her shift, propping herself up over his face, hair falling in a cascade around both their faces.
"So um, I didn't ask earlier," Claire began nervously. "You're coming to my birthday party, right?"
"You couldn't ask that before we..." He stopped, narrowing his eyes. "No, you couldn't."
"You wouldn't have had sex with me if I asked that first," she admitted.
And he ought to have been angry at her for condemning him to spending a night with her family, trying very hard not to think about how much they'd kill him if they knew he'd slept with her, but instead all he could was laugh at how utterly brazen she was.
He drew her down, kissing her deeply.
"No one in your family can read minds, right?" he teased.
She smiled against his lips.
A firmer declaration would have been better for his nerves, Alex decided two days later, standing on the edge of her patio with her family's show dog, who had apparently decided he hated even the idea of the outdoors. There was a scattering of high school friends at his back, inside the house. Mostly cheerleaders. And in high school, he would have been ecstatic to be invited to this kind of party – forget keggers, coming to a cheerleader's birthday as her date was truly being "in."
But he liked to think of himself as a suave nerd these days and, anyway, he had the more pressing concern of trying not to embarrass himself in front of Claire's biological family.
Oddly, he felt like he had a handle on the Bennets. Quirky mother, stoner son, overbearing father, divorce. He got that. And although Claire had explained what "Company Man" truly meant, even her father's threat on his life if he ever hurt his "Claire-bear" was fairly routine.
No, what he couldn't get a handle on was this group, out here in the yard – Company employees, fellow mutants, and bio-family members. It was all just so surreal, and for all that he really had thought being a geek had prepared him for his own fairly worthless power, it suddenly felt like peering through a keyhole into a world he could never really understand.
Claire didn't get it. She kept reminding him that he was one of them, that he belonged. But there was something about this group beyond shared abilities, or even shared blood. It was the experience that mattered, and all he had done was run. They had fought.
"Feeling intimidated?" asked a man, Alex hadn't caught his name, lifting his beer to his lips and settling in next to Alex to watch Claire throw a football with Mr. Petrelli.
"Only hugely." He snuck a look over, taking in the man's appearance – slighter and shorter than Alex, dark hair, and sharp features. Normal, if substantially better looking than the crowd at Sam's Comics. "I'm sorry, I didn't get your name earlier. I'm Alex."
The man transferred his beer to his other hand, offering a handshake.
"Peter Petrelli," he said smoothly.
Alex's eyes widened involuntarily. This was not what he'd envisioned. He'd figured Peter must be older, closer to the Senator's age. More battle worn. He'd always heard that you could tell who was a fighter, just by the way he held himself. Looking into Peter's eyes, his stance, he saw none of that.
No matter how many times Claire explained the way the Company meant the word "empath", he'd thought of Deanna Troi, which had been pretty useless when it came to getting a clear picture of her uncle. Particularly when he got distracted by thoughts of Troi's uniforms.
Now, though, it made sense, empathy and all. There were no battles scars on his face, but instead a warm and ironic light, the weight of who he was apparent but not holding him down. Alex felt a shock of realization, knowing who Peter was and what he meant to Claire.
"Alex... Woolsly," he said belatedly, clasping Peter's hand.
Peter nodded, and turned back to look at Claire, laughing as the Senator bear hugged her, trying to get the ball away. He looked relieved, more than anything, watching the scene play out.
"I'm glad she has you," Peter said, eyes still on his family. "She needs someone who makes her happy."
"What about you?" Alex asked, examining Peter's face once more, the weight of the agent's words hanging around his neck. When he met West, it had been hard to ignore the superficial resemblance between them, and now it was impossible to deny what just her type actually meant.
Alex wasn't sure what to feel, in the face of that. He groped for jealousy, for anger.
It wasn't there.
Instead, there was a lighter feeling
"Alex! Peter!" Claire called suddenly. "Stop screwing around and help me win!"
Peter's eyes lit with amusement at the command, and he tilted his head toward the game – the Senator had unfairly resorted to using his powers, floating just an inch off the ground, keeping the ball too high for Claire to reach even if she jumped.
"She can't have us both?" Peter asked, underscoring her words.
Alex watched Peter run – no, no that was flying – out to join the game and wondered what to do with that. He felt his uneasiness, his worry that Claire didn't always see him, flee him. Because so what? How long had they even know each other?
Stepping out onto the wet grass, Alex squared his shoulders under gazes that didn't turn his way, and then laughed to himself, relaxing. He jogged over to Claire and her family, the game now more between Peter and Nathan than anything. Claire looked up at him, smile bright, as she wrapped an arm around his waist, demanding an embrace.
He gave it to her because, honestly, she was just his type, too.