DISCLAIMER: Not mine (though I'd do a better job with these characters!) No sue.
RATING: R, dark themes and sexuality
SPOILERS: Up to 'Distractions'; goes AU after that.
SUMMARY: (futurefic, AU) Crossing the line depends on where you draw it - and how can you be blamed, if you didn't know it was even there?
AUTHOR'S NOTES: I'm pretty much straddling the fence on the whole PSU fanon vs Pairecest debate (the fence is nice and low, so I can keep a foot in each camp), and I couldn't remember what side my requestor was on. So I wanted to do a story that could work either way, and happened to remember the quantum physics theorem that I used as the title. Claire is very much paraphrasing the concept; wikipedia has a good page, as well as mentioning exactly what Steven Hawking thinks of the whole idea.
SOUNDTRACK: Lots of Evanescence, plus Metallica's 'Unforgiven II', and 'Blood red' by Rose Chronicles.
CHALLENGE SPECIFICS: Hurt/Comfort, with Peter in pain and Claire doing the comforting. Angsty, unrequited love on BOTH sides, though the love gets requited in the end. Any rating is fine, but the darker and more intense the better.
Heidi Petrelli had heard once that 3AM was once known as 'the hour of the wolf'; she could believe it. The cramps in her healing legs that made her want to whimper in pain were always especially vicious at this time. There was no help for it; she needed to get up. Walking - even on her canes - was the only thing that truly eased the cramps, even if it made them worse initially.
Doing her best to control her breathing so that she wouldn't wake her paranoid husband, Heidi shuffled out of their bedroom and down the hall. Her eyes adjusted more easily than usual, which startled her until she realized that the hall wasn't in complete darkness. She could see flickering light spilling across the floor from beneath the library door.
Heidi smiled in pleasure, and moved towards the library; she always enjoyed these late night chats with her stepdaughter.
Much to the astonishment of her friends, Heidi and her husband's illegitimate daughter had bonded more closely than Claire and Nathan had. It certainly helped that Claire was such a sweet girl; things had been much smoother between Peter and the rest of the family since he'd stopped being the odd man out in the Petrelli family shark tank. Heidi would honestly admit that if Claire had been a few years younger - if she'd been conceived after Nathan and Heidi had fallen in love - things would have been very different. But there was no point in resenting what you couldn't control; the accident and her subsequent paralysis had taught her that.
Not to mention, that Claire's appearance in their lives had forced her husband to come clean about certain talents he'd been hiding. Heidi could understand why, given how he'd discovered them; he associated it with her accident and his failure to protect her.
While she found Claire's talent a little gruesome occasionally, there was no denying it had come in handy - once she'd become comfortable with Heidi, she'd asked if there was something her talent could do to help. They had incompatible blood types, but then Mohinder Suresh had pointed out that plasma didn't type. Heidi was firmly convinced that the regular plasma donations Claire gave her contributed as much to her renewing ability to walk as her own determination. Frightened by the thought of her adoptive father finding her and stealing her away back to Texas, Claire was taking her classes with a tutor at home, meaning she was also present for Heidi's physical therapy sessions. The day Heidi had taken her first steps in a year, Claire had thrown herself into an impromptu cheer routine - Heidi had laughed so hard she'd nearly fallen flat on her face. Claire had organised a celebration party in two hours flat, with enthusiastic assistance from Peter.
One of the side benefits of Claire's ability was that she needed less sleep than normal people. Usually she just stayed in her bedroom and watched DVD's, but once a week or so she'd wander into the library looking for something to read. Heidi had stumbled across her ensconced in her late father-in-law's favorite chair by the fireplace, shortly after Claire had first moved in; it had been their first true conversation. Heidi managed to find her at least once a month, and their talks became a deep, quiet pleasure.
Heidi struggled with the door, nearly falling through it before catching herself on the heavy wooden arch. One of her canes clattered to the floor, and the tiny figure curled in the leather wingback chair whipped her head towards the door. She ducked her head against the firelight, but not before Heidi saw the tearstains on her cheeks.
"Claire, sweetie, what's the matter?" she asked instantly. "Did you and Nathan have another fight?"
Claire and Nathan couldn't really be said to 'fight', that would involve raised voices and arguing. But they did have aggrieved exchanges that resulted in harsh words; Nathan resented that Claire had brought further chaos to his orderly life and career, while Claire naturally disliked bearing blame for things that weren't her fault. These incidents nearly always ended the same way; Nathan giving a exasperated sigh while Claire stalked off with her fists clenched, Peter giving Nathan a reproachful look before he followed to calm her down - Heidi really did wonder if the two of them would come to physical blows at some point. If they could keep it to only a few blows, it might even help. Despite it all, Nathan and Claire truly had managed to form a solid bond. Heidi was just worried it would never move past its poisoned roots.
Claire shook her head mutely, coming forward to pick up the dropped cane, before supporting Heidi to the chair she'd just vacated. She dragged a nearby footstool over and settled on it, facing back towards the crackling fire.
Heidi looked at her stepdaughter in concern, alerted to the fact that something was really wrong. Claire didn't often cry for no reason; the last time Heidi had seen this look on her face, it had been during another fireside talk, when Claire had detailed what a certain quarterback had attempted, and how she'd woken up at the beginning of her own autopsy. Heidi had held her as she cried, and contacted the best private investigation agency in Texas the next day for a thorough background check and ongoing surveillance. So far the complete lack of memory had stopped the scumbag from repeating his mistake; but if he ever tried anything like it again, the Odessa DA's office was going to get empirical evidence and a strong suggestion to throw the book at him.
"Claire?" When no answer was forthcoming, Heidi tried again. "Honey, do you want to talk about what's wrong?"
Claire's reply was flat and listless as she gazed into the flames. "Just getting used to fire. Since I think I'm going to hell."
Heidi's eyes widened. Where on earth was this coming from? "I know you've been feeling badly about the end results of some of the work you've been doing with Peter and Nathan and the others, but I don't think you've done anything to warrant * that*."
Claire gave a bitter chuckle. "Oh, I only wish. In those cases, I usually don't have much of a choice - it's do or die, y'know?" Claire was silent a few moments, then asked abruptly, "Do you know that Peter and I met almost a month before I showed up on your doorstep?"
Heidi frowned, shaking her head. It did ring a bell, but nothing specific.
"Isaac painted some pictures of me, of when Sylar was coming after me. Peter finished the one that showed how he was going to kill me. Peter was convinced that they had to save the cheerleader to save the world, so he came down to Union Wells High. When he found out that Hiro wasn't around, he came to the school to stop Sylar. Even though one of the paintings showed him lying dead in front of the school. I would have died that night without him. He threw himself off the amphitheatre wall to take Sylar down, and he didn't know I could heal him. He was willing to die for me, without even knowing my name."
Heidi looked at Claire's pensive expression and glowing eyes in the dim light, and started to feel uneasy.
"When I found out that he'd been arrested, I was so mad. This incredible man was in jail, when he'd saved the day - when he'd saved me! I made my dad take me to see him, and from the second Peter's eyes landed on me no one's ever looked at me that way in my entire life. When I left and told him he was my hero, he looked like no one had ever told him how great he was before. This gorgeous guy with emo hair, who cared * so much *, who could take this giant leap of faith - how could no one ever tell him that? And when Meredith told me my birth dad was in New York City, it seemed like destiny, y'know? The same kind of destiny that brought him to the school on Homecoming night. I mean, I knew he was too old for me and he'd never see me that way, but somehow, I was sure I'd see him again, and that he'd be glad to see me too. And I did!" Claire finished miserably. "When my bio-father introduced me to his younger brother."
Heidi closed her eyes in pain. Good Lord, what sort of mess was poor Claire going through? It was really no surprise that Claire had developed a crush on Peter in those circumstances - Heidi would have been more surprised if she hadn't. Not to mention, Peter was eminently crush-worthy; Heidi had always been tremendously fond of her gentle brother-in-law, and even with Nathan's powerful virility beside her every night, Heidi could still remember a summer day a few years ago, when Peter had laughingly shucked his shirt and shoes and jumped into the pool with the boys. When he'd hauled himself out of the pool, half-naked and dripping, she'd realised that Peter possessed a full measure of the Petrelli sexual charisma - and had to swallow hard to keep from drooling.
She reached out to lightly place her hand on Claire's head, and told her sympathetically, "Talk about unpleasant shocks."
Claire nodded and closed her eyes, a fresh tear escaping. "But it wasn't enough. It didn't break the spell. I look at him and know that we're kin, but my heart still flips when he smiles at me. When he looks so happy to see me, I still feel warm to my toes. When he touches me, I want him to do it again, and when he kisses my forehead - even though it's the same way he kisses you and Monty and Simon and Angela - my whole body tingles."
With a quiet, despairing wail, Claire turned and buried her face in Heidi's lap, sobbing in earnest. "I know it's wrong - I tell myself it's wrong! - but I can't stop! It's not going away. And I don't want it to!"
Heidi just stroked the girl's tumbled golden hair, giving her all the comfort she could, as she blinked back tears of her own.
Because the truth was? That if she had met Claire three or four years from now, as Peter's new girlfriend Heidi would have thought she was just about perfect.
* * * * *
The bourbon on the table in front of him retailed for about a thousand a bottle. Nathan had received it as a grateful 'gift' from a campaign contributor, who'd subsequently found several minor rezoning issues removed from the site of his new development.
Peter fully intended to drain the bottle before dawn.
He knew how dangerous it could be to get this drunk alone, so he'd taken refuge with the one person he knew wouldn't ask questions - or pull the answers out of his head.
Isaac was looking at him with concern, but stayed silent. Isaac knew what it was like to need to drown your sorrows - even if he was clean, now, he still remembered the emotional torment that had driven him to the heroin in the first place. Peter also knew that Simone was on a buying trip to Vegas again, so no one else would see how far he'd fallen.
"I'd ask you to join me, but-"
Isaac shook his head. "No thanks, this looks like you're going to need every drop."
Peter gave a crooked, bitter smile, and cracked the seal on the bottle.
Isaac hadn't asked any questions, but given which paintings Peter had pulled out, he probably had a fairly good guess.
The very first time Isaac had painted Claire, her eyes wide in fright.
Claire in her cheeleading uniform, running up the stairs of the Union Wells High amphitheatre, Sylar's shadow moving over her.
Claire framed in a doorway, backpack in hand and biting her lip nervously. He'd thought that doorway looked familiar when he first saw the painting.
Claire standing in a garden of roses in a white sundress, looking delighted to see whoever was approaching out of the frame.
Claire viewed from behind, her hair moving in an invisible breeze, as she leaned on a railing and looked over a gleaming city unlike any he'd ever seen.
Claire clad in striped pajama pants and a tank top as she buried her face in Heidi's lap, Heidi stroking her hair, both of them backlit by a cheerful fire. Peter hadn't needed to tap Isaac to paint in the details on the mantlepiece.
He was just glad that Isaac hadn't painted Claire visiting him in jail in Odessa. If he'd ever had a clear reminder of the look she'd given him at the door of the holding cell, he wasn't sure how long his strength would have held out.
Peter took a slug of the bourbon, feeling the liquor burn down his throat.
Yes, that pull had been there right from the start. Right from the first time he'd seen her face on Isaac's canvas. He'd thought it was the whisper of destiny, a continuation of what he'd been feeling for months, after every dream where he floated miles above the earth. Technically speaking, it had been - just not the way he once dreamed it would.
When he'd thrown himself and Sylar off the amphitheatre wall, he'd already sensed, from less than five minutes in her presence, that Claire Bennet was a woman worth dying for.
When she'd come to visit him in jail, his breath had stalled in his lungs, seeing her so golden and vital, and the look of delight in her eyes, finding out she wasn't alone - he'd felt so humble and glorious at the same time. When she'd turned at the door and said, "You're totally my hero", his heart had skipped a beat. It had skipped another beat later, when he found out she was only sixteen.
The only good thing about the repeating dream where he went nuclear was the sight of Claire running towards him, of the concern in her eyes.
He'd spent so long loving Simone, but when he'd watched her kiss Isaac, his heart hadn't shattered. Simone had tried to warn him that she wasn't over Isaac, after all, and he'd known all along that Isaac wasn't over Simone. He hadn't wanted to be the 'rebound guy', but what did you call the guy who came along between rounds? Ironic, really, that his friendship with Isaac had solidified, while his relationship with Simone had crumbled. Probably because of the knowledge in his heart - the way he'd known that Nathan was hurt but not injured, the night of the accident - that he'd see Claire Bennet again. After all, she wouldn't be sixteen forever.
Then right after his training with Claude, Nathan had called, ranting about resurrected daughters and the past coming back to bite him in the ass just weeks from the elections. Peter hadn't really understood, but had rushed over anyway.
When he saw a nervous Claire standing in front of Nathan and Heidi, his heart hadn't shattered. But the multitude of fissures had run all the way through.
He'd immediately moved forward to stand at her back - it wasn't her fault Nathan was an ass.
When he'd found out the whole story - what they could all piece together, at least - he'd been a bit more forgiving. But not of the way Nathan treated Claire. Watching Nathan and Heidi with Claire nowadays, you'd think that this was a child that Heidi had reluctantly given up and was delighted to be reunited with, and Nathan was the jealous husband who resented any proof that his wife had loved someone before him.
The really annoying thing was that Peter could sense the deep fondness Nathan and Claire had for each other, but between their mutual resentment they were going to wind up getting someone killed by stopping to fight in the middle of a battle.
Claire had fitted into the family much quicker than anyone had the right to expect. Angela had been delighted to have a lovely, charming grandaughter to spoil and go shopping with. Monty and Simon had, after a brief period of suspicion, welcomed Claire to their anime marathons and video game tournaments with open arms - and deep respect after Claire had taken them both on at Zelda and whipped them soundly. Heidi and Claire had bonded over being home-bound together - when Heidi had taken her first steps in rehab, Claire had been as delighted as a brand-new mother watching her baby's first steps.
Peter grinned at the memory, as he refilled his glass. The party she'd called him in to help organize had been one for the record books.
He'd found himself treating her with the same casual affection everyone in the family used with each other. But his fingertips had never burned after brushing Heidi's shoulder. He'd never felt a gnawing twist in his abdomen watching any of his distant cousins lift her face to the sky, watching the snowfall in delight. He'd never kissed any members of his family on the cheek or forehead, wishing he was kissing their lips.
He'd tried to deny the way he felt about her, and failed. Going on this way would kill him. So he was going to rip these feelings out, for his own survival - and probably Claire's.
And if he got quietly, completely drunk while he methodically destroyed his most secret, precious dream, it was his damn right.
Nathan was going to be furious over the bourbon. But Claire was the only woman in his whole life who had ever looked at Peter, the way ninety per cent of the women in the world looked at Nathan. As Nathan was the one who had placed Claire out of his reach, the bourbon was the very least of what his brother owed him.
* * * * *
Claire bit her lip nervously, and shifted her weight from foot to foot, before knocking on the door. She waited a few moments, then knocked again.
She was only a little disappointed that Peter was wearing a shirt when he opened the door.
That carefully contained flash of joy in his eyes, seeing it was her, was enough to convince her that she'd made the right decision to come here.
"Claire? What are you doing here so late?" Peter stepped back, opening the door for her. "Do the family know where you are?"
Claire nodded as she moved into Peter's apartment. "Nathan, Heidi and Angela are at the Governor's shindig. I left a note saying I was going to stay with you tonight for moral support, since they couldn't cancel."
Peter took a deep breath and exhaled explosively, at the mention of the latest Petrelli family crisis.
Mohinder's continuing studies of the 'Variant' gene (as he called it), involved studying genetic samples from everyone willing to provide one. Meredith's just-obtained sample, along with Nathan, Claire and Peter were the subject he'd been most excited about, as each of them were first degree relatives to another.
Earlier today, Mohinder had burst into the regular 'Superhero summit' (as Hiro called it) and dragged Peter off to the other room. After a few minutes hushed conference, Peter had called Nathan over, and after another few minutes Nathan had started yelling. Matt had looked more and more alarmed, and nudged her to join them and shut the door.
Mohinder had been studying Peter's sample, and found something very odd. He'd compared nearly all the samples previously - Nathan had had him double-check Claire's paternity test - but until now he'd never compared Peter's sample to Nathan's. They didn't match the way they should.
Peter had been floored, Nathan was insisting that it was impossible - he would have remembered if Peter was adopted, for Christ's sake - and Claire had been terrified that the Haitian and her adoptive father had been involved with the Petrellis for a lot longer than anyone had previously assumed.
Mohinder had calmed everyone down by reminding them of the way that Peter's talent worked, by his DNA changing to mimic whichever Variant he was nearest to. It was entirely possible that there had been some lasting effects. Peter had been skeptical; after all, Nathan and Claire were the Variants he spent the most time with. But Mohinder had urged caution - he'd taken several samples from Peter since all this had started, it would be possible to see if there was any sort of ongoing change. After they'd all trooped home to fill in Heidi and Angela, Nathan had blasted back to Mohinder with a lock of hair from Peter's baby book, and a blood sample from Angela - Nathan hadn't realized that Peter had been conceived using IVF, but Angela had remembered instantly. He'd come back to inform them that Mohinder wouldn't have any concrete conclusions until morning. Besides comparing the samples, Mohinder would also be going through the records they'd managed to retrieve of Primatech's breeding program. If Peter had been one of the subjects, it would open up a whole new level of conspiracy.
Peter ran a hand through his hair, and gave her a weak grin, "Thanks. I could really use the company right now."
Claire dumped her backpack near the door, and followed Peter to the kitchen. She watched him make coffee for them both, waiting for him to break the silence. Sitting at the barstool at the counter, she absently admired the play of muscles under his thin t-shirt and under the skin of his lower biceps.
"You can talk to me, y'know," she reminded him gently.
Peter leaned his forearms on the counter and sighed. "I - it just - I was always alone in this family, y'know? Dad and Nathan are - were - a pair of matching sharks. Heidi and Mom, they're both like a quiver full of arrows, sharp points and soft feathers combined. I guess being blood was always more important to me than most - even in an Italian family - because I didn't have much of a connection otherwise. Whenever Dad and Nathan and Mom were getting into political debates at the dinner table, and I felt useless because I just wanted to read Terry Pratchett, I'd look at them and pick out places where I was the same - like the cheekbones, and skin tone, and hair color, and I'd remind myself that I belonged." He gave a bitter chuckle, and added, "I remember, right before I tried to fly the first time, Mom was nagging me about letting Nathan push me around, and that he didn't care about me the way I did about him. I told her 'I can't help it. It's biology - we're connected.' Whenever I felt so lost in my own house, I could tell myself that they had to keep me - I was theirs."
Claire pushed aside her coffee cup, reaching out to grip Peter's hands in her own. "They all love you, Peter, and they still will tomorrow, no matter what the tests say."
"I just felt for so long, that my love wasn't enough reason for them to stay. That's pretty adolescent, isn't it?"
Claire shook her head. "Okay, so I am an adolescent, so I'm not really one to judge that - but you have the right to feel how you feel, no matter how inconvenient it is for them. I do know what you mean - that first day, looking at Nathan and Heidi, seeing the photos of them with Angela and the boys and you - I just felt 'what the hell am I doing here?' They're all so classy and cultured, and I'm just a cheerleader whose favorite food is tacos. They're all so dark and piercing - even you! - and I'm so blonde and, well, soft. In the few pictures we've all taken together, I look like this vanilla mistake that wandered in."
"Like a shaft of sunlight among all the storm clouds," Peter told her, giving her that gentle smile that always made her breath catch. "Thanks, Claire. I feel better now. But if you could stay? I could really use the reminders."
Claire nodded as she let go of Peter's hands, and slipped off the stool. "Maybe what you need is a distraction. Something that takes your mind away from the whole mess," she ventured, rounding the counter to stand next to him.
Peter looked over to the TV and replied thoughtfully, "We never have gotten around to that Firefly marathon, have we?"
Claire bit her lip, knowing if she didn't do this now, she would lose her nerve - and her only chance - forever. "Y'know, my tutor and I were doing Physics the other day - did you ever study Schrodinger's Cat?"
Peter frowned in memory, and replied, "I know that Steven Hawking wants to shoot it."
Claire snickered - her tutor had mentioned that quote too - and informed him, "A friend of Einstein's made it up to try and explain something about quantum mechanics. You lock a cat in a steel box with a tiny piece of radioactive material. It's such a tiny piece that in an hour, the cat could be dead, or it could still be fine. Until the box is opened and you know for sure, the cat is both living and dead at the same time."
"Okay, but what's this got to do with my test results?"
Deciding on a surprise attack, Claire moved quickly, wrapping her arms around his waist and using her body weight to push him back against the counter, curling one of her lower legs around his so he couldn't move without taking her with him.
By the way his eyes darkened, she knew that Peter had immediately realized the significance of their position.
"Claire-" he began, his voice pleading.
Claire shook her head and rushed on. "You can't be blamed for doing something you don't know is wrong, Peter. Right now, we're not related. We won't know if we are until morning. Tonight is the only time there aren't any lines to cross."
"Claire, you're nine and a half years younger than me -"
Claire gave him the look that deserved. "After all we've been through the last few months, that's a really pathetic excuse. I'm still legal." She took a deep breath and willed her voice not to crack. "Peter look me in the eyes and tell me it's only me that feels like this. That you didn't curse destiny for bringing us together this way like I did. That every time my skin brushes against yours you don't want more. Say it, and I'll believe you. I'll go downstairs, catch a cab home, and eat a pint of Ben and Jerry's and I'll never say anything about it again, no matter what Mohinder tells us tomorrow." Claire tried to put her heart in her eyes, and laid it out. "I want to be your lover, Peter. I want to spend the night in your bed, and know what you taste like."
Something snapped behind Peter's chocolate eyes, and he groaned her name brokenly, before his mouth slammed down onto hers.
Claire moaned, holding onto him even more tightly as her knees turned liquid. His tongue slid along her lips, and she eagerly parted them to welcome him inside. As their tongues mated, she could feel his hands slide under her cropped hoodie, his touch like a brand on her bare back and she mentally urged him to pull the garment off. Maybe he'd been around Matt too much today, because he did just that, pulling away only far enough that the fabric slid over her head unimpeded. The look in his eyes, as he took in the La Perla bra she'd talked Angela into during her birthday shopping trip, went a long way to reassure her that the craving that made her insides twist wasn't one-sided.
In one smooth movement, Peter spun them around, gripped her hips and lifted, boosting her to sit on the counter. Claire eagerly parted her legs, and reached for the belt loops of his jeans to pull him as close to her as possible. Claire could feel her heart racing as she helped him pull his t-shirt over his head, slowly growing more and more convinced that this wasn't another dream where she woke up sweaty and shaking.
Peter wrapped his arms around her torso, bringing her silk-and-lace clad breasts against his bare chest, and they both moaned with the contact. As she slid her arms around his strong shoulders, Claire lifted her face to his, but Peter lowered his mouth to her neck, instead, planting searing kisses up and down the column of her throat. As she wrapped her legs around his waist, his teeth grazed the skin, making her hiss and rock her hips, bringing the empty space between her legs that ached for him smack up against the hard bulge behind his zipper. Claire moaned again, sounding so needy she vaguely shocked herself.
"Harder. Leave a mark," she pleaded.
Peter's voice was muffled against her throat, but every word he spoke was so clear. "It won't last."
"I'll still know it's there. I'll always know."
Claire gasped as Peter sucked her skin between his lips, gently scraping with his teeth, making another wave of heat flood her head to toe. She whimpered and tried to press her body even closer to his, only for Peter to lift his head. She would have wailed at him stopping, if he hadn't immediately caught her gaze, eyes glittering with the same mad desire she felt.
Tightening his grip on her body, he eased her off the counter, and strode towards the bedroom with her wrapped around him, raining kisses over his face the whole way.
* * * * *
Claire smiled in satisfaction as she watched the pale light of pre-dawn break through the window, her head on Peter's chest as he stroked her hair.
Her tender inner muscles had healed almost instantly, but her hymen hadn't regenerated, thank goodness. She wouldn't have cared if it did though; it wouldn't have stopped her from making love with Peter in every position she could twist her body into. His body had fed off her recuperative powers, and she rather thought that he wouldn't be quite this energetic with anyone else.
Claire breathed deeply, wanting to imprint the scent of their lovemaking permanently in her mind, as she listened to Peter's slowing heartbeat.
"I'm never going to be sorry for this," she told him fiercely, "No matter what the results say."
She looked up at Peter, to see him gazing at her with a resolve she'd never seen in him before. "I never will either."