Disclaimer: Not mine!
SUMMARY: Two halves of an uncomfortable conversation.</i>
SPOILERS: Through 1x12, "Godsend", but largely AU
NOTES:"A slice-of-life short about everyone's favorite
hypothetical era, the "Claire crashes at Peter's apartment" scenario. Specifically involving a take-out menu and a heavy conversation...," though she left the subject of that conversation to the author's discretion. I hope you enjoy, m'dear!
Chinese, Thai, Tex-Mex, and pizza. The deli on the corner two blocks down, and the little sushi bar three blocks the other way. Sub shops, coffee shops, and even one from Hooters that his friends had given him as a joke when he first started college; it still made him blush. All in all, Peter had an embarrassing number of take-out menus, which just went to prove that being of Italian descent didn't mean you liked to cook.
And he still didn't have a clue what to order a teenage girl from Texas.
Would she like Chinese? He had a feeling the Chinese food in Texas wouldn't be half so good as the Chinese food in New York. On that note, Tex-Mex was right out; the last thing he wanted to do was remind her she was thousands of miles from the only place she'd ever called home. Maybe pizza. You couldn't go wrong with pizza, right? Everybody liked pizza, especially teenagers. But then Claire was a girl; a really pretty girl; a cheerleader. Maybe she'd want something healthier? The sushi bar might be a better choice-
"What're you looking at?"
Peter nearly jumped out of his skin as Claire sidled up behind him. Spinning around, he found her smiling at him as she toweled her hair dry. "Just trying to pick something for dinner," he said, tucking his bangs behind his ear as he tried to calm his racing heart. She'd shown up on his doorstep that afternoon, and while her arrival had been in the works for close to a month, he found it was harder to come to terms with her presence than he'd been expecting. She was a sweet, smart, funny, intelligent young woman, and he was more than happy to shelter her from her "father's" devious machinations; but by the same token, he was already discovering it was going to be hard if not impossible to keep from imagining a few machinations of his own, especially in regards to her physiology. He was a nurse, after all. Was she a virgin? If she wasn't, would it be possible to break her hymen permanently? Otherwise it would be very uncomfortable for her every time she had intercourse...
He slammed the door shut on those thoughts, appalled that he'd even be thinking them. She was SIXTEEN to his twenty-six. He was a hospice nurse, but it didn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that those two number didn't add up to anything good.
Claire's eyes lit up when she saw the take-out menus spread out on the counter. "Ooh, what've you got?" she asked, letting the towel drape over her shoulders as she slipped past him to peer down at the various paper offerings.
"What are you interested in?" he asked, leaning his elbows on the counter to be closer to her level as they examined the menus.
"Isn't New York supposed to have really good delis?"
"That's the prevailing theory."
Claire pointed to a menu for the Hole in the Wall Deli. "Is this place really a hole in the wall?"
"They're just being cute."
"Ah. Color." She flipped it open. "Is the food any good?"
"I wouldn't have the menu if it wasn't."
"What do you suggest?" She tilted the menu towards him. "I want something hot and filling."
His brain was two hops away from the gutter, but he managed to rein it in. "They have great meatball subs."
Claire made a face. 'No thanks. Meatloaf and meatballs are both on my list of no-nos. Nothing but bread should come in a loaf, and nothing outside of gym class should involve balls. Cheese balls, popcorn balls, meatballs..." She ticked the items off on her fingers. "Blech. I seriously don't get what's so special about balls."
Peter's face was burning. If she looked at him now, she'd probably ask if he had a fever. "How about a calzone?" he asked in desperation. There was absolutely nothing in the word "calzone" that his brain could interpret in a dirty way.
"That's one of those folded pizza things, right?" she asked, idly tracing her finger down the menu list.
She beamed, standing upright and turning to him. "Yeah, that sounds good." Her smile faded and she reached out a concerned hand toward him. "Are you all right? You look a little pink."
"I'm fine," Peter assured her, pulling away and shuffling absently with the menus. "Just thirsty. What kind of calzone do you want?"
"Whatever's cheapest." It was her turn to blush. "I don't have a lot of money."
Peter gave her a soft smile. "Claire, this is my treat." He reached out and affectionately tugged a lock of her hair, hardly realizing he was doing it until he felt the corn silk softness between his fingers. "I figure feeding you is the least I can do after uprooting you and dragging you across the country."
"If it'll make you feel better, you can do me a favor and go through these menus to get rid of the ones that are out of date." He gave her a bright smile. "I promise we won't have take-out every night, but sometimes it's nice to let someone else do the cooking."
Claire responded with a shy smile of her own. "Okay."
"Good." He opened the particular menu in question, feeling on firmer ground now that he had a plan for dinner. It kept his mind occupied with something other than the petite blonde standing a few feet away. "What kind of calzone did you want again?"
"Extra cheese and hot sausage."
Before his brain could do anything dirty with "hot sausage," he scribbled her order on a napkin and beat feet for the bedroom and his cell phone. "I'll call it in."
Peter had a problem, and it was this: he was standing in the hallway in front of his apartment, holding two bags of takeout deli food, and he was scared to open the door. What were they going to talk about? Claire was remarkably easy to talk to; so easy, in fact, that sometimes it was hard to remember she was just a kid. What if he slipped and told her something he shouldn't? Like the fact that he liked the smell of her shampoo?
What if he slipped and told her about the Dream?
He was shaken out of his inertia when the door opened, and Claire almost toppled him over as she came trotting into the hall. "Oh!" she exclaimed, grabbing Peter by the arms to keep him from falling over. "Sorry! I didn't know you were there!"
"It's okay," he assured her, hoping she'd mistake his embarrassed blush for surprise. "Where were you off to in such a hurry?"
"Oh." It was her turn to blush. "I was... It's dumb."
"I'm sure it's not."
She gave him a coy smile. "I was just going to run up to the roof and look at the city." She sighed, deflating a little. "I know it's dangerous, what with me being on the run and all. It's just... have you ever seen Sleepless in Seattle?"
The change in topic was so abrupt it made him blink. "I'm sorry?"
"In the end, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan meet each other on top of the Empire State Building," she explained, starry-eyed as she leaned in the doorway. "And there's this whole gorgeous view of New York all spread out in front of them. When I was a kid, I totally used to dream of meeting the love of my life on top of the Empire State Building with that view in the background." The happy smile on her face faded quickly, replaced by embarrassment. "Yeah, so, it's not the Empire State," she explained, self-consciously tucking her hair behind her ear, "but I figured, a view's a view, right?" She bit her lip and watched him carefully.
Peter grinned. "Grab your coat. It can get chilly up there. I'll bring the food."
With an excited squeal and a clap of her hands, Claire gave him a quick hug around the neck and scampered back into the apartment to find her coat. Peter breathed a sigh of relief; in the rush of explanation, she hadn't asked him why he was standing still as a statue outside his own apartment door.
"So why did you become a nurse?"
It was ten minutes later and they were camped out on the roof, eating calzones out of butcher paper and drinking Pepsi from paper cups. Claire was perched on the rail of the fire escape, mimicking a pose Peter himself had taken hundred of times since moving into his apartment. He knew he should bring her down to sit at the little table he'd dragged over from the far side of the roof, but she wouldn't allow it even if he'd tried. For one, the view was better where she was, and for two, it wasn't like she had to worry about plummeting to her death.
"Because I like helping people," he answered, leaning his elbows on the roof's edge as he munched his own calzone. "Contrary to popular belief, all Petrellis are not sycophantic social climbers."
Claire giggled, hunching her shoulders against the cool night air as she nibbled a piece of sausage. "I don't even know what sycophantic means."
"I'll tell you when you're older."
The toe of her white tennis shoe impacted with his shoulder. "I've been stalked by a psychopathic serial killer, been driven from my home by the mysterious actions of my shadowy adoptive father, and now I'm eating dinner on a roof in New York with He-Rogue the Wonderboy." She gave him another good poke with her toe before withdrawing her foot. "Don't start treating me like a kid now."
Peter laughed, rubbing his arm. "Ow," he chuckled. "What do you have in those shoes? Lead bricks?"
Claire tossed her hand airily in his direction, focused on her food. "Oh please. You'll recover."
They sat in comfortable silence for a minute, enjoying the view and each other's company. Peter was reminded again how much like a living thing the city was. Veins and arteries pulsing with a steady stream of brake lights and headlights; delivery trucks bringing food and water to stores and restaurants, where they'd be distributed to the hungry people who made up the vital systems that kept the city running. It breathed gasoline and exhaled a thousand different smells, from pungent spices in Chinatown to the perfumes of Sacs Fifth Avenue. Take out any one piece of the great organism known as New York – its people, its traffic, its slums, its skyrises – and it stopped being a city and became a shell. It was such a fragile creature, when you took the time to really look; push it too far and it would die.
"Pepperoni for your thoughts." He shook himself out of his reverie to find Claire watching him with soft eyes. She smiled when she saw she'd gotten his attention. "You looked a million miles away. Were you channeling that painter guy you told me about? Did you see anything good in the future?"
I saw my brother melt before my eyes, then the woman I used to think I loved, then I didn't see anything at all. I saw this beautiful girl with big, scared eyes turn her back and run away, because she knew she couldn't save me. I saw everything I've ever loved destroyed in a heartbeat, and I saw that it was all my fault. I saw myself seeing myself die, over and over, every night until it happens, and then there won't be anything left to see.
"You don't have any pepperoni," he said aloud, managing a smile despite his heavy thoughts.
She stuck her tongue out at him. "Fine." Leaning forward, she plucked a pepperoni from his calzone and held it up to him. "Happy now?"
He took it from her and popped it in his mouth, chewing slowly so he could think about how he was going to answer her question. "I don't know if I should have brought you here," he finally murmured, too much of a coward to look her in the face as he said it.
"Why not?" She sounded confused, and a little afraid. Dammit.
"And staying in Texas wasn't?"
"It's a different kind of dangerous," he argued.
"I might not have graduated high school yet, Peter, but even I know that's stupid." He saw her foot start tapping out of the corner of his eye. "Dangerous is dangerous. I'd much rather deal with the dangerous that lets me be with people I trust, rather than the kind where everything that comes out of my mouth is a lie." He dared a glance up to find her giving him a stern glare from her perch on the fire escape. There was a hint of fear in her eyes, hiding behind the angry bravado, but he didn't bother to point it out. It felt too good to have someone believe in him for a change.
"Claire, things are going to happen here," he told her, reaching out to rest his hand over her foot and squeezing. "Things that I can't protect you from. Things that might... take me away. I thought by bringing you here, I could keep you safe. But now..." He shook his head.
She gave him a lopsided smile. "Miracle-Gro Cheerleader, remember?" she reminded him softly, and wiggled her foot under his palm. "I'm tougher than I look." Her smiled faded. "And nothing's going to happen to you. So long as I'm there, you're indestructible, right?" The smile came back, small and shaky, and there were tears shining in her eyes. "So I'm not going to leave you. Ever."
She looked so fragile, sitting on the fire escape, silhouetted against the skyline, face illuminated by the city's lifeblood. It was hard to believe she was indestructible. Just like the city, looks could be deceiving.
"Do you want to see the Empire State Building?" he heard himself ask.
Her eyes lit up, and she blinked her tears away. "Can we?"
"Oh." She bit her lip. "We can't go tonight?"
He grinned. "Sleepless in Seattle again?"
Her coy smile was all the answer he needed.
He rolled his eyes and turned back to his calzone. "Fine, but I'm not going to kiss you."
She laughed and kicked him again. "You say that NOW."
It was dark, so she couldn't see his ears turn bright red. "Finish your food and we can go."
They ate quietly until Claire broke the silence once again. "Hey Peter?" she asked innocently.
"For dinner tomorrow, can we go to Hooters? I saw you had the menu..."
He groaned and dropped his forehead against the edge of the roof, as Claire's silver giggles spilled over the side of the roof and mixed with the city that breathed down below.