Characters/Pairings: Nathan, Peter, Angela
Spoilers: 1x01 “Gensis”
Warnings: None really, unless the idea of Nathan as a veterinarian is disturbing to you. And mentions of drug use.
Disclaimer: Heroes belongs to Tim Kring, NBC et al.
A/N: Inspired by a_cook1’s How It Should Have Gone Meme (number 5, specifically) and written for her birthday. Basically, it’s just like the pilot, except everything is different!
Summary: What if Nathan had never become a lawyer? What if he made a stand for himself and chose something completely different? Because of that, everything changes.
Nathan cursed as the pigeon cote erupted into a flurry of feathers and flapping wings at the noise. He stumbled out the door and shut it behind him before answering his phone, spitting feathers out of his mouth as he did.
“Pfft. Pfft. Dr. Petrelli.”
“Nathan, it’s Peter. Pigeons or falcons today?”
“Pigeons. Deveaux building.”
“Ok, be right up. Don’t go anywhere!”
The phone clicked, and Nathan spat more down out of his mouth. He was still plucking feathers from his hair and clothing when Peter pushed open the door to the roof.
“Hey! What happened to you?” Peter asked.
“The phone. I forgot to turn it off when I was looking in on the birds. How’re ya doing Pete? Were you already…” Nathan’s question trailed off when he realized Peter was still in his working uniform of scrubs and nurses shoes. “Mr. Deveaux?” he asked instead.
“He’s close,” Peter said, with a hint of sadness and resignation.
“I’m sorry Pete. I’m glad you’re with him though.” Charles Deveaux had been maybe the only one of Dad’s friends that hadn’t excoriated Nathan for his career choice, back nearly twenty years ago.
“He’s just happy someone still looks in on his birds,” Peter said, walking over to the edge and leaning over the low cement balustrade to look at the city below. Nathan joined him, feathers still drifting down to be caught in the breeze.
“How’s Ma? I haven’t gotten a chance to see her in a week.”
“Ok. Still taking things hard.”
Nathan nodded with understanding. Ever since Arthur had dropped dead of an apoplexy-induced heart attack six months ago, their mother had been acting oddly. Both pleased with her sons and strangely despairing at the same time. Nathan was about one shoplifting incident away from making her talk to a professional; family support didn’t seem to be enough to get her to deal with her grief. There was no shame in getting help, and heaven knew their family could afford the best therapist in the city.
Peter sighed meditatively, and Nathan quickly changed the subject. They’d already had that conversation about Ma about a hundred times already.
“Hey, it’s Claire’s sixteenth birthday today. Noah and Sandra are talking about bringing her up here next week as a gift. I said I’d play tour guide,” Nathan said.
“Did you remember to send a present on time this year?” Peter asked, smirking.
“Yes, thank you, I did,” Nathan said gravely, eyes dancing as he punched Peter lightly in the shoulder.
Peter only grinned. “Ever think about what it would have been like to raise her yourself? She’s a pretty awesome kid.”
“That’s Noah and Sandra’s doing. I can’t keep Ginger off the couch, Skittles and Marbles use the litter box because it amuses them to do so, and the only reason Chloe even looks in my direction is because I know how to get the top off the bird seed. Could you honestly imagine me as a dad?” Nathan said, raking his fingers through his hair nervously.
Peter smiled. “Guess not.”
Claire’s blood mother Meredith had been as independent a spirit as Nathan had ever seen. When she’d found out their little weekend fling in Mexico had had lasting consequences, she hadn’t demanded a wedding. She’d only wanted child support, and Nathan, knowing damn well he was a workaholic with no real parenting skills, had done what he thought was best for Meredith and Claire.
When Meredith had died tragically in that apartment fire a year and a half later, Nathan had wrestled with what was the right thing to do. Peter had been the one to help him decide what Meredith would have wanted for her daughter. Together they’d worked with an agency to find a loving, childless couple that wanted to adopt Claire. They’d kept the adoption an open one, and Nathan had gotten a surprising amount of joy out of his long-distance relationship with his daughter.
But the eighteen-hour days he worked at the animal hospital had convinced Nathan he’d done the right thing. Claire was better off with a family that could give her the constant love, support, and attention she deserved. She deserved a better childhood than Nathan’s, for Meredith’s sake.
“Are you going to go with us?” Nathan asked. “I know Claire wants to meet you.”
“Maybe… I’ll definitely try. Hey, how’s Jericho?”
Nathan smiled at the mention of the injured peregrine falcon he was rehabilitating. He was pretty good with injured dogs and cats, but he’d found out pretty early in his career that he had a very good hand with birds. Maybe because they reminded him of his days as a Navy pilot, maybe because they were a symbol of being free, but Nathan was the unofficial birdman of New York Vet Med.
“He’s doing ok. I should be able to release him soon, maybe even today. I need to check on him one last time,” Nathan said.
Peter bit his lip as they stared out at the city in companionable silence. Maybe, in another life, Peter and he wouldn’t have been so close. With twelve years between them, it would have been easy for Nathan to become more like another father to Peter, rather than a brother. If Nathan’s career had gone like it should, they definitely would have drifted apart, no matter their bonds of blood. But Nathan had rejected his family’s plans first, and after that, it had been easier for Peter to take his own road. He’d become a hospice nurse, and the weight of family disapproval, which had fallen so heavily on Nathan, had only fallen lightly on him. It had given them a bond they might have never shared otherwise.
“Mom, I want to be a veterinarian when I grow up!” Nathan declared when he was five years old.
Angela Petrelli indulgently ruffled the hair of her young son, privately amazed that he could say such big words. Though perhaps it was no stranger than him being able to say ‘stegosaurus’ but not ‘applesauce.’
“You can be anything you want to be, dear,” she said encouragingly. She’d said the same thing when he was four and wanted to be (depending on the day) a policeman, a firefighter, or a jet pilot. She’d said the same thing last month when he’d insisted he wanted to be an astronaut. Parents needed to push their children to excel, and to have ambition was the first part of that.
By fourteen, those kinds of dreams had been, not exactly forgotten, but pushed aside. Nathan had begun to bow to familial pressure to be a lawyer. His father talked about it all the time, how he and Nathan would be partners and do all sorts of great things. Nathan had even begun to make himself like the idea a bit; helping others, defending civil liberties, changing the world, it could be a good thing. But he still wanted to do some of the other things he liked before law school.
Nathan had always liked animals. He’d been the one to tend to their dog Izzie most of his life, and he’d been the one to catch the first signs of fleas or injury or illness before anyone else could. He was the only one who could give Izzie a flea bath with ruining the bathroom. And all the other kids in the neighborhood knew that if something were wrong with their pets, Nathan would know if it was something real and serious, or something that would pass. He was good with animals, so why shouldn’t he try to learn a little more about them, just in case?
He casually broached the idea of taking zoology as an elective science his sophomore year instead of American government II, and Arthur had balked.
“Nathan, you want to narrow your focus as much as possible. It shows dedication!” Arthur had insisted, signing Nathan up for the government class without listening to any further argument.
Nathan wanted to please his father, wanted to be able to show that he could be a good son, but he wanted to prove he could learn what he wanted too. He was a Petrelli. He could get away with anything, if he just tried.
Sometimes people were surprised at Nathan’s diligence in boarding school. Most rich kids, given freedom from their parents, went pretty wild. Drinking, partying, cutting class, getting high, and pulling stupid pranks was all part of the experience. Despite the “higher standards” touted by the school, kids would still be kids. Rich kids especially. Money could bail one out of any trouble.
But after Arthur had denied him the choice of how to run his own education, Nathan had decided to take advantage of the generous allowance he rarely spent. While his classmates spent their free time drinking themselves stupid, Nathan snuck off to night classes at the local community college, or took correspondence courses, or volunteered at the local animal shelters. Removed from his parents’ constant supervision, the idea of becoming a lawyer was starting to pall in comparison to the new things he was learning about the animals he loved.
By seventeen, Nathan had begun to feel squeezed into a life that felt too narrow. It wouldn’t have bothered him that much, he was the eldest son after all, expected to follow in his father’s footsteps, except that Peter was now at the same stage he’d been at. Peter wanted to be a doctor or a park ranger or a lifeguard, someone that helped people. And Ma always told him he could be anything he wanted to be, just like she’d told Nathan.
Nathan realized that was a lie. Every encouragement he’d had as a child was for nothing. He could be anything he wanted, except himself. He respected Dad, but Nathan was feeling more and more pressure every day to be just like him. College was looming, and he was going to have to make a decision about what law school to go to. Once there, there would be no time for extra classes on animals, no time to volunteer at shelters. He would need some kind of alternate source of strength, and money, if he wanted to become anything but what his family had decreed.
In Nathan’s first act of real defiance, he followed family tradition.
“I’m going to join the Navy and be a pilot,” he’d announced at a family dinner six months before graduation. Dad and Mom had been surprised, but pleased, and Nathan was enrolled in Annapolis before he could blink.
Six-year-old Peter had thought the idea of Nathan in a jet was the coolest thing ever. “Will you take me flying, Nathan?” he’d asked, over and over. And Nathan had promised that one day he would.
Nathan had gotten through some of the officer’s training on luck, charm, and sheer tenacity, but he didn’t have to fake anything about flying itself. Even though he was in what some called a flying computer, it was the closest he’d come to real freedom in a long time. Once flying, he scouted, chased off enemy planes, escorted cargo jets full of relief supplies, and for the first time in his life felt useful and needed.
While he was flying he had to have a lot of concentration on his instruments and surroundings, he still was able to let his mind drift. He wouldn’t be a pilot very long, only a few years, and then… real life would hit. Proper law school, and then he’d be working alongside Dad in his office.
But being in the military had given him some much-needed perspective, as well as distance from his father. Distance enough to read the newspapers about Daniel Linderman, to realize his father was perhaps far less noble than Nathan had thought. Add that to his family’s letters about a future career in politics, and Nathan could see his whole life mapped out for him according to his family’s wishes.
It was curious, being in the military was supposed to make a person comfortable with a command structure and following orders. But a pilot was often relatively alone. Instead of solidifying Nathan’s old and worn need to be the faithful son, the Navy had given him the courage and strength to do the opposite.
Everything came to a head when Izzie died. Nathan hadn’t been there, and had to try to talk Peter through the death of their family pet over the phone. It was the realization of not just being absent when Izzie had been in pain, but also that he hadn’t been able to be there for Peter. If Nathan swallowed his pride and followed in his father’s footsteps, he might never be able to be there for Peter again.
So when Nathan had returned from his tour of duty, he knew exactly what he wanted to do. He wanted to set an example for his brother, and also to himself, that he could, truly, be anything he wanted to be.
Nathan had spent his last few months in the Navy finishing up his last correspondence courses and sending in applications to every school with the program he wanted. By the time his family had organized a welcome home party, he was ready with an acceptance letter in hand.
When he stood up to make his speech in front of all of his family and his family’s friends, he knew exactly what to say. He’d known it since he was five years old.
“If only every serviceman could get a welcome home like this!” he’d joked, raising his glass high. “I’ve thought long and hard about what direction I’m going to take, now that my term of service is up. It’s something I’ve thought about for many years, that I’ve spent a lot of time preparing for. I want to help people, to make a difference in people’s lives. And not just their lives, but their loved ones too.
“Ma always said I could be anything I wanted to be, and I’m going to hold her to that!” There was polite laughter in the crowd, but Angela and Arthur had very tiny expressions of uncertainty on their faces.
“So, in the fall, I’ll be starting classes at the New York School for Veterinary Medicine. I just got my acceptance letter last week, so hopefully in a few years’ time I’ll be seeing Flopsie and Mittens in my office,” Nathan said with a smile on his face and a wink to Mom’s friend Victoria Pratt.
Angela and Arthur looked pole-axed. The crowd seemed to be stunned beyond words. Only Peter was grinning without reservations, and ran up front to give Nathan a hug.
Afterwards, Arthur had raged, Angela had despaired, and Nathan just had to look at his class ring or acceptance letter to remind himself not to give in to their pressure. When no amount of words would persuade Nathan from his chosen course, Arthur had finally thrown down the gauntlet, saying that he wouldn’t pay a cent for Nathan’s education.
“That’s ok, Dad. The government will,” Nathan had responded evenly. That had set Arthur off again, but Nathan held firm. He could be anything he wanted to be, him and Peter both, and not even their family could stop them.
Peter finally broke the silence, a strange expression on his face when he turned to face Nathan.
“Nathan… I’ve been having some weird dreams lately. Real vivid ones.” Peter’s voice was soft, hesitant, tentative as if he didn’t quite believe what he was saying himself.
“Flying. I keep having these dreams that I’m standing on the roof of some building, and I step over the edge, and I fly up.”
Nathan didn’t say anything at first. He’d felt that same strange feeling before, the desire to cast himself over the edge of a very high place. It wasn’t a suicidal feeling, he just wanted to step into the empty space and soar… He’d thought it was some kind of holdover from his pilot days, or maybe just a side effect of working with so many birds.
“Fly?” Nathan repeated softly, looking earnest. Peter had always been the dreamer of the two of them, the poet, the artist. If anyone could put this into words, it would be Peter.
“Yeah…” Peter trailed off, eyebrows furrowed, and Nathan struggled to find something to say. “Weird dreams,” Peter said finally. “I guess I-. You remember Simone?”
Nathan raised an eyebrow at the non sequitur but nodded. “Mr. Deveaux’s daughter? Yeah.”
Peter blushed faintly and Nathan cracked a smile. “That’s kind of irregular, Pete.”
“Oh, it’s not like that. She’s got this boyfriend, Isaac. He’s just… I wish she could find someone better. He uses, and it’s not going well for her. She deserves better, needs better, with her dad and all.”
“You want to talk to Isaac?” Nathan prompted.
“Maybe. I just feel like I should be doing more. That I’m meant for, I don’t know, something really extraordinary. Special.”
“Peter, you are doing something special. Every person you’ve helped, every life you’ve touched, you’ve done something extraordinary. You don’t have to be superhuman,” Nathan said, putting an arm around Peter. Even though Peter had dodged the worst of Arthur’s scorn, he still had that Petrelli drive in him as deep as Nathan, the little voice that urged him to do more, be satisfied with nothing. Nathan had over a decade more experience telling that voice it wasn’t going to kill him like it had his father.
Peter looked off the edge of the building and up into the sky. Nathan had a faint chill of foreboding, but also an almost unbearable feeling of lightness in his stomach.
“Pete, go ahead and talk to Isaac. When you’re done, meet me over at the Wilhelm building and maybe we can release Jericho together.”
Peter seemed to come back to himself and nodded, grinning a little.
“Hang off on flying until I see you, ok?”
“Got it. Love you Nathan.”
Nathan closed his eyes as Peter left, and opened them after a long time to stare into the sky. He trusted Peter, loved him, knew him better than anyone. Peter wasn’t talking about flying as some kind of suicide, or transferring from his dying patient. If Peter said he thought he could fly, he didn’t mean it crazily, or euphemistically.
He meant he could fly.
Shuddering slightly, Nathan went back to the hospital to tend to his cases. Less than two hours later, he was yanked out of clinic duty by a call from the police. Mom had been caught, and she needed to be bailed out of jail. Again.
“Ma, come on, please, go see someone this time,” Nathan pleaded, holding one of her hands in his. Peter had her other hand, and a much more heart-rending expression. “There’s only so much slack the officers are going to give you. This is the third time.”
“Please, Mom,” Peter added, putting his arm around her while Nathan laid a hand on her shoulder. They’d tried everything they could think of the last couple of times, talked to Angela’s friends, Father Dominic, people at Angela’s charities, everything. They were beginning to reach the end of their own ropes.
Angela looked up at both her sons, a strange, sad smile on her face. “I’m sorry to put you both through this. I really am,” she said.
“We just want to help you,” Nathan coaxed.
“I know you do, Nathan. I just wish things could have been better. You’re both so special…”
Nathan’s heart skipped a beat, and he exchanged a significant glance with Peter.
“Come on Ma, let’s get you home.”
By early evening, Nathan was on the roof of the Wilhelm building, where he had his mews, and was stoically enduring Jericho’s cries of annoyance until he could get him coaxed onto the falconry glove on his hand. Peter showed up just as Nathan was taking him up.
“Ma ok?” Nathan asked quietly.
“And how’d talking to Isaac go?”
“Could have been better. He ODed and we barely got him to the hospital in time. But I was in his studio and I saw…” Peter paused and flipped his camera phone open. “Nathan, I think he can paint the future.”
Jericho’s talons tightened against Nathan’s skin, but he ignored the pain as he stared at the picture of a painting of Peter stepping, no, flying off a building, his coat billowing behind him. The strange lightness was back in Nathan’s stomach, like how he used to feel when he was climbing in a jet.
“Isaac drew that a month ago. I didn’t start dreaming until a few days ago,” Peter continued, looking as if he desperately wanted this to be true.
Nathan took a deep breath and turned his attention to the hooded Jericho. The impatient little falcon was as healthy as he was going to get, and needed to be freed before Nathan got into any kind of long conversations with his brother.
“Ok, you’re all better now, Terror of the Skies. Go, fly free,” he said, as he always did, slipping the hood free and casting the peregrine falcon into the open air.
Both Nathan and Peter walked near the edge to watch the bird disappear into the gray sky, flying strong. Almost as one, the brothers climbed on top of the short wall around the edge.
“Don’t you think I’m crazy?’ Peter asked.
“No crazier than me, Pete.” Nathan hadn’t ever told Peter exactly how he felt with the birds, though maybe Peter had guessed. Nathan had felt close to flight for years, but Peter had been the one to say it out loud. It didn’t sound crazy when he said it, no crazier than saying Simone’s junkie boyfriend could paint the future, or Angela saying they were special, or Peter dreaming about flying.
Nathan and Peter looked at each other once and then turned to look at the sky. Peter’s hand slipped into Nathan’s as easily as when they’d been children.
“Pete, are you scared?”
“Do you remember when you were six years old and I’d just joined the Navy?”
“You asked me to take you flying.”
“Yeah.” Peter’s voice was a whisper.
Peter never questioned Nathan’s belief. Nathan never questioned Peter’s. And maybe that was why when the stepped off the roof, hand-in-hand, they soared like eagles.
The lightness in Nathan stomach was from more than flying as Manhattan was reduced to a tiny map below them. It was composed of nerves and giddiness and sheer, unalloyed joy.
“Nathan! Nathan!” Peter yelled, sounding like a kid on Christmas morning.
“I know!” Nathan yelled back, looked ahead to where Jericho had flown. “Come on, let’s catch up to him!”
“How fast can we go?”
“Let’s find out!”
They concentrated on speed, straining into the wind- and the air shattered around them, the world below speeding by in a blur of gray and green. Somewhere outside Manhattan, they slowed, gaping at their own audacity.
“Faster than sound! God, this is like being back in a Hornet!” Nathan exulted. Peter grinned back at him. “Race?”
“Yes!” Peter let go of Nathan’s hand, and abruptly started to fall with a yell of terror. Nathan dove to save him, grasping both arms and holding him up.
“Pete, come on, you can do this!”
Peter gaped at him. “This it not like riding a bike,” he gritted.
“No, it’s more fun,” Nathan said, grinning. “It’s destiny. You dreamt this. Isaac painted it. Come on Pete, this is ours!”
Nathan didn’t bother to question what was happening. Because honestly, he didn’t want to.
Peter closed his eyes for a second, and then opened them, focusing purely on Nathan. For five deep breaths he simply stared, and then flung himself out of Nathan’s grasp, soaring.
Laughing, Nathan chased after him, the air around them shattering and reforming until they were both exhausted and gasping for breath.
“We should go home,” Nathan said finally, peering into the fading light of day, seeing the brilliant lights of the city in the distance. “I don’t think I’m cleared for flying at night on this thing yet.”
“What’re we going to tell Mom?” Peter asked, raking his hair out of his eyes.
“I don’t know,” Nathan said, leaning back into the wind as they began to drift back into New York. “What am I going to tell Claire?” he asked suddenly, eyes widening.
There was a moment of panic between them, and then Peter broke the mood with a short laugh. “Hey, this’ll give Mom something else to think about aside from socks!”
Nathan smiled again and took Peter’s hand, speeding into the cold air as they hunted for a familiar rooftop. The Deveaux building loomed underneath them after many long moments, and they stumbled to a landing together. Once firm ground was under their feet, Nathan hugged Peter so hard his younger brother actually squeaked in protest. When he finally let go, Peter was blinking away tears from his eyes.
“I didn’t think you’d even believe me,” Peter whispered.
“I always did Pete,” Nathan said. “Hell, I believed in you before I believe in me.”
Peter shook his head and looked up at the sky briefly. “It’s been a hundred years since this morning. Everything’s changed.”
Nathan put his arm around Peter, knowing he was right. He had no idea how his mother, in her fragile state, might react to her sons being able to fly, or dream, or knowing someone who could see into the future. He didn’t know how Claire or her family would handle him. But he did know that for the second time, for reasons he didn’t even understand, he was forging a brand-new path. And he could quickly come to love a new destiny like this.