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Third Time's the Charm

Title: Third Time's the Charm
Fandom: Heroes
Summary: Nathan Petrelli doesn't fly, except when he does. (D)

This was written in February. Since that time, one of the sections has already been contradicted by canon, one hasn't, and one is scarily close to canon. I am amused.




I. Fourteen years ago

Heat rises.

The apartment fire roars beneath them, loud and hot and angry. Nathan can feel the pressure of the smoky heat, curling around them like angels' wings. Meredith clings to him, her face buried in his shoulder; she is trembling in his arms, whispering hysterically under her breath. She doesn't look down.

Nathan does.

He has to.

Meredith's body feels hot against his, like she's got a fever, burning up from the inside. He remembers holding their daughter once, when she got sick. Cradling her against his chest, walking her so that she could get a bit of rest from the fever consuming her. It had felt like that.

But he won't hold her any more.

Nathan feels burnt inside too, hollow, like a charred shell that could blow away in the slightest breeze. He stares numbly down. There are firefighters now, spraying fountains of water against the blaze, trying to get it under control. Too late for their own apartment. Too late--

"I wish you'd taken her," Meredith whispers brokenly. "Instead of me."

"There wasn't time." No one's seen them yet, but it's probably just a matter of time; slowly, carefully, holding Meredith close to him, he lets them drift away, away and down, until their feet touch down. He doesn't ever take his eyes away from the apartment. What's left of it, at least. "Merry, I barely got you out."

(--wrapping his body around her like a shield, shooting up because it's the fastest way out -- almost before they've cleared it, the roof's collapsing in blazing pieces around them -- Meredith screams, sharp and panicked, but their daughter's screams have stopped--)

Meredith clings to him still, even though they're on solid ground again. Her face is ash-smudged and wet with tears. "I hate you."

"Yeah." Nathan takes a deep breath. They're upwind of the fire, and the night air smells clean and fresh. "I'm... sorry."

Everyone else is going to think she's dead, he realizes slowly. No one could have survived the fire--

(no one, he thinks; oh, God, what have I done?)

--and no one could have gotten out, not in any human way. Only by flying, and, well, who'd want to admit to that? Nathan himself wasn't officially living there, but Meredith was, and their daughter, and now they're both dead, as far as anyone knows.

One of them is dead.

Because he couldn't save them both.

He kisses Meredith's forehead, and walks away, dry-eyed, his mouth tasting of ashes.

#

II. Six months ago.

Nathan Petrelli doesn't fly.

It's been fourteen years since he's flown, twelve since he managed to talk himself into forgetting that he can, six since it's occurred to him that there's something he's forgetting, two since he stopped having dreams about it.

He's forgotten, but his body hasn't.

The car behind them speeds up again. There is a thud and a jolt as it rams into them from behind. Nathan presses the accelerator grimly, knowing that it won't help, and it doesn't; the car easily keeps pace, nudging the back of their convertible again and again.

We're going to crash, Nathan thinks, wildly. They're going to make us crash.

I don't want to--

--and he doesn't, because his body remembers that he can fly.

There isn't any conscious thought behind it; he isn't even aware of getting from point A to point B. He goes from driving the car, annoyed but with growing fear, to not driving the car.

No one's driving.

"Heidi!" Nathan yells. He wants to go back down, but his body has other ideas, and so he just watches, helpless, drifting higher and higher as the convertible veers out of control.

He thinks: Heidi is going to die.

He thinks: Shit, I'm flying.

He thinks: --if I'd only grabbed her in time--

If.

The car crashes, messy and noisy, and Nathan feels a sharp pang of guilt twisting inside him like shearing metal.

He thinks: This is all my fault.

He doesn't even remember falling.

#

III. Not-too-distant future

Peter is shaking. Fear, but more than that. His skin has started to glow, eerie and inhuman; his eyes glow with panic. "I took his power, Nathan," he gasps. "I can't control it--"

Nathan should be afraid. He isn't. Not of his brother. "Let me help you, Peter." He reaches forward.

"No," Peter yelps. Wild-eyed, terrified, glowing even more brightly than before. "You can't."

Yes, Nathan thinks, I can. I'm not failing. Not this time.

"I'm not leaving you," he promises.

He pulls Peter into a tight hug; his brother burns against him. Nathan feels oddly clear-headed. He leaps, zooms upward; altitude is important. It's the only thing he can do. He can't protect Peter from everything, but he can do one last thing.

"Nathan," Peter gasps, "oh God--" He is incandescent now, and Nathan holds in his brother's fire for as long as possible, gets himself as high as possible.

When the moment comes, in the brief instant between life and bright blinding death, Nathan feels a queer sense of relief.

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