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And the Wisdom to Know the Difference

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Peter explodes on a Wednesday.

He feels the heat, sees his hands start glowing and his panicked mind tries to deny that it’s happening because it shouldn’t, it shouldn’t! He saved Claire and –

– everything goes white.

Nathan is the one who finds him. He is just sitting there, staring numbly at the destruction around him. There is pain, and incomprehension, and then he is flying, Nathan’s strong body cradling him like it used to when he was a kid, carrying him back home.

He spends the next few days in a daze. Looking back he doesn’t remember much, his mind shying away from the details. All he knows is that it’s his fault his fault his fault and part of him wants to die. Nathan won’t let him, bullying him out of his room and forcing food down his throat whenever he is around, and Peter passively lets him do whatever he wants. He’d like to tell him not to bother – he’s killed millions, he isn’t worth the effort – but he can’t dredge up the energy.

Then Nathan is on TV, holding a picture of Sylar and announcing to the world that they now know who is responsible for the death of so many. And Peter can only stare, because how could Nathan do that to him? It’s his fault. His. He is the one who killed all those people, and he needs to take responsibility for it. Needs to be punished, needs to be locked up, because maybe that way the guilt will lessen. Damn Nathan, for taking that away from him.

That evening he leaves, and he doesn’t look back.

---

Five years later, he finds himself back in New York, fighting a war that might finally give him absolution. All he has to do is hold on long enough for Hiro and Ando to go back to their own time, and fix this once and for all.

But he is distracted and gets yanked out of the room by a man wearing his brother’s face. And he is confronted with the ugly fact that this isn’t Nathan. Because Nathan doesn’t walk through walls. Then Peter finds himself staring at a man who still haunts his nightmares, and he grows cold.

If Sylar is Nathan, then Nathan…

Peter’s mind shies away from the truth. Nathan can’t be dead. He is supposed to be alive in DC, supposed to be the President of the United States, and no matter what he had been doing, no matter his reforms, he was alive. Out of reach, yes, and beyond redemption maybe, but alive. And that was better than nothing.

Now Peter has to face the fact that his brother is gone, dead, and he didn’t even know. Has to face the fact that he is on his own.

Fury and guilt flood him as he faces Sylar, wanting revenge for his brother as much as he is buying time for Hiro and Ando. Soon after they’re gone, and the fight turns pointless. Neither he nor Sylar can die and all they’re doing is blowing things up. But it makes him feel better, until he realizes it’s not going to bring Nathan back.

Until he realizes that he can.

Hiro will save New York. Peter... well, Peter is going to save Nathan.

---

Five years in the past and Peter can finally catch his breath. And yet all he can think about is that Nathan is deaddeaddead, has been for the past three years or more and Peter didn’t even notice. And he feels guilty, so guilty he thinks he might throw up. Sure, he hadn’t seen Nathan since shortly after the bomb (he) went off, too angry at his brother for covering for him. But he should have known, should have known something was wrong when Nathan stopped pushing, stopped reaching out, because if Nathan is one thing it’s persistent. Peter should have known, damn it, should have protected him, should have been there with him instead of clinging to his childish resentment, instead of believing the worse of his brother.

But now is not the time for recrimination. He wants (needs) to see Nathan, has to warn him, and so he puts on Peter’s appearance and heads for his house. He gets in without problems, a quick glance at the calendar telling him there are still two days ‘til the election.

He remembers that day. The day he died, and met Claire again. He also remembers Nathan’s face, streaked with tears, and he had found that strange at the time because his brother doesn’t cry. But back then he had been too obsessed with the ramifications of Claire’s presence to reassure Nathan that he was fine.

Something else he intends to rectify.

“Peter?” Nathan’s voice and Peter doesn’t dare turning around. “I thought you had gone home.”

“Yeah…” To his horror his voice wavers and he has to clear his throat before soldiering on. “I came back.”

His best efforts to appear cool and collected fly right out of the window when Nathan wraps a casual arm around his shoulders and drops an affectionate kiss on the top of his head. Because his brother is there, warm and solid and so very alive it hurts to even think that he’s dead. Except he isn’t, and this time travelling thing is really screwing up with Peter’s head.

“Everything alright?” Nathan is full of concern and Peter has to close his eyes to fight back tears. Nathan is worried about him. Of course he is – Peter died today. It’s a feeling Peter has grown unaccustomed to in the past few years, to have someone worry about him. Nikki never was – she knew what Peter was capable of, and so does Nathan yet it doesn’t stop him. And that’s another thing Peter hadn’t known he would miss 'til it was gone. Because he likes to pretend he doesn’t need anyone (Nathan), and he’s been so busy resenting his brother’s meddling that he didn’t realize it was done out of love.

“Huh huh.” Peter nods but his watery voice doesn’t convince either of them. He blinks rapidly, trying to get himself back under control, and makes a fatal mistake. He looks at his brother and Nathan’s face is so open, so unlike his future self’s that something inside Peter breaks.

He hasn’t cried in the past five years, hasn’t allowed himself to, but faced with Nathan he can’t stop the tears from coming. And Peter finds himself enveloped in his brother’s embrace because there is no way Nathan will watch him cry and do nothing.

He wants to fight this, wants to fight the comfort that’s being offered so freely because he doesn’t deserve it. He blew up New York, didn’t bother to check what was wrong when Nathan stopped calling and gave up on his brother when he started making all these crazy reforms. For years he ignored it, and now he’s come to fix it. Then he’ll go back to his own time and life will go on. And if he didn’t succeed in keeping Nathan alive, then he’ll try again and again ‘til he gets it right. That’s why he is here, to warn him – not to be cuddled.

But Peter is weak and so he clings to his brother, burying his face in the crook of his shoulder as the tears fall. Nathan whispers soothing nonsense – ‘it’s alright’ and ‘I’m here, I'm here’ – and Peter laughs because he isn’t. Or rather, Peter is the one who isn’t here. He is aware he sounds a little hysterical and that he’s scaring Nathan so he quietens and lets his brother calm him down.

Until the phone rings and Peter finds the strength to push himself away. Nathan doesn’t let go willingly though, peering into Peter’s face first to make sure he can. Peter gives him a weak smile and playfully shoves him away, the mood shifting as he gets a grin from Nathan in return.

His eyes follow his brother as he picks up the phone, drinking in the sight and trying to ignore the twist in his chest. Another thing he had made himself forget, the effect Nathan can have on people – on him. The tightening in his guts that borders on pain and the desperate want that can never be given voice to.

Battling old demons, Peter almost misses the way his brother’s body stiffens and he remembers too late that he called Nathan that evening.

Nathan answers tersely to something Peter’s saying on the other end of the line before hanging up, and already the past is changing. Then he turns back towards Peter, and his face is cold and closed-off.

It makes Peter’s heart ache.

“Who are you?” Nathan asks, his voice demanding and sharp, and Peter makes a decision.

The illusion flickers off and he stands in front of his brother, five years older and scarred.

Nathan stares and Peter looks away, unable to meet his eyes.

“Peter?” Nathan takes an almost instinctive step forward and stops, torn.

“My God. What happened to you?” he wonders out loud, his hand coming up to trace the scar.

Peter shivers involuntarily when his brother’s fingers explore his marred skin oh so lightly, and Nathan opens his mouth to ask more questions when there is a noise at the window.

Peter reacts instantly. Years of living on edge in order to stay alive rise to the forefront and he sends the intruder flying, pinning him against the wall.

And finds himself staring into the stunned eyes of his double.

“Peter! What are you doing here?”

Peter watches as his past self tries not to look hurt by Nathan’s question before rallying and setting his jaw stubbornly. “You sounded in trouble on the phone. I thought…”

“That you’d fly to the rescue.” Peter finishes for him and snorts, shaking his head. He doesn’t remember being so young.

His past self glares at him and Peter looks back at him indulgently while Nathan rubs his forehead.

“Look, Peter…”

They both turn to look at him and Nathan sighs.

“Just… let him go. Please.”

Peter smirks but complies and his younger self stumbles forward, trying to regain his balance. The situation isn’t ideal, Peter reflects. Certainly not how he had planned on doing things. But it might be for the best after all.

He turns towards himself and pushes his way into his mind, sending him image after image of a world without Nathan, of Nathan being deaddeaddead, and Peter reels back, staring at him with disbelief.

“You have to stop that from happening,” Peter tells him and watches himself nod dumbly.

Then he turns towards Nathan, who looks both confused and resigned. Peter doesn’t have to read his mind to know what he is thinking – that he is sending himself on yet another crusade to save the world, with no regard for his own safety and extra work for Nathan to keep him safe.

Peter smiles sadly. Nathan is wrong. He isn’t here to save the world. He is here to save himself.

“I have to go back now,” he tells him and moves to stand in front of him. He can tell Nathan has questions and he shakes his head and looks at him, committing every little detail to memory. Just in case. Then he kisses him, hard and urgent and all too brief, not giving Nathan time to respond. Because he doesn’t want to know. He wouldn’t bear it either way – if Nathan pushed him away he wouldn’t know how to deal with the loss and if he didn’t, if he pulled him closer and kissed him back like Peter has seen Nathan kiss dozens of women in the past, he’d never have the strength to go back.

It’s selfish, he knows, to let his past self deal with the consequence of his act but in a way he is just as guilty as Peter. And maybe, just maybe, he’s done them both a favour.

“Don’t die,” Peter whispers to him, and his bother’s shell-shocked face is the last thing he sees before closing his eyes and transporting himself back to his own time.

---

The sun is shining and he can feel it on his face but he keeps his eyes firmly closed, almost afraid of what he’ll see when he opens them. So many possibilities, so many futures… But already his memories of dark times are fading, replaced by new ones he can’t make sense of quite yet, and then…

“Peter?”

Nathan’s voice, and everything is as it should be.