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A Newtonian Co-Dependence

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It is an accidental discovery, not quite up there with Ben Franklin and his kite-born serendipity, but it certainly changes Peter's life. He is seven, and his parents have gone off for the afternoon, some charity something, or maybe it's a political event. Details are not the forte of children, and all Peter really knows is that he's been left in the care of his older brother, who has resisted and complained and at last grudgingly given in. This is roughly the equivalent of winning the lottery in seven-year-old Peter Petrelli's world.

Peter waits perhaps a second after the door has closed on his parents before starting in about the park. Nathan gives in surprisingly easily, on the condition that Peter not bug him once they get there. Nathan brings his homework, and Peter runs off to the swings. Nathan bends over a history book while Peter flies up toward the sky and falls back to earth, again and again.

He arches his back, pumps his legs, forehead creased in concentration. Every visit to the playground, he's determined to go higher, and one day to travel full circle, looping the swing back around the top of the swing set, an accomplishment of such completeness, such perfection to his child's imagination that his heart beats faster at the mere notion of it. From the beginning, Peter's relationship to gravity has been off kilter, its hold on him not as sticky as it should be. It leaves him both obsessed with achieving escape velocity and terrified of flying off into nothing.

Mostly, obsession wins, and he digs deeper, strains harder, chuffing a breath and holding it, reaching, reaching…

"You're going to hurt yourself," Nathan says matter-of-factly, not glancing up from his book.

Peter ignores him. Ambition rattles around in the Petrelli DNA, and Peter has none of the practicality that keeps the rest of his family safely moored to earthly endeavors. He bites his lip and wracks his strength, and he's so high now the sky is a blue tilt across his vision, but his palms are damp with effort, and suddenly he's flying for real.

An instant later, he learns the hard reality of ground and the frailty of bone. There's a tremendous roaring in his ears that he really wishes would quiet down, because it's bad enough that his arm hurts. He doesn't realize that he's the one making that horrible wailing until Nathan has him safe in the circle of his arms. Nathan's expression is stern, but his touch is gentle as he smoothes the hair back from Peter's forehead, wipes away the wet from his cheeks, careful not to jostle Peter's broken arm. He keeps saying, his voice low and determined, "You're okay, Pete. You're okay."

It's here that Peter first feels it, even sniffling and miserable in the playground dirt, the lightness that comes with defying physics without any of the fear. Because Nathan has him, and Nathan says it's okay.

This is the first Peter understands of faith.

Maybe this would be the end of the story if Nathan didn't have his own issues with gravity, rather too prone to it, a weighty pull directing him step by step along a well-trampled path. It is only when he comes racing to Peter's rescue that he finds what he hasn't even realized he's been missing, a moment out of time when the careful game plan of his life loses all hold on him.

So Peter's broken arm becomes a bump on the head when a daredevil stunt goes wrong becomes three days of detention from fighting a schoolyard bully becomes a never-ending list of scrapes and jams and the occasional all-out trouble.

It's impossible to tell when it first turns sexual, although the first time they have sex Peter is in college. He has joined a student anti-nukes organization, and after only a few meetings, gets roped into participating in a protest at a local power plant. The day starts off light-heartedly enough, coffee and doughnuts passed around in the van on the way, the nostalgic smell of magic markers on the handmade signs, the high, bright sound of young voices all talking at once. Optimism dims sharply not long after they arrive, however. They walk in an orderly circle, holding their signs and chanting, for maybe twenty minutes before the cops show up. A voice blares from a bullhorn ordering them to disband, and before they can decide anything, everything goes to hell, way too fast, police in black riot gear storming at them.

Some kids scatter, and some fight back, and Peter just freezes, which will be all the more ironic later when he's charged with resisting arrest. The entire thing, really, is the world having a joke at his expense. Other kids in the group can rattle off facts about the dangers of nuclear energy, a fierceness in their eyes as they discuss proliferation, while Peter has a few vague and dreamy notions about a higher purpose and saving the world. Yet he's the one who ends up being dragged away in handcuffs like a posterboy for the cause.

"I can't believe you got into a fight with the police," Nathan says when he comes to get Peter out. "Do you have any idea how this is going to look for me?" This has been practically a mantra since he started working in the district attorney's office.

Not that this keeps Nathan from calling in a favor or two to get the charges dropped. "I can't keep bailing you out like this," he says sternly, the way he does every time. On the drive back to Peter's dorm, Nathan keeps his eyes on the road, letting his silence convey just how displeased he is.

Peter loses his patience once they reach his room. "Did it ever occur to you that maybe I'm not to blame here? Seriously, Nathan. Those cops came at us. We had a permit. They violated our rights!"

Nathan gets that little half smile that drives Peter insane, and he cups Peter's jaw in his hand, rubbing his thumb across Peter's lips. "You always have an excuse, don't you?"

How it goes from this to what it will become gets lost in the memory. Maybe it's Peter who starts it, who turns that gesture of his brother's control into anarchy, so simply, just by opening his mouth. Or maybe it's Nathan who's more tired than he knows of being earthbound and steps right up to the edge and then over it. What is clear is how it ends, with the door locked and chained, the two of them naked in Peter's narrow dorm bed, Nathan's breath all over Peter's skin, and the solid ground finally, finally beneath Peter's feet.

The next time Peter gets arrested, it's for something he believes in at least. The jail smells like rancid lard and stale piss, and the other inmates level looks at Peter as clear as words: Better say your prayers, boy. Texas isn't the place to be accused of trying to kill the homecoming queen. When Peter sees Nathan, relief lurches through him, and then when it's all a dream, a nightmare there at the end, it's more unsettling than any of the rest of it, falling and dying and...not.

So he doesn't quite trust it when real Nathan shows up, especially since he's dressed in dream Nathan's clothes. But then Nathan curtly grabs his arm and hustles him out of the police station, scared and pissed as hell, and that's too real to doubt.

"I saved a girl," Peter insists, his voice sounding small despite the majesty of his claim in the bottomless Texas night.

"Let's talk about it when we get home." Nathan's jaw is clenched.

There's a jet waiting for them at the airport, and Peter worries as he has so often lately where all this money is suddenly coming from. They settle into seats, and the plane takes off, and before Peter can even take a breath, Nathan is silencing him with a look. This lasts the entire trip, all the way to the door of Peter's apartment.

It's only when they're inside that Nathan slides his hand along Peter's cheek. "What were you thinking?"

"Save the cheerleader save the world," Peter says tiredly.

"Do you have any idea how stupid that sounds when you nearly got yourself killed?" Nathan pulls him into a hug, arms going fiercely around him.

"Yeah," he mumbles against Nathan's shoulder, "I really do."

Nathan presses a kiss to the top of his head. "Come on. Let's get you cleaned up." He walks Peter into the bathroom, heads for the antiseptic and bandages.

Peter shakes his head. "It's all healed. I told you. I got that girl's power when I touched her."

Nathan sighs heavily. "Fine. At least wash off all that—" He won't say the word blood, just turns his head.

Peter takes off his clothes, and Nathan doesn't look, as if he's making some kind of statement: This time I won't, this time will be different. Peter steps into the shower and closes his eyes as the hot water streams over him, keeps them closed so he won't see the dark red swirling down the drain. He startles when the shower curtain pulls back. Even though he knows what's coming, he's never quite prepared.

"Don't you fucking dare get yourself killed," Nathan mutters against the back of Peter's neck.

His brother's voice on his skin, and Peter's body reacts, he can't help it. Nathan works the soap between his hands, and then works his hands over Peter's body, arms and chest, legs and belly. Peter sucks in a breath, but there's never enough air. He's getting hard, and he can feel Nathan's cock against his hip, and then Nathan's slick fingers are sliding between his cheeks, washing, opening him. Peter presses back, demanding, and finally Nathan reaches around, puts his hand where they both want it. Peter cries out, because even though he knows this is coming too it's still, always, a surprise.

Peter's response sets Nathan off, always does, and Nathan whirls him around. Peter almost loses his footing on the wet porcelain, and Nathan catches him and grabs hold and kisses like he's starving, dying, falling, desperate.

They don't stop to dry off and soak the sheets when they land on Peter's bed, thrashing, tangling, kissing, pulling at each other. Nathan gets Peter on his back—this is always the same too, Nathan needs to see him while he fucks him—and Peter wonders if there's something wrong with him that he's always so eager to give it up to his brother. But then, Nathan starts to kiss down his body, and Peter pushes up on one elbow to watch as Nathan goes down on him. Nathan with his crisp white shirts and his political carefulness and his bottomless ambition, and Peter gets it suddenly: He's not the only one here lost to the larger forces.

Nathan sucks him, but doesn't suck him off, and Peter curses, not really like him, as Nathan fumbles around in the bedside drawer for lube and condoms. At the press of his brother's slick fingers inside, Peter opens his legs wider. Nathan mutters, "You want this. You fucking want this." Peter cants his hips and clenches his hands into fists in the sheets as Nathan enters him, because Nathan doesn't quite have it right. This is so much more than want.

The sex between them is the rare kind, fierce but not brief. Nathan slides his hands under Peter's back, his fingers pressing in as he pulls Peter up. The solidity of the bed lurches away; at least, that's the way it seems, although they are the ones moving. Peter wraps his legs around Nathan, digs his heels in hard. It's hard to find purchase in the air, so Nathan grips Peter's hips tightly enough to leave bruises and doesn't stop fucking. Peter comes first, in a mess all over them both, and Nathan soon follows, biting Peter's shoulder, just a little too hard.

Long after they float back down to earth, gravity still means nothing. Nathan doesn't throw on his pants and run back to his life of ordinary dust, and for the moment at least, Peter has no thoughts of saving the world. They linger in the damp wreck of the bed. Nathan strokes Peter's hair with that surprising gentleness of his and kisses and murmurs, "Don't scare me like that."

Later, denial will set in, and there will be the usual earnest promises: We shouldn't, and we can't, and we won't again. But for now, they are complementary forces, delicately balanced.