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At first, taking care of Peter’s easy.

Easy is telling her mother she’s going to go visit the manatees for some field research with Zach, but manatees don’t live at the bus depot. Zach tells her “just ‘cause you’re invincible doesn’t mean you can’t be hurt,” and she looks at Zach suspiciously and says “actually, that’s exactly what it means” and pretends she doesn’t know what he’s talking about until he changes the subject by telling her to bring him back a present, perhaps a nice stuffed bear.

And before she knows it Peter’s swinging open his apartment door, smiling wanly around a hacking cough that starts to disappear as soon as Claire lays her hand on his (admittedly muscular, wow) forearm. She smiles her best shy-cheerleader half-smile and says “So, you’re not alone anymore…” even as he ushers her into the apartment.

They fall into a routine. Claire bakes a lot, remembering a time when her mom (the one she grew up with, not the one whose DNA she shares) wasn’t perforated, all those pieces missing. Isaac drops by sometimes and makes jokes about bake sales. Peter comes in, night after night, broken, the optimism that Claire remembers as being so bright in Odessa now fading, translucent like his skin sometimes goes. But it’s easy to restore, burning bright on the fuel of cookies, cupcakes, and brownies.

Claire burns, too. It feels good, the appreciation in his eyes when she gets him a glass of water or how he breathes in deep the scent of brownies. Sometimes she thinks she sees him looking not exactly at her face. It lights her skin on fire, makes her think of how her momma (the biological one, not the one who raised her) must’ve felt some night eighteen years ago. She wants, wants to brush his bangs out of his face, wants to kiss him hard, wants him to want her to want to take care of him.

But as the days get longer, it gets harder. She burns hotter, keeps it locked up tight. It feels more like acid than fire. With a limited number of safe topics, they run out of small talk fast. When she tells him her real mom lights herself on fire, he asks if she’s seen it. “Well, no,” Claire says, puzzled. “She told me on the phone. But it makes sense. And why would she lie?”

“What about your dad?”

Claire shrugs. “One-night stand, spring break, her sophomore year of college. I guess I’m the one percent. Or the condom broke.”

After that, they stick to topics like Grey’s and the weather.

She learns the hard way that doin’ as her momma taught her (before she forgot how) and offering Mohinder iced tea and cookies when he’s come to talk business and science with Peter is about the worst thing she can do. It’s a different kind of burning, the embarrassment brought on by the icy exasperation in Peter’s eyes.

So she stays quiet. Pretends to be asleep or busy when Mohinder leaves and Peter sits on the couch, just sitting, hunched over, elbows on his knees and head in his hands. Bites her lip hard when she sees his shoulders shaking. And if she sometimes sees doors open and close on their own, well, she stays quiet about that, too. Doesn’t hear the noises that come from behind them—not the muffled thumps and gasps, not the English voice that isn’t Peter’s. Not the side she can hear of the phone conversations she knows he’s having with the brother whose smile flickers into the apartment when Claire turns on the TV.

Some days it feels as if she’s traded one glass tower for another, that coming to New York was a lateral move. It’s just another set of memories she’s not supposed to have, another heap of truths she’s not supposed to understand. But here, she might get hot enough inside to melt the walls.
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