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Chapter 1: Gift

by Viv

For Kattsu, la skippita friskita faery.


Peter Petrelli stared unblinking at the anteroom Christmas tree until his eyes burned. He’d been decorating ever since the rest of his family had gone to bed, hoping to surprise them in the morning and bring something like joy to this household. Setting out the decorations had been a little therapeutic for him, too. He’d been doing by hand all the things that technically he could cheat: lighting cinnamon-scented candles with a taper from the fireplace, fetching each bauble from the box rather than beckoning them from across the room, plugging in the ceramic village houses instead of just zapping them to life. But now he just stood there, looking up through the spruce branches and ethereal lights. In one hand he held a Swarovski crystal star. He’d left the ladder just next to the staircase. He’d need it to get the star up there on top. He would, unless...

He heard the doorbell chime and waited for someone else to fetch it. No one did. Asleep, then, he thought, and envied that ability to rest. The bell rang again, followed by a tap on the door. Still holding the star, Peter turned his back on the tree and went to the door. Carolers, maybe? This late, though? Most people had families and traditions to tend on Christmas Eve, after all.

Peter set the star on a claw-foot entry table and dusted his glitter-covered hands on his black jeans before peeking through the spy hole on the door. He frowned. Now what was he doing out on Christmas Eve? Peter lifted the chain and unbolted the deadlock.

“Parkman? What are you doing here? Is Molly...?”

Matt Parkman’s breath puffed a white cloud in front of his face, and he rubbed his gloved hands together. Peter hurriedly gestured him into the house. The anteroom of Angela Petrelli’s sleek Manhattan abode was hardly warmer than midwinter outside sometimes, but Peter at least bumped up the thermostat when he stayed here.

“Molly’s fine,” Matt said, shuffling into the house. “Mohinder is building a dollhouse ... er, thing for her right now, and we’ve convinced her that she won’t get anything if she peeks.”

A knowing grin replaced Peter’s surprised expression, and he offered with a gesture to take Parkman’s coat. Matt just shook his head, indicating a short visit. Weird, thought Peter, but he didn’t press.

“I tried to convince the boys the same thing, but they weren’t buying it,” Peter admitted. When Matt frowned slightly, Peter explained, “Heidi and ... her sons are here. We just thought it would be better for them this season, you know, to have family all around.”

“Right,” Matt said. “Yeah, I’ve thought about them some.” He didn’t elaborate, but Peter filled in the blanks as best he could. Nathan had said something, back in Odessa, about Matt’s father. Peter figured the hurt-puppy look on Matt’s face had something to do with that. And while Peter tried to figure out what all that had to do with Peter’s fatherless nephews on Christmas Eve, Matt visibly screwed up his determination.

“I, uh, want to give you a present,” said Matt abruptly. Peter looked down at Matt’s empty still-gloved hands and frowned.

“I don’t understand,” said Peter. “You know you don’t have to...”

“Just be still,” interrupted Matt. His speech was clipped, as if he was nervous about something. For a fleeting moment, Peter feared another world-ending catastrophe in the works, another desperate flight to somewhere to battle something that would excise his soul in some horrible way, but then Matt took a step toward him and said in his best comforting voice, “It won’t hurt. At least, I don’t think it will.”

Peter blinked, and his world blurred, changed, muted, and then roared back in vibrant color. Only now he was on top of the Deveaux building. Snow was falling, soft and white, like flecks of cool cotton candy. Peter knew in his logical mind that this could not be happening, but wow, he could feel that snow. It pricked his face with Christmas fingers.

He looked for Matt Parkman, but instead he saw, standing at the roof’s edge, Nathan.

“Nathan! You’re...” Peter began. His voice broke, and he reached out a hand.

“Yes,” said Nathan. It really was him: his voice, his pompous yet gentle smile. Nathan could school that smile, Peter knew, until it was slick enough for television, slick enough to garner endorsements and build political coalitions. Hell, slick enough probably to run the whole country. But the slick smile wasn’t the one Peter saw now; the smile beaming out of Nathan’s face was the real deal, not the polished façade. This was Nathan. Peter felt the now-familiar bulb of tears growing in his throat.

“But if you...”

Nathan held up a hand.

“Let me explain, Peter,” he said. “This...” he gestured to the rooftop and the air, “is not real. It feels real; it smells real. If you licked the concrete, it’d taste like concrete. If you punched it, your hand would hurt and you’d feel the blood. This is all built by the power of Matt’s mind. He can create an illusion so perfect that you wouldn’t know the difference if I didn’t tell you. Nice, isn’t it?”

Peter willed his emotions in check, but he couldn’t find his voice, even after swallowing a couple of times.

“I wanted you to know that I’m here all the time. Right here. And you can visit any time you want. Because you can come here, Peter. You can build this world, too.”

Peter felt a pressure on his head, above his left ear, and he didn’t fight it. “Gift,” whispered a voice right beside him. “It’s a gift.”

Peter blinked again, and the snowy rooftop disappeared, interlacing slowly with the somber décor of Angela Petrelli’s foyer.

Matt Parkman still stood, shifting his weight from foot to foot as though he was uncomfortable, beside the doorway. He flashed a tight, sad grin.

“It’s more than just reading people’s minds,” Matt Parkman said. “Just don’t, you know, stay there too long at a time.”

He didn’t wait for Peter to say anything; he let himself out the door and back into the snowy white night. Peter just stood for a long time, testing his eyes. One moment, the anteroom lit by warm holiday lights; the next a snowy rooftop lit by Nathan’s patient smile. Peter switched the scenes a few times to get comfortable with it.

Then he picked up the silvery star from the entry table, held it in both hands, and felt this feet leave the floor. Gravity dissolved; he floated. Shaking hands set the star atop his mother’s tree; Nathan smiled in his periphery. Peter closed his eyes and eased back down.

He no longer smelled the spruce or the cinnamon candles, and when he opened his eyes again, tears as cold as snow squeezed out.

“Thank you,” he whispered, “for the gift.”