"I don't think I'll ever grow tired of that sound," Peter said, taking a seat on the chair next to hers. His drink of choice on this already hot morning was lemonade, probably spiked. Hers was iced tea, not spiked. Not even sweetened. She did put some lemon in it, though.
"Me neither," she smiled, as they watched the smallest ones play.
They sat in companionable silence as their great great grandchildren entertained their children. It was very odd for Claire still to this day to look in a mirror and appear no different than over one hundred years ago now. Peter appeared older, of course, because he was older when he'd gained Claire's ability.
"I'm glad they still like coming here."
"Me, too," Claire said.
Every summer everyone gathered here for most of the summer. Some stayed longer than others. Her only remaining daughter usually stayed well into the fall. She was widowed now and didn't seem to be in a hurry to have her time in her childhood home end before it absolutely had to. Claire loved those few weeks they had together just the two of them. Cherished them, knowing one day soon they'd end. Just like her days with Rene and her sons and daughter had.
"What are you two sitting out here talking about so quietly and away from everyone else?"
Claire rolled her eyes at Adam. She and Peter still weren't entirely sure they could trust him. Yet the three of them had built an odd life intertwined. Not necessarily together, though this home of Claire and Rene's was now the focal point of a compound where the three of them had their permanent homes. There were a few small, rather rudimentary cabins on the property to accommodate the ever-expanding amount of children. Long ago they had bought up the surrounding land so they'd have privacy and could do what they wanted with it. Peter had built his house first followed by Adam. The rest of the land remained wooded, remote, and private. Just the way they wanted it. No prying eyes. No one living next door, wondering why none of them looked any older year after year.
Here, Peter and Claire were able to see their families freely. As their spouses and their children had aged where Peter and Claire hadn't, it started getting odd to be out in public. Here they had everything they could need. A lake for swimming, boating, fishing, ice fishing, and snowmobiling. Vast amounts of land for children to play on, adults to hunt on. Years' worth of games, books, and toys were there for anyone to use.
"Nothing," Claire replied. "Just watching."
"Ah yes," he said, seeming to notice the littlest ones playing excitedly in the sandbox that had served them well for years now. "Evidence the Petrelli and Butler lines are continuing to propagate. But then, it's really just the Petrelli line, isn't it?"
Adam made no attempts over the years to hide his disdain for Claire and Peter's attempt at roots and normalcy. Real lives, cemented with family. Butler because while she and Rene had married she'd kept her name and given it to her children for their safety. If Rene was ever caught by The Company or one of its enemies he didn't want any obvious paper trail back to Claire and their family. Eventually, when his work was finished he'd legally changed his name so only their children and the two men sitting with her currently knew Rene had ever been anything but a Butler.
"Which are actually yours again? I find it so hard to keep track."
"Adam," Peter cautioned. He took Claire's hand and squeezed gently.
"They're all actually mine, Adam. I raised my children just the same as anyone else raises their children," Claire replied evenly.
The three of them knew that wasn't totally the case. There were direct, blood relations to her and Rene. They'd gone the surrogate route with one child, their oldest son, adopting three more. For whatever reason, Claire never got pregnant after Aimee. Their oldest son had three children who had nine children. Did Claire know who was who? Of course, but she didn't consider anyone any more or less hers and Rene's than the others. It just wasn't in them to care. Care enough to have one that was actually theirs, yes, but that was as far as it went. It was more important to Claire than it had been to him, wanting that ongoing, actual blood connection to him long after he had gone.
Peter, like Adam, could make children as Adam enjoyed needling her about sometimes. Not that he had children alive anymore. She wasn't even sure that he had any relatives left. He didn't seem to care really. Sometimes, though, despite his insensitive comments she saw something in his eyes that said he didn't think she and Peter were completely stupid to surround themselves with family. People who accepted them and their ability unconditionally and didn't treat them like freaks. A few of them had abilities of their own, but no one to this point had inherited Claire's. They never wanted anything from them. Oh sure, Claire and Peter had both used their blood to heal something faster than it would have on its own, but it wasn't something they did every day for a common scrape of the knee. A lacerated kidney from a football injury. A broken pelvis from a car accident. Adam had done it, too, when Claire or Peter weren't available right away and he happened to be. So, he cared in his own way. In a way, their families were the closest thing Adam had to one.
That didn't mean Trojan was going to be losing any business from Adam anytime soon. He'd made it abundantly clear that children just weren't for him. He enjoyed the making of them process, but not the rest of it. Not everyone was suited to be parents and at least he'd come to the conclusion a long time ago instead of populating the world for hundreds of years with young Adam and Eve's who he never saw again.
He kept coming here, too. He didn't have to come here during the summer when the families were congregating. From May to September it was a given that the property would be swarming with Petrelli's and Butler's. And somehow everyone always ended up at Claire's house and in her yard. Adam didn't have to come here, join in, share breakfast or dinner with them. Hers was by far the most kid-friendly house and yard, which was due to the fact that she continued to live here primarily where Adam and Peter came here to recuperate from their travels. Or to get away from a clingy woman who wanted more than either of them wanted to give.
"Tell me," Adam said, sitting on a third chair so Claire was seated in between the two men now.
"Yes?" she asked. He could have been talking to Peter, but Claire knew he wasn't.
"Do you regret it?"
"Regret what?" Claire asked.
"Building a life that would probably put a Rockwell painting to shame?"
"No," she said.
"Even though you had to watch him die?"
"Adam, I can't explain it. Clearly, it's something I wanted that you don't or can't do. We had over sixty years together. I have no regrets or complaints. I have so many memories in this house primarily but we saw the world together. He made sure I got my education so I can provide for not just myself but anyone else I may need to over the years. I loved him. I get that you can't fathom that emotion beyond your odd feelings for Peter and me. I wouldn't trade any of this for the life you have."
"Did he feel the same?"
She shrugged. They'd had their share of disagreements as he'd aged and Claire hadn't. They'd been more rooted by the court of public opinion eyeing their relationship with suspicion. It was hard not to look at him (and her him) and wonder why things were so unfair that he had to age when she didn't.
"Yes, Adam. He couldn't have lived any other way either."
"One day you will not be so lucky, you know. And you were lucky. Trust me."
"You will try again someday. You'll want that closeness you had with him, and it will be good for a while. Maybe you'll find another man who understands your ability as he so clearly did and won't have a problem with the fact you won't age or die. If you end up with one who has cancer or something like that, though, it won't be so fun."
"No," she said. "I'm not going to live like a hermit nor am I going to go to the extremes you do to avoid binding me to people. I'm going to continue living as he and I wanted to live. I have no plans on getting involved with anyone else to that extent again. I won't deny it didn't hurt, crush me, and that a part of me did in fact feel as though it died when he died. He wouldn't want me to live with regret or dwell on it, though. So, I don't. I have so much to be thankful for and as long as our family continues to come here I'm happiest."
He took a sip of his drink, a whiskey sour no doubt. It was going to be a hot one so neither of them had chosen coffee or tea as their wake-up drink.
"I believe you. I don't understand it, but I believe you."
Rene had mentioned more than once in their later years together that he wouldn't blame or fault her for eventually ending up with Adam, or Peter. She'd scoffed at that idea at first. Peter was a relative and that was just weird. She knew what he was getting at, though. She and Peter had their children and their families. Since Claire couldn't seem to have children, the relative thing didn't really matter. They loved one another, always had, there'd been an attraction there from the beginning and Rene knew it. Just how did someone approach that, though? She wasn't sure, and she was in no hurry to worry about it.
"Yes, Master David?"
"Can you show me again that trick with the sword you showed me yesterday?"
"You're teaching him how to use swords?" Peter asked. He sounded a little concerned, which made Claire chuckle. Adam didn't really know how to act around the younger kids, so of course he taught them what he was comfortable with. And what boy didn't like to pretend to do battle like the ones Adam had engaged in centuries ago.
"They're toys, Peter, I assure you. It's just a bit of showmanship to impress the ladies."
"Right, because that will ever come in handy!"
Claire stifled a laugh. She had no doubt even today those old-fashioned qualities rooted in centuries-old traditions Adam possessed did in fact come in handy with women.
"You never know, Peter, what the world will bring. We've come a long way, but there's nothing to say it won't come to a screeching halt and things like fighting with swords and on horseback won't be in style again."
He set his drink down and stood.
"Duty calls, it seems. Are we eating here tonight?"
"Of course," Claire said. When didn't they? Very rarely. There were just too many of them to go out to eat, but sometimes groups would go out when the mood struck them. No one ever had to worry about babysitting around here.
"See you then."
"I'm not sure I like this idea," Peter said as they watched Adam and young David walk towards Adam's house.
"He really does have fake ones, Peter. He keeps the real ones locked up or on display, out of reach."
"That's something at least," Peter said. He squeezed her hand lightly.
Some of the older kids were in the lake now. It was so odd to watch each generation grow from small to having lives and children of their own. Sadly, Claire and Peter never got to meet boyfriends or girlfriends until deep into an engagement. No one ever lied about who they were, but too soon in a relationship and it could send someone packing. Or to the tabloids.
"Drinks at Stowaway tonight?"
"Sounds great. Are you telling Adam?"
"He can find his own girl to unwind with."
"Agreed," Claire said, not sure how to take Peter's wording. It was just a word, but not one he used with her often. If ever that she could recall.
He rested their hands against his knee. She made no effort to move hers or let go of his. She liked the connection they had.
"I was thinking of heading to Sydney for a while after everyone's left."
"Yeah. Something to do."
"There's lots to do there."
"I'm sure there is, Peter. You don't have to justify yourself to me."
"Okay then," she said, confused.
"I was wondering if maybe you'd come with."
She glanced at him curiously.
"Yes, that's the general idea," he said with a laugh. "Is that a problem?"
"No, you just surprised me is all."
"Sure," she said.
"Great. I'll make all the arrangements then."
He stood then, winking at her once before heading inside with his and Adam's glass. He'd head home for a while. Even he seemed to grow tired of having everyone around after a while.
"What have you gotten yourself into?"
She wondered now what Peter and Rene had talked about over the years. Was there a reason her late husband had planted that seed in her mind?
She'd worry about that later. It was just a trip after all, they'd taken them together – even the three of them – over the years. It was nothing new.
For now, there were a couple of little girls begging her to build a sandcastle with them.
And while she'd denied it to Adam and would to anyone until she had no breath left (which obviously would never happen) – when one of her little girls, bound to her by the blood of her and Rene – asked her to do something she would move heaven and earth to give into their wishes.
Blood wasn't thicker than water; it was just an extra bonus, something to make her feel for a little while as if Rene was with her, watching her, enjoying her time with them as much as she was.
And she loved that feeling.
Info. on icons used for background:
The non-illustrated icon is courtesy of lay-of-luthien @ LJ. She's got some nice work, and did this and 4 others very quickly! The illustrated icon is courtesy of: julietbunny who gave me this in addition to some other great goodies for the Heroes_Holidays Spring Hiatus project.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com