I'll Take the Long Way Home
Petra learns to live in a world without Bean. Sometimes the hardest thing is learning how to let go of the past, how to find your way forward. Peter/Petra, post Shadow of the Giant.
A/N: I recently re-read the Shadow series (reliving my childhood) and rediscovered my love for Petra and Peter, but Peter especially. He was such a complex character, and his development was tremendous – I loved watching him grow into a decent, capable leader in the end. But one thing I always wished we were shown more of was the development of the relationship between Petra and Peter.
What happens to Petra after Bean leaves? How could she even conceive of turning to Peter? This is my love story to them, imagining what might have happened afterward, because I want so much for them to be happy after everything they have gone through. Grateful to play in OSC's sandbox briefly; hope I didn't muck it up too much.
Every day, Peter comes to visit her children.
At first, Petra seethes, as she watches him talk and play with her kids, put them down for their naps, change their friggin' diapers, because what did he think he was playing at, who did he think he was – to come into her house, play with her kids, take on that role in their lives, especially when she hasn't been home in a year to do that for them herself – but soon, her anger gives way to a churning bitterness and resentment.
Because she hasn't been home in a year. Because her absence has meant missed birthdays, naptimes, and playtimes. It's meant a year lost of seeing Bella's curls and Julian's sweet, baby-smile, feeling the touch of Andrew's tiny hands or Ramón's soft little lips against her cheek; hearing Poke's delighted shriek of laughter.
The other side of her anger and bitterness, the side that tries to claw its way out of her chest every moment of every day, the side that peels away to reveal an empty, gaping, giant-size chasm, is the side she can't face; can't bear to think about or acknowledge or even peek at, because doing so would be accepting the truth that Bean and three of her children were gone, and she would never see them again. That she was now facing hours and days and weeks without them, a lifetime of eternity stretching out before her, without Bean by her side.
That despite the fact that she still has five of her children, she has never felt more alone or desolate.
If she lets herself face that side, it will consume her. So anger is good. Anger and resentment are manageable, understandable. And because she has no one to get angry at but herself, she gets angry at Peter.
"You don't need to come back to work for a while if you don't want to," he says offhandedly to her one afternoon as he places Bella in her crib for her nap. "Take some time off. Spend some time with these little guys. Obviously, I'd love to have your presence and input at some meetings if you're feeling up for it, but things with the FPE are progressing better than I hoped for right now."
Petra can only glare at him. "Oh, thank you for the time off, Mr. Hegemon. How magnanimous of you, giving me permission to visit with my own children, after I spent the past year covering your ass in Russia, while you were cozying up here with my kids playing house."
Peter glances at her quickly, and she can see the irritation on his face. "We've been over this, Petra. You had the option of coming home, many times. Yet you can't seem to stop blaming me for it."
"Doing your work, busting my ass for your cause. If I hadn't – if you didn't have Bean running around leading your stupid missions, putting his life at risk – we would've – I would've had more time–" Petra's voice breaks humiliatingly and she takes a few seconds to gather herself. "My kids know you when they don't even get to know their own father!"
She looks at Peter accusingly, trying to keep her voice level, trying to keep the slight hysterical tinge out of it. Peter looks back at her impassively.
"I understand how unfair that is, and how upsetting it must be. I don't have to come here anymore," he says at length. "I told you already that I won't come back unless you ask me to, and your kids are still young enough to forget me after a while."
Petra can't bring herself to meet his eyes and turns away to fuss over Andrew's blanket. "No," she replies brusquely. "I don't want to disrupt their lives. They're already used to a certain schedule, a routine."
She feels Peter's presence as he comes up behind her and reaches out a tentative hand to touch her shoulder. She shrugs it off dismissively, and Peter backs away a few steps.
"If you want to keep blaming me, that's ok," Peter says, gently, quietly. "If that's what helps, I don't mind. It's my fault, I wish I could have done more–"
Petra snorts derisively. "You arrogant oomay, still think the world revolves around you? Think now the title of Hegemon is no longer just a formality you can make or break the lives of my family at whim? You're damn right. You should have done more."
Petra whirls away from him, not willing him to see the cracks in her mask, the fury and helplessness warring across her face.
"I'm sorry I'm the one you got stuck with," Peter murmurs, after a long silence.
Petra doesn't respond, and she waits until she hears him walk out of the room.
Yes, she thinks. Me too.
Life in Ribeirão Preto is strange after so much time away. Even though this was her home for many years, the world has shifted on its axis since she left, and Petra spends a long time trying to regain her footing, reorient herself into the rhythm and cadence of daily life in the city. She had forgotten how carefree people could be here in this sunny, tropical little corner of the world. She had forgotten what that even meant.
The Delphiki house is full of light and laughter and life, with Ramón, Bella, Andrew, Poke and Julian scooting and tumbling around, Mr. and Mrs. Delphiki a constant presence in the other wing of the house Peter had built for them, and various friends and neighbors from the Hegemony compound frequently dropping by to visit. Even so, Petra feels inexplicably apart from all this, like a stranger observing her life from a clinical distance, wary and detached.
Petra knows how much of a fool she was to stay away from her children for so long, and she makes it a point now to spend every waking moment with them, learning their personalities and little quirks, memorizing every line of their tiny faces and smiles.
"Your mama's home," she tells them, over and over again. "You are my babies and I love you so much. I'm never leaving you again."
They gaze at her with wide, adoring eyes, tug on her clothes with endearing hands, pepper her face with sweet kisses. She watches them run and begin to form full sentences and explore the world around them, and feels something stirring inside her. The exhilaration and wonder of motherhood. The terror and joy of it.
These children were so precocious. So precious.
Petra doesn't think her and Bean's children are normal by any standards, even these five who didn't inherit Bean's genetic condition, but they are still of the age where they are breathtakingly innocent and trusting, not yet tainted by the responsibilities or betrayals of an unforgiving world. Unburdened by the weight of a monitor in the back of their necks, the knowledge that they might one day have to leave their mama to save the world from an alien race; unburdened by the desperate struggle to survive on the streets, fighting for every scrap of food.
Never, Petra vows to herself. My children will never have to go through what their mother and father had to, they will be raised with love and dignity and opportunity. Generation after generation, it was the same wish every parent made for their children: that they grow up to lead better lives, that they surpass the generation that came before.
I am part of the circle now, Petra realizes. The great web of life that Anton spoke to her and Bean of so many years ago, the lineage of human beings that stretches back into the far reaches of history and because of her and the rest of Ender's jeesh, will stretch forward, unending, into the future. I am just like everyone else, she comprehends. No better, no worse, no different. I want my babies to lead good, fulfilling lives. Grow up, fall in love, raise children of their own, be happy. Even without a father of their own.
So Petra wakes her five children up in the morning, changes diapers, feeds, bathes, and plays with them, puts them to bed and wakes up in the middle of the night to go to them when they cry.
The days pass in Ribeirão Preto, full of sunshine and the sounds of five pairs of little feet scurrying everywhere. Petra still has an aching, yawning hole deep in her heart, but the days keep bleeding into nights, nights bleeding into days. Somehow, life continues on.
Peter suggests creating a cenotaph for Bean.
"I know it's been a while since he…left, but I know he made one for Poke and Carlotta, and even Achilles, so it's only fitting that we honor him too."
Petra shakes her head. "He wouldn't want one. He wouldn't want people to make a big deal, he'd just want us all to go on with our lives."
She doesn't voice the adamant rebuttal that her husband isn't dead, he is flying through space somewhere, forever frozen at the age of 16. Building a memorial to him would only cement the reality that he was never coming back, was as good as dead to her. She didn't know if she could bear to face such an inescapable reminder of that fact.
"Petra," Peter cajoles patiently. "We need to do something for him. He needs to be remembered. Let me do this. This is something I can do."
Petra meets his eyes, sees the earnestness and intensity in them, and acquiesces. Peter is doing this as much for himself and everyone else as he is for me, she recognizes.
The ceremony, like the cenotaph, is simple and unassuming, the way Bean would have wanted it if he had wanted one. It is attended by the people who knew and loved Bean the best: the Delphikis and Nikolai, the Arkanians, the Wiggins, Graff, Suriyawong and some of the men Bean had trained in his original Thai strike force, Peter, Petra and her children.
The stone is plain and unadorned, and reads simply:
Giant in body and spirit
Beloved son, brother, husband and father.
There were three smaller stones nestled in the shadow of the main stone, small and unobtrusive, and at Petra's request they remained blank. Only she and a handful of others knew the names that belonged on those markers, and only she mourned for them every minute of every day.
The guests gather around Petra afterwards, offering words of comfort and support, and Petra accepts their condolences stiffly, graciously, trying to play the part of dutiful widow in mourning. Nikolai comes up and folds Petra into his embrace. She can feel the grief flowing through him, acute and visceral, and the private smile he gives her pierces straight through her chest somewhere, cutting into the façade she has carefully attempted to construct, because it's Bean she sees in that smile, those eyes, that nose – the resemblance between them has always been striking.
He kisses her cheek and whispers in her ear, "Always family now. Always my sister."
Petra clutches him tighter, tries to stop the pinpricks of tears from stinging her eyes.
Graff is the last to approach her, and he clasps her hand between his large ones.
"Nothing I say is going to make you feel any better. But I want you to know that we're going to look after Bean and your children. We're going to do everything we can for them, to make sure that they're able to return one day," Graff tells her. "I hope that, at least, can bring you some small measure of peace."
Empty promises, Petra wants to retort. You can't promise anything, you've never been able to. You took them away from me, broke up my family, put them on that starship and sent them out into the farthest corners of the galaxy, so how can I even look at you? We've been nothing but pawns in your game, cogs in your wheel, weapons in your arsenal since we were children, so how is this any different? How do I know you didn't send them off for some nefarious purpose of your own?
Except she doesn't voice any of this, only manages a terse nod. But Graff must see some of this in her face, because he looks at her for a long moment before he says, "Petra, we would never hurt you or Bean or any of your children. We can never repay our debt to you for saving the human race. But you know what I'm trying to do now. I'm trying to make sure your sacrifices weren't for nothing, that the legacy you created lives on."
Petra clenches her jaw. "Thank you for coming," she manages tersely, and attempts a feeble smile. From her peripheral vision she sees Peter approach them, halting a few paces away respectfully.
"You're going to be okay, Petra. You did more than anyone could ever hope for. You're one of the good ones." Graff clears his throat gruffly and releases her hand.
She watches him walk away to join the trickle of other guests leaving, noting the thinning, graying hair, the slight stoop to his walk since the last time she saw him. One of her children – Poke – starts wailing, and Petra's mother picks her up. She motions to Petra that they are heading back to the house, and Petra waves them on. She turns to face the cenotaph, and the world narrows to her and the smooth stone.
I miss you, Bean.
I miss my three babies.
I will never stop missing you and loving you and wanting to see your faces. Tell me how I do this without you. Tell me how I live a life without you beside me.
Petra listens to the sounds of the garden around her, the soft rustling of the wind through the trees, the chirping and chattering of birds in the air, the distant hum of traffic, but she does not hear the voice of her lost husband. She feels the walls around her heart start to crumble, collapsing on layer upon careful layer to expose the raw hole underneath, and then the dam breaks and she lets out a choking, gasping sob, which turns into another and another, and soon enough she can't stop, so she teeters there, tears streaming down her face, throat burning, body trembling uncontrollably.
Peter is somehow next to her, shoulder brushing against hers solidly, and instinctively she twists blindly towards him, fingers grasping his shirt, burying her face against his chest. He holds her the way he did when he read Bean's final letter to her.
Peter says nothing, simply supports her until her sobs start to subside.
"Thank you," she finally pulls herself together enough to hiccup.
He shrugs. "There's nothing to thank me for."
Petra sniffles, and wipes her eyes on his shirt, and Peter's arms tighten around her.
Petra hasn't forgotten Peter's admission when he read Bean's letter to her, that first day she returned to Ribeirão Preto. The quiet slip of "I love you" before the first words Bean had written. Except she still can't figure out if the words had been intended to comfort her, because Bean hadn't said them, or if they had been Peter's private confession to her.
Neither she nor Peter have alluded to it since. Petra catches Peter watching her sometimes, when he thinks she doesn't notice, an inscrutable expression on his face. But Petra pushes it to the back of her mind, files it away and ignores, because this is Peter Wiggin, Hegemon of half the population of Earth, founder of the FPE, and one of the most arrogant, cold and calculating bastards she has ever known. There was too much history there. Who knew what he was thinking? She didn't have the capacity or inclination to figure out what went through Peter's head; she had her hands and heart full mourning a lost husband and three children and raising five demanding other ones.
She's outside sitting in her backyard one night after dinner, looking up at a star-strewn sky and listening to Peter say his goodbyes to the Delphikis, when he walks out of the house and joins her on the bench.
"There's something I wanted to talk to you about that I didn't bring up at dinner," he starts without preamble. "I haven't exactly gotten around to officially replacing Bean's position as leader of the FPE armed forces. I'm in the process of creating a defense ministry, and I need someone to head it up. I want you to do it."
Petra is momentarily taken aback. "Weren't you telling me a couple of months ago that you didn't need me, that I should spend time with my kids–"
"This wouldn't be for another few months," Peter interrupts. "We're still setting things in motion. It'll be there for you whenever you're ready."
Petra shakes her head. "Sorry, Peter, but I respectfully decline. My life is here, raising these babies right now. I'm done with military work."
"You don't seriously mean that, do you?" Peter asks. "It's a great opportunity, and I think we could discuss flexibility, so that you could have time to do both –"
"No," Petra interrupts him firmly. "I told you, I'm done."
Peter glances at her skeptically. "Petra, you're the only one I'd consider for the job."
"Kuso," she snaps, annoyance creeping into her voice. "I'm not the only qualified candidate. You just want me back under your thumb again."
"In case you haven't noticed, I'm trying to achieve a world order of peace and prosperity here?" Peter replies, exasperated. "So I need the best and the brightest? You should be flattered I'm even asking."
"Ask Suriyawong. He'd jump at the chance."
"Suri's excellent, but he's not you."
Petra rolls her eyes. "So now that Bean's no longer here, I just happen to be a convenient backup to fill his shoes."
"You know that's not it. Why do you have to make everything so difficult?" Peter snipes. "I thought you'd be itching to get back to where the action is. Isn't that what they tested you for in Battle School? Off-the-charts aggressiveness for a girl? A compulsive desire to play the game?"
Leave it to Peter to get another jibe in about Battle School, Petra thinks wryly. Still bitter he's not part of the club. Overcompensating.
But the thing is, she'd be lying if she said a part of her wasn't itching to get back to a position where she could be planning, strategizing, outmaneuvering her enemies, leading troops into battle. Those traits that got her into Battle School as a child – the aggressiveness, the competitiveness, the driving desire to win at all costs – those didn't go away as an adult, only got pushed behind layers of responsibilities. But then Petra thinks of the five children sound asleep in their cribs at the moment, and that itch in her diminishes, receding furtively into the background.
"Has it ever occurred to you that there might be more to life than warmongering and playing with nations like they're building blocks?" Petra asks. "I'm a mother now. Haven't I sacrificed enough to you and your cause?"
Peter looks at her for a quiet moment, an indecipherable expression flitting across his face. "I know there's more to life. I'm doing what I'm doing so that everyone on this planet will be able to have the chance to find that out for themselves, without war and starvation and the threat of death hanging over their heads. So that their children will have the freedom to pursue better lives. And I really think I could do that so much better with your help."
She hadn't expected a serious answer from him.
"Who knew the Hegemon of Earth was such an idealist," Petra grumbles under her breath.
Peter flashes her his best Hegemon grin. "I'm asking you to consider it. Sleep on it. Give me some credit here – I'm not demanding or ordering."
"Didn't sound like it."
"Petra," Peter's voice takes on a lower octave, suddenly serious and somber. "If you decide you really don't want to do this, I'm not going to force you. I'll even try to understand your reasons."
"And if I decide to take my children and leave Ribeirão Preto, get as far away from you and anything Hegemony-related as possible – you're telling me you're not going to sic your guard dogs after us?" Petra intends it as a joke, as a last sarcastic quip, but the strange intensity in Peter's eyes startles her.
"No," he says. "How could you think that? Who do you think I am?"
It's the barely-there hitch in his voice, the clench of his jaw, that hits her unexpectedly.
"You would let us go, just like that?"
Peter closes his eyes briefly before he responds. "If that's really what you wanted. Of course I would."
The truth of what he's saying inexplicably bowls Petra over, leaves her reeling. Because she knows, as certain as she's ever been of anything, that Peter loves her. That those three words he uttered to her so many months ago had been his quiet declaration to her.
Petra sits there beside him, breathing shallow, mind racing, her heart lurching peculiarly. She closes her eyes and tries to steady the rhythm of her breaths, deep and easy, before reaching over and resting her hand lightly over his.
"I'm not saying no. But I can't make this decision right now."
Peter looks at her in the darkness, his profile illuminated faintly by the muted glow of starlight, and nods. "Okay," he says softly. "Just think about it."
He squeezes her fingers briefly, once, twice, before he gets up to leave.
Bella gets sick, and she passes the bug on to her siblings. For a week, Petra drags herself out of bed at all hours of the night to nurse bawling, finicky toddlers.
By Sunday afternoon she has run herself to the bone, and slips into her room to catch an hour or two of sleep after the kids have been put down for their naps. When she wakes up, it is late afternoon, the dusky sunshine streaming through her windows casting dappled shadows across her bedspread. She gets up and pads down the hallway to Andrew and Bella's room, stopping unobtrusively by the doorframe.
Peter is there, sitting on the rocking chair with Bella on his lap, reading to her from a worn book, some silly story about a family of bears. Curled into him, Bella is fixated on the glossy, vibrant images, stopping him on every picture as he patiently turns the pages for her.
"Brother likes to run," she points to Andrew in his crib, fast asleep on his stomach. "Sister likes books," she points to herself. "Bears are just like us!"
Peter smiles down at her. "Not quite like us, but I suppose these ones are pretty similar, huh?"
Bella turns to the next page and giggles. "Mama kisses cubs goodnight, and daddy reads bedtime story." She points to him. "Daddy like you."
Petra's breath catches in her throat, and for one awful, reckless second, she wants to rush into the room and snatch Bella out of Peter's lap. Except a part of her registers Peter's momentary stillness, and she watches as he gently encases Bella's hand in his large one.
"No, Bella," he shakes his head lightly. "Not like me. Your father is no longer here with us, but he would have been right here with you, if he could. He would have wanted to read you this himself." He points to the book. "I'm just the guy who flips the pages for you."
Bella listens to him contentedly, and she yawns widely before mumbling, "Petwer." Her eyelids droop slowly.
"That's right. I'm Peter." He gazes down at the sleepy toddler and picks her up carefully. "Looks like someone needs her beauty sleep so she can get better." Peter tucks her back into her crib, smoothing the covers tenderly over her.
Petra shifts from the door, and Peter looks up, startled, meeting her eyes.
Petra feels a brief jolt to her gut, a quick thrill of awareness and anticipation skating up her spine. I could love this man, she thinks in that quick flash. Whoever he is, I could love him and the way he takes care of my children, how gentle and patient he is with them, how different he is from the man I've known outside these walls. That man is, more often than not, callous and cold, but this man I see here can be a good father, a good husband.
Immediately, that thought is replaced with a wave of immeasurable guilt and shame, an acrid, quiet desperation cloying the back of her throat. She motions faintly to Peter, and he follows her out to the hallway and into the empty kitchen, where Petra whirls on him.
"You are not their father," she tells him, trying to keep her voice steady. "You are not going to replace him."
"Petra," Peter says evenly, "Don't you think I know that? I'm not trying to take his place."
"I don't know what you're playing at here, but you're confusing them, and messing with their heads, and setting unreasonable expectations–"
"Don't you think you're being a little irrational and unfair here?" Peter asks, voice still calm.
"Unfair!" Petra erupts. "How is any of this fair? After everything that's happened, you think I'm being unfair to you?"
"How much longer is it going to be until you trust me? We've only known each other for, oh you know, a couple years or so now. Saved the world together a few times."
Petra bristles. "You are not – and will never be – Bean," she hisses.
Peter winces, and his eyes turn hard. "Yes," he says coldly. "A fact you like to remind me of constantly."
"A fact you seem to forget."
"Has it ever occurred to you that after all this time, I might love your children too?" Peter twists away from her, but not before Petra glimpses the glint of wetness in his eyes, and it's that which stops her cold. Peter Wiggin, crying? The incongruousness of it rattles her.
"I'm their mother and I'm trying to protect them," she proceeds slowly, "From people who might hurt them."
"From me?" Peter chokes out, incredulously. "If you think for one second that I would harm–"
"From people who might take advantage of them. People who might want things from them, the way they wanted things from me and Bean when we were children."
Peter shakes his head vehemently. "I love those brats of yours, and you're dumber than I thought if you don't know by now that I would do anything to protect them, and you." He glances at her, anger and indecision flickering across his face, then says resolutely, "And there's only one thing I want."
Peter closes the distance between them swiftly, grabs her chin and kisses her. His kiss is hard and rough and a little bit desperate, as if he's been thinking about this for a while, as if he knows it might be the first and last time, and Petra is so stunned she's kissing him back instinctively, before she manages to get her hands between them and pushes him away.
"Peter," she gasps, "Don't."
Except she can't ignore the way her body is responding, skin humming, blood singing, stomach clenching.
"I think you should go," she says, crossing her arms over her chest defensively.
Peter only looks at her, breathing hard, eyes inscrutable.
"Goodbye, Petra," he finally says roughly, and pushes his way out of the back door. Petra sinks down onto a kitchen chair, hand over her lips.
Peter leaves for a two week diplomatic mission, and Petra can't say she isn't glad for the distance, the space to work out her emotions, figure out what the next step is.
She realizes she's not angry with him, but rather sad and confused and wistful that things had suddenly gotten so complicated. She misses the days when she knew Peter as a conceited, selfish asshole who thought he knew better than anyone else. She knew what to make of that Peter, knew how to deal with him.
This Peter keeps surprising her with the different sides he reveals to her, the depths of his feelings for her. If there's one thing Petra hates, it's being blindsided, and the tactician inside her analyzes and dissects, trying to figure out ulterior motives and angles, questioning how she could have misread him so wrongly, wondering when he had changed so much, or if this had always been a part of who he was – that there was a compassionate, sensitive part of himself he kept hidden deep inside.
Maybe this Peter was surprising even himself.
The thing is, this part of Peter she's seeing reminds her of Ender – the boy commander she revered and idolized, the one she fought for and gave her all to, the one she would have followed off a cliff or into the farthest reaches of space as a girl, the one she was shamed in front of – and that knowledge terrifies her. Because Peter is not Ender; Peter has spent his entire life trying to repudiate his connection to his younger brother, to clamber out from beneath his shadow and build his own, more powerful legacy, and Petra has spent half her life trying to leave Ender behind and struggling to figure out who she is and where she belongs in a post-Ender world.
Maybe what terrifies her is not how much she loved Ender, but knowing there is a possibility she might be capable of loving his older brother even more. Knowing that she might one day leave Bean behind.
But she can't – won't – refuses to go there. Because it's the ultimate betrayal, a broken vow, a piercing knife in her heart she can't pull back out. Her husband is dead, by all accounts, but she's the one stuck in time, clinging on to a promise from the past, a childhood she's long outgrown.
Peter doesn't tell her when he arrives back in Ribeirão Preto, but Petra knows he's back because she hacked into his assistant's email for a copy of his schedule. Plus, the lights are on in his office. It's late at night and all the Hegemony staff have gone home, so Petra marches through the compound unhindered and no one stops her as she barges into Peter's office.
His Hegemon office is simple and tastefully decorated, and she finds Peter lounging back in his chair, long legs propped up on the table, frowning down at the contents displayed on his desk.
"I need to ask you something," Petra announces as she hoists herself up on the table, settling herself across from him, her legs dangling insouciantly over the side.
Peter masks his surprise well and puts down his desk. "Hello to you too, and please, do just waltz in here, make yourself at home. Where's my assistant?"
"Gone," Petra waves her hand dismissively. "It's past eleven."
"What do I pay these people for," Peter grumbles, then scowls at her. "What do you want, Petra?"
"You didn't tell me when you were coming home."
"I'm sorry, I thought you made it clear that you had no interest in Hegemony affairs anymore, much less anything to do with little ol' me."
"Stop being petulant, Peter," scoffs Petra. "Just because I rebuffed your advances, which I'm sure is not the first time a woman has done that to you. In fact, I'm sure you have quite a track record going."
Peter rolls his eyes. "Seriously, Petra. What do you want?"
Petra swallows, and asks bluntly, "If Bean were still here. Would you have done anything?"
She sees the comprehension in his eyes, but he studies her critically for a minute, then sighs. "I was wrong. Turns out your opinion of me can sink to new lows."
Petra ignores him. "If he were here, would you have told me?" she presses.
Peter rubs a hand across his face tiredly. "Bean is the reason I have everything I have today. I owe him everything," he explains slowly, as if it were obvious. "I know you think I'm some kind of oomay asshole, but my answer is no, of course I wouldn't have told you; I would never have done or said anything because I'm not blind, anyone with eyes could see how happy the two of you were. I would have skulked in the corner forever and turned into creepy Uncle Peter that you told your kids to avoid."
Unbidden, Petra's lips twitch. "Don't flatter yourself. You would have turned into Lecherous Uncle Peter that dated women twenty years younger than himself to fill that empty void, and I would never let my daughters near you."
"Or that," Peter agrees. "Maybe starting in my 40's."
They stare at each other for a beat, then share a small smile.
"How long have you known?" Petra asks softly. "About me?"
"Long enough," Peter shrugs. "It doesn't matter."
"It matters to me," Petra insists. "Please."
Peter exhales deeply, and regards her contemplatively before answering. "I've been doing this, playing with world affairs, focused on getting into this position of influence since I was a kid. It hasn't exactly left much time for dating. There've been a few girls I met here and there, but I never really cared…about that stuff. Wasn't exactly on my list of priorities."
He looks up at her and smirks. "As much as she hated me, I grew up with Valentine as my standard which I measured every girl I met against. So you can imagine exactly what kind of bar it was to measure up to. Then I met you. And you constantly challenged me on everything, told me straight up what a little oomay I was, kicked my ass, gave me no quarter. I'd never met anyone more infuriating. It took me a while, but once I got my head out of my ass I realized I'd never met anyone like you, and by that time I was already in pretty deep. But you and Bean were happy. So the best man won."
"Wow, I shudder to think how many brain cells you killed doing that kind of self-reflection," Petra quips.
"Oh you know me, full of surprises," Peter retorts, but in his eyes she reads uncertainty.
A part of Petra remains still, processing his words, marveling again at yet another side he's revealing to her. What it must have cost him to tell her this, opening himself up to such vulnerability.
"You must miss her very much," she says finally. "Valentine."
"I think she did the right thing," Peter answers evenly. "Ender needed her more than I ever did. She's much happier with him than with her conniving older brother."
"I don't think you are," Petra says lightly. "An oomay asshole, by the way."
Peter quirks an eyebrow at her. "That so?"
"No," Petra shakes her head. "You're still a little oomay, but to everyone's surprise you actually turned out to be a good, decent man, Peter. The world's lucky to have you as Hegemon. Don't sell yourself short."
"Petra," Peter begins, hesitantly. "Things have been weird between us–"
She cuts him off. "I can't, right now. There's no room in my heart. Do you understand?"
She holds Peter's gaze, and he swallows thickly.
"Yeah. I do," he replies.
"I think, one day, it might be different," Petra continues, weighing her words carefully. "If you'd like to, you could maybe stick around. Because I – and the kids – really love having you in our lives, despite what I say sometimes. But I'll understand if you don't. Because it wouldn't be fair to you, and I think there's someone better for you out there, someone who isn't fucked up and damaged and baggage-laden, someone who's ready to give you what you want."
Peter looks into her face for a long, quiet moment, then grins suddenly at her. "Petra, I'm Hegemon of Earth. Where am I possibly going to go?"
Hesitantly, she returns his smile, and shakes her head slightly at him.
"Think about it, Peter. Good night. I'll see you tomorrow."
In the weeks and months following, more nations vote to join the FPE, and nation by nation the Free People of Earth grows stronger and more unified. China, India, members of the former Muslim League, and the United States continue to drag their heels.
Petra receives a message from Peter one day, informing her abruptly that Han Tzu was flying into Ribeirão Preto. Thought you two might want to catch up, he writes.
Petra understands immediately. Han Tzu was leaving on a colony ship. The only reason he would be coming to see Peter was because it was his last message to the Chinese people, a final plea urging China to ratify the constitution of the FPE. Hot Soup was the latest in the line of Jeesh members choosing to leave Earth to head up a new colony world. News of more and more of her former teammates heading off for the stars has left Petra torn and conflicted. A part of her is happy for their new beginnings, envying their choice to leave the mess of Earth far behind, striking off for new adventures and fresh starts; a part of her gratified for what this means for the new world order the FPE is building and for Peter's plan, yet feeling guilty about feeling happy; another part of her wounded and lonely, feeling left behind and abandoned. The thought of being the last of Ender's Jeesh to remain on the planet is almost too unbearable to think about.
And always, always, a part of her missing Bean, thinking of him and her other children flying through the endless reaches of space, wondering what they were doing, how much time had passed for them.
Han Tzu meets her in the gardens of the Hegemony compound after his meeting with Peter, and immediately Petra is unequivocally glad to see him; immensely grateful to have this chance to see one of her childhood friends one last time, that this opportunity to say goodbye has not been taken from her.
He looks older and more worn, the lines on his face belying his still young age. It seems like a lifetime ago since she last saw him, during a foolhardy kidnapping in Russia, but empires have risen and fallen since then, wars have been waged and lost, and the world is now a different place. He sees her and his eyes light up, flashing her a wide grin, and in that boyish smile she can still see the boy she knew tumbling through null gravity in the Battle Room, the boy she sat next to day after day commanding starship fleets in a simulation they didn't know was real.
"Ho, Hot Soup," she calls out.
"Ho, Stone Girl." He reaches her and draws her impulsively into a hug, and Petra rests her face against his shoulder for a long minute.
"Hear you're a mommy now," Hot Soup jokes, releasing her. "See you didn't bother inviting me to the baby shower."
"See you're an emperor now," Petra retorts. "I did send an invitation, but clearly it wasn't important enough to make it past the Chinese censors."
Hot Soup chuckles. "Ex-emperor," he corrects. "Crown don't fit so well anymore. Look at us, such big boys and girls we grew up to be."
"You're leaving." Petra doesn't phrase it like a question.
Hot Soup shrugs. "I've done all I can do in China. Things are getting too boring for me here. Time to blow this joint."
Petra rolls her eyes. "So Uncle Graff whispers sweet nothings in your ear, you take him up on his offer of a free ride out of here."
"What can I say? Got a brand new world with my name on it. And a shiny spaceship to take me there. Hard to pass up. Besides, I can't let Alai or Dink of all people one-up me. I be running the best colony planet out there."
He smirks at her, and Petra snorts. "Can't believe I put up with you Jeeshboys for so long. Still as cocky and full of kuso as ever. Knew I was the only one with balls in that room."
He laughs, tugs a strand of her hair affectionately. "Look after Earth for me. Never in my wildest dreams imagined I'd be leaving this world in the hands of Peter Wiggin, but I figure you'll keep him in check, neh?"
"Eh. He grew up too," Petra replies, then murmurs softly, "Sometimes I wish I were going with you."
Hot Soup looks at her somberly.
"No. You don't," he says to her, in an uncharacteristic moment of seriousness. "Petra, I'm not leaving anything behind. There's nothing here for me anymore, and my staying would do more harm than good at this point. I want my people to have peace, to grow rich and fat and old, and the only way they can do that is if I'm gone. But you – you have your whole life ahead of you, right here. You're the one that got to have everything the rest of us didn't."
He smiles at her, sadly, bittersweetly, and Petra grabs hold of his hand tightly.
"Look after yourself. Be the best. Build the best world," she whispers to him fiercely.
"I'll miss you, Stone Girl," he whispers back. "You were always the best of us."
"No," Petra shakes her head. "Bean was."
"Yes, the most arrogant, insufferable eemo of us all. You always did have questionable taste." Hot Soup crinkles his eyes fondly, and Petra smiles back at him. They turn their heads to see Peter walking towards them, a uniformed Suriyawong flanking his side.
"Aircraft's waiting, Han," Peter calls. "My men are ready to escort you whenever you are."
Hot Soup looks back at Petra, leans in and presses a lingering kiss to her cheek. "Stay hungry, Petra."
"Stay hungrier," she tells him, fighting the lump in her throat, the ache in her heart.
Hot Soup faces Peter. "Take care of her," he nods towards Petra.
Peter returns the nod tersely. "I don't think she needs me to, but I'll try anyway."
Hot Soup gives them both the sloppy, exaggerated salute of a Battle school brat, and turns to follow Suriyawong.
Petra watches them until they turn a corner and she can't see them anymore, and angrily swipes the tears from her eyes.
There he goes, one of the last reminders of your old life. One of the last links to a childhood that's long gone. It doesn't hurt any less, does it, no matter how many times you go through this. You're going to be the only one left soon, and you need to stop looking behind you – make peace with your choices, make this life you're living yours.
No more tears, she promises herself. No more living stagnant, no more mourning what's lost and done. She thinks about her children, waiting at home for her, and then she thinks about Peter.
It's time to face the future now.
Petra takes Peter up on his job offer, and she becomes the new Minister of Defense of the FPE, helping him mold and shape not only the growing organization but this brand new, exhilarating world they're building. The work keeps her busier and more fulfilled than she could have imagined, and one day in the middle of a meeting with Peter and a group of councilmen from China, the newest ratified member of the FPE, she realizes she's actually happy.
After so many years of destruction and strife in the world, and having played such a large part in some of it, she is now helping to heal it, working together with Peter to achieve a greater goal, and she has the privilege of doing that beside her children, watching them grow up.
She didn't think she would ever feel this way again. The pain is still there, yes, the distant ache; but the wound has been cauterized, scabbed and smoothed over with layer upon layer carefully built over days and months and years. Bean and her three lost children are always there, etched perpetually in her heart and her soul, but Petra has finally found her road home. There is a way to move forward again, to feel whole. For the first time in almost as long as she can remember, Petra finds herself looking forward to the future.
A wave of intense gratitude sweeps over Petra, and she finds she's suddenly blinking back tears.
"Hey," Peter nudges her, looking concerned. "You okay?"
"Never better." Petra smiles at him, and tunes back into the meeting. She studies Peter as he deals with the Chinese firmly but equitably, bending to none of their demands but appearing as if to compromise, convincing them to accept his terms.
That manipulative, ruthless, arrogant side of Peter still exists, Petra notes as she observes him in action, but he's learned to temper it, to listen to his doubts and misgivings. She's watched him grow into a capable, skilled leader who wields power confidently and justly; watched him grow into a man driven by a strong moral compass, a man who loved her and her children.
He's grown up, she realizes, but hell, so have I. We've come a long way since the days we were children hiding behind aliases, playing a high stakes game of risk and trying to carve up pieces of the world. People do change and learn. And the understanding that you can keep growing, keep maturing and developing, even after you become an adult and have children of your own, sends a small quiver of exhilaration through her.
When Peter comes over for dinner that night, she waits until after he's read Ramón and Julian a bedtime story and the last of the children are put to bed. As he's opening the door to leave, as he's done nearly every night since she first returned to Ribeirão Preto, Petra grabs his hand, screws up her courage and leans up to kiss him, boldly, ardently.
Peter returns the kiss, hands looping tightly around her waist, and when she finally pulls away from him he looks at her with a mixture of disbelief and amazement. Petra smiles shyly at him and tugs his hand, leading him slowly to her bedroom. She can feel his brief second of hesitation and indecision before he follows her and she guides him onto her bed. Petra slides between his legs, cards her fingers through his hair and presses her mouth to his again, letting him know how ready she is, how happy, how much she wants this.
When they break apart and Peter opens his mouth to say something, Petra slips a finger against his lips.
"I'm making room for you," she says, entwining their fingers and pressing his hand over her heart, "Here. If you still want to."
Peter doesn't answer, simply grabs her hips and flips her onto the bed, and Petra laughs as he eagerly settles on top of her, seeing her own happiness reflected back in his eyes.
Later, much later, as Peter drifts to sleep cocooned around her, one hand splayed against her stomach, Petra hears his half-asleep murmur.
Yes, Petra thinks. I think I might love you, too.
A few months later, Petra wakes up in the middle of the night, listening intently. Peter stirs sleepily beside her.
"Who is it this time?" he asks groggily.
"Bella. I'll go get her." Petra climbs carefully out of bed and heads down the hallway to her crying daughter. Peter is sitting up when she brings Bella back into the bedroom a few minutes later, the little girl clinging tightly to her mother's hand.
"She had a nightmare. She's asking for her daddy." Petra looks directly at Peter.
Peter freezes, searching Petra's face for a long minute, then wordlessly reaches out his arms for Bella. Bella crawls into his lap and buries her face against his neck.
"Had a bad dream, daddy," she whimpers.
Peter runs a hand down her back soothingly. "It's okay, sweetie. I'm here now. Nothing's going to hurt you."
Petra bends down to kiss his cheek and Peter ducks his head against Bella's hair, hiding the sudden moisture in his eyes.
Later, when their little girl is asleep, cradled between them, Peter whispers, "Do you think you want to do this for real, someday?"
Petra opens her eyes. "This is real," she says.
Peter smiles softly. "I meant – do you think you would like being Mrs. Hegemon, someday?"
Petra pauses, looks back at him thoughtfully. "You know where to find me," she answers. "Look me up."