Spoilers: Season 1 up until episode 7, “Nothing To Hide”.
Summary: He wanted it all and somehow he got that wish. However difficult it is to live with, he will; he can't give either of them up. Nathan/Heidi and Nathan/Niki.
Authors Notes: This was written for comeon_eileen as part of Heroes Holidays, though I am woefully over a whole month late with it – no more signing up for ficathons for me, until I can be ontime :face!palm:. Anyway, request was Natha/Niki secret affair continued but it turned out to have Nathan/Heidi included, too, because I couldn't deal with one without the other. As for setting, pick whenever you like, it's not got any references to anything past Niki ringing him up on the day of the brunch, and even that is very vaguely linked. Thanks to fanwoman for her wonderful betaing on this.
Nathan Petrelli knows adultery is wrong. The voting public thinks it's wrong, hence, it's more than a little ill-advised for him to engage in it as a candidate – his chances for winning the election would be wiped out if it anyone found out. Everything he knows tells him it's not worth sacrificing for what little pleasure he ekes out of his time with Niki. Even more significant is the fact he loves his wife, and he doesn't want to hurt her any more than he already has. But Nathan isn’t having sex with someone he’d only just met…or rather, Nate isn’t.
She calls him that whenever she rings up. “Nate” rolls off her tongue, sweet and smooth. It’s a pet name he wouldn't tolerate from any one else, not that she’s aware of that detail. Heidi could have called him Nate, if she’d wanted, only that's something that simply wouldn't happen, would never even come up.
Nate, not Nathan. Somehow, it's a distinction that helps. While he makes love to Niki, he is himself, not a politician or a cheating husband. Nate is the one who flies free and lives a little. Nate is the boy he could never let himself be, having always striven to be as mature as possible.
Nathan is the one who breaks Niki's heart when she calls. She's always self-assured when he sees her - when Nate sees hers - but she sounds broken whenever he hears her on the phone, her voice desperate, begging for his help, for reassurances he can’t give. He knows she's in trouble; that's how the whole thing started. She was blackmailed into his bed—both of them puppets on the strings Linderman manipulates. Although he likes to think Niki is a good woman who stumbled into unfortunate circumstances, she’s involved with Linderman; and with Linderman, trouble is a given.
Nate despises the politics, but of course Nathan thrives on it, stomaching the worst in order to get to the part that's actually important – making a difference. Yet his politician front is no less a lie than Linderman's businessman one, in fact they're similar really, despite his background and good intentions. There's no avoiding the truth that those around them get sucked into a web of deceit, money and power that breeds a variety of vices —ambition being the worst of the lot. You don't get to the top by being exactly who you are and doing what you want, no matter how much Nate might wish it. Success is achieved only partially on your own merits – there's a price to pay, selling out in order to secure donations, votes and, most importantly, the overall approval both need.
So, if anything, he'd say Nathan has corrupted her, not vice versa. He thinks that, in private moments at least, he should stop this thing they have, and that's why he often rejects her calls, diverts to them voicemail. There’s more to it than the practicality of not giving his wife reason to wonder. Yet, paradoxically, he can never believe he's bad for Niki when he's with her in person because then he's another man - changed, true. When they’re together, the lies are dropped; he unmasks himself in front of her.
However much he hurts her as Nathan, the spiteful distant man who betrays both wife and mistress, making it up as Nate seems easy, though doing so comes later, because, naturally, his family comes first. He's sure she'd feel the same way about her own. Even if he says no to her, he finds, after a sleepless night, the answer is ultimately yes. They get together, and they take all the pain away, becoming themselves, however briefly. He likes the simple truth of being with Niki, but he's aware that he's developing an odd coping mechanism for what he's doing. Nate versus Nathan, two sides of one person, competing for time in control.
He imagines what advice Peter would give and finds it's ironically fitting – a cryptic “follow your heart.” But his heart wants to take him in more than one direction. For most people, there would be one path taken, but he had never decided either way. Instead, this double life evolved on its own through his indecision, creating a reality that may conflict his conscience but his mind seems quite capable of handling.
Nathan loves Heidi, perhaps too much, judging by his suffocating guilt.
Nate adores Niki. He can't give her up, and yet he can't leave everything to be with her. Of course, she never asks for that, no ultimatums. He's not even sure if she'd want to be with him. He's quite aware he’s at a major disadvantage, falling for someone who has a family. Momentarily, when he thinks such things, he forgets he has one, too. That part of being Nate scares him, the ease with which his responsibilities are slipped off his shoulders with little care for what they mean, forgetting the fact that not all responsibilities – like marriage, family, leadership – are undesirable. For Nate, there is no distinction between responsibility and burdens; he wants to fly, nothing tying him down. Perhaps the only thing he, as Nate, cares for more than his freedom is love. But that is not enough to break away and face being Nate, because then Nathan would have to hurt the others he loves, his family.
Some would say he has it all: devoted wife, loving family, beautiful mistress. In reality, he has nothing; he’s just trying to survive in a fractured life. Each broken piece is separated by his psyche into a more manageable form, and what he ends up with is a struggle for dominance. Neither Nathan or Nate is perfect on their own, nor can they be consoled into a whole.
He flits from one to the other, leaving himself forever half-empty, lacking what he needs. Not all opposites are complimentary. In neither life is he free from the other's constraints, and neither will satisfy if he were to choose. Choice would be his downfall, causing the precarious worlds to topple. Right now, they clash, strikingly so where the two worlds nearly meet, but they are balanced neatly most of the time.
This is how it is for Nathan, and for Nate; it's clear-cut in principal but messy in those moments of transition, when it's hard to tell who's who and where loyalties lay. One minute, he's the doting parent, smiling at Heidi as she watches him play with their sons. A few hours later, he's entirely changed, feeling physically different in an indescribable way; then he's the sweaty lover in a hotel room, heart still racing in the aftermath as he listens to Niki whisper “I love you.” It gets confusing to be divided as he is, however, keeping the status quo is the one thing both Nathan and Nate agree on.
For now, their lives are blissful, at least when they ignore the other half. He doesn't suppose it's any different than the wool he pulls over the public’s eyes about who he really is and what he does, where he gets his money from. What's exceptional is having to do it to himself just to get by. The realisation is that love is more powerful than he'd bargained for, because he does this for love, to maintain both the new passion for Niki and the long-lasting devotion to Heidi. It's crazy, crazier than most things done for love, and more surprisingly, it wins over everything else he thought had mattered to him.
He’s risking his safe, comfortable life and successful career. To lose them would mean facing divorce and alienation from those he's dedicated to - Heidi and the kids, Peter and Mom, not to mention the people he wants to work for when he's elected. The list of what's forfeited if this crashes goes on and on - all to live another that excites him more. But he's not giving up on what he has - Nathan truly is having his cake and eating it, gorging himself unhealthily. For once in his life, he finds himself genuinely smiling out of the blue. Happiness, however short-lived and conflicted in it's origins, is worth the strain on his heart.