get rid of you once and for all

r | domestic violence | psychological & emotional abuse

It was getting too cold. A glance at the clock told her she had been sitting there for almost half an hour. She turned the key in the ignition, cranked the heat all the way up.

She could just turn around and leave. Nobody would know. Diana felt bad, lying to Sigma, but there was no way he would let her do this. He wouldn't understand. She didn't really entirely understand why it was important to her. It wouldn't change anything. And she was ... happy.

It was strange, knowing she was only this happy because of the hell they had gone through with the Decision Game. Los Angeles was over five hours away from San Francisco by car, so even though she and Sigma had grown up in the same state, they probably never would have met. LA intimidated her; aside from visiting relatives in Germany twice and a few trips to Tijuana, he had kept close to home. She was five years older than him - physically - and travelled in such different social circles. Even if they had met, would he had given her a second glance? She was okay looking, but maybe not the kind of woman who would get his attention.

Owning a home in San Francisco was a dream she never thought she would be able to realize. She loved the city, and had spent more time than she would like to admit taking virtual tours of houses in the area. The payoff promised by the Dcom experiment was a fraud, but Akane had given her a substantial 'signing bonus' that Diana had almost been afraid to accept. She knew she wasn't going to be able to contribute enough to the cause to be able to properly earn it. The Crash Keys spoke in the language of espionage and the supernatural, and half the time, she couldn't keep up.

But with the bonus and the mortgage financed through the Kurashikis' bank for a ridiculously low interest rate, she and Sigma had just moved into the most beautiful home she had ever seen.

The car had warmed up, so she turned it off again. She found herself rubbing her finger where her wedding ring used to be.

They hadn't discussed marriage.

Diana had almost brought it up, their first night together. Sitting in his bed, wearing his shirt, eating ice cream, giggling when he "accidentally" dripped some on her thigh. He licked it off before taking the bowl out of her hand and pushing her back on the mattress. She thought about asking him when he began kissing her neck, before he remembered they were out of condoms and he hurriedly got dressed and dashed down to her room.

She liked the idea of a new ring on her finger, taking the place of the one that only held empty promises. But as much as they had rushed into physical intimacy, maybe it was best to take the rest slowly. He had transferred to UCSF almost immediately, to be closer to her, but they waited to move in together. And Sigma had never mentioned it. Maybe part of him thought she was turned off on the entire idea. Or maybe, even after everything, he wasn't ready. It didn't much matter. He was hers; she knew this.

And he'd be worried if he knew she was here.

She was running out of time, so she made her decision. Taking her car key off her keyring, she tucked the rest in the glove box, along with her wallet, minus her driver's license. She walked into the prison, part of her almost hoping he had taken her off his approved visitor list. But of course he hadn't. The guard told her if the dog detected anything, she'd either have to submit to a strip search or leave. The former was out of the question, but she passed, so it wasn't a problem.

The plastic chair was uncomfortable. The clear wall that stood between the visitors and the inmates seemed sturdy, and there were guards in the room, but she was still anxious. Was it really worth satisfying her curiosity?

Marcus smiled at her as he came in. He sat and picked up the phone handset; she took hers as if it was a snake that might bite her.

"Thanks for coming." His voice was soft. He had obviously been in a fight recently. There was a contusion on his forehead, maybe two or three days old, and a laceration on his cheek. Instead of his black hair coming down to his shoulders, he wore it in a buzz cut. One of his green eyes was red; a subconjunctival hemorrhage. Probably from the fight.

She thought of the concealer collection she used to have at home. Light coverage for her usual under eye circles, a combination of long hours and genetics. Then the heavier, full coverage creams to hide the bruises. Seven different brands. One for the 'this happened yesterday' bruises. Another for 'this was last week and it still hasn't faded'. Another for 'this one's barely noticeable now, but I want to cover it just in case'. She had never worn much makeup until her marriage. Use of concealer led her to get more creative with foundation, as well, and then she learned that eye makeup and lipstick could distract from any discolorations elsewhere on her face. She stuck to neutral, natural colors, but it was still nice to have someone comment that her beige eyeshadow was really pretty, or that coral color of lipstick looked good on her, instead of noticing the thick layer of concealer used to hide the maroon mark on her chin.

When they had moved into their home, Sigma found her sitting with her makeup bag at the dining room table. She was crying softly as she pulled out the bottles, the tubes, the jars. The 'cover up last night's beating' shade. The 'why won't this bruise fade already' color. The 'nothing else is working so this is my last resort' one. I can throw these away now, she had told him. I'll never need these again.

"I came to ask you a question." Diana managed to keep her voice steady.

"I've changed," he said, pressing his hand to the window.

Which was why she was here.

It seemed to happen overnight. He seemed like a serious, kind man while they were dating. He made her feel special. Diana had never been averse to dating - or sex - but she didn't have much of a social life while she was focused on her studies. Marcus had been her first serious relationship. She never saw the signs people warn about - he never tried to isolate her, never put her down. He didn't humiliate her or make jokes at her expense. He hadn't guilt tripped her or flirted with other women in front of her. And there hadn't been any signs of violence.

Maybe the problems at work just built up and broke him. Maybe it was when he started drinking. Maybe that just made his dark side emerge.

Except now that she knew about SHIFTing, she couldn't help but wonder if her Marcus had been sent to die in a universe where the violent, abusive Marcus came from - one where his bookie or his drinking buddies had killed him. Had her husband SHIFTed out of this world, leaving her with this other one?

Or maybe he had just fooled her while they were dating. Sigma had told her, once he became aware of the more supernatural elements of their world, it was tempting to see psychic phenomenon everywhere.

Diana wouldn't trade her life right now for anything. But if a good man died ... she had to know, even if there was nothing she could do about it. No way to have a funeral. Maybe ... maybe she'd find a church and light a candle. It didn't seem right, if he had been SHIFTed away to his death, that such a thing should happen without anyone acknowledging it.

"Do you remember the first time you hit me?"

The day he was fired, the day he was told if he didn't find a way to pay back the four thousand he'd stolen, they were going to have him arrested. Just two weeks after their wedding. He wanted her to take money out of her retirement account, even though she had just started it, even though that was almost the entire amount she had in there, even though there'd be a penalty. When she hadn't agreed right away, he shoved her down, kicked her. For better or worse, Diana. What part don't you understand? I took that money to pay for the wedding and for that honeymoon you wanted so badly. You owe me.

She had closed out the account the next day.

"I had been drinking. I wasn't myself. I've been sober since they put me in this place."

It wasn't as if she needed it, but it was a reminder that he hadn't changed at all. Since they put me in this place. As if him stabbing someone had nothing to do with it.

"Do you remember the day before? Or ... do you remember our honeymoon?"

Four days in Saint Croix, and she had practically lived in the water. In spite of liberal use of sunscreen, she came back with pink cheeks and burnt shoulders. She had loved every moment of it and thought it would be the start of a lifetime of wonderful memories. She never imagined things would start to fall apart before the end of the month.

"What part?" He winked at her. It made her stomach turn.

"When we got to the airport."

Marcus looked confused for a moment. But only a moment. "Someone tripped you. It was an accident. When you fell, the chain on that stupid necklace broke. The blue bird flew across the room and you crawled on the floor to get it before anyone stepped on it. You looked ridiculous."

She laughed, at the absurdity of the relief she felt. This was the same man she had dated, had married. No innocent had been ripped out of this timeline to die a horrible death. There was nobody to mourn. Not here, not now, anyway.

"Thank you," she said as she stood. "That was all I needed to know."

She replaced the phone, flinching when he slammed his fist on the glass. The guard on the inmates' side moved towards him. She turned her back on him for the last time, even as she heard him yelling.

"Fucking bitch, get back here! I can't go to trial with this piece of shit public defender! I need a real attorney!"

She held it together until she got back to the car. She pulled her phone out of the glove box when she heard the faint ding, peering at it through watery eyes as a text notification popped up.

Are you okay? I got a bad feeling all of a sudden.

This morphogenetic field stuff was going to take some getting used to. She had finally started to adjust to the fact that they could communicate telepathically, but she was over a hundred miles away, and Sigma could still sense she was upset?

I'm okay. I'll talk to you when I get home.

Then, after a moment, she typed:

Does this mean I can never plan surprise parties for you?

By the time she had put the key back on her keyring and slipped her license back in her wallet, he had replied.

YES. I hate surprise parties.

She laughed, causing the tears to finally fall.

Are you sure you're okay?

It was such a stark contrast. Sigma picked up a feeling from a telepathic field, and he was worrying about her. How many times had Marcus stood over her while she cried, aching and bloody, telling her how this was all her fault? How many times had he enjoyed watching her suffer?

She would speak to Sigma about this, tonight. He would be angry, would feel that she put herself in danger, would wish she had taken him with her. But she didn't for an instant have to fear his hands on her in anything but a loving way.

I am now. I'll be home probably the same time you are. Don't worry. I love you.

She cleaned up her face as best she could and began the long drive home. Thirty miles from the city, she drove past a church that looked almost the same as the one she attended as a child. At the next light, she did a U-turn.

The nave was thankfully empty as she entered. She wouldn't feel right making the sign of the cross as she went down the aisle. There were already a few glowing votive candles in the rack. She put five dollars in the donation box and glanced up at the image of the Virgin Mary.

When she lit the first candle, it wasn't for her ex-husband. She didn't have to think about him anymore. She lit one for Delta, instead. Then one for all the Phis that had died in other timelines, for the Sigmas, the Junpeis, the Akanes, all of them. For the six billion that had died because of her decision in another world, for the eight billion that would die if they failed. She kept going until there weren't any left without a flame.

Maybe Sigma was right, and there wasn't any higher being watching over them. Maybe they were on their own. Maybe praying was pointless.

In case it wasn't, she bowed her head.