r |major character death | disturbing contentchapter 1: momentum
She felt uneasy typing the X-Passes in, but she wasn't going to ask Sigma to do it. She had only known them for a few days, but some of these people were his friends. Part of her almost hoped it wouldn't work. If they worked, that meant that ... that seven people were really dead. At least ... at least she didn't have to use Phi's.
But after a moment, the door began to open.
"Um, are you sure...?"
"You're taking the word of that announcer earlier?" Sigma sounded ... more belligerent than certain, but she wanted so badly to believe him. "It's completely rubbish. All of it."
"Then everyone's alive?"
"Of course. We need to go get help..."
The clanking stopped.
"All right, let's go."
Their footsteps echoed in the hall. He stayed a few steps behind her, which maybe should have made her anxious - well, more anxious - but oddly didn't. They were silent as they boarded the elevator and he pressed the buttons to send it to the surface. An alarm blared and red lights flashed. It startled her and she reached for Sigma; he took her hand and squeezed it tightly.
"Don't worry. It's probably normal."
The elevator shook as it rose, so badly that it seemed like it might come loose and crash at any moment, but he was caressing the back of her hand with his thumb and it kept her from panicking. When it finally stopped climbing, her heart sunk. Despite Sigma's theorizing earlier that they were far away from Dcom, she had hoped that the elevator would come up inside the facility. At least then, they would have known where they were.
Instead, they were in the middle of a giant metal structure, and when they climbed up and over it, she couldn't see anything but desert and mountains.
She looked over at Sigma and saw him shaking. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I just forgot how cold a desert can get at night."
Without thinking she tugged at the sleeve of her sweater, getting her entire arm out before she stopped. He gave her an odd look and she felt her cheeks grow warm.
"I ... I was going to give you my sweater."
"I appreciate the thought, but I don't think it's my size."
His gaze travelled up and down her body and she shivered under the sudden attention.
"Looks like you need it more than I do, anyway. Come on. If we get moving, it'll warm us up."
She nodded, nervously rubbing her wrist. It was then that she realized something was missing.
"Sigma. Sigma, my bracelet's gone."
They looked behind them, and sure enough, both bracelets were on the ground by the elevator controls. Their wrists had red marks on them, probably from the injections, but otherwise seemed fine. Sigma couldn't stop staring at his arm, though, rubbing a thumb over the small red dots.
"Have you felt any odd symptoms, Diana?"
He wouldn't look her in the eye. "Like time is speeding up. Like I'm talking too quickly for you to understand what I'm saying. Like a desire to ... to hurt yourself. Or a fever, nausea, vomiting, change in appetite, anything like that."
"N-n-no. I ... Sigma?"
He clenched his fists and shook his head. "Neither have I. I ... I'm being paranoid."
"Sigma? You think we ... we're sick? With Radical-6?"
"No. Don't worry. We're going to be okay."
"Are you sure?"
He looked up then, putting his hands on her shoulders and squeezing gently. She knew she was horrible at hiding her emotions, so he could probably see her terror written all over her face. After a moment, he pulled her closer, wrapping his arms around her. His heart was pounding against his chest but it actually seemed to calm her. They were ... alive.
And hopefully so was everyone else. Sigma was right; they only had the word of a stranger to go on.
She reluctantly pulled away; it felt like he didn't particularly want to let go of her, either, but they had to get moving. The question was just ... where? It didn't look like they were anywhere near Dcom. The night sky was clear, so she searched for the Big Dipper, which he said would point to the North Star.
"Sigma, look. Is that ...?"
"It's ... it's beautiful."
"Yeah. It ... hey, do you see that?"
He pointed out to something far off in the distance. At first, she couldn't tell what he was trying to show her, but then she saw it.
"Are those headlights?"
"I think so. That might be our best chance. Do you think you can make it?"
"How far away do you think it is?"
"Maybe ... gah, Phi's better at this than I am. I ... I'm not sure. A mile, at least. Maybe two. I don't know."
Diana had never walked two miles in her life, but the mention of Phi renewed her determination. At least, as a nurse, she always made sure she wore comfortable shoes. She got the coasters and pen out of the back pocket of her skirt as Sigma took off his shoe and did his best to dig a large arrow in the ground. He grunted with exertion as he finished it off with a "NE" next to it. She dutifully recorded the direction on the coaster.
"Okay. My stride length should be two and a half feet, I think. When I hit a thousand feet, I'll let you know, and you write it down. It won't be perfect, but we'll be able to give the authorities a rough idea how far we travelled."
She nodded and retrieved the bottle they'd taken from the bar out of her skirt's side pocket. "Do you want some water now?"
"No. We should save it for only if we absolutely need it. I ... I can't be completely sure it's not poisoned."
"What? But the seal wasn't broken, and you ... you said it didn't smell unusual. Why did you have me take it if you think it's poisoned?"
Sigma rubbed his forehead, smearing dirt on it in the process. "Depending on the poison, drinking it might be safer than being dehydrated. This is all speculation. I don't ... I don't mean to make you worry. I have a ... I have a feeling it's safe."
"Okay." Trying to put on a brave face, she tucked the bottle back away and then reached up to wipe the mark off his face. "Let's go."
They moved off in the direction of where they'd seen the lights. Neither of them noticed the small piece of metal that had fallen from Diana's pocket when she had offered him the water. It settled into the arrow, shining faintly in the moonlight.chapter 2: hidden variables
"Okay ... four thousand. You got it?"
"Yes. It ... it doesn't seem like we're ... really getting any closer."
"I think it's just an optical illusion, since the scenery doesn't change much."
She tucked the coaster back in her pocket and wrapped her arms around herself. Despite his assurance that moving would warm them up, she still felt chilled to the bone. He couldn't be doing much better; she could see gooseflesh on the back of his arms.
He grunted in response, his attention focused on his footsteps.
"If ... if there's a chance we're infected with Radical-6 ..."
She couldn't bring herself to finish her sentence. He stopped then, staring down at his hands. "It's ... it's highly unlikely the two of us are infected, Diana."
"How can you be sure? You were thinking that maybe the Radical-6 was in the injections Zero gave us, weren't you? You think whenever he was making us sleep, he was infecting us with the virus. Right?"
Maybe it was the fear in her voice that got him to finally look at her. She had her hands clutched together in front of her, as if she was praying.
"Some people are extremely resistant to the virus, Diana. We have a mutation on the short arm of chromosome two. It allows us to produce antibodies -"
"Wait, you said 'we'. Are you immune? Is that why you were sent to try to stop this?"
"It's not why I'm here, but yes ... we're both basically immune."
"Basically?" The rest of his statement caught up with her and she shivered, this time having nothing to do with the cold. "What do you mean 'we both'? How can you know anything about my genes?"
He was silent, his eyes closed and his head tilted back, and she started backing away in terror. Two months after she had finalized her divorce from Marcus, one of her coworkers who she hadn't known well had befriended her. He had eventually asked her out, although she had declined, and she found out later that her ex-husband had paid him to try to get close to her. Was this the same thing? Was this whole game just designed by Marcus to mess with her? It seemed implausible, but the entire situation was implausible.
"S-Sigma?" Her voice was trembling and she realized she had started to cry. She had liked him - been drawn to him - from the moment she saw him, even with his bizarre behavior. She probably should have been scared and should have begged Carlos to throw him in confinement. She backed away from him slowly. "H-How can you ...?"
He had a look of confusion on his face as he opened his eyes, but it quickly morphed to panic. "Diana, wait -"
"D-Did Marcus ... did he s-s-send you?"
The glimmer of recognition on his face sealed her fate; there was no way he could have known the name of her ex-husband. She was absolutely certain she had never mentioned it when they were in Dcom, or the shelter. At least, not during any time she could remember. But if she had said something to him before they were injected with the memory-erasing drugs, and he knew about it, that meant he was working with Zero. It meant he was a part of it.
She turned and ran, as fast as she could.chapter 3: superimposition
She knew she couldn't outrun him.
He was taller, with longer legs, and much more athletic than she was. Her only hope was if he thought chasing her would be too much trouble.
That hope was quickly dashed.
"Wait, where are you going?!"
She could hear him coming after her and tried to speed up, but her ankle twisted. She tumbled to the ground like the victim in a bad horror film. Her hands stung as skin broke open, and she coughed as dust entered her lungs. She knew he was right behind her, so she rolled onto her back, ignoring the pain as she bunched her hands into fists, as she prepared to kick him if need be.
It would be futile, if he really wanted to harm her. He could easily hold her down and could probably knock her out with one punch. But she had to try.
"Please, I'm begging you, Sigma, please don't."
He stopped in front of her, an agonized expression on his face. "Don't ... don't what? What do you think I'm going to do?"
"I don't know! That's why I'm scared!"
"Diana, I swear, I have nothing to do with your ex-husband. I'm not going to hurt you. I would never -"
She struggled to get back on her feet, prepared to take off again.
"Please, Diana, don't run. Please. I've never hurt you. I wouldn't. You ... you've never been scared of me before."
The tone of his voice stopped her. He sounded choked up, and when she glanced at him, there was actually a tear running down his cheek. He looked ... desperate. She could feel her guard slipping a little.
"How ... how do you know about Marcus, then? How do you even know he's my ex-husband? I never talked to you about him."
"But you did."
He squeezed his eyes shut, his face contorted as if he was in pain. "We lived together for three years, Diana. You don't remember it because it's your future, but it's my past. I know almost everything about you. I know you love red velvet cake, and daffodils, and your favorite color is green. I know ... I know you found a puppy on the side of the road when you were eight. Some sick bastard had beaten him half to death. You knew the veterinarian couldn't do anything for him, so you took him home and cared for him, and when he did die, you buried him, by yourself. You even gave him a gravestone."
She stared at him, stunned. "I never told Marcus that. I never told anyone about that."
"I know." His expression softened. "It's what made you want to be a nurse."
"Are ... are you a mind-reader?"
He shook his head. "I'm telling you, I know because we ... in the future, we lived together. We ... we were very close."
There was a rushing in her ears and she felt dizzy. Pain was building up at her temples. She clutched her head, crying out -
"Some things are easier in weaker gravity," he whispers as he lifts her up.
"You're ... you're sure we're alone? Nobody is going to come in?" She anxiously glances at the door of the laboratory.
"Yes. It's just us. Haven't you thought about this? Fantasized about this?"
She can't respond, as he sucks her earlobe into his mouth, as he rolls his hips against hers. She's almost completely naked, her skirt, her lab coat, and her underwear scattered across the floor. Her shirt is unbuttoned, revealing her bra. He's still fully-dressed, his pants and underwear shoved down just far enough to expose his erection.
His arms were finally completed yesterday, and she's worried about him overexerting himself. But for three weeks, whenever they made love, she could sense his insecurity. He apologized for having to touch her with metal hands, watched her intently for any sign of discomfort. He hadn't even wanted to consummate their relationship until he was 'fixed', as he put it.
Now that he could touch her with arms that were so realistic she couldn't tell they were cybernetic, it seems like he can't stop. He had come up behind her while she was working and started to peel away her clothing, penetrating her with his new fingers, getting her close to the edge before hoisting her up against the wall.
He slides into her, his strong arms holding her up, and she kisses him, hard, trying to convey to him that she loves him, no matter what.
She slowly opened her eyes, startled by exactly how close Sigma's face was to hers. It took her a moment to realize that he was sitting on the ground and she was partially in his lap.
"Thank god. Are you okay? You ... you just collapsed. I ... I couldn't get you to wake up."
She reached up to trace the bony ridge above his right eye. Her fear had faded away but her heart was racing. There was an intense throbbing between her legs, a residual from her ... whatever it was. He was crying, cradling her in his arms, breathing heavily as if he'd just run a marathon, not the small distance she had managed to put between them.
And he looked just as terrified as she had been earlier.
"I thought ... oh god, I thought ..."
"It's okay. I'm okay." She almost laughed at how ridiculous it was, going from being scared he was going to attack her to assuring him that she wasn't hurt, in the span of ... she didn't even know how long it had been. She wiped the tears from his face with trembling, dirty hands, but it only made him sob harder. He pulled her to him, whispering her name in her ear. Maybe she was being naï ve, but ... it didn't seem as if he was acting. If he had really wanted to hurt her, she had given him a perfect opportunity with her ... episode. But he hadn't taken it.
"Did you - I mean, was that a panic attack?"
"I don't know what it was. It was like I was somewhere else. I ... are you ... are you really from the future, Sigma?"
"Yes. It's the truth." He released her just enough to be able to rest his forehead against hers.
"Were we ... is it some place with weak gravity?"
He pulled back in surprise. "How do you know that?"
"I ... remembered?" She expected him to be confused, but he didn't seem to be. She was confused. She wasn't even sure why she had just said that. "How can I remember something that hasn't happened yet?"
"It's ... it's complicated." He shifted her weight in his lap and she realized their position must be incredibly uncomfortable for him. She started to move, but his arms tightened around her. "Please don't run away again. Please. I promise you, I'm not going to hurt you."
"No, I'm not ... I'm not, but your legs must be falling asleep."
Although she could tell how much he didn't want to, he let her go. She stood on unsteady legs and after a moment, offered him a hand to help him up. He accepted it, even though it didn't seem as if he needed assistance, and he held it long after he had made it onto his feet.
She had completely forgotten about her fall; the heels of her hands were bruised and she could see patches of scraped, bloody skin. The pain that had been pushed aside by fear and confusion and surprise returned.
"You still have the water bottle?"
"We can't waste it," she protested.
"I'm just going to use a little."
He grabbed the hem of his shirt as if he was going to rip it, but she stopped him.
"I have more layers than you do, if you're trying to make a makeshift bandage." She bent over and picked up the end of her skirt, trying to tear off a strip. It wasn't as easy as she thought it would be, especially with her hands aching.
"Hey, your shirt would probably be a better choice."
Her cheeks grew warm as she untucked her shirt. Even with the thinner material, she couldn't manage to rip off a piece.
His hands hovered at the side of her waist until she nodded. He took hold of the cloth and with a few quick movements, had torn off two strips long enough to cover the wounds. True to his word, he only used a little of the water to clean the dirt off before wrapping the cloth around her hands. His touch was gentle, almost reverent.
"Yes, thank you."
"We should get moving," he said, not meeting her eyes. "Please promise you'll stay with me. It's easy to ... die of exposure out here, if you were to get lost."
He sounded sincere and, in spite of his size, somehow looked very, very small. His chest was heaving, his gaze cast down. He seemed wounded. Actually, honestly, wounded; not Marcus's if you loved me, you'd do this or why do you make me hurt you crap. His story was insane. Illogical. Nonsensical. But as crazy as it was, she was starting to believe him.
"I'm sorry, Sigma."
"No, it's my fault. I've been living with this strangeness for so long that it's just normal to me. I forget sometimes that it's not. I didn't mean to scare you."
"I know that, now."
She hesitated a moment before taking his hand. He closed his eyes and let out what sounded like a deep sigh of relief. She ran her thumb over the back of his wrist, feeling the bones there. They felt very, very real, and she was suddenly devastated at the thought of his arms being cut off, or blown off, or whatever the hell had happened to him.
"You said it's complicated?"
"It'll give us something to talk about, then." She tugged on his hand to lead him back on their path.chapter 4: relativity
Diana scribbled it on the coaster and tried to breathe normally. It was difficult to keep up with him, but she hadn't asked him to slow down. She got the impression he was already pacing himself so he wouldn't lose her.
They had been walking in silence for the last thousand feet or so, as Sigma's voice had started to go hoarse. It was just as well; she was having trouble keeping up with everything he was telling her, too. Being able to move your consciousness between different timelines, or within one timeline, and some magical field that people use to communicate - it was all so bizarre. Especially the part about her being able to have memories of things that never happened because she could tap into this magical field.
"I think ... I think ... I can see ... see ..."
She was laboring to get each word out and Sigma stopped suddenly to look at her. "Are you okay?"
"No. Your face is flushed and you're sweating, even with this temperature. Why didn't you say something to me?"
She shook her head. "Phi. Everyone, if ... we need to ..."
"You need to rest. Sit."
"No, Sigma -"
"Sit." He kicked the ground at his feet until most of the loose sand seemed to be gone. As much as she wanted to keep going and get help, her legs were weak and her lungs were aching. She reached out with shaky hands to guide herself down and nearly fell over.
"Shit!" He grabbed her as she tipped over and eased her to the ground, then sat next to her. "I wish you'd said something, Diana."
"This is ... important. I didn't want to ... slow you down."
"Just rest. We're almost to the road. We can take a break. Is ... is this okay?"
He tentatively put an arm around her; she wasn't frightened, but it was still difficult to relax into his embrace. Her memory - which she still couldn't fathom actually having - hadn't faded at all from her mind. She could remember the feel of his hands on her skin, the sight of his body moving against hers, the sound of his voice murmuring her name, how he smelled, how he tasted. She tucked her head down so he couldn't see her face; she was sure she was blushing.
"I'm sorry about ... earlier."
"You don't have to apologize." He took her hand and held it to his chest. "When someone betrays your trust, it changes you."
"Are you speaking from experience?"
"I ... I went through a lot of timelines to get to this point."
Like nearly everything else he had told her, it didn't make sense to her, but she was too tired to ask for clarification. She probably wouldn't understand it, and anyway, there was something else that was bothering her more.
"If you're immune to Radical-6, why are you worried we might be infected?"
He was silent for a while. Eventually, he started stroking her hair, which really did nothing to quell the butterflies in her stomach. She never really thought that hair could somehow be an erogenous zone.
"The antibodies neutralize Radical-6 by binding to the virus and marking it for destruction by other immune cells. It's possible to introduce a substance into the body that the antibodies prefer over the virus. The immune system is so busy destroying the other substance that Radical-6 can run rampant."
That sufficiently put a damper on her arousal. "You think Zero injected us with that, too?"
"No. It's highly unlikely. It wasn't created until 2061."
"Someone created it? You mean, specifically to make people who were immune vulnerable? Who ... who would do such a horrible thing?"
She felt him tense up. Maybe she had hit upon a bad memory.
"Someone who ... who thought it was necessary to recreate something he'd seen. But that's not important. I don't know if it's possible to destroy or hinder someone's immunity with existing immunosuppressant drugs. Or a pathogen that attacks the immune system, for that matter."
"But those have side effects. Or symptoms. I ... I mean, I'm tired, but I feel fine, Sigma."
"So do I. This doesn't seem like the timeline where the virus escapes. There are things that are different."
"Your arms," she said without thinking.
He froze and she felt terrible. That definitely had to be a bad memory. She started to stammer out an apology, but he stopped her.
"Yeah. You're wondering how I lost them, aren't you?"
She sat up straight, almost instantly missing his warmth as she did. His gaze was focused on something in the distance and he looked much more like the old man he claimed to be, instead of the proper owner of the twenty-two-year-old body in front of her. His eyes were shining and he was starting to breathe more heavily.
"You don't have to tell me anything that makes you uncomfortable!"
"It's okay. I -"
"No, it's not. You're distressed. We can talk about something else. Or not talk at all."
He closed his eyes and the tears fell. She put her hands on the sides of his face and wiped them away with her thumbs. His cheeks and her hands were so dirty that he was left with dark smudges on his skin, but it wasn't like they would be entering a beauty contest any time soon. His lips were badly chapped, bits of black grit in the cracks in the skin, but she was overwhelmed with the desire to kiss him.
No, not just kiss him. She wanted him to push her back and -
"Are you feeling better?"
She swallowed hard and tried to banish those kind of thoughts from her mind.
"Yeah. Let's go."
"Are you sure?" He opened his eyes and she let her hands fall into her lap. She nodded, not entirely trusting her voice with him staring at her like that.
As they returned to their path, she noticed he wasn't moving as fast as he had been before. He was still intent on counting his steps, but he repeatedly glanced over at her to make sure she wasn't falling behind. When they were closer, when he had just called out '9,500', she could make out reflective paint.
"It really is a road! Sigma, it's a road! We can get help!"
"Yes. We just have to hope a car comes by soon. I imagine there's not much traffic in the middle of the desert at this time of ... whatever time it is."
"Someone will come," she said, maybe more to convince herself than him. "I know someone will come."chapter 5: spin
She had no idea how long they'd been waiting for someone to stop. Sigma kicked a rock in the direction of the fourth vehicle that had driven right past them. She wasn't terribly surprised. The sun had risen and it was starting to warm up. She would have taken off her sweater, if it weren't for the fact that her torn shirt would have left part of her stomach exposed. They were both filthy; his formerly-white pants had turned a dingy shade of gray and her skirt, sweater, and tights were covered in sand, as were the strips of cloth still wrapped around her lower hands. Her hair felt gritty and his was sticking out in all directions, blown by the random gusts of wind. His face was streaked with dirt and dried tears; hers was probably in a similar state.
They looked ridiculous. And she was pretty sure they both stunk.
"We'd probably have better luck if Mira was here," she said.
"We'll get one of them to stop. Maybe I should try taking my shirt off," he joked.
She swallowed hard at the image that conjured up, but before she could get too flustered, there was a whooshing sound, as if the wind had suddenly picked up. She staggered forward as her head started to feel heavy. She recognized it, this time. Flashback. Or flashforward. She blinked and he was next to her, and she tried to ask him to catch her before she -
For the third time, he drops something - this time a glass beaker. He punches the wall before putting his back against it and sliding down to the floor. He closes his eye and balls up his hands into fists.
She abandons the containers she had been stashing away. With her foot, she moves the broken glass away from him before crouching down.
"It might be easier without the gloves."
He shakes his head. "Not up for discussion."
"I've seen prosthetics before." She covers his fists with her hands; he immediately pulls away from her touch.
"I don't need pity."
"Good. Because I don't have any to give."
She sits next to him, gently putting a hand on his arm. He twitches, but doesn't pull away this time. Some of the anger leaves his face as he turns to look at her.
"I was supposed to be fixed by now. What if it's just impossible? What if I'm stuck like this forever?"
"Just because the first transplant was rejected doesn't mean the ABT will never work for you. It's a new technology. The next one is being created to have better histocompatibility with your tissues. And ... even if it never works, I'll still love you."
He breaks off eye contact at that, shifting his gaze to the boxes they haven't unpacked yet. His young consciousness has never verbally reciprocated that sentiment. Their first month together had been them getting to know each other, no pressure, but her worries that she wouldn't feel the same way about his younger self quickly faded. He was still Sigma. His sense of humor is a little more ... gross, but he's still, fundamentally, the same person.
She still loves him.
She thinks he feels the same way, although he's never kissed her, never said it out loud. He barely touches her, and never without his gloves on. But she sees something in his eyes. In his grin. In the silly jokes he makes to cheer her up when she starts to miss her friends, her family. In the way he managed to get daffodil seeds sent up with the last lab supply shipment. They hadn't yet gotten them to bloom properly in the Moon's gravity, but he was determined.
"You love the other me." He sounds jealous of himself and she can't help but smile.
"The other you has been gone for three months. I'm still here."
"You haven't seen -"
"You can show me."
He stands up abruptly, and much to her surprise, he yanks off his gloves, then his jacket, then his shirt, until he's completely bare-chested in front of her. The places where the metal arms meet his shoulder are still red and scarred from the previous operation. His body had begun to react to the ABT before they were even finished, but thankfully the doctors removed it before the damage spread. They assured him that there would be no additional tissue loss. He's hunched over, his eyes trained on the floor. Probably because he's afraid she'll recoil and he doesn't want to see it.
She gets up off the floor, slowly, so she doesn't startle him. She takes the cold metal hands and presses her lips to his palms. He lets out a shuddering breath. She lightly trails her hands up his arms, skipping over the sensitive skin at his shoulders. His jaw is tense under her fingers.
"Diana, I - I ..."
"I've fallen in love with you all over again. Do you really think this matters to me?"
When he kisses her, it's tentative and hesitant. But only for a moment.
"- fuck did you do to her?"
"It's not what it looks like! She fainted!"
She opened her eyes to find herself on the ground again. She didn't know where Sigma was, although she could hear him yelling with someone.
"I saw what happened! What'd you do, stab her?"
"What's going on?" she asked, groggily.
"Ma'am? You alright? I got him, so don't you worry."
She sat up, her vision clearing, to see Sigma standing in the middle of the road, his hands up like he was surrendering. She didn't understand why - the other man looked to be about her height and was skinny as Phi - until she saw the gun in his hand. It incited a panic beyond anything she had felt before.
"No!" she cried out as got to her feet. "Don't hurt him!"
"He still has the safety on," Sigma said. The other man stopped pointing the gun at him to check it and Sigma took the opportunity, lurching forward and grabbing it out of his hand.
"O-o-okay! Don't hurt me!"
Sigma wasn't even paying attention as the man cowered in the road; he threw the gun off in the distance and with two long strides, he was by her side again, holding onto her arm as she walked on wobbly legs.
"Are you okay? Was it like before?"
She peered around Sigma to look at the man in the road, still crouched over with his hands over his head. A car - which she presumed was his - was sitting on the shoulder, engine still running, door wide open.
"Hey, um, can you give us a ride to a police station, or at least call 911? He's no threat to me, or you. We were kidnapped. We managed to escape, but there are seven people still trapped there."
The driver froze for a moment before standing slowly. "You're not going to rob me or kill me or anything?"
"If I wanted to kill you -"
She smacked Sigma's shoulder before he could finish. "No. Please. We don't have any money but you could save seven people's lives."
He narrowed his eyes and glanced back and forth between the two of them for several moments. Sigma looked grouchy but she put on what she hoped was her most earnest face and it seemed to disarm him.
"Um. O...kay. My name's Steven."
"I'm Diana, and this is Sigma. Thank you so much!"
"If your GPS is working, could you give me our current coordinates?" Sigma asked, apparently not interested in pleasantries. "We can use that and the information we have on how far we travelled to lead the police back there."
"Well, before we go anywhere, could you maybe get me my gun back? I'll throw it in the trunk so you ain't afraid I'm gonna use it on you, but it was my daddy's."
Sigma rolled his eyes at Steven, then glanced over at her. At the sight of her imploring gaze, he rolled his eyes again.
"Phi damn well better appreciate what I'm doing for her," he grumbled. "You stay away from her, you understand? I see you moving towards her and I will rip your motherfu-"
That got her a third eye roll as he jogged off.
"He's not a bad person," she told Steven. "We just - with the kidnapping and all - well. It's been a very bad day."
When Steven rolled his eyes at her, she decided maybe it was better if she just stopped talking.chapter 6: observer effect
"Your boyfriend is telling us one hell of a story, ma'am."
The voice, followed by the slamming of the interview room door, startled her awake. She had rested her head on the table just for a moment, or so she thought. There was no clock, so she couldn't tell how long she had been left alone. She was disappointed to see she was going to be interviewed by Detective Lynch; while nobody at the police station had seemed particularly friendly, his partner, Detective Mason, had looked somewhat less ... angry.
"Oh, he's not -"
"Trapped in an underground shelter. Told you're going to be playing games with people's lives. Drugs that erase your memory. Sounds to me like someone's seen the Saw movies a few too many times."
She wrapped her arms around herself. "Does this mean you don't believe us? Why would we make up a story like that?"
Lynch sat down across from her and pulled a pen out of his jacket pocket. He pushed down the end cap repeatedly, the clicking like that of a metronome.
"We're not saying we don't believe you. We have cops and rescue workers trying to find the place based on the information you gave us, but I want to make sure this isn't a trap."
"You can't - you can't be serious."
She silently hoped Sigma was staying mum about the whole consciousness-jumping-in-from-the-future bit. And the actually-being-sixty-seven bit. And the having-to-stop-a-pandemic bit. And any other crazy-sounding stuff that might be going on with him.
Lynch finally put his pen down. He leaned forward, his elbows on the table, and she thought she saw his expression soften just a bit as he sighed.
"Look, this guy is setting off all kind of alarm bells with me. I've worked domestic violence cases before. He's clearly got a temper. Your clothing is torn. You look like you've been rolling around in the dirt. The medic who patched you up said those wounds on your hands could have come from being shoved or thrown down. Add to that the fact that the guy hasn't wanted you out of his sight since you all got here, it all don't sit right in my gut. If he's done anything to you -"
The stress of the entire situation finally got to her. She smacked her hand down on the table and winced when pain shot up her arm. "You're surprised that people who just escaped from being held against their will are injured and angry and scared?"
"I just want to make sure -"
Diana stood up so fast she knocked over her chair; she was out the door before he could finish. She marched over to the room she had seen them disappear into and flung open the door, startling both Sigma and Detective Mason.
"I do not know what is wrong with you people, but Sigma did not do anything to me. He is a victim, just like I am -"
"I know," Mason said.
"- and I think it is incredibly unprofessional to be interrogating -"
Sigma held a hand up. "Diana, it's okay."
"- people who have just been through a traumatic ... what?"
Lynch had followed her, and when Mason saw him, she nodded towards the door. The two of them stepped out into the hallway. Sigma stood, and for the first time since they had left the shelter, he seemed weary, exhausted.
"It's going to be okay," he said, although it didn't really sound like he believed it.
Worried, she kept her attention focused on the two detectives. Mason was speaking too quietly to be heard, but Diana could occasionally make out what Lynch was saying.
But those were kids.
We need more people out there.
Keep your head down.
Remember what happened last time.
"Sigma, what's going on?"
"I'll explain when we get out of here. Mason said once our interviews were done, she'd drive us to the hotel Akane, Phi, and I were staying in. Our rooms are paid up through next week. If ... that's okay with you."
Lynch hurried off in one direction as Mason returned to the interview room. "Ready to go?"
He took Diana's hand, a questioning look on his face. She hadn't really thought of where she'd go after they reported what happened to the police. She couldn't fly back to San Francisco, not without knowing what happened to the others. Not to mention that her credit card - and everything else she had brought to Nevada - was in her bag back at Dcom.
Mason drove them to the hotel in silence. The first time Diana opened her mouth to ask a question, Sigma had just squeezed her hand and shook his head.
The only time the detective spoke was when they were exiting the car.
"The minute I hear something, I'll call, Mr. Klim."
Then she was driving off and Diana turned to Sigma in exasperation. "Can you tell me what's going on now?"
He stepped closer to her, keeping his voice down. "As soon as I told her who I thought was behind this ... she's worked a similar case before, ten years ago. Probably involving the same people. Her investigation back then got shut down. She's going to do everything she can to save the others, but she told me not to expect anybody to be prosecuted for it."
From the look in his eyes, he was clearly angry, but Diana didn't care as much about Zero paying for his crimes as she did about everyone getting out alive.
Sigma went to the front desk and managed to procure a replacement keycard for his room with a story about his car breaking down and having to hitchhike back to town. The hotel employee didn't ask where Diana had come from and declined to comment on their current state of dress, for which she was grateful.
Instead of going straight for the elevators, Sigma took her into a store on the ground floor. She was mortified being around people, but he pointed out that while he had a bag in his room, she needed clothing. It was only once she took a look at the price tags that she realized they were actually in the kind of hotel that she would not usually be patronizing on her salary.
"Don't worry about it," he told her. "I need to pick up something else. Are you okay here?"
Her stomach twisted at the thought, but she was going to have to get used to it. She couldn't be glued to him forever, and now that they were out of the shelter, the odds of her closing her eyes and having him disappear were greatly lessened. She nodded and set about trying to find the least expensive clothing in the place.
He was only gone for twenty minutes, but it felt like hours. He returned with two bags from a drugstore and a credit card, which he swiped through to pay for her clothing.
"I'll pay you back," she promised.
"That's the least of my concerns right now, Diana. Akane's organization is funding this trip."
They got into an elevator with a woman wearing a very elegant dress, who did not attempt to hold in her repulsion at the sight - and probably smell - of them. When they got to the fourth floor, Diana couldn't get out of there fast enough. She followed him down the hall to room 417. He hesitated for a moment before putting his keycard in.
"I-I can get you a room of your own, if you want. But this one does have two beds, and..." He looked like he was preparing himself to be slapped in the face.
"I don't ... really want to be separated from you, either."
His posture relaxed a bit. He opened the door and let her go in first. The room was tidy, except for a piece of luggage that looked like someone had ransacked it. When he caught her looking at it, he hastily picked up the clothing and books and stuffed them back in.
"I had to get my wallet and I didn't want to waste any time."
He took one of the bags from the drugstore and after checking the contents, handed it to her. They argued briefly over who was going to use the shower first, but she insisted he go and suspected he was secretly glad. He emerged in clean clothes and bare feet, his wet hair dripping onto his shoulders, and she felt her face heat up.
Once in the bathroom, she quickly stripped off her sand-covered clothing and ducked into the shower stall. The water was light brown as it ran off her body. The bag he had given her had her favorite shampoo, conditioner, soap, and lotion in it, and it didn't surprise her.chapter 7: polarization
Diana lingered in the shower until she was completely certain there was no dirt left in her hair, or anywhere else. And then stayed in there a little longer. The supposedly waterproof bandages on her hands had fallen off, but the scrapes were beginning to scab over, anyway.
When he knocked on the door and asked if she was okay, she figured she'd been in there long enough.
She tried not to think about the fact that he had been in there right before she was, naked, scrubbing himself clean with the foamy bar of soap sitting on the -
"No," she gasped as she felt the familiar sensation. Without bothering to turn off the water, she staggered out of the stall. She started to reach for the towels, but she knew she'd come up short, so put her hands up to break her fall.
"If this is just a ploy to get me to shower with you more often, you didn't have to go to these lengths."
There's no mirth in his voice. She's holding onto a newly-installed railing as he runs a washcloth over her hips, her legs. He's crying again, and she wishes she could make it better.
"Are you sure, absolutely sure, that going back to Earth wouldn't make a difference?"
It's the third time he's asked. She doesn't answer him, because he already knows. Four doctors have reviewed the charts Akane had delivered and they've all told her the same thing. She thinks she should have lied, said it was a congenital condition or a genetic disease.
For the rest of his life, he's going to blame himself.
"My time's not up yet. I want to spend it with you."
Her legs tremble and he stands up, pulling her into his arms, keeping her from falling.
"This isn't fair," he mumbles into her ear. "You're not going to die. I won't let you."
She still has enough strength in her arms to embrace him.
It took her several moments to realize she wasn't sprawled out on the bathroom floor, but actually lying on a bed, wrapped up in a towel and covered with a bathrobe. He was sitting on the edge of the mattress, watching her. A drop of water got in her eye and he apologized, brushing wet hair off her forehead.
"I heard you fall. It didn't look like you hit your head. I think you're getting better accustomed to accessing the field. You couldn't have been out more than thirty seconds this time."
Her vision - memory - replayed in her mind. She put her hands over her heart, as if trying to reassure herself that it was still there, still strong. His eyes widened and he snatched his hand back from her.
"I-I didn't look. Or anything. I-I just, I mean, you were - but I covered you up."
"You said we lived together for three years?"
He nodded. Everything fell into place and the dam broke.
"I'm going to be dead in three years?" She barely choked out the question. Her vision went blurry as her eyes filled with tears; he only came back into focus when she blinked them away. He wore an expression of fierce determination.
"No. You're not going to die. I won't let you."
As soon as he had echoed the words from her vision, he closed his eyes and let out a pained gasp. Any remaining doubts she had about the validity of her memories disintegrated. The bathrobe and towel fell to her waist as she sat up and embraced him, not caring that her upper body was exposed. He held her tight, nose buried in her hair.
"We lived on the Moon. The lower gravity weakened your circulatory system. That's what it was. If you stay here, you'll be fine. I won't have to ... lose you again."
She pushed back against his arms, just a little, just enough to get him to loosen his grip. When she kissed him, she was surprised that he didn't immediately reciprocate.
He brought a hand to her face, running a thumb over her lips. "You have no idea how badly ... but you've been through a lot, and ... if this is just some reaffirmation of life thing, or ... I - I mean, you've only known me a week."
"My heart knows you," she whispered. "I won't break yours again."
Whatever shred of self-control that was holding him back snapped, and she was pushed down on the bed. He kissed her like his life depended on it, his hands tossing aside the bunched up bathrobe and the wet towel, leaving her completely naked under him. She plucked at his shirt, trying to get him in a similar state of undress, but that would have required him to remove his lips from hers, and he didn't seem interested in doing that.
So she shoved down his sweatpants as much as she could instead, moaning into his mouth when she felt his hardness against her leg. He stopped kissing her then, his head falling against her neck as he groaned.
"Clothes," she gasped. "Your clothes."
He reared up and quickly cast off his shirt. Then his lips were on hers again and he was clawing at his sweatpants, getting them all the way off. His tongue pushed its way into her mouth as he cupped her breast. She wanted to touch him everywhere at once, but settled for his lower back, pulling him closer to her. He shifted on top of her so that his erection was -
"Oh, Sigma, wait."
"Shit!" He instantly jerked away from her, panting heavily as he rose on his hands and knees so that his body was no longer in contact with hers. "Sorry. Too fast?"
"No, no, I just ... I ... I stopped taking birth control after -"
He reached over to the nightstand and grabbed the other bag he had gotten from the drugstore. He looked almost sheepish as he took out a box of condoms.
"You must think I'm a ... I just ... I hoped."
Her breath caught in her throat as she whispered, "Please."
This time when he kissed her, it was less frantic. He took her hand in his and interlaced their fingers as his lips trailed a path down her neck. He lavished attention on a spot just above her collarbone, as if he knew - except there was no 'as if'. He knew exactly where to touch her, where she was the most sensitive. It had to have been at least forty years since he had last made love to her, but he remembered to use a gentle touch on her breasts, that the underside of her wrist was particularly ticklish, that she loved listening to him say her name.
At some point, she closed her eyes, lost in sensation, but then his mouth was next to her ear and he was begging her to look at him. The eye contact was almost too intense as he spread her legs apart and slipped his hand in between them. She cried out when his finger entered her, thick and warm and not enough.
"Fuck, you're so fucking wet."
He withdrew his hand and started making small, slow circles on her little bundle of nerves as her fingers dug into his back, as she pleaded with him for more. He had to stop touching her to put on the condom and she whimpered at the loss.
But then he was inching into her, keeping his eyes trained on hers. The emotion in them overwhelmed her and left her speechless. As her body grew accustomed to him, he picked up the pace, thrusting into her harder and harder, until the bedpost was banging against the wall, probably disturbing whoever was in that room, but she didn't care, she couldn't care less if the whole hotel knew what was going on, and then she screamed - actually screamed his name - when her body lost control, spasming like she was being electrocuted.
He froze, buried completely inside her, groaning a long string of expletives. He eased out of her and clumsily disposed of the condom before he collapsed by her side, a possessive arm thrown across her stomach.
"Body's still got it," he said, a touch of pride in his voice.
She laughed, but she found herself struggling to keep her eyes opened. Her orgasm had sapped whatever remaining energy she had.
"I don't usually fall asleep right afterwards," she told him. "But I think I might now."
"I do usually fall asleep after," he mumbled. "It's chemical thing, though. Can't help. You tease me 'bout it."
He lay his head on her chest, right over her heart, and she managed to put her arms around him before she fell asleep.chapter 8: collapse
She can feel him, hard against her stomach, and she starts to unbutton his shirt.
He pulls away, his gloved hands balled into fists at his side.
"Three weeks. They said they'll be ready in three weeks."
She tries not to let the disappointment show on her face. It's already been half a month of him not going any farther than kissing her.
Just kissing has had her on edge. His mouth is amazing, and she's already spent too much time in the shower, touching herself frantically while she imagines what else he could do with that mouth.
He takes her hands in his and squeezes them gently.
"I want you, Diana. Don't doubt that. When I'm finally fixed, I plan on fucking you on every surface in this place. Twice."
She knows she's blushing. And the ache between her legs is getting worse.
"You know it doesn't matter to me, right?"
"What if I hurt you? You said it took the other me almost two weeks just to learn how to pick things up without crushing them."
"Everything's been calibrated and your system is fully integrated now."
She hates how whiny she sounds. She wants him, so badly that it's almost painful. But she knows he's still self-conscious. She doesn't want to exacerbate that, or make him uncomfortable.
After a moment, he puts his hands on her hips as he presses a kiss to her forehead.
"You have to promise to tell me if anything feels wrong. Promise me. I can't stand the thought of hurting you, Diana."
"You won't," she rushes to tell him. He fixes that intense gaze on her. "But I promise."
"I'll keep my gloves on."
"You don't have to. I want you to be able to feel me."
He hesitates, but pulls them off before he cups her face and kisses her, harder than he ever has before.
He picks her up with ease and carries her to his bedroom - their bedroom, now - and lays her down on the mattress. She practically rips off his clothing before getting rid of her own and he teases her about her impatience.
When he slides cold metal fingers down her bare arms, she shivers. Before he can apologize, she puts a finger over his lips.
"I'll have to warm them up, then."
With that, he runs a hand up her side, up to her breast.
"I can't wait until I can really feel what you're like under my fingers. I can't explain it, but the sensations are so different with my hands like this."
"Not really." He traces a circle around her nipple, watching as it hardens under his touch. "Supposedly, with the ABT, it'll be just like if I still had my real arms."
She squirms underneath him, desperate for more contact. As he kisses her, he takes one of her hands and slides it down between her legs.
"I don't want to risk hurting you," he murmurs against her lips. "And I would like to see you touch yourself."
Her heart races and she tries to squash her anxiety, not wanting him to see it. Sometimes she has to remind herself that he's not Marcus, that he's not going coerce her into doing anything, that he's not going mock or insult her, that she could say she's not comfortable doing something and he'd stop immediately.
She slips a finger between her labia, already swollen and slick. He groans at the sight.
He moves lower instead, picking up one leg and putting it over his shoulder. Then his mouth is on her, and it's even better than she had hoped.
Diana had never been woken up by an orgasm before. Her body trembled as she squeezed her legs together and tried to avoid crying out. Sigma was curled up behind her, snoring lightly, an arm holding her to him. Her bladder was screaming for relief, so she eased her body away from his. The moment she did, he reached out for her, grasping her pillow and pulling it to him. He still seemed to be asleep, though.
She tiptoed around the bed and picked up his shirt off the floor. She didn't want to risk waking him by rummaging through her shopping bag, but she didn't feel comfortable walking around naked.
While she washed her hands, she looked at herself in the mirror. Her nose was tinged red, probably from a mild sunburn, and she had dark circles under her eyes, but otherwise, she looked fine. She felt fine. She pressed two fingers to her wrist to check her pulse. Normal. She felt healthy.
She didn't want to die.
Her yearly physical was in two months. Maybe she should move it up. Maybe she didn't have anything to worry about. Maybe he was right, and it was some condition brought on by living on the Moon. Although it didn't seem fair that the one place she'd always wanted to go would kill her.
At least, if she only had those three years, she would have them with him.
She closed her eyes to try to banish unwelcome thoughts. Maybe she'd only known him for a week - in this timeline, anyway - but the thought of not being able to be with him made her heart ache. But she somehow knew that he wouldn't have slept with her if he was just going to run off. Diana had stopped believing in soulmates a long time ago, but this was making her question that.
She crept back to bed. It didn't look like he was going to relinquish her pillow anytime soon, so she slipped in behind him, draping an arm over his waist as she buried her nose in his hair.
The ringing of the phone jarred them both awake. He answered it quickly, sitting on the edge of the bed.
"Yes, that's me. Did you find them?"
He reached a hand out behind him and she took it instantly. When his posture changed and his head dropped, she knew it wasn't good news. She slid over and sat next to him, watching his face contort in agony.
"What do you mean you can't identify them?"
Diana's heart sunk. It was true. They were all dead.
"That fucking bastard! Just ... tell me what they're wearing. I can ... just tell me."
She leaned against him, feeling the tension in his arm as he wrapped it around her shoulder.
"That's Mira. That would be Eric. That's Q. No, I don't know if that's his real name. He's ... he was blind, deaf, and mute."
"Who would kill someone like that, who was so helpless?" she asked, more to herself than him.
"Tell me about the rest ... Carlos. Akane. Junpei. How did they die? Look, I need to know. At least tell me they didn't fucking suffer!"
He was holding her to his body so tightly his hand was shaking.
"The other ... you're looking for a woman with blue shorts and a white shirt. Glasses. White hair. I need to know what happened to her. What? Wait, are you sure? Absolutely sure?"
For the first time since he answered the phone, Diana felt a glimmer of hope. Sigma let out a shaky breath.
"Are you absolutely sure you only found six bodies? You looked everywhere?"
He tilted the phone away from his face. "They didn't find Phi anywhere. They had to blow open some of the doors, but Mason says they searched every inch of the place."
"Do you think she's still alive?"
Something Mason said snapped his attention back to the phone. "What? No, I don't - wait. Diana, did you lose any jewelry?"
She shook her head. The only jewelry she had on her was her blue bird necklace. The chain had broken on the first day in Dcom, so she had been carrying it in her pocket, but it had survived, although it had a new dent in the cage.
"Latin? You're sure? Read it to me ... thank god. Oh, thank god. Yes, I'm certain that's hers. You need to get an APB out on her, right away. Maybe she's injured or doesn't remember who she is. I'm sure. Please. Call me if you hear anything. Yes. Thank you."
He hung up the phone and closed his eyes, tilting his head back.
"They found her brooch outside the shelter. Do you remember the arrow I drew, so if someone else escaped, they'd know which direction we went? Mason found it inside the arrow. Do you see what that means? She got out. It must have fallen off after she got outside."
"How do you think she escaped? She couldn't have used the X-Door. Unless Zero was lying about it only opening once."
"If anyone could figure out a way to get out of there, it's Phi. This is proof she's alive."
Something nagged at the back of her mind, but she tried to push it away. "I hope so."
"They didn't find a body. Until they find a body ... we haven't collapsed the wave function."
"Huh?" She felt a pressure on her temples.
He brushed her hair out of her face with his free hand. "Physics thing. Until we observe -"
"I want the two of you to keep on living."
She presses her hands against the window, feeling only the cold glass that is separating her from Phi. She wishes Phi would berate her. Yell at her. Call her a murderer. Hate her. She wants Phi to hate her. Phi should hate her.
"I love you."
Diana's eyes shot open.chapter 9: arrow of time
He hesitated for a moment, his hands resting on the steering wheel. Diana had already gotten out and was waiting for him at the bottom of the hill. He took a deep breath to calm himself before joining her.
"You okay, Sigma?" she asked as she took his hand.
"I just thought at some point, this would get easier. Maybe it's best that it doesn't."
They made their way up the hill and when they reached their destination, he saw that there were white chrysanthemums on one of the graves. Aoi must have been by early, probably to avoid them. Sigma had worked alongside Akane's brother for three years now, and while they had developed a decent relationship, he suspected there was a part of Aoi that still blamed him for surviving.
Sometimes still Sigma blamed himself for surviving.
When he had broken the news to Aoi, confirming what he had already suspected from his sister's absence from the field, Aoi had broken his nose.
He put his hand on Akane's tombstone as Diana carefully lay a single flower against it.
"We're continuing your work, Akane," she said. "Free the Soul is finally gone. There's ... there's another problem, now. It seems like there's always a problem. But we're not giving up."
The files Free the Soul had on a possible religious terrorist had Sigma scared shitless. But even in Akane's absence, the Crash Keys had flourished. They had more members than ever before, and they were working round the clock to stop the latest threat.
They moved to Junpei's plot, a marker with nothing in the ground beneath it. His family had his body cremated and taken back to the family grave in Japan, but Diana had wanted some memorial of him here, with Akane. Diana placed a second flower against the stone with the same reverence as before.
Carlos's was marked with lilies, a sign that Maria had stopped by.
"You must be so proud of your sister." Diana kneeled down, brushed some dirt out of the 'c'. "We couldn't have done what we did without her. She's amazing."
He felt a particular pang of sadness standing in front of the next three graves. Nobody had claimed the bodies of Q-Team. As near as the police could tell, Eric had no living relatives. It sounded like Eric's life had been incredibly tragic, and it helped Sigma understand why the young man was so clingy when it came to Mira.
When Detective Mason called Mira's parents, her father stated he had no daughter and refused to answer the phone or return messages after that.
And Q ... nobody had even been able to figure out the old man's real name. His headless corpse was in a box in the ground, marked only with a single letter on the gravestone. Given his apparent age, his parents were likely already dead, but for all Sigma knew, he had siblings or children out there wondering where he was.
"Dying is horrible, Diana. But dying without anyone knowing or caring is worse."
After placing the flowers on the three graves, Diana returned to him and took his hand. "We care, Sigma. We won't forget them."
He struggled to hold back tears as they approached the final grave. Like Junpei's, it was a stone marking nothing. Sigma had asked Mason to check the incinerator for any ... remains ... but there were none to be found. It had been Zero's final 'fuck you' to them; they didn't even have ashes to bury. The only thing they had left of her was her brooch, and Diana couldn't bear to give it up.
"I think it's a boy," she said, as she rested one hand on the gravestone and one on her slightly swollen stomach. "Sigma says it's too early to tell, but I have a feeling. We kept on living, Phi. We just ... we wish you could be here with us to see it."
He closed his eyes and let himself weep.