2010-01-25: Solace (Phantasm)



Posting Date: January 25th, 2010


Peter seems to escape the nightmarish city… for a little while.


Queens, New York

Of all the places to stop to clean up. The park in Queens has a fountain. For those who stop to get a drink. The pipes likely freeze in the winter, but despite the perpetual darkness, it is actually warm. Warm enough that the water runs, that he doesn't need to bundle up. It may not even be winter, in this place.

The water itself is cool, flowing out in a small stream that shoots upwards and down, running over a blood soaked hand, trying to wash it away. One hand at a time. The blood smears the front of his shirt, his cheek and neck, drying. Sticking. The tears washed away some of it. But…

He lost track of when the body disappeared. One moment it'd been there, held tight in his arms— the next it simply wasn't. Only the blood remained. The blood at the gun that she shot herself with.

It's times like these that people could use a familiar face. A friendly face. A warm hand. Someone to tell them that their bad dreams are going to disappear one day.


A quiet creak sounds behind Peter; metal on metal, the squeak of a chain. The noise repeats slowly. A swing, moving back and forth. She wasn't there a minute ago, but she is now: sitting on a swing set in the park, boots trailing against pebbles, hands clutching the chains. Niki, staring off into space. She's dressed exactly like the woman Peter saw in a dream years ago, here in the city that was about to explode: a grey shirt with white embellishments, a soft, sheer cardigan that's a bit too big. A pair of sunglasses is even perched atop her sun-bleached hair, despite the perpetual night.

But here, she's not with her family. She's alone, and she only seems to just notice Peter, like he's the one who appeared suddenly. "Peter?" Confused, timorous. Hopeful. Worried, because he's bloody. "Is— that you?"

The blood doesn't come off easily. Peter looks up from his attempts to wash himself clean, toward the swingset where he sees another familiar blonde. At least this one isn't dark haired, mysteriously. But this one… "Niki? But you're…" Dead. That's what people said. That's how it looks. Unless the reports of her death were exaggerated, she shouldn't…

Oh, but she is here.

This is one time he doesn't want to tell the voice to shut up. Leaving the fountain behind, he moves closer to her, noticing the similarities, the worry. "I— yeah, it's me. Is it— is it you?"

"For now," Niki says distantly, softly, as if not really paying attention to her own words. Her head tilts slightly as she studies Peter with worry, fretful lines marring her face. "I'm not sure how I got … here," she admits, here voice breaking. She looks around the park, her confusion tinged with alarm. The swing moves back, forward, back, forward in a slow, creaking trek until the woman digs her heels into the ground. She smiles at Peter as she stands up, but it's short-lived. More concern. "What happened to you?" More pointedly… "Whose— " Blood.

"This place is… strange," Peter admits quietly, looking down toward his hands, the shirt he's wearing. The blood… "It's— uh— I…" Some of the blood is his. Mostly that on his thighs, where she shot him so he'd fall down. But most of it came from when he cradled her— when she didn't regenerate. When she killed herself

He steps even closer and drops down onto the swing beside her. He's not swinging, he just needs to sit. Leaning foward, he covers his face with his hands. "I should have stopped her."

"I'm sorry." It sounds sincere, even without the key information to make Peter's story make sense. Niki comes to stand by the swing he takes, a hand on the chain; before long, though, she crouches in the gravel, reaching for one of Peter's hands — to take it from his face and hold it warmly, no matter how blood-stained it is. "I'm sure … that you did everything you could." Comfort; out of place in a world like this. Every bit of it is well-meaning as the faintly glistening blue eyes of Peter's once-upon-a-time friend look up at him.

While the warm, firm grip is comforting, Peter shakes his head a bit. "I didn't do everything I could have… I— it never should have happened." And now his niece is gone. And even if he can try to prevent it— what if the voice is right. What if he would just be sheltering her from what would really make her stronger…

Looking up, he rubs at his face and looks into her eyes. "You're the first person here that's… I'm glad you're here."

"A lot've things happen that shouldn't." Such is life… and death. Niki frowns in a natural show of sympathetic understanding. Despite the lines of trouble she etches into her face every so often, and her makeup being sparse at best — a few soft shadows, around the eyes — there's a certain glow about her here and now. An idealized face. "I was … happy to see you. Surprised, but…" She smiles a touch. "Everything is gonna be all right. You're strong. You just … you have to believe it." Niki seems on the verge of saying more, but first, she stands, keeping Peter's hand in hers as she does so. "Do … you wanna get away from here?"

"It feels almost true when you say it," Peter says, voice softened to a whisper, but loud enough to carry. The hand she holds gets joined by his other one, cupping around her hand, almost cradling it gently. He wants to believe it— that everything will be all right. That he's strong. "Yeah— I'd like to go somewhere." The sirens haven't sounded in a while. The spotlights haven't threatened. And most importantly… he doesn't want to be alone right now.

A tiny, decisive smile on her lips, Niki nods slowly and replies with a certain calm, more reassurance. She's glad to help him escape. "Okay." She takes a second to look around the park and the neighbouring street. It seems so quiet, but she looks this way and that as if expecting something to jump out of the shadows or descend from the sky. When it doesn't, she leads the way hand-in-hand out of the park, across a desolate street.

A few houses down is a generic, but familiar house. Monica's. However, when Niki pushes the door open, it doesn't resemble the same home at all. Everything is changed around — besides which, it's empty, save for a few relics of ripped and torn furniture and the kind of random trash an abandoned building collects. The windows are blown out and billow with plastic. Despite the state of disrepair, every corner glows with warmth from various unusual sources: lava lamps, nightlights, tea light candles.

"It should be pretty safe here," Niki says as the door shuts them in and the war-torn world out. "For a little while."

In contract to the harsh and dark outdoors that he's come accustomed to, the house itself is nice, the small sources of light attracting his attention. Peter doesn't know when the last time he felt comfortable was. It seems so long ago, now. "It's… lonely here," he says after a moment, then looks over at her. "Lonely, but nice…" For the first time in a while, his mouth tugs toward what could be a smile. It comes off more of a half-grin, but it's better than the tense stern look that he's had for a while.

Looking down at his clothes, his hands. "Do you have somewhere I can clean up?"

"I don't … think there's been anyone here for a long time," Niki replies, seeming briefly confused and disoriented. It passes as her gaze anchors on Peter. He's here now, so it's not so lonely anymore, right? "Oh, upstairs." Obvious question, obvious answer! She tips her head in the direction of the staircase, set far off to the left of the house. "Come on, I'll show you."

There's a mirror on the wall there, and Niki passes it as she walks upstairs. Simple, frameless and rectangular. It's spotty but, remarkably, it's not broken even though much of the house is — like so many things in the city. Peter's reflection shows up; Niki's is nowhere to be seen. She doesn't seem to notice.

The upstairs lead straight into one single large room that looks almost exactly the same as downstairs but in better shape; cleaner, with a bathroom and bedroom instead of a broken living room.

There's a question he wants to ask, but Peter hesitates and doesn't say it, as he looks around. Where is everyone else who should be in this house? Why would only the one who is supposed to be gone be here? The mirror gets a distracted look for a moment, as he sees the blood splattered on his face, and for an instant, a dark shadow of a line that disappears when he moves. It wouldn't be the first time someone's come back from the dead.

And part of him wants to believe she's here. After what happened with Claire, after so much of the bad things he's caused and seen happen…

"Thanks," he says, moving into the bathroom almost as soon as they're upstairs, beginning to close the door behind him while he pulls off the blood soiled clothes.

Barely thirty seconds seem to pass before the door is nudged open again. There's no terrible surprise waiting to leap out of the shadows, only the same blonde, stepping in unannounced. Meaning only well, Niki has a white cloth in her hand to offer for the blood-cleaning efforts. It would be an unfortunately familiar process to her. "I thought you might— …"

She steps in and reaches up to dab some of the splattered blood off of Peter's face. Niki watches him rather closely all the while, as if fascinated, and when she notices what she's doing, she looks down with a little laugh. The woman almost seems nervous, in a schoolgirl butterflies-in-the-stomach kind of way. The hesitation disappears, though, the second she looks up and decides to kiss Peter, cloth still pressed to one side of his face.

"I— I can…" Peter had been about to say he could handle it, that she didn't need to wash his face off. There's mirrors for that, though he does reach up to put his hand over hers, intending to take the cloth— but everything he'd been intending gets broken. Before he can consider it, he leans closer into the kiss, holding her hand where it's against his cheek. It doesn't last long, though, as he tilts his head to break contact with their lips, pressing their foreheads against each other.

"Niki, I…" Tracy had dodged his confused attempt at a kiss. She had gone back to her husband just as he found out what had happened between her and his future self. It doesn't change the fractured memories he possesses, the fact that, right now, this is the nicest thing he's had in what seems like forever…

The protests stop, as the opposite hand reaches up to touch her neck, her hair, and then he pulls her back in. This time the kiss isn't tentative.

Exactly like the other mirror, the bathroom vanity mirror shows only one person in the room. Mirror be damned, Niki seems real, vividly present and very much alive, living and breathing and with a hot-blooded, beating heart. The cleanup is abandoned and cloth pushed onto the nearby sink. She struggles briefly to peel off the long sleeves of wine-coloured sweater, not breaking the kiss for a second, and wraps her arms around Peter. It might be a signal more than anything: so— no illusions of this leading to anywhere but one place.

Sweet dreams.

* * *

Upstairs, while dark, does boast that same dim glowing light from colourful lamps, flickering little candles in corners, on ledges. Including around the grey-sheeted bed. It's some time later… enough time for Peter to have formed some definitely good memories in an otherwise dark world. Good memories that are still being made if the two shapes in bed are any indication. Speaking of good…

What starts out as a sound of bliss at a key moment, from the blonde, rapidly turns into something very different: a scream of anguish. However, the distinction is fuzzy at best. When things go wrong, though, they go wrong fast. It's not too obvious that something is dire is occurring until Niki coughs as if she can't breathe, a stream of blood escaping from the corner of her mouth. "P-Peter," she chokes, pleading desperately, hopefully. If anyone can save her… "Peter, h— h-help me." But it's too late. Niki's previously glowy face is twisted in pain around eyes that are lifeless before she collapses forward.

All the lights go out.

"Niki?" Peter chokes out after a few seconds, distracted, but quickly pulled into what's happening to her rather than what had been happening moments before. Hands touch her face, the blood felt on his fingers. Some things he doesn't need to see. "No, what— no. Niki— " Shifting her weight, he lays her down on her back, hovering over her to check condition, pulse especially, breathing… "Don't— don't do this to me, please, I— " The beginning of this mess, he saw Simone. He felt her. She felt so real, so warm… and then she seemed to wither away in his hands.

"Please, come back…"

There are some things you can't fix, son.

"Niki!" this time he yells, as if that will get through to her somehow.

No response. Niki's body, cooling much faster than a normal human body ought to, is thrown onto the floor as if by a poltergeist's force. One of the blankets catches on her and she lands on her face, tangled in it. Blood begins to seep darkly through the thin covering at the small of her back.

But wait, there's more! Peter couldn't possibly be left alone in his horror. If there's blood, look for the person with the bloody hands. They're likely to be the culprit. The mattress lowers and recoils as someone steps up on it from the end of the bed. A not quite mirror image of the dead woman looms there; not quite, because there's only one of Niki's many sides and look-a-likes who would so casually admire the blood on her hand as casually as if she were admiring her nails. Red, all the way past her wrist. Incidentally, she's wearing the same thing Peter saw her in for the first time, too. Black lace tank top, denim. Niki can't respond to Peter's calls, but she can.


"What," Jessica laughs indignantly. It's even more of an impossibility for her to be here. She glances from the body on the floor to Peter. "Too soon?"

As she goes flying, at first Peter tries to reach out for her, but the whole place seems to change. The woman on the floor changes even as she stands. Not Niki. Not Tracy. The one who tore into his body and tried to tear out his insides. Dealing with her was one thing he never thought he would have to do again. The hand that was stretched out turns, palm toward her in a universal gesture to stay back, as he slides off the other side of the bed.

The clothes he should have were gone, soaked with blood anyway, but somehow as he moves, he gets some simple sweatpants. At least the dream won't make him face her with no clothes.

"Give me Niki back," he says, voice tightened with emotion. At least he doesn't sound like he's panicking as much, but… that doesn't change the desperation that remains.

The distant noise of helicopters, shaking foundations and gunfire echoes outside where it had previously been quiet, yet another reminder that things aren't right here. They're not good, and they may never be.

Jessica seems unconcerned. "Mm, you're outta luck." Raising both eyebrows haughtily, she gives Peter a probing look up and down and winds up looking disgusted. "She was dead looong before you got here. Freak." By all accounts, she's dead too, but screw logic. She steps easily off the bed onto the floor, blas about Peter's warning gesture. She does not, in fact, stay back. She does the opposite, predatorily easing closer — her only warning before running at him and lashing out to try to grab his throat.

The room may be dark, but some things stand out. The pale flash of skin, the hair as she moves forward. Peter has enough warning to switch modes. One moment he'd been still and unmoving, with a hand raised up, the next he's in motion, blurring, the sheets thrown off the bed as if by a strong dust. It might seem that the helicopter suddenly appeared in the room, the way the wind blows against hair and stray objects.

Tick. Tick.

The small lit items may have gone out, but there's one new item that begins to make a soft clicking noise.

Tick. Tick.

An invisible hand reaches for her, to throw her against a wall and hold her there. Restraints that even her super strength would have a difficult time fighting against. "You were dead long before Niki. I helped her destroy you forever. Some part of Niki is still in there, if you are. Let her out."

Jessica hits the wall solidly with an unh of surprise emitting from her lungs. Most people would be scared, struggle when thrown up so forcefully against a wall by telekinesis, but Jessica? She acts as though she likes it. A smile spreading languorously across white teeth that she laughs through. She does, however, test Peter's strength with an arduous roll of her shoulders. "So you can finish what you started? And they say romance is dead." She rolls her eyes before they glint even darker. "If you don't get Niki back? What're you gonna do, kill me?" Strange how it sounds less rhetorical and more like a challenge… or an invitation.

Kill her. For an instant, it seems like Peter may be up to that challenge, as the grip tightens along her neck, making breath difficult for a moment. Even the ticking of the clock seems to think it's a good idea. Maybe if he found out how she worked, he could get rid of her forever, find a way to get Niki back. Finishing what they'd started might have been an intention, but he also just…

His hand drops. The hold slackens, and then he's shaking his head.

It's your fault she died. She left because you couldn't give her what she needed.

The hand that drops flies toward the outer wall, pushing against it without her body, breaking the wood and opening the room up to the cold air outside. He failed Niki. He failed Claire. And now he's intent on leaving, as the helicopters and sirens close in again.

As she's dropped, Jessica is in the midst of fighting the telekinesis, struggling up a storm with her out-of-this-world strength. On the floor, she catches her breath, a hand at her throat, eyes already locked on the escaping man, gaze dark and dangerous. "You don't have the guts," she hisses, pushing to her knees. She doesn't reach out for him with that bloodied hand of hers, but she does bait him with her words. Verbose, for Jessica. "Please," she says, scoffing, twisting Niki's voice into a wicked and cynical territory. "Don't be so sentimental. Poor little Niki, you 'saved' her from me so well that she didn't know how to deal with her life so she went and boned your knockoff from the future."

Like a dagger right between his shoulder blades. Peter stops with his back to her, looking out into the open air of the night. Shirtless, with no shoes. Clothing will probably appear when he least expects it, but right now… A knock off from the future. And not only that, but… he left her. She left him. She went back to her husband, who she never should have left in the first place.

Fingers close, hands tightening into fists that whiten the knuckles. Anger fills him. Anger, guilt, pain. All of it seems so similar. He doesn't even really see with his eyes as he clears the distance between them. He doesn't lash out with invisible hands, but with a fist. It's all disappearing. Every step he's failing… and in this case… one punch is really all he needs.

Jessica gets a dose of her own strength. All that can be seen is a whirl of pale blonde hair. All that can be heard is a loud crack. Of what— best not to ask. Her whole body is spun around from the force of the punch — she goes flying, tumbling down across the room, sliding across the floor until she hits the wall. Like Niki, a trail of blood trickles down one side of her face, her hair matting into it. Her momentum has barely stopped before she disappears. No shimmer, no fading out, no snap. She's just gone in the blink of an eye.

But there— on the floor. The source of Jessica. Niki, undisturbed from where she was tossed, half wrapped in the blood-stained blanket, moves. Never mind the fact that she was obviously dead. She murmurs as if waking up after an unexpected sleep, turning her head off the floor to look in Peter's direction. She doesn't seem to see him. Her eyes fade into lifelessness again. No one's home anymore.

Alone. With a dead body. Peter looks down and watches her still, before he looks down at the fist. He might be around to gather her up, hold her like he held Claire, but suddenly that helicopter he heard right outside seems to appear at the very side of the house. The wind catches sheets and fragments in the room, throwing them around, and the spotlight bares down on him.

He helplessly looks at Niki…

And just as the bullets begin to fly, he vanishes, leaving the house to get demolished pieces of metal.

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