2008-03-17: Stolen Time


Niki_icon.gif FuturePeter_icon.gif

Summary: Sometimes time needs to get stolen, even for people on a mission.

Date It Happened: March 17, 2008

Stolen Time

Della Rosa

If you look hard, dig deep enough, shun the rest of the city successfully enough, you'll find the Della Rosa: the dive of a bar on the Lower East Side that doesn't boast a festive St. Patrick's Day air. Oh, a few half-assed attempts are strung about the bar in the form of metallic green dollar store shamrocks, but "festive" is not what someone in their right mind would call the place. A few people are scattered through the singular room, and it's hard to say on first glance who's a customer and who's an employee on break. Maybe it'll pick up later. Then again, it's hard to say what time it even is; it's dark, a cave.

Underneath one of the framed, dulled photographs of the city, sitting at the far end of the bar at the very corner, is a blonde woman, her hair pushed over one shoulder and threatening to touch the smudged bartop. A dark grey tanktop, dark jeans, bits of jewelery in gold — nothing fancy today, Niki suits her environment. And in front of her, a glass of something dark and golden puddling in the bottom. That fits the environment, too.

The door never opens to admit the newest of customers. There's a shifting in the shadows cast in a corner, but otherwise it's difficult for people to know where he came from. It doesn't seem as if anyone really paid attention. Could be he'd been in the bathroom for a few hours, or sitting in the corner unnoticed. It's happened. People blend in here. Even ones that might stand out in a brighter crowd. Dark hair slicked back out of his face, dark scruff on cheeks and chin, the one trait that might stand out the most is not visible. A small change with one of the many abilities.

The scar isn't visible.

Still looking older, the scar is the only change, older, scruffier, and with eyes that saw even more than they already have. Moving away from the wall, he approaches the end of the bar, focused on the blonde haired woman rather than anyone else. Before he even makes it all the way, the bartender is already preparing a drink. One he didn't bother to speak to order. No thought, just prepared. Scotch on the rocks. It's set down next to her.

"Thank you," he speaks, voice raspier than she might be used to, passing across the money before taking the glass.

At the tap the glass makes when it hits the bar, Niki looks up — having just been … looking down, at nothing in particular, leaning her head into her hand — in momentary bewilderment. She's not celebrating today, though being at a bar at this hour of day on St. Patrick's Day is somewhat more forgivable in the eyes of the judgmental (maybe not God, unless he's Irish), and so, she's not much in the mood to talk to strangers. Knowing all too well that strangers in a bar tend to try, the blonde downs the rest of her drink as if to vacate in the next few seconds.

But something about the nearby voice registers as familiar, and she looks over, a few knuckles still at her brow. And she's thrown for a loop. "Peter," Niki says, less of an exclamation than she intended, dampened by confusion and relief and a varied conglomeration of emotions. "You're out!"

Maybe God is Irish. Or maybe he's just someone who pretends to be Irish when it suits him to be. Either way, Peter takes the drink and samples it as she exclaims. The joy isn't shared between them. "Actually, I'm not," he says thickly, putting the glass back down before he settles next to her. He's twisted so he can face her, much like one time in their life, in another bar. Things had been far more glitz and glamor then. This is more his current style. "I'm still locked up. Will be for a while." There's no smile tugging on the corner of his mouth, just a mild shrug of one shoulder. He's not the smiling time most the time. Not anymore.

A shifting occurs in the shadows across his face, until a line cuts from forehead down to cheek. A line that breaks above his nose, but starts again on the other side. A deep scar, old, healed, but very visible and obvious. The shift reverses, going back the way it came. "I didn't expect to find you in a place like this."

"Joy" is an overstatement. It's put on hold. Niki turns on the bar stool to face… Peter… he looks different. She finds herself looking him over rather closely, her efforts narrowing her gaze and furrowing her brow ever-so-slightly. Said efforts are rewarded unexpectedly: she's watching closely when the scar appears, disappears. "I don't understand," she says slowly, but she's starting to even as she says it, some nagging memory, a future in print. She spares a glance for the dismal dive around them, just shrugging and saying contrarily, "Places like these used to be pretty familiar territory." But she focuses on Peter, fishing for some kind of explanation. "Peter…"

"I didn't think you'd come back to this yet," Peter says in the whispered tones as he raises the glass back up for a long drink. There's a quiet moment while he enjoys it, before he leans forward, so that he can get a little closer to her. "I know you'll figure it out on your own, Niki." What she isn't asking, what she doesn't understand. She's got enough information to figure it out on her own, but he still says it. "I'm from the future." Despite the distance closing in between them, he glances to her drink and asks, "Can I buy you another one of those?"

Stuck with brows knit together, features made dark, Niki still studies Peter. It's becoming apparent in little ways that he's not the man she knows, exactly. Maybe she'll figure it out on her own, but that doesn't stop her from asking questions in the here and now. She manages to glance away, at her empty glass, for just a second — long enough to give a distracted, "Sure." She flattens a hand on the bar beside her, shifting. "What're you doing here?" Here being this bar or the year 2008, maybe both. "The last time, you went to the future to fix things." She just assumes it's to fix things. It's gotta be. It's not a vacation, right?

A motion with his hand gestures to the bartender. Peter doesn't even need to say his order outloud, or even telepathically. A simple gesture is enough in this case. While they talk, another drink is prepared for her, while he continues to lean forward. "There's a lot that needs fixing. I just don't know what they are, yet. I just have an idea of when, the skeleton. The foundation of what will happen." How long was he locked up? Does that have to do with why he's tense? The drink that he ordered for her gets slid over. "You're close to the center of it. You probably know some of what's going on, considering the place you work for." There's a hint of a pause, as something starts to process. "You know where I am."

Niki pauses a moment, jawline going rigid as she reaches for the new glass. "I know Bennet put you away," she answers, followed by a drink. Talking to the future version of someone she knows and trusts in the present is … is unnerving, but she's handling it pretty well in stride. "I said not to rescue you," she admits with a bitter hint of guilt, regret flashing in blue eyes before she turns away slightly. She doesn't want the younger counterpart of this Peter to stay locked up, that should be clear. Hopefully. "'Cause if it's linked back to me, he'll put me away too." Another drink, quick as lightning. "I know some things."

Of anyone, he'd understand how unnerving it is. How many friends did he meet again in the future? Quite a few… There's a moment where Peter spots her guilt, but he shakes his head, reaching forward to touch her cheek, pushing at a strand of hair that escaped. The touch lingers longer than it should, his expression softens. Physical contact might just help him right now. "If you had wanted to break me out, I would have told you not to. They put me with very dangerous people. Any attempt to free me is more likely to free at least one of them." And that, he doesn't want. Maybe it did happen? Who knows. The fingers continue to touch. "What do you know so far?"

Niki doesn't seem heartened by the reassurance. She tips her head down toward the glass in her hands, but doesn't move away from the touch. "They're doing experiments," she says, speaking of the infamous Pinehearst. Of course. Her voice is kept low, but not out of paranoia that anyone might overhear. Not here. "They have some kind of formula. Hiro said it might be something that gives people these crazy powers." Looking up, her eyes are less hardened than they were just a few seconds ago. There's a hint of the opposite, vulnerability; and a hint of imploring, but it's kept in check. "I'm trying find out more— about… the formula, about blood and names and Logan/— there are so many things I'm supposed to do," That emotional wall starts to crumble. "And so many people trying to help, but I'm alone, Peter. You disappeared and I'm alone."

There's a lot of recognition in his eyes. Peter might well be confirming everything she has to say by the fact he doesn't look surprised at anything that she says right up until the end. The emotional wall crashes down. He disappeared and she's… That he only becomes surprised there… The hand that lingered moves in closer, fingers dripping down to her neck, while thumb touches her cheek. "I didn't mean to make you go through this alone," he says. "I didn't want to be locked up. I tried to get out, I knew there was so much I needed to do, so many people that needed me. I just… I'm sorry." Whatever he came to her for seems to have fallen on the wayside. Or maybe this is exactly why he's here. "You're not alone."

"I'm not some hero like you are." The way it's phrased— Niki almost makes "hero" sound like an insult, but she doesn't mean it, not really. Not yet, anyway. She reaches a hand up to wrap around Peter's wrist by her face, purpose unclear; she doesn't move it, just holds on. Maybe that's the purpose. "There's just so much."

"Yes, you are," Peter says, voice firm, even if it still has that rasp to it. Almost like he's trying to talk in a gruff voice. Maybe he went to the Batman school of heroics. The hand on his wrist might actually encourage him to let go of his glass and touch her face on the other side, trying to make her look more closely at him. It's chilled from the ice, damp from the sweat on the glass. "You save me. A lot of bad things happened, and when things were… their worst— you were the one strong enough to hold me back, strong enough to stop me. Strong enough to help me pick up the pieces and hold myself together. Without you— who you are— who you'll become— I wouldn't be here. I wouldn't be able to come back to try and fix things."

The words are strangely hard to take. It's not that Niki doesn't trust Peter, even this Peter — she does — but when he's talking about her … she shakes her head in some form of denial, of refuting being that important, although she's unable to move much in his hands. Contradictorily, her grip tightens on his wrist. A face wrought by emotion becomes even more so, threatening waterworks that don't come. "You made me stronger."

"If that's true… then we made each other stronger," Peter says, tone finally lightening to a whisper more like the voice she's used to. The rasp remains, that hasn't gone away, but something about the tone is closer to how he'd been trying to heal her, trying to help her deal with her personalities. As her emotional walls crumble, whatever he's using to mask the scar on his face begins to fade away. The line traces it's way back in place. A reminder that he's not quite the man she knows. The bar doesn't look exactly the same, but the angle is correct, they look closer to how they had. Leaning forward even more, their noses will touch first. Breath smells like the scotch he barely drank, not nearly as drunk as he'd been the last time she knows he tried this, but still a familiar smell. Drunk or not… he's once again trying to kiss her.

Listening and watching, so attentive, Niki is taking in the sight of that unfamiliar yet recognizable scar with a worried, conflicted glint in her eyes — just before it happens again. It's one of many differences. One such difference is that she doesn't shove Peter away. She saw it coming and still didn't. Not this time. Who knows how many drinks she had before the time traveler appeared, but the alcohol can hardly be blamed, in all honesty, for Niki leaning in closer toward Peter, for letting go of his hand only to hold his unfamiliarly rough jaw, for kissing the man from the future with some sense of urgency and need. No, a lot of other things can be blamed, but not alcohol.

The encouragement definitely makes things last longer than the last time. Two lonely and desperate people, one time displaced, one very much anchored in the here and now. But both needing something. And finding something. Whether it's what they actually need or not. The rough stubble might make the kiss harsher than it had been before, the hands that grasp her are stronger, a little more demanding. Peter only breaks away from her mouth when he kisses along her jawline, letting one of his hands lower away from her neck so he can kiss there, in the direction of her ear. Only then does it stop, eyes closing for a moment before he pulls back enough to whisper in that rasped tone, "You're not alone, Niki." A reminder. She's not alone. At the moment.

Niki's eyes are shut and stay that way, for a few seconds after Peter's reminder, and after her hand falls away from his face, in momentary limbo. She slowly catches up on her breath. Once her eyes open, she immediately bears a look of conflict and she tears her gaze away, to the tables that are scattered around the dim room. But the myriad of emotions gradually even out, become more confident and soon turn back on the time traveler. She manages a small smile. It lasts about .5 of a second, but at least it existed. "Now what?"

The smile, however brief, seems to lighten the lightness in his jaw, even more than the kiss had. Peter settles away from her for a moment, keeping one hand against her, as he grabs his drink, finishing it off with a few generous gulps. Only the ice clinks against the glass when he sets it down. Now what? There's a moment's hesitation before he seems to settle on saying it, looking back at her, "I need a place to stay."

Well that— that was more mundane an answer than she was looking for, but Niki happens to have an answer all the same. "I have a place." She goes back to her drink, downing some as well, tipping the glass to the side to let the ice and liquid slosh at a diagonal. She looks at Peter carefully, almost suspiciously, wondering if maybe he knew that already — that there was a largely unused and unknown apartment sitting there as if waiting to be used for such a purpose. "Not… not the one in Queens." You know, the one she shares with her family. Including a husband. "Far as I know, it's under the radar. It's supposed to be 'Jessica's'."

The surprise doesn't appear, so maybe he already knew of her apartment in the city. The one that's a secret. Peter may not be easy to surprise right now, except by displays of emotion. The hand moves away from her finally, reaching into his pocket to pull out a pocket watch. It's silvery, with black details. Flipping it open, he glances over the dials, because there are more than the standard one, and then flips it closed again. "Can I stay there for a while? I don't mean to kick you out of one of your homes, but I can't exactly stay in mine."

"You wouldn't be kicking me out," Niki reassures, although she doesn't explain; whether it's because she doesn't use the place often, or because she doesn't plan on not, it goes unsaid. She takes a drink, finishing off what scant amount is left in the glass over melting ice, and sets the glass aside, sliding it farther away from herself. "There's someone who's been … helping me at Pinehearst," she says suddenly, as if realizing it might be important. The hesitation over the word 'helping' — that might be important, too. "His name is Gene Kensington."

A small hike of an eyebrow might give a question he doesn't fully voice. Peter seems to have forgotten about the scar across his face, or at least he's no longer attempting to mask it. Could just be he's forgotten. The ice in his glass needs time to melt, and he doesn't bother with it right now, straightening his coat as he moves to stand up, listening. "Gene. I know him. A friend." Past? Present? Future? All three, depending on which Peter she's talking to, really. "I knew he was already working with them." Already. Right now. "How is he helping you?"

"He can get past security." Simple enough. She leaves out the veiled threats and general hostility. On seeing Peter make motions to leave, Niki hops off the barstool as well; a coat, sat on, until now, is picked up. "I get the impression he doesn't really buy what Pinehearst has to offer."

"He's good at getting through things, especially if you're talking computers," Peter admits, forking out a few extra dollars to drop into a tip jar for the bartender before he offers the ungloved hand to her. "I know he doesn't buy it. The first time I ever heard of Pinehearst the company, it was from him. I sent him to look into something that led to their name, their website. It… sort of began everything."

That news changes things, at least a little; maybe Niki will trust Gene more than she had before. She takes the hand somewhat distractedly, lost in dark thought — likely over Pinehearst. Her coat — black, too — is hugged to her side, half draped over a bare arm. "Just being here," she says suddenly, searching the scarred face in front of her, "Aren't you messing with the rules of the universe or something?" Man, whatever. Time travel is confusing. So is destiny.

"Maybe," Peter admits thoughtfully, a hint of surprise in his widening eyes. "We mess with the rules of the universe just by existing. Guess you could say I'm trying to bend those rules toward a goal. An outcome I hope is better then the world I'm leaving behind." Risking the very fabric of space and time to change something? A pretty bad something. "I guess you could say I'm stealing time, in hopes that everyone else will be able to enjoy this world a little longer." Everyone except him, of course.

"I hope you're right," Niki says, and can't help but wonder how many times this Peter has heard those words. ''Cause I don't think I want to know about the world you came from." If it has to do with plans Logan has for the world and what Pinehearst is working on… well, she can't even imagine. She doesn't want to. She looks the new — yet older — version of Peter Petrelli up and down. "You look tired, Peter."

Maybe even those words in the same voice. Peter glances over at her as she speaks about not wanting to know about it. A small twitch around his eyes and he glances away, squeezing her hand, quick steps that will carry them out onto the street. "I don't sleep much," he simply says, not really answering her concerns, so much as giving her the reason why she sees tiredness in him. Much is such a relative term. "What's the address of your apartment? I can get us there more quickly."

The atmosphere changes, the quiet hole-in-the-wall bar, a hideaway from the world, being replaced by the sights and sounds of the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Sirens sound, somewhere in the distance — getting closer, perhaps not far away at all. Car horns, engines, whisking by. But compared to the rest of the city, this little sliver of street in front of the Della Rosa is thankfully quiet.

"You sure you don't already know?" Niki says with a skeptical lift of her brows. Guy who's from the future's gotta know a lot more than he lets on. "It's not far," she says, and after a quick moment of digging in her unworn coat for the sleek black phone it hides, and another moment of finding a feature on the screen, she presents Peter with a map and Manhattan address.

"It would be impolite to assume it's the same one," Peter says, but there's only a fleeting glance at the screen before they suddenly… appear. One moment they're standing in the street. It's dark. It's empty— more or less— and then they're standing in the front room. The view-screen didn't show details enough to do that. "Saves on taxi fare, doesn't it?" For the first time since he walked into the bar, there's a hint of a genuine smile. Too bad it's just a hint. There's a small pause, what there was of a smile is gone. He lets go of her hand, moving away a little, looking around the apartment, as if looking for differences, similarities. "The future isn't all bad. There's parts that might've been worth saving…"

While Niki is used to the teleporting thing, it's jarring because the room they arrive in is dark — darker, even, than the street they left. The only light is from the skyscrapers outside the expansive window, high above the city. The apartment, a loft, is mostly bare of personal touches. It's bare of most everything. Naked brick walls, sparse modern furniture, not many walls to speak of; everything is open, save for a couple rooms to the far left past a kitchen area. It's not meant to be a home. It's meant to be a space.

Niki zones in on a tall floor lamp, but is waylaid by Peter, following him instead. On the hard floor of the room, the sharp clicks of her high-heeled boots are more definite than they were in the cloistered bar. "Like what?"

Not a home. It's very possible that Peter doesn't need light to see by, cause he casts his eyes around and sees all the things that the apartment has, the shape of it, everything. When he looks back at her he notices the differences in height. With her heels on, she's actually a little taller than him. An inch, a fraction of an inch. But taller. Even with his boots, she's still that fraction of an inch taller. There's silence to answer her question for a moment, a slow breath inhaled. Instead of words, he touches her face again. The confidence in his touch lacks any hint of the fumbling one might do in the dark. It's familiar. The paradox of time travel be damned. Instead of answering her question, he moves in to kiss her again.

It's the familiarity, the confidence, that seals it — that lets Niki take the physical contact as an answer. What shouldn't be in the here and now is blurred by the mystifying timeline-breaker. Timeline-maker. Whatever, Niki isn't really thinking about any of that: just that it has a way of blurring logic and rationale, too. She drops her coat without thought and takes the familiar and unfamiliar face in her hands, meeting the kiss. Even though she advances, stepping in, closer, against him, she moves his face away from hers a few moments later. "I'm not her," she says, her thumb touching the rivet of scarred skin on Peter's face, trailing down the slash. "The woman you know in the future. I'm not her."

Proximity is closed, but some contact is broken off. Peter takes in a slow breath close to her, leaning into her thumb, eyes closed. "I know." She's not the same woman he knows, he's not the same man she knows. Everything is twisted, out of place. This moment could end up destroying something— The variables of time travel make such a thing possible, and make such a thing just as complex and out of sorts. Shifting, his forehead ends up pushing against hers, as his hands slide around her and hold onto her. A little less intimate, but still a hold. "Do you want me to leave?" A simple question, where 'leave' could mean a lot of things.

Niki looks from this would-be Peter's eyes in the dark to down, off to the side — just away. She doesn't answer right away, locked in the statuesque pose of two people holding on in stillness. But eventually, it breaks. She gives a shake of her head that would be barely perceptible if it weren't for the close lean and a light swing of blonde hair and hoop earring. "No," she says quietly, frowning. The hand that touched the apparent battle scar squeezes Peter's shoulder. "No, it's… you can stay. Please."

That might be just about the answer he needed. The distance, what little there is, gets closed again. Confidence has returned. Peter doesn't try to speak more, doesn't give promises of how long he might stay. A short time, a long time… any time at all might be more than he should. All she gets in the form of words is a short, "Thank you." It's not much, but it's something, genuine. The mission in time isn't forgotten, there's a light ticking sound in the corner of his senses, coming from his pocket. A reminder. But right now, he's focused on something else. Time stolen, shared with someone who may never have it.

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