2008-03-24: Time Is Running Out


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Summary: Time is running out for the changes that need to be made for the future; plans need to be acted on, including a plan regarding Charlotte. Niki and Peter from 2012's time together is only bound to end tragically, but their limited time might just bring them closer.

Date It Happened: March 24th, 2008

Time Is Running Out

"Jessica's" Apartment


Niki hasn't stopped all day. There's always something. It's night by the time she secures her chance to stop by the high-up apartment. A jingle of keys, a quick opening of the door. There's no light to switch on, so she's forced to close and lock the door in the dark. She doesn't bother with taking off her coat, a half-sleeved, short trench, the same black as the shirt underneath. The woman's expression, too, is dark as she searches out the corners of the apartment, not sure what's solid and what's a trick of shadow.

Or what's both. Trick of shadow and trick of time all at once. A click predates the sudden appearance of light. What little there may be in the apartment, there's still a lamp. The light floods part of the room. The chair next to it happens to have a dark figure in it, reaching to turn the light on. Peter may have sat in the darkness for some time, but now he's no longer alone. Light might be necessary. "You called?" He likely would have shown up in the next few hours even without a call, but this time… His coat has been removed, left draped over the side of the chair he's sitting on.

Niki stops at the tiny sound of the light being flicked on, but her limbo ends when she sees the figure in the chair. "We have a problem," she gets straight to the point, striding through the vast space toward the half-hearted pool of light — warm in theory, but in reality, it's only haunting in contrast to the dark. She makes it to the edge of the light that's shed before she stops. "Charlotte."

There's a twinge of tension that settles into Peter's forehead. Usually tense anyway, it's more tense at the mention of a problem, and even more at the name. It doesn't seem to be surprise though. It's possible he'd always suspected she might turn out to be a problem. "How big a problem?" The question is simple, but there's something dark in the set of his jaw, and he looks determined… and resigned. As if he accepts what this may mean.

Niki only catches half of the nuances on Peter's face; she takes to walking behind his chair, the sharp falls of her heels filling the space with their echoes. "She's got it in her head that Pinehearst are the good guys, and— " She travels several feet, pivots, comes back the way she came. "I don't really blame her. For a little while, that was me." She pauses, both in words and pacing. "The way she was talking, I don't think she's going to cover for me anymore. Me or— or the other you."

"Pinehearst does do good things, and that's all she's seen. She hasn't seen the dead bodies they're getting rid of from their experiments, or the teenager girl they kept locked in a room while they drained her of blood for their own purposes," Peter says thickly, watching the woman pace back and forth. He remains seated. "I don't think even forcing her to see the bad would help. When I brought her in back then… she…" There's a small shake of his head. "I'll take care of it."

Niki takes a slow step as if to start pacing again, but halts. Shifting her head to the side, toward Peter, her brow quickly becomes tightly knit. She hesitates for a span of time, suddenly… wary. Unsure. "What… do you mean you'll take care of it?"

It could mean a lot of things, couldn't it? Peter's definitely not the same man he used to be, and there's that resignation in his eyes… "I can alter her mind and make sure she doesn't betray either of us. I can even change the memory so that she doesn't know she was helping us at all." There's no real hesitation at the suggestion, nothing that shows he has any reservations against doing what is necessary to protect them.

"…Peter…" Niki's cautious gaze levels on the man, becoming darker and more intense by the fraction-of-a-second. She moves around to the front of the chair, sitting on sleek glass top of the coffee table that doesn't seem able to support even her weight, but manages. Niki can't imagine Present Day Peter ever messing with someone's head like that — and for a moment, she looks at this man like she doesn't know him at all.

But just as she's about to protest, Niki looks away, frowns tightly, and considers. Because what other option do they have? "…She said— we were sacrificing everything good to save ourselves." A rephrase, but all the same. She goes for a dismal-voiced subject change. "Logan's trying to get the government in on the formula." Questioning eyes turn up to Peter.

The Peter she'd known for a year now would never suggest such a thing. Not for a good person like Charlotte. Shattering the illusion of Pinehearst would likely have been the first suggestion, taking her to meet Claire, taking her to see the product of some of their experiments so far. But right now… He's silent as he returns her gaze, maybe understanding her protest. And understanding more when it's not given. "I'm trying to make sure the… formula never gets completed. That the other dangerous projects are stopped. Even if my father is killed, and if Nathan leaves Pinehearst, the good things they're doing don't have to stop. They just have to change."

Niki gives the Peter of the future a narrow-eyed look with a hint of incredulity, a smile that is not at all humorous nor warm barely surfacing. "They're already testing it," she says. "I dunno if it's the whole thing, but I saw the research. They're mixing it with something else." A pause. Niki glances off toward the window somewhat tensely, as if she's reluctant to say what's to come. "I don't need Gene's help anymore. But I can get almost anything we need. All the information. Anything that's run by a computer."

There's a grunt of frustration at being told they're testing it. "I may have to move more quickly," Peter says, shifting until that watch appears in his hand. Flipping open, he looks down at it, to the multiple hands and the many dials, some with different languages on them, some with symbols. "It doesn't start getting out of hand for a while longer, but if it's already being tested… Once they have a success, time's up. We need to stop the testing before that happens. But I'm pretty clear on when that happens." And the way he says that seems to imply they have a little time left on that. At least. "As long as they don't have a successful product, something to demonstrate, there's time."

"You probably know Cass is working on it." Niki leans onto her knees to run her hands through her hair. When she comes back up, she spends a moment watching the complicated gadget Peter adjusts. It's an idle gaze; she doesn't ask about its purpose, undoubtedly just as complicated. "So why don't we just get rid of it now? Smash it to hell?" she suggests with a bitter flash of a smile. "I'm starting to think someone should just burn the place to the ground and say 'done'." Next.

Cass. At the mention of his former boss, Peter tenses visibly, something else coming over his face. Something… He stands up and starts to move away out of the light, getting away from the lamp and keeping his back to her for the moment. The shadows cast on his face act as a mask. Voice thicker and even raspier than normal, he moves to the next topic. "If we burned the place down, we really would be getting rid of everything that is good, just to get rid of what isn't."

Niki has to wonder why the mention of Cass seemed to affect Peter so much. Maybe the fact that Cass is even working there is enough, but — no, there's more. She doesn't dig deeper. She's scared of what she'll find. Instead, she slowly stands up and says with an increasingly aggressive tone, "What good are they doing that someone else can't do? Someone without some crazy world-changing agenda? If the future's as bad as you seem to think it is, why don't you just cut your losses?"

"That's a last resort," Peter says simply, shoulder set in tension as he looks deeper into the apartment. Last resort. "If that's what it will take to do it, then that's what I'll do." But it's not what he wants to do, it seems. There's something close to guilt when he turns back to face the aggressive woman. There's no real fight in his face, just determination, stubborness. He's not going to bend that way unless he absolutely has to. "Do I need to take care of Charlotte immediately, or do you think it can wait until morning?"

"I don't know," Niki answers, a quiet, frustrated snap; the frustration isn't directed at Peter, not really. It's directed at Charlotte. Pinehearst. The whole complex situation. "Knowing Charlotte, she'll… probably sit on it awhile. But— I wouldn't waste much time." It's been almost a day already.

She drifts closer to Peter. Her mind is stuck on the words prior — the last resort. Some part of Niki can barely understand that she was suggesting these things, but her feelings at the forefront… "It's just…" The woman's voice loses its force, becomes quieter but hangs on to an edge. "I'm tired of all of this. Seems like, every day, I ruin something else in the name of taking down Pinehearst and helping Nathan. And I can do it. I can do what it takes. But I want to be done, Peter. I want to go back to whatever life I had, or at least … start a new one."

That she'll sit on it a while makes Peter nod carefully, but it's the rest of her words that seem to cause worry lines to crease his split forehead. The closer she gets to him, the easier it is to see. Finally his eyes drift away, something new flickering there for a moment. Something much more suited for the version of himself she knew first. Doubt. Add that to the guilt already rising to the surface and it helps him look younger. He turns away again, clicking the watch closed and walking over to where his coat is hanging.

"Are you sure you can do this? If it's a new life you want, you… you don't have to keep helping me." He reaches, picking the coat up off of where it drapes over the chair. "You have a future." And he doesn't. "You don't have to wait to find it."

Doubt is not something that's reflected on Niki's features, on the other hand. No, she might've just expressed her tiredness, her desire to end the fight, but she's full of determination all the same. She doesn't take her eyes off Peter — she follows him, although it's delayed, at a distance. "Yes, I do have to help you. I said I can do it," she says. "I don't have some fairytale future waiting for me, I know that. Unless you know something I don't know."

The coat isn't pulled onto his arms and shoulders, but Peter drops the watch into one of the deep pockets and turns to look at her. "I don't know what your future will be now. But if manage to change things like I hope we will… I'll be gone." When it's done… he's done. There's a pause, as if he's not totally sure on this. He has no idea what will happen to him. Time travel is confusing, and time travel and… emotions make it even more so. It's not even the first time he's done this, loved someone he knew he would have to leave. "As far as I know, this is it. This is all the time we'll have together. This is it." And it's selfish and unfair. And he knows it.

It's not like Niki thought any different — it's not like someone from the future can stay in the past. She doesn't wrack her brain on the complexities of time travel, and really, things will be less complicated when he's gone. She told him it was unfair. But knowing all of that doesn't stop the heart-rendered look in her eye, glinting, or the determination that takes on a desperate quality. "I told you I would be here for you," she says with conviction, brows of dark blonde lifting higher and higher with sincerity, and she steps in to lay a hand on Peter's free arm. "Whatever happens after is … whatever, it happens. We're here now. I'm not backing down."

The coat drops off of his arm, hitting the floor with a solid thud. The pocket watch probably isn't damaged, but it still makes a sound. A hand goes up to touch her face, moving behind her neck, fingers touching her hair. There's almost a rough quality about it, and the fact he doesn't pull her closer even then… Peter's eyes are intense as he watches her, that doubt and guilt remaining, but something new also there, his own kind of determination, "What do you want, Niki?" He needs her. He's made that pretty clear. Too clear. Could he do this without her? Probably not unless she really wanted him to just burn up Pinehearst and call it done. "You want this to be done and you want to move on. So why are you here?"

Niki doesn't flinch. "Because it's not done." She reaches up to grab his wrist, to pull it away, but she gets in closer just to talk in his face all the more — as if the intense proximity will give her words more meaning. "I can't move on! I don't even know what I'm going to do when this is all over. What do you want me to say, Peter? That I wish taking Pinehearst down would take longer just so you could stay with me? That's ridiculous," she gives a scoffing laugh, but tries to smile. It doesn't quite work, but it softens her expression, at least. "But while you're here, I sure as hell need you too."

Something she said must have been the right thing. For a few moments Peter's expression grew darker, angrier, and then she tries to laugh, tries to smile… and as her expression softens, so does his. Need. "We have time," he says, sure on this. Moving in closer, he presses his cheek against hers. His is rough, thanks to stubble, but that doesn't change the gesture. "Not much…" He will leave her eventually. Sooner than he might like. It's even more selfish because— he has no idea what will happen to him, but she'll have to live with the memory. Then again… "I just don't want you to regret the time you're spending here… with me."

Niki tilts her head against Peter's, shutting her eyes. Even with closed eyes and a faint, faint hint of that smile, she's unsettled; she's anchored here, but even troubled, the closeness brings a certain calm. "I should," she says after some thought. "I should regret it. I know that I should." She pulls her head back, looking him in the eye. "But I somehow just— I can't. Not when you're here."

When he's here. "I don't want you to regret it when I'm not, either," Peter rasps softly, leaning forward to touch the tips of their noses together, and then lean his forehead against hers. There's very little distance between them now, his breath brushes against her lips. "I do want you to know that this… this is important to me. It's special." There's a hint of hesitation in the way he inhales, as if he wants to add on something else.

The hint of hesitation is, maybe, what delays Niki from making Peter stop talking altogether — they're close enough. She searches his eyes at super close range, trying to figure him out. She waits for a moment — waiting for him to say something — but speaks herself before he can. "You don't have time to worry about that." She aims for another smile. "I'll be okay, you know."

"I hope so," Peter could say he has a lot of time to worry, more than most people, but she's right. Their time is limited and… "You're right. Worrying about what happens when I do leave won't make things easier while I'm here." It took a lot of the conversation for him to get to that point. Might be the look in her eyes, the attempt to smile. She'll be okay. Or he'll hope she's not just telling him that. There's a shift, he presses his lips against hers. And then, apparently, the delay has given him enough time to say what he might have been hesitating on saying. "I love you, Niki."

There's no one emotion that stands out more than the other. Some of them are warring. All of them are strong. It's as stormy as it is touched. Niki does nothing but wrap her arms around Peter and hug him tight, head on his shoulder. It's not fair, but it's still real.

Temporary, doomed. But still real. Someone says that stars burn brightest when they're about to burn out. Peter's eyes go around her, holding onto her as tightly as she's holding onto him. "I'll make sure this does end… That you have a future to look forward to. A better life. You're a hero, whether you believe it or not— and you deserve happiness."

Niki forgoes the various forms of denial that usually spring up after words like that — words like "hero". She just holds on, tighter, fingers clenching around fabric. In fact, she says something rare — and very quiet, practically whispering. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," Peter says quietly, pressing his face into her hair. Breath warm and slow, he waits a moment longer before he adds on, "I'll make sure Charlotte is safe in the morning… I'm yours tonight." And pretty much every night until it's done that he doesn't need to do anything important. He has things he needs to ask of her… but that can wait.

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