Four Hands


des3_icon.gif lynette_icon.gif mateo_icon.gif

Scene Title Four Hands
Synopsis Primo and Secondo find each other in a moment of confusing harmony, followed by discordant chaos.
Date March 1, 2018

The Benchmark Recovery and Counseling Center

Benchmark is a tall, red brick building renovated into a rehab facility. The first floor holds doctors' offices, reception, waiting areas and conference rooms. The lobby is warm and inviting, with a rust-colored design scheme and paintings of calm oceans and pristine beaches. The common areas follow this design, but each doctor has designed their own offices to their own tastes. The upper floors holds dorm-style rooms, split for two occupants per room. Each floor has a communal shower/bathroom. Very dorm-like. Freshman dorms. There is one room on each floor for an employee assigned to that floor, as a communication point for the clients and semi-guard for them, too. This room is more self-contained and the employees are not expected to use the same facilities as the client.

The top floor is different, set up more like an apartment building, where people come to live. These are typically ex-Ferrymen or the like who need a place to stay and are willing to exchange room and board for some work maintaining the building. They do not interact with the clients. The doctors are also welcome to stay in these apartments, but most choose not to.

Most of the usual patients or residents pay much notice to the very common sight and sound of a someone playing on the piano. Mateo Javier Ruiz often does when he finishes his day job. It's almost as if the music calms him, quiets the darkness in the back of his mind. He uses it to decompress from the day. Still dressed in his jump suit from his janitor's job, complete with a patch that reads Ruiz, his fingers move slowly across the keys. Debussy's La fille aux cheveux de lin echos through the common area, into the hallways of the first floor, giving a so, ethereal feeling to the place.

This composition is short, lasting only the time it would take someone to make their way to discover who happens to be playing. He has no sheet music, doesn't even really look at the keys. His eyes are closed most of the two and a half minutes he plays this song.

It allows him to forget about that thing constantly calling out from the nothingness. That voice that is not a voice, the sound that is not a sound. The last notes seem to hang in the air for a few seconds, the vibrations left behind on the piano lingering until they finally fade.

Des has been promising for a while now that she would go seek help. Counseling. Therapy. Something. She's wandered into the building, and instantly is entranced by the piano music she can hear drifting from the common area. Her heart stops when she sees the shape of the man playing. She's seen other men over the years that reminded her of him, but even from behind, she knows.

She's left standing there while he plays, her breath caught in her throat and tears rolling down her cheeks. Her fingers catch on the hem of her cream colored turtleneck sweater, feeling the knitted yarn between thumb and forefinger. For once, she doesn't have the urge to grab at strings and stop the world.

When the last notes ring out, she reaches up to wipe the tears away with a trembling hand. Then, she puts her hands together to quietly clap in appreciation of his playing while she steps forward, cautious. Apprehensive.

The sound of someone clapping causes him to turn. Mateo half expected to see a member of his new family there, but instead… For a moment, that nothing swells in his head, causing a hint of strain on his face as he tries to push it aside again, focus on the here and now, and that those teeth that are not teeth wanting to gnash away at the world.

"It is a beautiful song," he breaks the small silence after a moment, to give an excuse the hint of tears in her eyes. "I probably should play something more upbeat, I know." There's people in recovery here, and he's playing songs that make people cry! The long sleeves of the jump suit cover his arms up to his wrist, but there's many hints to him that seem different.

Longer hair, for one. A hint of gray at his temples. And his left hand sports a twisted ring, that looks kind of like a mobius strip.

"No," the woman says softly, shaking her head. "Doesn't need to be upbeat. I love that piece." He doesn't recognize her. Though her heart breaks, she didn't expect him to. This isn't the Mateo she knew at the Ark. That man is dead. This? This must be her world's Mateo. A different person.

"My name's Des." While she normally pronounces the last sound like a Z, this time it's softer. Dess. "Would you mind if I join you?"

"Mateo," he responds with a smile, continuing to push against that feeling that seems to just get louder and louder for the moment. Without actually getting loud. More he's more aware of it. The tension is visible in his jaw, as he gestures to the seat next to him, even scooting over to make more room. As he does, his fingers drag against the keys, the glissando of sweeping notes flowing through the air.

The sound, the notes, tugs on a memory, one held within the body and the ears, more than the mind. He shakes his head, as if trying to brush off that thought before he looks back at the young woman, "Do you play? I was beginning to think the piano would fell neglected." When he couldn't play it, at least.

The glissando brings a warm smile to Des' face as she sits down at the left side of the piano. Something stirs inside of her, feels familiar. This is bittersweet for her, but sweeter than bitter. There's no recognition from him when she gives her name, which is what she expected. What does she do with this?

The only thing she can do. Carry on. "I do," she confirms with a nod of her head. She places her fingers on the keys. "I like to play any chance I get." She starts playing chords absently. There seems to be a reason to it, but she can't remember where she learned this particular progression. It's not the sort of thing she'd usually play. Her favored pieces tend to be more complicated. This is secondo.

As those notes dance into the air, that noise lessens into something else. Music. Music had always been one of the few ways he'd had to push it aside. Music helped drown it out, distract him, distant him fron that sensation— but this felt different. The tension starts to fade from Mateo's jawline, his hands making gestures at the keys without actually touching them until— suddenly he starts to bring in new notes to add to hers.

The composition floats out of the nothingness like a long forgotten memory.

It takes a few moments, then his other hand joins in, the notes coming with more confidence, urging her on.

Yes. He knows this song.

The smile starts to push against his lips as that sliding of notes becomes a reality, has a purpose. A place within the a melody he recognizes.

Des is startled at first, but her fingers do not falter. She's far too practiced at this hobby of hers for distraction to break through much. The notes mingle together, primo matching secondo, and she lets out a breath of laughter as they carry on. She shoots him a glance from the corner of her eye and urges the tempo on faster now, seeing if he can keep up.

The singing in her own skull dies down to a whisper. There is no urge to control. No urge to know. There's only this serenity that comes from this gift of music, and not from the gift of evolution.

It feels so natural, like the flow of seasons, like the movement of the stars.

Mateo keeps up with her increased pace, legato switching to forte and back again with ease. In the middle of a set of notes, he meets her eyes with a smile, one that gets rid of all that tension he'd had a moment ago, relaxing his muscles in a new way. And then he does something he almost doesn't expect— he slides off the bench on the side and stops playing, moving around behind her.

They have no sheet music to follow, but perhaps they're following something stronger than notes on a piece of paper.

It's like it's the most natural thing in the world, sitting here next to him and playing this piece that she doesn't remember learning. Doesn't remember playing with anyone before.

He stands up, and on cue, Des bows her head in concentration as she starts working her way up the keys, sliding down the bench incrementally to where he sat before. Now she is on primo. When he sits down next to her again and they both settle into their new roles like they've done it a hundred thousand times before, she looks over to him and laughs, flushed and giddy from the excitement.

The laugh is met with another, as Mateo settles into the other side of the piano, following her lead this time, but playing with just as much enthusiasm as he had been before. He couldn't explain it if he wanted to, but he feels it deeper than most anything ever— something that seems to be hidden underneath so many other things.

The piece comes to and end, with her sweeping the keys in glissando toward him, and then he does the same thing, all the way down to her side, to where he's practically touching her with his shoulder before he ends with one key to accent the end.

He's still smiling as he settles back onto the seat, even as that smile starts to dissolve into confusion.

By the final note of the piece, she's trembling. Her expression fades similarly to his. Elation giving way to bewilderment. Lips are parted, her mouth has gone dry. Blue eyes stare at the keys of the piano from behind red framed glasses, then look back at him. "I've… How did-"

Lips press together while Des tries to organize her thoughts. "I've never played that piece before," she finally says, meeting his eyes. "I don't remember learning it. I never had a partner before."

For a moment, Mateo almost feels like he needs to catch his breath. It was a quick piece, with bits he recognized. "I think it was a variation of Chopsticks," he helpfully adds, but leaves out that, since he thinks this, he didn't actually know the song either. Or played it, that he can remember. "I've never had anyone I could play with," he does say. No partner here, either, though he's going to try to teach his wife at some point.

But this… He frowns, looking over at her again with a question that seems to mirror to something many years past, "What am I to you?"

It's familiar. He is familiar. Odessa is on her feet swiftly, pivoting on her toes to instead come to sit on the bench next to him, shoulder to shoulder now. Her voice is urgent, low, her visible eye wide and searching. "Who are we to each other?" Who will we be? Who were we? Which of these is the right question?

What's the right answer?

"Someone I love," Des replies without missing a beat, terrified as soon as the words leave her lips that he'll think she's crazy and run. And she'd let him. She's hoping the equal fear and confusion in her eyes will compel him to stay. "Mateo…"

Someone she loves.

Mateo tilts his head at that, because it's not something he hears many people actually say, and the way she says it wipes away any doubt that some part of her means it, even if she looks as confused as he does. It's also the way she says his name…

"I have no idea who you are," he says quietly, simply. He's never met her. And there it comes again, roaring behind him. With a flinch, he looks away, almost as if a sudden headache snuck up on him. It's not a headache, though, but the pressure sometimes feels like one.

He can almost feel his control unraveling, his hands press against the keys for a moment, as he stands up. But he doesn't run away.

"I know." Des nods her head slowly. "I don't know how to explain it. I—" He stands up and she almost panics. Instead, she dips her head low. That whispering grows in intensity. You can make him stop, it tells her.

But there's something else, too.

Des lifts her head, but her gaze is distant, like she can see into the past. "Right side gets the pedals," she says softly. "Your legs are longer than mine."

Blue eyes come up to look at him again, and she shakes her head helplessly. "Please don't go."

Right side gets the pedals.

"I don't wanna leave," Mateo responds quietly, without even thinking about it. His voice is a whisper, even as that… He shakes his head, moving to sit back down, at the right side, his foot resting on the pedal. After a moment he asks, his fingers already moving to the keys, "Do you know Sonata in B-flat?"

It's different from what they'd played before, but— he knows it. It has a version for four hands, as well as one for two. He knows that one, too. It occassionally would mess up the song when he played the two hand version. He'd start trying to play as if he had an invisible partner, and there would always be that missing piece.

She moves over when he says he isn't going to leave so he can retake his original seat on the bench. She offers him a shaky smile when he rejoins her. "Mozart? Yes." Her hands find the keys readily. Like it's second nature.

Des is shaking when she begins to play, mouth in a tight line as she concentrates. This piece is trickier, but she knows it. Has always had trouble with it, because she keeps playing for a partner who isn't there. Tears run down her cheeks as they begin to weave melody and counter-melody together. How is any of this possible?

As they start to play, it falls into that simple formula of notes and melodies, of transitions of legato to forte. Fingers against the clavier, causing the hammer to strike strings and resonate notes in the soundingboard. It doesn't take long for Mateo to feel like the song is finally complete, that the missing piece has fallen into place.

For once, it doesn't sound out of place. And that noise fades in the back of his mind, allowing him to play without that tension, allowing him to feel the music again.

The composition feels whole, complete. If one of the longer things he's played in the common room.

The tension winds its way out of her as she goes along. The more they play, the more right everything feels. Like she's suddenly safe. Here, with him, is where she's meant to be. It's different than it felt before, with the other him. There were stirrings, distant echoes, but it wasn't the same. This resounds within her like a stormy sea crashing into a cliffside. Memory clashing against a barrier that might be eroded over time, but will not be moved.

Her eyes watch his hands instead of her own, watching the way he effortlessly plays the piece from memory, same as her. Rocking forward and back in time, that smile starts to return to her face. Not just content, but happy. Des belongs here with him, and Mateo with her. If only she knew why.

The composition finally comes to a conclusion and he lets his fingers rest there, suddenly realizing he's sweating along his forehead. From the exertion. Playing a piano that long is tiresome. He starts to undo the buttons on his uniform, so that he can strug the top off. He still has a full undershirt underneath, but there's some sweat stains on it, especially now. The short sleeve reveals something the other him did not have…

A tattoo on his wrist. Of a circular maze, surrounding an image of a partically eclipsed sun.

"You said your name was Dess?" he adds after a moment, looking back at her. He says it almost the same as his other self did. "I suppose I should mention that I'm married, before this gets awkward." It's said as a joke. Even if it's the truth. The ring on his finger could have given that much away.

Hands fall still on the piano, lingering on the keys after the last note has decayed. She's not sweating the way he is, but she's a little pale, looks a little drained. She nods her head. "Yes." Her hands move to her lap, clasping over the folds of her charcoal-colored skirt. "That would be awkward," she responds with a faint smile.

The tattoo is spotted and the breath hitches in the back of her throat. "May I?" Tentatively, she reaches out for his wrist, but waits for permission before touching. "El jardin de senderos que se bifurcan," Des whispers. Though her pronunciation of jardin is a bit more French, like in her chosen surname.

"You know Borges?" Mateo responds with a grin, looking down at the maze on his wrist. Almost no one connected his tattoo with the story before, but he doesn't seem surprised that someone might. "Yeah, the Garden of Forking Paths. Was always one of my favorite stories growing up." One of the few things he remembers vividly from his childhood. His mother reading to him. It stuck with him for his entire life.

"I got it almost a decade ago, after I left Argentina," he responds. His accent doesn't sound foreign, even if his ethnicity looks muddled and difficult to place. He could be from Argentina.

"An old friend gave me his book a few years ago." Des brushes her thumb over the tattoo on Mateo's skin, admiring it for a few moments. "I learned Spanish just so I could read it." For a moment, she looks like she might cry. But she's remember the other Mateo dying in her arms, so she'll forgive herself for the surge of emotion.

Her hand lifts from his wrist and delicately comes up to rest on his cheek. "You feel it too, don't you?" Des shakes her head, eyes pleading. "How did we know to do that?"

"I wish I could tell you," Mateo muses softly, looking back at the piano for a moment, feeling an itch to keep playing. He thinks he even knows some more half-completed songs, but he doesn't allow himself to start it up. He doesn't pull away from the hand entirely, even as he's looking back at the piano instead of her.

When he turns again, it's into her hand, eyes meeting hers as an eyebrow raises for a moment and he asks, "The person who gave you the book… It wasn't me, was it?" It's said as a joke, something that could easily be laughed off or dismissed.

If it wasn't actually him, at least.

If there's anyone who might understand this, it's someone who's read Borges. What would she say if their roles were reversed? Well, in a way, they were. In the Ark, he knew her, and she didn't. Now, she knows him - sort of. Des could understand because of her ability, her knowledge of travel through time via others'. "Yes." The admission is given apprehensively. Please don't run, she begs silently. "From another path in the garden."

When he doesn't run, or even look completely shocked and surprised that she's talking about another him from another path in the garden as more than a joke, it probably says a lot. Mateo makes a soft sound, almost a laugh that doesn't seem complete and runs a hand through his hair. "Those other mes really seem to travel around," he mutters, not immediately assuming it's the same one he already knows about. After all, Eve had said there was at least one more otter floating around in the forking river of her dream.

A few years ago. When he'd been in Mexico, not New York.

"Were you friends? Did you…" he nods toward the piano. Is that how they knew how to play together, he seems to be asking. Because he's just as confused as her.

"Oh my God, you believe me." The relief causes her shoulders to sag. Her hand falls from his face to his shoulder instead, partially bracing as she bows her head to cry, half-folding in on herself. "No," Des whispers through her tears, shaking her head when he indicates the piano.

"Yes, I think we were friends." For the brief time they knew each other. Des had been drawn to Ruiz almost magnetically. This is pull now, with this version of Mateo? It's even stronger. "He knew me, and…" Fingers curl, wadding up the fabric of his shirt, catching at the seam at his shoulder. "I know we meant something to each other. He said he was going to tell me everything, but… He never got the chance."

Her eyes close tightly as she lifts her head, tears catching between the bottom of the frame of her glasses and the bones of her face before spilling over. "I can feel it in my mind, like there's something tucked away behind a locked door." Now she watches his face, looking for some sign that he feels it too. He must, or he'd have been calling for help by now, wouldn't he?

Ah, so other him doesn't explain the piano. It was worth asking, since neither of them seemed to understand it. Mateo raises an eyebrow at the first sign of her relief, then grins. Yeah, he believes her. Mostly because he's heard this once before— from someone he would never, ever doubt. As she mentions the locked door though, that pull happens again, like something urging him. He can feel it.

For a moment, the lights start to flicker in the room. Then there's a soft sound. At first it's a whisper, like the sound of a fan being turned on. The air pulls toward a spot in the air, ruffling her hair, even pulling on her glasses.

Suddenly, he's looking toward it, a hint of panic in his eyes. For a moment she can see the black gaping maw form, surrounded by a ring of crackling, sparking electricity…

And that black maw inhales. Deeply. Dust is pulled from the air toward it, the air itself, a bottle cap someone had dropped spins up and gets drawn in. The fold up chairs start to shift toward it.

Des gasps quietly when she feels the change in the air. She stares at the portal with a sort of horrified fascination - emphasis on the fascination. But there's no Point B in sight. Des still remembers what she read in the other Ruiz's file.

One hand snaps out in front of her, the other clutches at Mateo's arm with the intent of freezing time on everything in the room except for the two of them.

Time doesn't stop. Or at least, that's what it seems like. Until a spark of green begins to grow within the darkness. Those electrical sparks take on a sickly tinge. And since she didn't freeze him, Mateo raises his own hand, mirroring hers, and— it changes. The surface of the hole takes on a texture of water, water slicked with a green afterimage, like the way oil reflects a rainbow. At the same time, a second hole forms, not a two feet away from the first.

With the room stopped, they don't see the effect it has on the room stopping, but it's effect on them stops. It's no longer tugging on their hair, no longer trying to breathe them in. And no longer roaring in their ears.

It still calls, just… Only to him.

"Sorry, I— " he starts to explain, before he notices… There's a piece of paper. Hanging in the air. He mutters a surprised curse in Spanish.

That's never happened before. Des stares into the portal Mateo's created, breathless. "What's happening?" And why does she wonder so intensely what would happen if they stepped through that portal together? Sweat forms on her brow and she swallows hard.

Since the modification of her ability - the acquisition of Darren Stevens' - the strings that seem to thread into her bones have tugged in all parallel directions when she exerts her power over time. The larger the area she attempts to cover, the worse it is. Now, the strings only pull in one direction: toward the portal. "Do you — nngh!" The hand out in front of her starts to shake, her grip on his arm tightens unconsciously as she breathes through the pain. "Do you feel it?"

"I always feel it," Mateo responds quietly, though perhaps not answering her question exactly. It, being his ability. Even when it's at it's softest, he can always feel it, always hear it. Even when it's just a whisper he's able to ignore. He knows it's still there. "It's okay. It's stable. It won't take you anywhere," he explains, though he does not understand why it's green or why the paper is floating in the air like that.

It's much too small to step through, this one, barely a foot wide in diameter.

He steps away from her enough to snatch the piece of paper out of the air and ball it up, throwing it at one of the portals. He's a good throw, cause it goes inside. "See, it's just a portal."

As he says that, the piece of paper— does not come out the other end. Much to his confusion.

And that's when the roar grows, deepening— in his head, at least. The pressure of something pulling on him from all directions.

And his nose starts to bleed. Not that he seems to notice over the angry tantrum his ability seems to be having.

"It's not," Des says firmly, like she knows somehow. She can't, and yet… "Not this time." Her breath comes in shallow gasps for a moment, a pained whine from the back of her throat. "I've done something to it."

Staggering to her feet, she loops her arm around Mateo's waist, leaning against him for the stability, hand still outstretched toward his creation. She's about to ask him if he can make it bigger, but she sees the blood dripping from his nose. "Mateo… You have to close it now. Please. Listen to me. Fo- Focus on me. The power lies to us. We can't control it. Not really."

It starts with one nostril only, a thick droplet of blood connecting nose to lip, sliding into his teeth as he responds. "It's not— it's supposed to come out the other— " Mateo can't finish his words as suddenly it's both nostrils bleeding, as if someone punched him in the face, as if his nose should be broken, or fractured. It's not. But he can feel that pressure, that roar, that—

He almost loses his balance, but she's pressed against him. He's not tall, not large, so they can keep each other upright, even as he tries to pull back on whatever it is. "It's not closing. It's not…" he trails off, even as that eletrical ring around it starts to spark again, starts to shift. Then everything falls in. The light flashes. The holes collapse.

And a piece of paper falls out the other end, blackened and singed, as if it got too close to live wire.

The singing in her skull becomes a scream. "Mateo!"

When the portals collapse, so too does Des against him, reaching out with a desperate grasp at his shoulder to keep herself from hitting the floor. Her legs start to give out when she releases her hold on time. Or whatever it was she managed to have a hold of there. It was unlike anything she's ever felt before. Equal parts terrifying and exhilarating.

They sink to the floor together, Mateo's hand coming up to his nose as he bleeds onto that white under shirt. Thankfully just the shirt. And his hand. That has happened before. The tantrum that constant knot behind him has had tantrums before, too. And tantrum is the only way he can think it describe it.

"Let's not do that again," he says hoarsely, tired, almost sounding as if he might just pass out. The color has drained from his face, making that natural bronze tone have a strange, unhealthy tinge. If someone took his blood pressure, they might find it low, even as his heart thumps quickly in his chest.

"Whatever that was."

That little piece of singed paper rolls on the floor toward them.

Des clutches Mateo tightly, catching her breath. She's not in much better shape than he is, but she tends to simply pass out without physical evidence given as a warning. Her hand comes up from his shoulder to his face, his jaw in the cup of her palm. She presses a kiss to his cheek without a thought, then rests her forehead against his.

"Yeah," is her shaky agreement. "That sounds like a plan."

That flickering of the lights has stopped. A few moments ago, electricity had been pulled out of the wall, out of the building, as if someone had drawn on more power than the breakers could handle. It happened twice, so at least the electrokinetic will know that there won't be a black hole in the middle of her business. She's used to the feeling of the portals being formed. She helped him learn how. The power dissipates into the air in the common room, close to the piano.

Inside, the two of them are there, on their knees, looking exhausted. Blood runs down Mateo's face from his nose. For a moment, one might think someone broke his nose the amount of blood there is— but she's seen this before. Just usually not this much. He still wears his jump suit from his job, the top has been unbuttoned and pulled down. His undershirt has blood on the front, sweat stains in various places.

And his skin looks off, like he's pale, or sick. Or about to pass out.

Fluctuations like these are exactly the sort of thing that get Lynette's attention. She wasn't far, so at least no one has to see her running through the facility. But she steps into the doorway, worry already on her features even before she sees all the blood. "Jesus," she says before she crosses to a set of cabinets to pull out a first aid kit. Because she's nothing if not prepared. Coming over to the pair of them, she sets it down and opens it to pull out some gaze.

She might pull Des back a bit, but only so she can press the gaze to Mateo's nose. "Mateo, «are you with us»?" she asks in Spanish before she actually looks over to Des. "Are you okay? Who are you and what happened?" Since she's the one that seems more lucid here.

Marginally, at least. "I— My name is Des." When Lynette moves in to see to Mateo, she sits back on her heels, watching with concern. "His ability just… triggered? We were playing the piano and just talking."

As an afterthought, she shakes her head. "I'll be fine. It's him I'm worried about. I- I was trying to-" To what, Des? "I don't know, talk him through it? Help him calm down, and close it." Taking in a deep breath and gathering her wits, higher brain function kicks in. The trained medical professional. "He needs fluids. Something with salt. And he needs to stay put." All of these things Lynette probably already knows.

Mateo can barely hear them talking through the ocean in his head, that roaring tornado, the crackling fire, the rumbling of a volcano erupting in the distance. It feels like all that at once, and something more at the same time. Even when Lynette touches him, it doesn't stop. That crunching of a giant clock's gears, the revirberation of a brass bell on a tower. It almost makes his ears ring, even if part of him knows he doesn't hear it with his ears.

Eyes blink, and suddenly he's leaning against the both of them, trying to shift some weight onto Lynette— his bloody left hand dropping down to rest on her's. The gauze helps, catching the blood while he breaths, each breath rocking his body. They can almost feel the palpitations of his heart, unsteady, fast, but slowing.

"I'm here," he mutters after a long moment of silence, voice deep, tight and even rough, as if he'd been screaming. Only he hasn't been.

"Hi Des, I'm Lynette," she says, an introduction despite the fact that this is a very strange moment to be making one. She listens to the explanation with a nod. She doesn't seem surprised, at least. And although she certainly does know the checklist of necessities, she doesn't correct her. "You do, too." Need to stay put, that is. "Let me get this bleeding under control and I'll get you both fluids."

She puts pressure on the bleeding, trying to get it to stop. "You're okay," she says to Mateo, "You're okay." It's mantra-esque, rather than specifically true. She, at least, seems calm under pressure. When he speaks, she exhales a little. She doesn't seem to mind the blood getting onto her, although she is dressed for business and her free arm comes around behind him to keep him from falling over. "Just try to breathe, okay?"

"H- Hi." It's kind of an awkward time for it, but Des has been through stranger things. There aren't warning alarms blaring and there isn't a building coming down around their heads, so this is as good a time as any to make introductions.

Des wraps her arm around Mateo again when he starts to sag, assisting with keeping him upright so Lynette can help stop the bleeding. "You must be his wife." Des has spied the ring on her finger that matches his.

From the way he's breathing, there's a definite shortness of breath. Like he can't quite fill his lungs as much as he would like. Those palpitations continue, even as Mateo forces air in and out, trying to focus on the one thing he knows works even better than playing music—


Her mantra to convince him is met with a hoarse, "I'm okay, Mi relampago." He doesn't feel okay, but the more he focuses on what's actually around him, the more that thundering in his head settles down. His wife. His lightning. He has so many nicknames for her it's almost funny, but he'll leave that to Lynette to answer, as his hand tightens on hers.

"That's me," Lynette says to Des, and normally she might be a little more enthusiastic about the claim, but there's a lot going on. And it is difficult to get her attention off Mateo when he's in a state like this.

But there's a chuckle, if a brief one, when he addresses her. "I guess if you're doing nicknames, you're gonna be okay," she teases. Her fingers pull the gaze away, to check on how the bleeding is. "Think you can sit without falling over? I'll get you both something to drink."

Then her attention turns to Des. "Thank you for helping him," she says, although she is still giving Des a worried look, like she's waiting for her to fall over, too.

Des expected to feel a sick feeling in her gut when she met Mateo's wife. Instead there's some sense of… calm? Trust. Like she can trust her with him. When he calls Lynette his lightning, Des recalls a poem written in the margins of the other Ruiz's copy of Ficciones. Something clicks, but also brings her more confusion.

She catches that look and waves Lynette's concern off. "I'm fine. I'm used to this. I can stay with him." Even if she would like to just lay down on the floor and take a nap. Maybe for sixteen hours. Later. "We'll both be fine. Won't we, Mateo?"

Nevermind the whole primal universe throwing a bit of a tantrum in his head— Even if it's quieting, it's still there. Mateo nods at the words, at both of them, moving to sit down so that he can start to regain— everything. He wants to lean forward and put his head down, but he's not sure he'd be able to get back up if he did that, so he just relaxes. "We'll be fine, Des," he whispers. It still sounds like 'Dess' when he says it. Without the 'z' sound, as natural as can be.

"I found someone I can duet with," he mentions with a nod. "You're not off the hook for lessons though." Lynette's not getting out of that so easily, not that he thinks she'd try.

The hoarse voice sounds so absent-minded, as if he's still distracted. But at least he's joking.

And using nicknames.

Lynette looks between the two of them, but ultimately nods to Des. "Alright, maybe the two of you can keep each other upright." Because she doesn't really buy that either one of them is fine. Only when they're seated does she get up again. Off to the kitchenette for fluids. It must be something she is prepared for, because she pulls out a pair of bottles without even having to look around for them. She comes back around, passing a bottle to each. But then she moves to grab couch cushions and piles them up behind the pair. A more comfortable rest than nothing. She sits on the piano bench herself.

"Oh someone who can actually play?" Lynette asks with a crooked smile. Because she cannot. To Des, she adds, "He has hope for the musically hopeless. Bless him."

He sits back and Des help lean him against her shoulder for the stability. It helps her too, honestly. Her cheek rests against the top of his head, eyes closing as she strokes his cheek gently. "It's my turn to take care of you now."

Why did she say that? Even at the Ark, she took care of Ruiz, not the other way around. And yet, it seemed like what she was meant to say to him. Like she somehow has a tally to even out. Des stares off into the middle distance, unsure of what any of this means. Is she tapping into the familiarity of another version of her, or something else? It feels like something else. Or maybe Time is just unravelling that horribly.

Lynette's return has Des snapping back into the here and now, lifting her head. "Thank you." She opens one bottle and presses it into Mateo's hand, then takes the other for herself. At the question, and the fun poked at herself, Des smiles. "Yeah, we… know the same songs. Like we've played together all our lives."

"I don't need taking care of, mi pajarita," Mateo murmurs in that same distracted, distant voice. It's a lie, he definitely needs some taking care of. And it seems he just pulled a nickname out for her from thin air. The more they talk about the weirdness of their music, the more that pounding in his chest wants to come back— And it does, but he tries to focus on his lightning, and on the little bird at his side.

"She knew me. Other me." That crazy is repeated, and he's not worried about her finding it crazy. Cause she knew him too. "I don't know if it was your me, or the other otter— " whatever otters are. "But I— he— gave her a book. I think the book was his answer to you, Des. About who he was." A book for the questions he maybe knew he wouldn't be able to answer. "I'd like to see it, someday, too. The book."

That bit of crazy doesn't seem to come as such to Lynette. But mostly because she's been paying attention. Mateo has mentioned the music he seems to know without remembering how. And she's had her own run ins with the otters. Her eyebrows do lift, but it's excitement more than surprise. "Really?"

And then, a moment later, that expression falls. Mateo is familiar with her guilt about the Other Ruiz, and it's quick to flood back in. "I'm sorry," she says to Des. A hand runs through her hair as she tries to school her expression back to something more friendly. "He wanted to explain," she says, "so I'm not surprised he would have found a way. At least to try." She doesn't mention wanting to see the book. It's more important for Mateo to, after all. And it's just proof of a painful memory for her.

Something in Des' chest aches when he calls her by that name. Little bird. Normally anything avian other than Nightingale would cause her to put her guard up, to rankle and protest. But it feels… right, coming from him.

That he's so free with their connection, tenuous as it is, has Des both apprehensive and hopeful. "You… knew Ruiz, too?" Then, she bursts into tears. Someone else who understands it. Her water is set aside as she hugs Mateo tightly to her while she sobs. "I don't know why. I don't understand it. But I know that I love you." And she's beginning to understand now, finally, that there are kinds of love other than romantic.

"I know it sounds crazy." Des looks up at Lynette, helpless. "But I know it. Did you feel it too?"

The tight hug might catch him by surprise, but he's doesn't seem to show it, closing his eyes and leaning into the hug with a tired slump. Mateo's definitely still weak feeling, much like after some of those lessons that Lynette had given him on the beach, or that fight which left him with his first and only gunshot wound.

Only more so. Those had left him tired and weak, this is just more so.

"It's okay," he responds, part of him wanting to soothe the tears away. He is here. The other hims? Perhaps not.

"I'm sorry," he adds, in the same soft distracted tones. He's apologizing for the other him— and for this one. The part of him is sorry that he's not actually the one they both met. The other him.

"It— would be more accurate to say that Ruiz knew me." And for Lynette, there is a clear distinction between Ruiz and Mateo. When Des starts to cry, Lynette furrows her brow. And then she stands to get some tissues. When she comes back over, she crouches next to the other woman. "Here," she says softly. She looks over to Mateo, her own expression apologetic. It's a hard place to be in for him.

The question is a difficult one for Lynette. She lets out a heavy breath, but reaches over to put a hand on Des' shoulder. "Not like you do. When he looked at me— " she says, her glance moving to Mateo for a moment, "He looked at me like I mattered to him. More than I'd ever mattered to anyone before. But this one, when he showed up, I knew then."

Her hand runs over her face a little, because this is a bigger web than she thought before. "We don't understand it exactly yet, either. But Ruiz came from somewhere else. And ended up here. And there's… more. More of him. We're not sure they'll land here, but— " okay, this part does sound a little crazy, "— we're sort of supposed to save them. However many of them. If they show up. Or if we can find them." She looks over to Des before she adds, frankly, "It's a whole multiverse theory mess, so I'm not surprised that you're experiencing something weird if you knew any of these Ruizes."

"You're alive," Des murmurs against Mateo's hair, voice tight with the raw emotion she can't quite quell. "You have nothing to be sorry for." The tissues are accepted from Lynette with a quiet thanks. Glasses are pushed up to perch on top of her head so she can dab at her eyes. "It was like that for me, too. He knew me, but I…"

A steadying breath holds the sobbing at bay for now. This is where it really sounds nuts. "I'm in tune with my other selves," Des admits. "I felt… I felt a connection between Ruiz and I." She smiles down at the man supported in her arms. "It feels stronger with Mateo." Like this one's mine. Her lip trembles as she looks to Lynette again. "I tried to save him. I thought I could. But…"

Alive. Yes, he's certainly that. Even if he looks tired. Infinitely so. At least Mateo's color has returned to normal, for the most part. As she speaks, he's focused on Lynette, taking a drink from the bottle of water finally, coughing afterward cause his throat isn't quite ready for it. But he's drinking. He's trying.

That pounding remains, persistant, nagging. As if something tries to remind him that it's still there. Always there.

He shifts as if part of him wants to try to stand, but— nope, his body isn't allowing that yet, nor is the little bird clasping to him. That touching doesn't feel awkward, even as his hand closes back around his wife's.

"We've got to get Eve back here," Lynette says to Mateo, her hand tightening on his. "And you need to sit for a while longer. Or lay down, those are your only options." For a variety of reasons. But mostly because he needs it. She leans over so she can press a kiss to his hand. It's an apology of sorts, too. Because she knows he's not in great shape.

She looks back to Des, though, nodding to her explanation. "So you're… the map." She blinks and looks to Mateo. "Do you think? If Eve's the peephole, you're the door and I'm the battery." Obviously, Des is tied into this mess somehow. And it makes sense to her. Even if it doesn't to anyone else.

But whatever theories might be popping into her head, the last words from Des knock her back to reality. Her breath seems to catch and she drops down to sit with the pair of them. "He died because of me," she says. "To protect me." Like an idiot is left off, but certainly thought. "I'm so sorry. You don't know how many times I'm wished to go back and change it. I— " She stops there, hand moving back through her hair. "God, I need a drink."

"It's okay. He… He wouldn't have taken it back." Lynette's apology is met with a sad smile. "He wasn't alone." Somehow, Des understands her pain. More than just because they both knew a man who confused them with his familiarity, and then lost him. There's something more to it. "He didn't die in that awful place." Tears run down her cheeks again, but she doesn't start sobbing again. The emotion is quieter, but no less profound.

"You… said something about a map?" Des shakes her head slowly. "I don't understand."

"I thought you didn't want me to risk going after my… self." Mateo says with a tilt of his head and a glance away when he says 'self'. He still has trouble talking about the other hims, even if part of him knows they aren't him, he still feels like they are. That they walk different paths, but they are essentially him. That the same must count for these two, who his other self knew.

"And she's right— if he's anything like me, he wouldn't have changed it for anything." Not if it saved her. His other hand, the one not holding 'Nette's reaches up to brush at those tears. He won't say it's okay.

But part of him is also glad he didn't die alone…

That maybe someone had been there to hold his hand. Like he'd been there for his mother, so long ago.

"I should probably lay down, though," he does add, softer, almost as if he's reluctant to interrupt them.

"I… don't." Lynette says to Mateo. Because she doesn't. But, of course, there is a distinction between him running toward trouble and her running toward trouble. But this distinction remains unmentioned. She knows better.

But Des gets her attention. She knows she's right, but that doesn't— and has never— made Lynette feel less guilty. But those two pieces, that he didn't die alone and that he didn't die there seem to be what provoke an emotional response out of Lynette.

She hugs Des.

It's tight, too, perhaps more than the other woman is prepared for. But Lynette has never been good with explaining her feelings, and that is a mountain she's still trying to climb. So her gratefulness is put out in the gesture instead. Somehow, she knows Des will understand.

She straightens back up just as abruptly, and she runs a hand over her face as if that might erase all that pesky emotion. She refocuses on Mateo, which makes it a little easier. "Yes, you should. I can look after Des," she says, the latter to reassure him, maybe. And then, she looks to Des. "You're staying, aren't you? We have plenty of rooms. We… the map should probably be discussed… later."

With one arm still supporting Mateo against her shoulder, Des wraps her other arm tightly around Lynette, pressing her face into the other woman's shoulder briefly. Something about it seems familiar. Like they've known each other.

Maybe in another life.

"I… I could get a ride," Des tries to reason after Lynette pulls away and makes her offer. She's certain if she called her boss, he'd come and carry her home if he had to. Instead, she relents. "But, if it's not any trouble…"

Des presses a kiss to the top of Mateo's head. "Ma moitiĆ©…" It glides off her tongue like it's the most natural thing to say to him. My other half.

No, Des won't be leaving tonight. Not until she's had some rest, and gotten some answers.

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