bf_odessa_icon.gif vf_ruiz_icon2.gif

Scene Title Duets
Synopsis Ruiz and Odessa spend a year or more sharing music and stories.
Date 2012-2013


The first few weeks of them meeting went much the same as the first time. Ruiz would play her a song and look at her in a way that might just keep confusing her. “Javier” didn’t tell her anything about where he had come from at first, until the third Wednesday of meeting by the piano.

A printed out article was dropped on the top of the piano, and he sat to play absently, more repeated notes in a nice sound than one of the songs he’d played before. Not Chopin, not Bach, just music.

“In my world, that event was never stopped,” he nods toward the printed article that he’d gotten from the library. It talked about the viral armageddon that had been stopped by Phoenix. It had been old, back before the Columbia 14. A picture of Helena Dean accepting an award had been printed with it, pixelated.

“I actually knew her, the girl. She died only a month ago to me.” Instead of dying on May 18th, 2011.

In exchange, Odessa would play a different song. She favors the classic, but every once in a while something more contemporary will slip in to her repertoire. She hasn’t gotten to play yet when she looks over the article. The color drains from her face as she reads over a piece of her past she’s tried hard to bury.

How many people have been buried to keep that part of her past secret? “My God…” Odessa shakes her head and sits down heavily on the piano bench. “That… That’s what you came from?” She looks up at him with concern and pity. “It must have been awful.” She’d only heard second-hand about the future they’d averted. Only… it hadn’t been averted at all, had it?

She opens her mouth to ask another question but holds it for now. This is his story to tell at his own pace. Prying won’t bring more answers sooner than he’s ready to give them.

“We estimated about eighty percent of the world was dead or dying,” Ruiz explains quietly, continuing to play because it soothed him, made the topic a little easier. But he recognizes something about her look that tells him she knows why this particular event might have done a lot of damage. But he’s not talking about that today.

“It’s a story of a dying world.” And not a pleasant one, certainly. “It’s why I had to leave.” He’s careful to use the singular because he’d already decided that if anyone would be in danger from talking about this he wanted it to just be him. “It nearly killed me. That’s how I found this piano. I was here for a few days.”

He reaches to pull on the collar of his sweater to pull it down, to show a healing scar. A surgical scar. Which after a moment she might gather from her medical knowledge had been some kind of exploratory mini-incision. Possibly to look at his heart. “I’d probably die if I tried it again.”

He’d be right about that look. “Even I can’t… step sideways,” Odessa says, claiming more control over time than she truly has.

There’s a sickness that settles in. A manifestation of guilt she has absolutely earned, even if tragedy was averted here. What she did - if she did it at all - wasn’t enough. God, what if she hadn’t betrayed the man at all? What does that say about her?

What would that say about the man at the piano?

She’s bonded with him thus far. Part of it is because of the mission. She has to bond with him. Had to learn enough to give to Arthur and keep him happy. He hasn’t always been satisfied with her reports, but she keeps them coming all the same, consistent in the information she provides. This isn’t the Hati she was sent for. That man had been a threat. This one… So far is only an abstract one.

That ultimately makes him more dangerous. And makes him more compelling to her.

She shakes herself out of her thoughts. “How the hell did you pull that trick off?” Her first thought would be to jump to Nakamura. In fact, she hasn’t ruled out his meddling entirely.

“Right place, right time, I expected it to kill me, to be honest,” Ruiz responds quietly, being honest but evasive all at the same time. There were people he didn’t want to involve, considering the warnings he’d been given the day before he met her. The more he said out loud, the more he felt like someone would use that knowledge against them, and he didn’t know much about this woman yet.

He knew his Odessa would never have betrayed them, not after everything. But this one didn’t know him. Didn’t have the children to protect, didn’t have the guilt of… everything.

But that didn’t stop him from wanting to be around her.

As he continues to play, it becomes less and less gentle notes and more a song. Only now he’s playing The Piano Man instead of one of the more classical pieces. That games him grin over at her and wink, cause—

Yes, he plays modern (ish) songs too.

“Well, that’s fortunate. I’m glad it didn’t kill you.” The article is set aside, left alone for now. “I’m glad I got to meet you.”

When he begins to play his next song, she grins broadly. This is one of those that can be spoken as easily as it can be sang, and so she does provide the lyrics. She can’t carry a tune, the irony of being such a gifted musician herself, but she speaks with the right cadence and pitches her voice appropriately. “Sing us a song, you’re the piano man…” Her voice is lilting, a sort of absent-minded quality to it.

Whatever else they’ve done and where they’ve come from, none of it matters while they’re at this piano.

While she’s not got a good singing voice, Ruiz? Does. After a moment he starts to sing along and— his voice has a much nicer sound to it. It’s soft mixes well the with piano music. And it even seems to make her sound better cause he specifically harmonizes with her voice. Almost like he’s sung with her many times and knew exactly how to pitch his voice so someone would hear him more than hearing her— that he would cover up what flaws she happened to have in a way.

The next Wednesday, he brought no article. He didn’t talk much about where he’d been from, or what he was doing. He’d been more interested in playing. And then the last Wednesday of February happened to be a day that only happened once every four years. And she might recall from his file from before that it had been his birthday.

This time, she arrived before him. Once she sees him approach, she grins and puts her fingers to the keys. “Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday, dear Javier,” she sing-songs tunelessly, letting the piano drown her out and make the whole thing much more pleasant. “Happy birthday to you.”

She giggles when she finishes, lifting her brows. “You didn’t think I’d forget, did you?” Maybe it’s a little presumptuous of her - she got the information from the other Mateo’s file - but she doesn’t care. “Everyone deserves to be remembered on their birthday,” she insists.

It’s very likely appreciated from the way his usually sad expression turns into a smile at the sight of it. No, he hadn’t expected anyone at all to know his birthday, much less this woman who barely knew him. He certainly hadn’t mentioned it. But that didn’t mean someone didn’t. The old lady at the counter, after all, did know details about him, and the paperwork that had been prepared for Javier De Santos had the same birthdate.

“Thanks,” he responds with a fond expression. “I’m nine,” he jokes— and tells the truth at the same time. Sure he celebrated either February 28th or March 1st most years, but he counted the actual days jokingly.

After a moment, he moves up beside her and sits down. “Want to hear how they do this in Argentina?” he asks, before he begins to play and sing Cumpleaños Feliz, the traditional Argentine birthday song.

“Of course!” That he’s pleased with her display makes her smile brighter than he’s seen in a while. While she seems open and free with him, there’s always something sort of reserved about her. She scoots over on the bench to give him space to play, clapping when he finishes. “I never did learn Spanish,” she laments. “I studied French as a kid. Not that it didn’t come in handy, but…”

She’s carrying a large tote bag with her today, which she reaches into and pulls out a long box. Black with a gold ribbon. Very classy, in her opinion. “I thought you might like something better than you can get at the bar.” Her head tilts in the direction of the place where they first met as she gives away the surprise. A bottle of nice tequila. “And in a pinch, you can use the bottle as a club,” she jokes.

“While I can not think of anyone I would want to use that as a club on, it does look like it would be a sturdy club,” Ruiz jokes with a grin as he finishes the song and takes the offered bottle. Opening it in the hospital would be a rather bad idea, so he just sets it next to him on the bench. He doesn’t even question that she knows it’s his birthday, he doesn’t even think to.

“It’s a lot like French in some ways, both romance languages.” Because his Odessa had taught him some French, often when it dealt with music, or when it overlapped. This one must have had no reason to learn Spanish. “And Argentine Spanish also has a mix of Italian anyway.” They had a lot of Italian immigrants, after all. It affected their accent some, not that she could really notice much because— he almost spoke like he’d been raised in the United States. Even the other Hati had had a bit more of an accent. But not much.

“Like garden is the same in both languages, just said slightly different. Jardin.” Considering his favorite book, that had been one of the things she had noticed and commented on to him. It felt odd to comment on it in return.

“Argentina had some a few nice composers. Would you like to hear one?” he doesn’t wait for an answer before he’s already playing one. An Alberto Ginastera composition that was known as Argentinian Dance, no 2.

They carry on like this for weeks, to the point where Odessa begins to worry she won’t get the information she needs at all. There’s no need to remind herself of why she’s here every week, even if her reasons are conflicting. Her weekly meetings with Arthur keep her well aware of her goals.

Manicured fingers glide over the keys as Odessa plays a waltz by Shostakovich she knows well. She rocks back and forth to the beat as she goes, intent on her work and clearly pleased to be playing this piece. “What was she like?” she asks, her eyes closed in concentration.

While she plays, Ruiz sits quietly and listens, even closing his eyes for a while and just allowing the music to fill him. As the weeks pass, when they would first meet, she would notice a sadness to him, one that never quite leaves while they sit together, but gets easier to ignore while his finger dance over the keys or he listens to her play. It’s still there, haunting his eyes.

His beard has filled out, some weeks he hasn’t trimmed it at all, others it looks nicer. There’s something haunted in his dark eyes, and when they open and look at her it’s still there. Sorrow and guilt and pain all in one.

He had known she would ask eventually, he had known he would need to tell. That he owed her. “Let me tell you a story… It’s not a happy story. It’s a story of how the world ended.” He’s started like this before, sometimes, almost as if he’s trying to disconnect from it by making it sound like a story. A story that hadn’t happened. And here, most of it had not. “And about the woman who helped cause it.”

His eyes settle on her for a moment, before he looks away. “And who spent the rest of her life trying to make up for that.”

It’s that sadness that never leaves her that causes her to lie awake at night, wondering what could be the cause. Wondering what the other her had done. Wondering if she’s capable of the same mistakes. Knowing she is.

When the story begins, Odessa’s fingers slow, but the music continues. Eventually, she finds herself back up to tempo again, but the apprehensiveness of the moment makes the continuation tenuous at best.

“Please,” she coaxes, “go on.”

That she didn’t ask what she might have done to help end the world tells him he doesn’t need to clarify on that. The viral Armageddon may have been stopped in this world, but it had only nearly been stopped, from the sound of things. He wondered if Odessa had been the one to work on the cure that they now had, or if others had done that. But he wouldn’t ask much on that, because, well— he still had a story to tell.

“Those of us who survived lived underground, in a place we called The Hub. There were survivors in other parts of the city, some smaller groups, but ours did the best because of certain reasons. Protocols that we implemented, people’s abilities— We had found ways to avoid infection, with drugs, with suits, with just keeping people locked out when they showed signs…” It had not been the nicest method, he knew, but they had survived. “We had few children, but there were children. Ones under sixteen. Most were above four or five, but she had a piano brought down into The Hub— and she would teach them how to play. You wouldn’t think that such a small thing as music would be so important… but it was.”

Music could soothe, could give hope, could entertain and wash away the boredom, could bring together people in a way that very little else could. “Almost no one knew what she had done, but I did. Because we came to the Hub together. We tried to escape what we had been, together.”

The world had been nearly wiped out by a virus, and she had helped to engineer - and ultimately sabotage - a virus herself. It isn’t a leap to assume she failed in another world. She’d prefer to think that she failed rather than choosing not to stop what was coming.

The mention of the children and the music brings a smile to her face as she plays. “I love kids,” she says softly. “I… never really got to be one myself. I like to just watch them being… being kids.

But then he mentions escaping together and the music slows again. This time, she stops playing all together. She turns to him and looks him in the eyes now.

“What are we to each other?”

Maybe she did and she doesn’t remember. Ruiz watches her hands instead of her face, noticing the slower tempo. “I’d like to think we’re becoming friends.” He’s talking about here, that much seems obvious. His eyebrows furrow and grow closer together and there’s that sadness again. He’s not ready for the rest. His hand is rubbing against the watch on his wrist, the one that’s mirrored on her own.

“I have to go,” he says suddenly, getting up from the bench. “I’m sorry. I promise I’ll tell you— just— I can’t right now.” It’s difficult, it’s painful. He can taste the tears he’s trying to bite back, he can feel them warming his eyes. He can even hear them in his voice. He understood if she didn’t forgive him for running away from this.

But he does.

And he’s not ready to talk about it the next time, either. Or the next. But at least he keeps showing up. Every day with a song. And he starts to tell her about the kids.

Starting with Denisa.

This Odessa never had a reason to meet the children of the Lighthouse. Her life after the Vanguard has been made full in other ways, and being around children hasn’t been one of them. Her attention is rapt to both the music and the stories he tells. She’s getting a more complete picture of the man he is.

And at night, she goes home and lays awake again, wondering if the one she killed was anything like him. For now, she has to hold on to the idea that the other Ruiz was exactly the threat he was painted to be. Anything else would call into question her entire mission.

That can’t happen.

“She sounds lovely.”

“She was,” Ruiz responds as he continues to play a new song, aptly chosen as Kinderszenen by Robert Schumann. The composition had 13 pieces to it, one for each of the kids he talks about. It switches moods fairly quickly, but it had started out very soft and almost sad, especially as he says was. That alone had a finality to it. “Her and another kid, Mala, were hiding a cat in the Hub, trying to keep the adults from finding out. Food was scarce and they were afraid we could eat him.”

He doesn’t leave out that there would have likely been a debate and vote on whether or not to actually eat the feline. Likely they would have chosen not to, until they needed. “Mala, now she was sweet.” His was didn’t sound quite as final as the word when used about Denisa. Was was just the past. “I think she had been one of your favorites. She had been an orphan, even before the virus.” He continued on, as his fingers danced across the keys, soft enough so that the conversation came easily. He didn’t even need to look to play most of those.

He went on to talk about each of the kids, thirteen in total. All ages. Denisa had been the oldest, followed by Mala, and he worked his way down. The youngest had been a four-year-old named James. “James was spoiled even more than the other kids.” The kids spoiled him, the adults spoiled him.

“And he had already learned Chopsticks.”

“She was very lucky to have all those kids around,” Odessa laughs softly. Even if the situation was horrific - and that’s the only way she can think to describe that sort of world. “My husband and I… we work too much. It’s just… the time isn’t right yet.” That she sounds sad about. With how much his sister loved kids, it’s likely not much shock that this version of her would like to have one in her life, one way or another.

“Did… Did some of them manage to…?” One hand waves in the air nebulously, trying to indicate escape through motion. He’s spoken like he’s all alone, but she’s beginning to have her doubts. There’s a difference in the way he talks about those children.

In all their Wednesdays together, Ruiz had been careful not to mention the others, but now that he’s put the kids into her mind, complete with names they no longer use in this world he imagined, he decided he could tell her that much. “I wasn’t the only one who made it. Twelve of the kids did as well. Only Denisa didn’t.” He wouldn’t give the horrific story of how she had died on the roof, stabbed in the back by a brutal woman who had then tried to kill more of them.

He also wouldn’t say just how many others had made it. “I’m not sure where any of them ended up,” he added honestly. “I was in here.” In the hospital. And they had gotten on trains and more and who knew where they had ended up. He only had the locations of a few of the people who had come through, and in most cases, he just had a number.

A number he wasn’t exactly keen on calling anytime soon.

The music ended, the final notes of the final piece of music. “I am glad that I got them out of there. The kids.” More so than himself, even.

“I’m glad, too.” She’d hoped he’d been able to save them. That one was lost breaks her heart, but Denisa is only a name and a story to her. “I was hoping I’d get to meet some of them,” she laments, voice soft. “But I suppose that would be upsetting since I’m not the person they know anyway…”

She smiles reassuringly. “I’m sure they’re somewhere safe now.” She hopes they have families now, people who give them the love they deserve, and that they can just be children for the first time in many of their lives. “If… you ever manage to track them down…” Odessa shakes her head quickly. “No. It’s a terrible idea. Don’t listen to me. I really shouldn’t see them.” There’s a difference between setting up a meeting and an observation.

The children are safer, Odessa realizes, with her not knowing who they are, what they look like, or where they are now.

The meetings always felt short. Never longer than half an hour. At the beginning he often looked as if he wanted to just disappear into the walls, at the end he still looked that way most the time, just more subdued, especially if the topic wasn’t painful. As they finished talking about the kids, that seemed more and more hopeful. Because he had helped them.

He had hopefully made their life better. Ruiz didn’t feel proud of a lot of things in his life, but that had been one of them.

If only they could have saved Denisa like the others.

WIth an exchange of farewell, he leaves for the day, only to return a week later with the same quietly haunted expression. This time he gestures for her to play, and he asks her a question that she may or may not answer, “How were things different for you here? How did you meet your husband.”

In short, he has decided it’s her turn for a few Wednesdays. To tell him little stories.

Show him that her life here had been better.

Slowly, a smile creeps across Odessa’s face as she considers her husband. “Well… I was quite young when we met. Not like a kid, but to call me an adult would have been generous. My upbringing… I wasn’t the most mature twenty-ish.” She sighs softly, amused by some thought. “We were colleagues. I was a young doctor, and he was a troublemaker who needed stitches and prescriptions.”

The music starts out in the lower registers, like a slow peel of thunder that grows into a storm. Debussy is one of her favorites. “I don’t remember which one of us decided we should give it a shot. It’s just like one day we realized we liked each other.” That isn’t entirely true. Woods had nearly died, and she suddenly realized she didn’t want a world without him in it. She expects it’s better for his pride when she tells it like a mutual realization. And it sounds slightly less desperate to her own ears.

“Now, I mostly do medical research. I don’t stitch people up nearly as often as I used to.” Doesn’t cut them open, either. “And he’s still a troublemaker. Boys in law enforcement, I tell you.” She is ridiculously fond of him, if the dopey sort of grin is any indication.

“I always liked that you were a little on the childish side,” Ruiz responds without even thinking about it, grinning over at her in a way he has a few times before like he was teasing her. Which worked cause he pretty much was. But he meant it. Because she’d been on the childish side he’d always felt a need to protect her, though she didn’t need it, really and still managed to go off and do things without telling him.

Like the last thing that Edward had sent her on. He wonders if Edward had intended her to die then, and she didn’t.

It didn’t matter, either way.

But as he listens he processes what she is saying. She knew her husband when she was younger. He was now in law enforcement. His immediate thought doesn’t go the right direction, because when they got to the Hub she had also seemed to know that Peter Petrelli guy. “This better not be that Peter Petrelli guy,” he mutters under his breath. Please tell him it’s not that Peter Petrelli guy. Sure her best friend in the Hub had ended up dating him, but Odessa had always been clear in her liking the guy.

Odessa’s fingers hit the keys in a dissonant chord as she about doubles over with laughter, her song interrupted entirely. “Oh my gosh. Peter Petrelli?” More peals of laughter have her gasping for air. “Oh my gosh, no. He would never even look at me like that.”

Which, of course, doesn’t say that she’s never looked at him like that. Sorry, Mateo.

“No, no, no. He’s important and well connected. I’m a nobody.” That part is definitely not true. She’s a somebody, but only in certain circles. And she’s somebody many people hope not to run afoul of, whether they realize it or not. Odessa rests her hand over her collarbone and sits up again, taking in deep breaths. “Oh boy. That’s a good one. Me and Peter Petrelli.”

From the way his lips press together and his eyebrows furrow, Ruiz recognizes something in what she says or how she says it, because he’s heard it before. Oh, he would never look at me like that! Yes that sounds very familiar.

“I’ll assume I don’t know him,” he adds after a moment, before watching her hands again and watching her play. He would be assuming wrong, but he doesn’t know that.

“The two of you do sound happy together, though. Even if you’re both busy.” For some reason it doesn’t even occur to him that there might be something odd with her seeing another man every Wednesday for half an hour for conversation and music. And occasionally tequila. Though he hasn’t opened that bottle.

It has a coveted spot in his apartment, now.

“Oh, Peter Petrelli… That’s a good one.” Finally having caught her breath, Odessa wipes at her eyes. “No, I can’t see any reason why you would know my husband, but we are very happy together.” Most of the time anyway. Like most other couples. Certain things put a strain on their relationship from time to time that perhaps most other couples don’t have to face, but the effect is the same by her estimations.

The next few Wednesdays go without major event. For some reason he starts talking about short stories by an Argentine author more than anything else. One story he tells her is about how a writer who had been sentenced to death before he could finish the book he’d been working on made a wish to God to give him the time to write it—

And at the moment he was to be executed, time stopped for him, giving him the time to finish his story.

He wrote the whole thing in his head, for himself, outside of time. Until it was perfect.

The Secret Miracle.

The weeks pass, and Odessa listens to the stories. The latest one truly has her attention captured, for obvious reasons. “Now that one is relatable,” she jokes, even though she’s kind of serious. How many times has she held a moment in time all for herself?

Enough that she isn’t entirely sure she’s exactly as old as she says she is anymore, honestly. There’s a reason her watch never runs right.

“You always liked that story.” Ruiz didn’t have to explain what you he meant. “I grew up with these books, memories of them. My mama was almost obsessed with them.” To the point she’d apparently fed them into the young mind of a child who didn’t understand them until he got older. Maybe he never understood them. “There’s another story, about a maze. One that ended up being a story of another world. Of a million worlds. Of worlds within worlds where each path was different, but all paths were true and real and just as important as the other.”

He smiled as he talked about this. “The story goes on to talk about how the main characters would meet as friends in one world, and as enemies in another. Every decision changes who we are, who we should be. Everything that we do and see— it makes us different. In some ways you are like her— my Dess. In other ways you are completely different.”

And in the biggest way, so he thought, was how they had known each other.

If only he knew, right?

There’s laughter at the comment about how she’s always liked a story she’s only just heard. “My mother and I were separated when I was an infant. I wish we’d had the chance to have that relationship.” Her origins are… complicated. And the truth is too much to give him. For now, at least. “She’s been gone a couple years now… I miss her very much.”

The mention of her mother allows her some melancholy and provides a convenient cover for the guilt that eats at her again. But maybe… maybe the Mateo of this world had been exactly what he seemed to be to her. Maybe he was different too, not just her.

She doesn’t want to know.

Wait. Wait. “You knew your mother here?” Ruiz starts, looking visibly surprised by this revelation. “So in this world you found your mother and not…” he trailed off. No, he’s not quite ready for that yet. “You said she was gone? When?” That she had found and lost her mother— he knew how much that would devastate his Odessa, so he imagined it had devastated her. He would just have to hope that her husband had been there for her, that she had people to help her through it.

“What happened?”

There were so many questions he wanted to ask. How she found her mother, who her mother was, everything— but instead he focused on the more recent. That she was gone. That something had taken her probably only known family away from her.

“Yes…” There’s a note of caution in her voice, and he can see it in her eyes, but she doesn’t seem to hold back. “We found each other a few years back. But there was an accident where she was working almost two years ago. They never found her. I hold out hope that she’s just lost somewhere,” Odessa admits with a sad smile. “That maybe she’s forgotten who she is, so she hasn’t been able to reach out to me, and that I’ll find her someday and help her remember.”

The blonde looks away, sad now. “It’s cruel that we’d only just found each other, it seems, and then she was gone.” Odessa sighs quietly. “My husband has been great since she went missing. He supports my search and helps me find strength when I feel like giving up. I don’t know what I’d do without James.”

That she could be lost is a possibility. People get lost all the time. Ruiz considers asking when exactly two years ago, but he doesn’t get that far in his thoughts because she says the name James. James. There’s probably a ton of Jameses in the world, more than he could count, but when she said that name only one face came to mind.

“Wait. Wait. Wait.”

He suddenly speaks up, making some strange gestures as he does. “You don’t mean Woods, do you? Absolutely pants on the fucking head James Woods?” Assuming he uses curses like that here. Which if he doesn’t she’ll probably think he’s the one with pants on his head.

The distraction saves her from having to continue to be evasive about the circumstances surrounding her mother’s disappearance, even if she wasn’t expecting that kind of reaction to dropping her husband’s first name. Which had quite been an accident.

Her brows knit together in something like confusion and maybe a little sheepishness, though she isn’t sure why she’d feel the latter emotion, just that she does. “So, I take it you know him. I… Your Odessa and he weren’t…?” That seems to make her deflate a little. Sure, it’s a different world and different circumstances, but the romantic in her wants to believe that some things are fated. Like love.

“I certainly hope they would have said something to me if they had been!” Ruiz exclaims a little louder than he could think to. “But then again, maybe they had been carrying on behind my back, those rascals.” He seems less offended at the idea and more amused that it’s a possibility that they could have been hiding it from him all tha time.

If anyone could have, it would have been her and him. They had a bead on everything going on in the Hub, afterall.

Sometimes he wishes he could go back and ask them.

“If he’s anything like the guy I knew, he’s a good guy. Bit of a mouth on him, but he’ll treat you well. We always teased each other back and forth, and he was one of my few real friends.” Or at least he considered him a friend. “I’d say you should bring him sometime, but I think this whole… other world stuff might be a little too much for most people.”

He’s not even sure why she took too it as well as she did. Maybe seeing the duplicate of the watch that never left her wrist.

Maybe it’s knowing that the other world had been seen. Maybe she’s just so out of her mind that even the big things don’t get to her anymore. Odessa couldn’t tell him why parallel universes seem an easy concept to grasp, when they should be incredible.

“He is a good guy,” she confirms, her smile making her cheeks go a little pink. It’s clear she’s very in love with her husband. “Definitely mouthy, but that’s part of his charm. I’m glad you two were friends.” Though the past-tense portion of that statement she finds unsettling, unsure whether hoping he was ‘just’ left behind is the kinder fate or not.

In the opinion of the guy who left that world, no, it would not have been a kinder fate. What he’s said about that world sounded even worse than one might imagine. And they could imagine a lot. “I’m happy for you, Dess,” Ruiz responded genuinely, but with a hint of sadness even then. The same sadness that always seemed to linger behind his eyes. She had seen him pop a Negoxan every so often, so that could have been part of it. Depression being a long term side effect.

The next Wednesday, he did not show up. Nor the next. Nor the next.

Months passed. The lady at the counter didn’t know where he might have gotten to.

Until October 2, 2013. On the piano was a note. The lady at the counter, Mrs B, said she had gotten a phone call and was told to leave a note for her.

Come back on Friday.

October 4, 2013

When she walks in, he’s already there. Something is immediately different about him. He looks healthier, fuller. That emptiness that had always been in his eyes seemed to be lessened. His hair and beard are better groomed. He dresses better, like someone had put a nix on his fingerless gloves and raggedy sweaters. He wore a nice jacket, pants that looked as if they’d been ironed.

His fingers move across the keys, but he’s pointedly sitting at the far side of the bench, rather than the middle. It’s Debussy, but it sounds wrong. His Petite Suite for the piano. Though it was meant for four hands instead of two. The Duet sounds wrong, without the second partner.

Each week without him, Odessa’s dread grew twofold. If she’s lost him, Arthur will be furious. If she’s lost him, she’ll be devastated. When she received the note from Mrs. B, she cried with relief. She cried in her husband’s arms that evening and couldn’t tell him why. And then, she prepared for Friday.

She’s had her hair cut and she’s wearing a new dress - a white sundress with yellow roses and black leaves painted on with a matching pair of shoes and a cardigan to ward off the early fall chill in the air. Odessa positively beams at the sight of him at the piano, looking healthy. But it’s the music that catches her ear and keeps her from racing forward.

Sitting down on the other end of the bench, she listens for a few bars before she puts her fingers to the keys and starts playing with him. She doesn’t know why she’s always known this piece when she’s never had a partner for it, but it’s something from childhood memory. Perhaps a recital she’s long since forgotten like so many other things from those days.

The fact that he’s playing Prima might have been a surprise, but he immediately settles into it once she starts to play with him. Ruiz even looks over and her and smiles, nodding his head a little. It’s more encouraging than his previous smiles, it shows the lack of emptiness and pain that had been present in his eyes the whole time they’d been meeting on Wednesdays. Today things were different, his whole mood was different. With how he’s cleaned up and everything, one might have thought he’d gone into rehab or something.

The truth wasn’t far off. He’d ran away. And how he finally made it back.

Closing his eyes, he continues to play with her, as if they had played this song a thousand times. It all felt so natural, so easy. It tugged on memories she didn’t have, like dreams of movement and music more than actual memories.

When it finishes, he doesn’t say anything at first, just lets his fingers rest against the keys, the final note hanging in the air.

Odessa closes her eyes and loses herself to the music. To do anything else would keep her from playing. There’s too many questions whirling inside her head to give them focus. It’s only when they’ve finished and she’s swayed forward on the last note and held herself there a moment that she finally sits up and thinks again.

Tears are in her eyes when she turns her attention to the man she calls Javier. There’s conflict and confusion in her expression, a little bit of fear. “Why do I know that song? I’ve never had a partner before. Not ever.”

“You did, once,” Ruiz responds quietly, letting his hands drop away. This might be when she notices that he’s no longer wearing the wedding ring on his finger. He still wears the watch, but the wedding ring has moved. It is now around his neck, with the other more feminine ring that he’d always worn. He looks over at her, that sad look briefly returning to his eyes. But it’s different. It feels different.

“I think I’m ready to tell one more story. This one’s about you. And me.” And it may not be a story like she would ever expect.

“I’m sorry I disappeared for so long. But I’m glad I did.” Cause he didn’t think he ever could have told her otherwise. In fact, he’d pretty much never intended to tell her, even if he wanted to. Even if he really, really wanted. “Will you believe me if I tell you?”

Once. Odessa stares down at her hands while she thinks and tries, tries, tries to remember a time when she would have had a partner to play with. She was always so alone. Why would she have ever learned a duet?

Her head lifts again and she nods. Curiosity about the person she was on the other side has been burning. Naturally, she wants to hear the story. “Of course. I don’t think you’ve lied to me yet. I have no reason to start doubting you now.” Odessa smiles and reaches out to take one of his hands, squeezing reassuringly. “I’m glad you came back. I missed you terribly.” And worried for her own head.

“We were both part of Vanguard when the virus was released,” Ruiz explains quietly, keeping his voice down, but no one is really close enough to overhear, and one might think he’s telling a story if they overheard it. No virus had been released! Even if the newspapers and stuff had said it would have been. Maybe they were making a movie about it! “You were the nightingale and I was the wolf who chased the moon.” Hati.

So he had been that there, too, it would seem. He doesn’t sound as if he’s pleased with what he’s telling her. But that much was always present about him. He always seemed ashamed of certain things. It was easier to see now without all the sorrow. The self-hatred remained.

“The world was dying. And we found each other. I can’t tell you exactly how, or why, or even all the details, because we never really understood everything. At first it seemed like a dream, like a false memory. Like something had been changed about us. But wasn’t. Well, it had been, but wasn’t then. I can’t really explain it. But I did know one thing, above everything else. That we should have been something, and someone somewhere— took us away from each other.”

He couldn’t tell her all the details like he’d like to, because he didn’t have them. “We were both raised by the Company. My mother, the woman who raised me. Was an agent. A telepath. I don’t even know how much of my life was real, but you… the same thing had happened to you.”

He laid his fingers against the keys again, slowly started the first notes of a song that should have been a duet. “But this song— this was us. Once. When we were children. Before they seperated us. Before they took us from each other’s memories.”

It’s a completely different song. A version of chopsticks.

“You were my sister. And you were again, when we found each other. When we left Vanguard and everything they tried to turn us into behind.”

There’s a hardness to Odessa’s expression when he refers to her by her name. Even if she’s admitted to it before, she hates that part of who she was. She hates that association with the code name she’s held on to as her own in some respects. He had been Hati, and she had been the Nightingale, and they had both, at one time, worked to bring about the end of the world. Or, at least people like them. It wasn’t supposed to be the end of everything if Odessa did her job right.

As he continues to tell his story, her hands begin to shake. Her pulse quickens along with the pace of her breath. Tears well up in her eyes. Something about what he’s telling her rings true, regardless of what memory tells her. Music has its own memory. It tells her that he’s telling her the truth.

“That can’t be right,” she stammers, desperate to find some kind of logic to fight against this. Because the truth of it is too terrible when reconciled with her past and the awful things she’s done. “I- I remember being alone. I remember being raised in the facility. I… I…”

She killed her brother.

Odessa buries her face in her hands and starts to sob. All she ever wanted from the time she was small was a family. And now, that’s all gone. Her mother and her brother are gone, and she’s failed them both. The feelings of unworthiness form an icy grip around her heart and make her feel ill. “Oh, God.”

Of all the reactions. Sobbing had not been one that Ruiz expected. He expected disbelief, accusations, surprise and joy— he even expected that she might just disappear to go think about it somewhere. But not tears. Not sobbing. Not the kind that leaves a body shaking at a piano. He fully expected that Mrs. B would be giving him major stink eye for making the nice woman cry.

“Hey— hey, Dessy, it’s okay.” He lets the nickname slip, because she had cried in front of him before. Another her in an another world. Usually over the guilt of what she’d done, what they’d allowed to happen. The false belief that they had tried to believe. Because they had nothing else at the time. Nothing to believe in.

Kazimir had fed them the lies they needed to hear. When they needed to hear it. And they had done what they would always hate themselves for.

“You were alone, but only because they made it so you were. You never should have been. I should have been with you, the whole time.” He wishes he had been, that they had been raised together. That they had always been brother and sister. But the Company had taken that from them.

She wants so badly to throw her arms around him and hug him tightly. To ask, are you real? But she doesn’t deserve it. She doesn’t deserve the comfort or the absolution. Odessa doesn’t deserve whatever he could be to her. Wiping at her eyes, mascara and eyeliner are smudge clear to her cheekbones, giving her a sort of raccoon-like quality. The distressed damsel look.

The memory of fighting with the Ruiz of her world comes back to her. He hadn’t wanted to hurt her, had he? She took the display of power as a show of guilt. As proof that he was this awful person that former Vanguard who hadn’t done things the right way were painted to be. He hadn’t been pardoned, and she assumed there’d been good reason for that. The fight had been a thrill. He’d damn near had her if she hadn’t been aware enough to stop playing with her prey.

One hand presses over her mouth to hide the horror she feels for her actions. For the implications.

Did he know?

Finally, she takes a deep breath and starts to steady. “It must have been very hard for you,” she begins, hand sliding slowly to her lap after one last wipe under her eyes with her thumb, “to keep that to yourself all the time. And to realize that I… I’m not her.”

The turmoil going on inside her head is for her alone, as Ruiz just holds onto her shoulders and wishes he could just pull her up into a hug. To admit what they had been was to admit what they had been. He hadn’t been ready for that part, yet, to tell her he was Hati. He had no way to know she already, somehow, knew. “That’s the thing. You are. You are her and she was you. But you were each different at the same time. It’s like a tree. One branch is unique, it can be unlike any other branch. But it’s all the same tree.”

He touches her cheek as he says this, holding it not unlike her mother might have. “The tree has the same roots, the same leaves. It’s all the same tree. That doesn’t mean each branch isn’t unique and important. But the whole tree was my sister. All branches. As far as I’m concerned.”

The words cut deep in ways he can’t possibly understand. And what would he think of her if he knew what she did to his other self? Would he run from her? Condemn her? Would he understand somehow? Odessa doubts that very much.

Leaning forward, she rests her forehead against his, having no way of knowing how many countless times her other self had done this with him before. “What happened to her?” The final piece of the puzzle. The one she isn’t sure she should know, but can’t keep herself from wondering about.

That is a question he can answer. “She was murdered,” Ruiz responds simply. “By the man who was pretty much in charge of the Hub. He gave me reasons why he did it, but I don’t believe any of them. I think he was afraid. Of what she could do. Of what she might do. And that he tried to eliminate a variable that he couldn’t control before he made his plans to get people out of our world.” Using him.

He didn’t sound too pleased when he continued. “I killed him. Ensured he would never go with us when I found out what he’d done.” Within an hour of finding out what he had done, Ruiz had sealed his fate. He might not have killed him earlier, but the timing had been a perfect storm. He’d just lost Lynette. He’d just buried her. And their hope of leaving seemed to be gone.

In part, he was still ashamed of what he had done. But that was because he had done it. Not because of who he had done it too.

“I’m sorry,” she whispers, her nose bumping against the side of his with their proximity. “I am so, so sorry.” It should horrify her to know that someone murdered her. In truth, it’s the kind of end she’s always expected for herself. One day she’ll try to kill someone, and she won’t succeed. Or someone will turn on her. It’d be fitting.

“I-” Odessa draws away enough for their eyes to meet. “I don’t deserve… you. To be your sister. To have the family I’ve wanted.” This experience has shaken her. For once, she is genuinely afraid of what her future holds. This is a report to Arthur she isn’t sure how to deliver.

Childish as it sounds in her own head, she wants her mother. That drive has to keep her grounded. This man is the key to getting her back, she’s sure of it. “But…” Her voice is hesitant, and she taps into a part of her that she tries to ignore when she doesn’t have a knife in her hand. Odessa relaxes and smiles, easily. “I’m going to try to be worthy.”

“Don’t be silly,” Ruiz responds, giving her a look as he pulls back to run his hands over her face a little. He could understand the feelings of self-worth, of losing what one knew about themselves. They both had gone through it when they found each other. “I won’t be able to meet with you every Wednesday anymore, but I got you a phone with my number.” It’s a little odd, maybe, buying someone a phone when they probably already had one, but he did it. He reaches into a bag that had been against the piano bench and pulls it out. It’s a red phone. The case is red. It has a dangly hanging off of it as well. With music notes on it. “I also put some of my favorite songs in it. And sheet music. And the books I told you about too.”

Phones were funny things, practically computers these days. He included all of Borges works. The songs they used to play together. And a number.

Instead of putting his name, he put Tete.

What she’d always called him. “I have some people I want you to meet. But that can wait. Til you’re ready.”

Odessa takes the phone in hand and holds it to her chest. “Thank you. I’ll keep it with me. We’ll keep in touch and set up other meetings. But… this has been good. I’ve really enjoyed it. Thank you.” She glances at the phone’s screen and the contact speed dial listed there. “Tete.

She sticks out her tongue, childish in the way that he says he likes about her. Maybe the memories will come back to her and she’ll understand. But until then, if they ever come back to her, there’s only the mission. There may only ever be the mission. “I’d love to meet your friends. I can’t wait.” This is the break she’s been waiting for.

Now comes the hard part.

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