Love Is Love


young-ali_icon.gif b_gillian_icon.gif young-jeffrey_icon.gif

Scene Title Love Is Love
Synopsis Gillian starts to step on her butterfly of the past, but then finds out she has something important she never knew she had.
Date April 1989

Winters' Townhouse

I don't expect you to believe this, but I figured if you were anything at all like me, you'd check my bag if I left it unattended. That's why I left this on top. I'm not even sure if my attempt to claim I'm the daughter of some distant relative will work, but if it did, I'm sorry to decieve you. I don't really know how to do what I need to do here without telling a few lies.

I'm sorry. But I hope you'll listen to what I have to say.

The note left on folded in the bag was found not long after Gillian retreated into the bathroom to clean up for bed. The shower runs in the background, a soft sound that allows them to know where she is and what she's up to. Even when the water stops, there's plenty of time before she's out.

I guess I feel like it's easier to say this in writing and not in person. Maybe you'd believe it more. I think I would.

I'm not from this time. I'm Stephanie, twenty years from now. I'm here to change my life by changing my past. Because whether you believe me or not, you're my parents. You can think I'm insane, but if you decide to call anyone, just don't call Arthur Petrelli. Angela Petrelli or any of the Chesterfields would be prefered.

Under the folded piece of paper is a picture, a copy of a picture, of them with their two young children. And a date. A few months from the current one.

The water stops running in the bathroom.

The phrase 'what the fuck' comes to mind, but they don't use that kind of language in Ali's household. Jeff's fingers are tight around the — letter, if that's the word for it, and he's all but forgotten the beautiful evening dress folded up inside the wide box, the rather tactless bump underneath his wife's side of the duvet behind them.

They're in the master bedroom, now, seated side-by-side on the bed. The lamp is on, emanating a deceptively halcyon yellow light against walls papered a pale, citrus-creamy orange, and fading further into the dimness of the hallway. Jeff hadn't dared close the door, of course, unwilling to interpose another layer of obfuscation between himself and the children tucked in just across from them, even if he was just as unwilling to raise the alarm to them just yet.

If Gillian is going to hear them whisper, so be it. "I can't say I've ever heard that one before. Not even in training," he says, tightly, handing the wrinkled piece of paper to his spouse. The photograph is in her hand, for now, and the guilty purse prone and ajar between them. His mouth is tight. "The 9 is taped next to the bed leg behind your foot. You know where the clip is."

Alison stares at the photos, shaking her head. "I don't recognize this. I don't recognize the dress I'm wearing in this picture — I've never owned that dress, and it doesn't look faked," she says, shaking her head slowly. "I mean, I suppose it could be faked someone, but I don't… I don't see how. And it's a different hair cut. Have I ever had my hair that short?"

She tips her head to him, confusion and doubt in her eyes — but not the suspicion that he wears for the woman in the bathroom. "Jeff… we work with people with impossible powers every day. Is it possible she's telling the truth? I mean — a few years ago, I would have told you it was impossible for people to be invisible or move a car with their bare hands or see through a wall. Why is this impossible? And if it is her — I'm not going to pull a gun on her, of all things." Her voice trembles a touch at the mere thought.

She bites her lip and glances toward the hallway when she hears the water stop running. "What do you want to do?"

The lack of a gun is prefered. Gillian doesn't want to get shot at again. The clothing that she has to change into is the same ones she wore back into the bathroom. Though looking at them they aren't quite late eighties styles at all. Simple, but still different than the norm that is usually seen among people her own age.

When she exits, a towel resting across her shoulders to keep her hair from dripping too much on her clothing, she's barefoot and taking slow steps. No gnome to jump out and attack her ankles while she walks, but she still manages to find the squeaky floor board to step on, and echo down the hall toward the master bedroom.

She once thought she was great at sneaking out of houses when she was a teenager, but now she's starting to think that was just luck.
Jeff's eyes draw over the photograph for the nth time, but this time, they sharpen particularly on the few square-inches that his wife's figure takes up. The dress. Disbelief knots his brow. It might be the scientist in him, the skeptic, or else its counterweight, the romantic aspirant who nevertheless always keeps curiously conservative expectations. Alison had fallen in love with both, back in the day, and it's not gone from him now.

He opens his mouth, then closes it again. Squeaky feet in the hall. He draws an uncertain breath— and then stoops, sudden as a snakebite, a long hand slinging around, behind his wife's calf to snare the pistol from its tiny pocket of fabric. It isn't loaded, but it goes into the waist of his trousers at the small of his back anyway, secured there as he tugs his shirt loose. He's already rising, a hand out to squeeze Alison's shoulder.

The sound in the hallway has Alison's blue eyes shooting from her husband to the door again, and she stands to follow Jeff, reaching not for a gun but for a taser. More than likely she'd use her power than try to harm a girl — even if Gillian isn't Stephanie, she's a girl in trouble, that much is clear.

"If it's not true, there has to be a reason for it. I don't think she's here to harm us," she whispers. "I don't feel endangered by her — she just seems lost and needy. She needs someone — if she's not Beth's daughter," or ours, goes unsaid, "she's still someone's."

A few more steps carry her closer, with some more creaks, before there's the soft sound of a knock on the door, and it begins to open slowly. "Um— hi. I see you found my bag," Gillian says quietly as she peaks inside, not noticing the weapons so much as the bag not very far away, with the items that she'd tried to place on top. She'd not had to leave it where they could find it and look through it, but she did—

Some things are easier to write down than say outloud.

"I don't know how long I can stay— probably no more than a day or two, so I can't really offer you a strand or hair for a DNA test…" There's a pause, as if she suddenly wonders something. "Do they do DNA tests already?"

She shakes her head and then points at her cheek, where all the make up she might have been wearing would be washed away. "I have the same beauty mark as Stephanie. That's really about the only other evidence I can offer you— other than things I'm not supposed to know, but even that's pretty limited." Limited because she never really knew them… until now.

The gun doesn't come out, empty or no. Jeff lets go of his wife's shoulder, after a moment. Opens his mouth again, but closes it once more as well, uncertain of what to do with yet another fragment of evidence that supports Gillian's case against all the odds. He ends up staring, his eyes intent between their impossibly dark fringes. She's right about the beauty-mark, of course. Her voice comes in at a husky pitch that's somewhere between the easy rise and fall of his own, and his wife's wry alto. She's the right height.

But the— the hair. The tattoos. It's not that they don't fit. It's that they imply a long stretch of story that he can't even begin to conceive of, perhaps one of separation, of ideas of propriety and lifestyle somehow different from his own. Somehow, the deep red locks draped over Gillian's shoulder are no less confusing and strange to him than the fact that she's here, purportedly from a dozen years in the future. More. "Ah," he offers, somewhat ineloquently. "Why— we'd love to know, Gill— Stephanie. Why did you come back?"

When Jeff says the name Stephanie, Alison lets herself believe — part of her had held back, tried to be cynical but it's like he's saying it's okay to trust that this is their daughter. She brings a hand up to her mouth to bite back a slight whimper, but she nods toward the living room.

"Let's go sit down. You said you were here to do something to make your life better? What … what can you do that you'll be so sure will improve things?" Her eyes gaze down at the girl's wrists, and her brows furrow together with the pain that comes of a mother having failed to protect her child. "Did — I'm so sorry. Was I not there for you? Were we not — did we not notice you were in pain?" Already the questions of how and why are flooding her head, wondering if she let her career overwhelm her ability to be a nurturing parent.

There's some quiet hesitation, moisture starts to form in her hazel eyes, before Gillian moves closer, shaking her head a bit. "No— it wasn't… You weren't there because you couldn't be. Because…" The words cut off, don't want to come. If she does this, there's no going back— but this is why she came, isn't it? To stop what happened, to change everything in her life? "You're going to die in a few months," she finally says, moving to sit down on the edge of the bed, trying not to look at them.

"Brian and I are going to be seperated and raised by different families, and we won't meet each other again until last year— I mean, almost twenty years from now. My name won't be Stephanie."

That moisture comes in full, and she tries to wipe it away. "I won't remember you. I won't even know what you look like, what you sound like… That's why I came back— to warn you, try to save you— to get you out of this Project you're doing, because it's going to kill you."

The silence could be described as 'grating.'

Brittle. Dry. Disbelieving. One can not begin to hope one part of the time-traveler's story is true without implicating the rest of it might be as well, and suddenly, Jeff would much rather not. Imposters can be dealt with. True death, the orphaning of his children, would be another matter entirely. "Why are you telling us this?" feels like the wrong question to ask, somehow, but it comes out of him anyway, the reserve of unmistakably harsh logic despite that his voice is still the smooth tenor with which he'd welcomed her into their home.

"You should know better than this. Whoever you are." It might be the scientist in him, or the part that Gillian inherited that has put guns in her hands and mass-murderers in her bed. Something that put the Formula in her blood. That the brave thing isn't always the easy one, and neither of them right.

"Die? Separated?" Alison says, her hands coming to her face as she turns to look at her husband, aghast at the idea of dying so young, of leaving behind their two perfect children. "How? How do we die? How can we avoid it?" she asks, glancing from Gillian — Stephanie — to her husband and back. "Tell me when — how —"

The juxtaposition between husband and wife is sharp — his doubt against her belief, his dark eyes cynical and guarded while her blue eyes, so like Brian's, well up with tears and fear.

"Because what else am I supposed to do," Gillian says, raising her voice a little, but realizing near the end that she is and lowers her voice back down, before it gets too loud that children will undoubtably hear it. They are kids, and they try to listen— she knows… She probably would be trying to too. "I thought that maybe if you guys— if you lived things would be better for me. That things would be different… That if I saved you, that if I kept you from giving me an ability, that my life would be better…" That's how it's supposed to be, isn't it?

Time travel is strange. Would it still work, if she makes her life so different that she has no where to go back to? Did the people who travelled back before get to go back?

"I don't know the details, I just know you were both killed because of the project you're working on. The one to give people abilities— that you used on me and Brian."
WATCH> Peyton has connected.

It's different, now, the stare that Jeffrey levels on his daughter. Confusion, now, after the news that she's— from the future, that he's presumably dead, his wife with him, his children tossed off to unknown believers in body art, all that, and all he had to say was that it, indeed, it implies of paradox if she tells them too soon. That, he practically took in stride. Now, however, incredulity dawns pale under his even joggers' tan, and he turns, in painfully slow degrees, away from the young harbinger and her increasingly horrible news.

He stares at his wife. "I thought we agreed we weren't going to do that," he says, his voice clear despite that he hasn't raised it. There is something terrible about his quietude, faintly reminiscent of the ore-heavy weight of betrayal that has sunk through Gillian's gut so many times before.

That the project they're working on is somehow the cause of their deaths and their children's separation has Alison stepping back, mouth agape as she looks again from Gillian to Jeffery. She shakes her head in a short, jerky motion. No. No.

"We did! I didn't … it's not like I've done it, Jeffrey! She said it's in the few weeks — who knows what happens in that time, if it really happened? I didn't do anything to our children, don't look at me like that!"

It's perhaps a case of 'the lady doth protest too much,' but Alison's clearly upset and distraught, and that is no act.

Getting to her feet, Gillian turns to face them both, still upset in her own right, and not unsurprised at their upset— but perhaps surprised at the source. "You agreed you weren't going to do what?" she asks, firmly, trying to control her own emotions. For the first time, there's something different in her chest, a different kind of feeling.

That small knot stays tight in the back of her head, keeping her ability pulled inside, but the throbbing tells her it's still there. The same as always.

"This isn't a conversation we should be having," Jeffrey says, and then stops himself when he realizes what he's doing. He isn't trying to lock Gillian out because she's a stranger waded into a family discussion. No; he's cutting her off, pushing her out, with all the protective instinct that had kept their master bedroom's door open and his children's shut. A parent protects his offspring, and it's strange, how he already believes it, if love is what you do rather than what you feel.

He doesn't want to fight with Alison where they can hear.

Jeffrey's lean frame straightens sharply, like a length of piano wire yanked taut. Shakes his head. "We've already had it," he adds, brusquely, a belated explanation that isn't a proper explanation at all. "How did you get here? You need to go back. There's nothing you can do now. The life you've lived is already done."

"We would never hurt you — you know that," Alison says, teary eyes running over, the streams of saltwater sliding down her cheeks as she wraps her arms around herself. Her husband angry at her and her daughter realizing that it's their doing that apparently ruined her life, Alison's world seems to be falling around her. She glances in the direction of the twins' room, as if to be assured of their presence, though she can't see them, as if to be assured they still exist, that she hasn't ruined their lives. Yet.

"We agreed. I don't know what happens to change it, but … but I'll do whatever I can to keep it from happening," she tells Gillian. "What— what can you do? And… and Brian?"

The life she's lived is already done.

The words repeat a little and Gillian pulls away from them, moving further until her back is against the wall of the bedroom. A little bit of a brace, without sitting back down with them. "So you weren't going to use us as test subjects?" What does that change? A lot. It means they weren't the cause. That they didn't make that choice. That maybe maybe her life wasn't supposed to be like that anyway.

Can people change their own pasts?

"Brian can replicate himself," she responds quietly, eyes lowering down to the floor, then to hands that she raises up to look at. What does she do? There's a soft moment, a hiccup when she takes a breath, and her eyes raise, the wet darkened red hair falling into her face. "I was told that you used to create fairies to show me when I was a baby— with your ability. Could you do it now?"

A request with a purpose, cause once it starts, she unravels that tiny knot, and begins to feed energy towards one person who said she would never hurt her. Energy that makes her eyes start to glow faintly.

Unmistakable tension ridges in Jeff's shoulders. He's watching the glow of Gillian's frame even as his face changes, subtly, when she describes what Brian can do. His Brian? He shifts his gaze through the hall without even meaning to, lights dark eyes on the quiescent shape of the door. He can't tell if his children, the little ones, are awake in there. Trying to eavesdrop, scuffed up on their hands and knees, ears pressed to the crack, jostling for who gets to rest elbows on the set of tiny shoulders below. He hopes not.

"Who told you that?" His voice is inscrutably gentle when he asks that, finally, dark eyes softening. He drops to sit on the bed like his body is too heavy for himself, long hands linking on his lap.

That she makes illusions for the children is something very few know. Does anyone know, outside of this house? Ali's lips part and she shakes her head. "What do you do?" she whispers, taking a slight step back from this girl, this womanly version of the little girl just a bedroom away.

She's frightened, suddenly. Is Gillian — Stephanie — here not to change her future but to enact revenge on her parents for causing so much pain in her short life? She lifts a hand and holds it palm out, not for her daughter to take, but for her illusion to take hold — suddenly, a tiny little diaphanous pixie spins on her hand like a ballerina turning pirouettes, before it flits off her hand and into the air, minute rainbow wings fluttering like a butterfly on the wind.

"Jenn Chesterfield told me," Gillian says quietly, stepping away from the wall and pushing her hair back, to make her eyes a little more visible, as she steps forward a couple more steps. "She was the only person I knew of that was left that could tell me about you. She told me about your ability, what you could do, what you used to do for me when I was a baby— and she told me a little about you too… dad." Dad. She can't help but hesitate, even as she brings a hand up to rest under her mother's wrist. As they touch, the glow extends from her eyes to her hand, and into her mother's hand.

"I can make people stronger— everything that you can do can be doubled by my ability. Once people find out what I can do… they've used me, to do things. For experiments… For other things. Because that's what I do— I make what they do stronger." So strong. So many things…

The glow lessens and then disappears, but she doesn't lower her hand.

"You really weren't going to experiment on us?"

Weren't, she says. As if she still thinks, or knows, that they're going to do it anyway. Jeff looks faintly haggard as he looks up, studies her face. Beauty mark right there, and his eyes. He is already wondering why they can not trust Arthur Petrelli, and wondering what this will mean, now that they know they can't. Time-travel's a fragile toy, and like most broken things, prone to leave dangerous edges. "I," he stops. Swallows, throat moving visibly above the rumpled collar of his shirt. He amends that.

"We weren't." He doesn't reach for his wife, but there's warmth again in his eyes, with difficulty, when he looks to her.

Ali's breath catches in her throat as she sees that glow move from eyes to hand and then at the touch of her daughter's hand, to her own. She gasps a little as the augmentation is felt, that power within herself growing, and suddenly the little pixie becomes several, a small swarm of fragile butterfly-winged fae in a myriad of rainbow hues. She stares at them with some wonder, no longer trying to keep the illusion, and they fade into ever more gossamer things until there is nothing left.

Her hand curls around Gillian's — they are almost identical, their two hands, in size and shape and delicate bones.

"We weren't," Ali echoes her husband.

More importantly, what Gillian wants to hear, her mother adds, "We won't."

Delicate and fragile, just like the wings of the butterflies she wants to step on. What she'd wanted to step on. But they weren't experimenting on her. Gillian takes in a slow breath and steps forward again, instead of allowing the hand holding to continue, she's wrapping her arms around her mother, closing her eyes and breathing in the warmth through her clothes. The smell of the spagetti, the fabric softener, the shampoo that she borrowed to wash those dyed locks…

"I'm not really your Stephanie anymore… I have tattoos, I used to smoke, I've done drugs… I've been involved in things that you'd never want your daughter to be involved in…" And maybe being raised by them would have made her different… "People have been hurt— killed because of me." Her sister. Jenny. So much would change… Not just for her, but the people her life touched.

"I don't know if… if you would— if you should love me how I am…"

"You love us knowing a little too much about what we are," the man points out, after a silence that seems deep enough to sink the whole of the sea into. "And you came back in time to talk to us.

"I don't know if you got that from us," he says, with that funny sort of prudence. Even now, Jeffrey won't make assumptions as to nature over nurture, or discredit the family that tried— he hopes, tried to do right by Gillian, "but I'd say," and he clears his throat, a sandpaper noise, even as he rises to his feet. Butterflies vanish through his shoulder, pass out of the other side, reflect luminosity in the dark of his eyes. "I'd say you don't deserve anything less than love in return.

"And." He ruffles long fingers through her hair, just as a butterfly shies away from it. "I like your hair."

When her grown daughter hugs her, Ali sobs once, then reminds herself she is still the mother here, that she needs to be strong for this girl who is so needing of a mother's love she's been too long denied. "It doesn't matter. You're still ours, and we're still yours, and none of that matters. It's not your fault, not if you were so alone, not if we weren't there to get you through it, to help you make the right choices. I'm so sorry — whatever happens, for whatever part we played in it, we didn't know. We would never put you or your brother in jeopardy," she whispers into Gillian's red hair as Jeffrey tousles it.

"We love you so much." Wet lashes close and she clings to the grown daughter in her arms, even as part of her listens for signs of any trouble in her smaller daughter — and her small son's — room.

She breaks from the embrace with one arm to let her husband into it, her hand sliding around his waist tightly.

In her mother's arms, Gillian allows herself to shake, to cry, trying to keep the sobs quiet as she does, but they still can be heard. Somehow, no matter what else happened, this heals something that she thought had been broken. There's even a hint of a laugh for a second. As her hair is tousled gently. "I do love you both— even before I got to meet you. It— even when you weren't there, it felt like you were. Even before I knew about the fairies, or that you played chess— I dreamed about them. In important dreams, dreams that helped me."

A residual memory? A hint of the past sticking with her, watching over her?

"I thought that you had experimented on us, but— now that I know you wouldn't— you didn't… you didn't do it against my will." Pulling back, she rubs at her face, gives a loud sniff as she tries to keep excess moisture inside her nose, and she looks at them both. Everything that she's done with her ability. All the pain, all the people that have been hurt because of it— but somehow it's different now. "I thought I wasn't given a choice. That… it just happened to be when I was too small…" But now… "You should inject us. I know Brian would want it— I'm the only one who didn't, but… now I have a choice." And choice is very important to bra burners.

But there are months yet. Questions to ask, truths— to claw down to the heart of, unease to resolve, and Jeff doesn't know—

—what the Hell he's going to say to Bennet at work on Monday. Uncomfortable thoughts for another time. His arm closes parenthetical around his wife's shoulder, and another for the girl's waist. Both tighten, bundling the women of his life together into a hug tight enough that, for an instant, it's a little hard to breathe. "We should talk about this later," he says, and his voice sounds rough. "We have a guest bedroom. There's a futon, and a photo of your first goldfish on the wall. He lived to four. You should get some rest there, tonight."

The ramifications of the decisions they're making aren't making themselves clear to Alison. Her mind isn't thinking about all the 'what ifs', those things that might change in Gillian's life to come, based on the knowledge shared tonight. Gillian's life would be different, certainly, if she and Jeffrey live, and if Stephanie and Brian grow up with them — if Stephanie can continue to be Stephanie. That is all she can think of — not the myriad of ways the future will change.

The messenger from the future is giving them a chance at a life that they apparently weren't going to get to live, and now they can.

"Yes, you should rest. I'm sure you're tired… we can figure out what to do with this information tomorrow. I'll — I'll call us in sick, say that we have a family flu or something, maybe food poisoning, and we can figure out the best course of action," Ali says softly, her mind already whirling with escape routes from this Company that's apparently their undoing.

She leans forward to kiss Gillian's forehead, smoothing the red hair her husband ruffled. "We'll talk more in the morning."

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