The Silence


ruiz_icon.gif odessa_icon.gif

Scene Title The Silence
Synopsis The awful sound may be gone, but the bond remains true.
Date May 3, 2019


It isn’t the first time that he’s stopped in, but this is the first time Mateo comes without Lynette in tow with him. She had work, but he still wanted to come for a visit and bring some things. Once they let him into the room, he gives his sister a hug, closing his eyes for a moment before looking her up and down. He can’t help but worry about her, the isolation, the work, everything. It was better than what it could have been, but that didn’t make it easier.

“Evie drew you a picture and I brought a couple books and some vinyls.” A little bit of Jazz, a little bit of classical, and even some more contemporary stuff. Vinyls had been coming back into style, after all.

It was strange having no noise in his head, still, even if he had two sets of distinct memories to make up for that lack of noise. It made everything so quiet though. The way he didn’t unconsciously speak up showed every time he spoke, something he almost never noticed. He hadn’t realized how much all that noise in his head affected him until it was gone— possibly for good.

He didn’t miss the loss of his ability. He thought Lynette did, but it was better than being dead or lost in time and space. Their mother had saved them.

Mateo’s embrace is returned with a fierceness that comes from a strong bond of love. Certainly she doesn’t look happy - he can tell - but she’s happy to see him, and that’s a start. He can also tell that she’s starting to lose weight, but it doesn’t seem drastic. The stress of adjusting to her new normal is almost certainly to blame.

Odessa picks up one of the vinyl records and smiles slowly, feeling a pang of nostalgia. “When I was still working out of the Bronx facility, I used to have a whole collection of records,” she tells him as she brushes her fingers over the cover. “Jazz, mostly. Some swing. I used to listen to a lot of Sinatra.” All this to say, “Thank you.”

Setting the gift down with the utmost care, she turns a bright smile up to her brother. It falters when she really looks at him a moment. “Come here.” Odessa reaches up and takes Mateo’s face in her hands, drawing him in again, down the nearly half foot of difference in their heights, until their foreheads can touch.

Right thumb brushes gently over his cheekbone while her eyes shut, and she concentrates. Trying, trying… Trying to reclaim some of what they’ve both lost. But there’s only silence in this proximity. No rush of waves over shore. No howl of wind through the maze. No whispers. No promises.

“Are they not feeding you enough here?” Mateo responds, feeling the loss of weight in the hug, wondering if he should start dropping off something fun to eat, like a bunch of churros or taquitos. He thinks they would probably not want him to bring a cake, with all the stereotypes of files being stashed in them. If he had still had his ability, he might have just tried his first long range portal and broken her out, even if it meant they were all in hiding for the rest of their lives. He thought the kids would forgive that. Except maybe Sylvia.

Closing his eyes, he leans against her forehead, listening to nothing but the sounds around them, her breathing, his breathing. It wasn’t the same as the roar of everything, but it gave some comfort. “I figured you would enjoy the music. You always did.”

He had memories of her that weren’t entirely those of the one from here. He actually knew pieces of her from so many timelines now. He wondered how she had been in the world he’d been turned into a cyborg. But knowing four different versions of her gave him some small bit of insight. “Lynette picked out a few too. She also really likes Sinatra.” Though he’s not sure either of them can listen to her favorite song anymore.

But they still do anyway.

No awful noise. No voices in her head. Just the beating of their hearts.

Odessa withdraws and opens her eyes slowly, and she shakes her head to dismiss his concern. “They’re feeding me plenty,” she promises. “I’m just perhaps not… Well, I have some bad habits when I’m kept in cages.” In spite of the implication that hangs heavy in that statement, she still offers a reassuring smile.

The light doesn’t leave her eyes even as the smile fades. “It’s strange, right? All those memories. All those different lives…” If anyone understands the jumble of it all, it’s her brother.

The mention of the cage causes Mateo to wince a little, because he doesn’t quite have her experience with cages— but then again, maybe he did, he just didn’t remember any of it really. They’d had a strange childhood, both, and an even stranger adulthood. “Let me know if you need me to visit more often. I’m not doing as much work as I used to anymore.” He can take the time off to drop in more than Lynette. He’s not running a business. It wouldn’t get her out of the cage, but…

“It is— odd. But only the last few years are really jumbled. And it’s just… two.” Then again, what he had known about his counterpart in at least two of the worlds, he might be grateful that it was only two of him in there. He didn’t have to remember his sister murdering him. He didn’t have to remember whatever horror had been done to the him that had been a cyborg.

Though he kind of wished he’d known the whole life of the him that had been Destiny’s brother, he felt two of him were enough. “Sometimes I forget what happened here and what happened in other places. It can be a little confusing sometimes. I ran into this guy I knew from the Hub, and— of course he didn’t know who I was, but I forgot at first.”

“Some of them are fainter than others.” The version of herself who had defected from the Vanguard with her brother is possibly the weakest of the echoes inside her mind. Neck and neck with the one who had given her life for the man she loved, perhaps. “But I remember more good things than I expected to.” Odessa smiles faintly. “We used to play the piano together for the kids.” In the Hub. “They loved our little display when we’d do Chopsticks.

The smile decays slowly. “The bad things are still there.” She remembers murdering her own brother. “But there’s a lot of good.” Even if it hurts so much.

Odessa wraps her arms around Mateo again, pressing her face into his chest. “You visit me as much or as little as you want to, okay? Any time I get to see you, I’m grateful for.”

“I remember. Mala especially loved it,” Mateo responded, still fondly remembering the young girl he met not once, but three times. He wondered how the Mala from the flooded world was doing often, but he didn’t think she had come to New York yet. He hadn’t been as close to her as the one from the Hub, of course, whom he had kept an eye on in the next world where they left her to live what he hoped was a long happy life with her adopted father. Who had seemed to have been her adopted father once again, in the flooded world. “I pretty much remember everything of his life. It’s the me who was in this world that’s… muddled sometimes.”

He knew why. “Kaylee had saved what she could of him— that me—, when we were stuck in that place between all the places.” He might have been lost all together if the telepath hadn’t been there to preserve him and the Lynette from another world in the Lynette of this one. He’s pretty sure that it was because of their mother that he was a hodgepodge of both hims. Scars and all.

And the extra wedding rings he still wore around his neck.

“I’m not sure why you got all of those memories, but… it’s nice to know that pieces of the others live on in you.” He had mourned the sister that he had travelled with for years, who stayed behind to help save them. Just as he had mourned the one he discovered he was willing to murder to avenge when he discovered how she had died.

“I blame Mom,” Odessa says easily, indulging in that little joke that siblings can share in. Children are allowed to blame their quirks on their parents. Even when their quirks are having memories of multiple lives inside their heads.

In Mateo and Odessa’s defense, Juliette Luis was quite the quirky woman.

“I forget sometimes that you’re… him.” His little sister flashes him an apologetic smile at that. “I mean, you’re you. Just not the you that this me had gotten to know.” Odessa lets out a heavy exhale. “Oh, my head’s a mess.” She chuckles then, good-humored about it. “I really meant to be right back, you know.”

Their mother had certainly been unique. Mateo wishes he would have gotten to know her better… But he shakes his head a little and leans back, just long enough to pull her forehead down so he can kiss it. Once that is done, he does finally step back all the way, giving them a little personal space, and allowing him to look around at the accommodations again. He starts making mental notes about what he needs to bring next time, and then remembers something he had put away in the bag, reaching down and pulling it out.

A book. A familiar book. One that had belonged to one of him, so long ago, and then given to her and then to another of him— and now. He holds the book out.

“My head’s a mess too. This may sound weird, but I think it might have changed a little. There’s some things I don’t remember seeing there, but that could just be my memory being all muddled.”

It hadn’t been JUST him who had read it, after all. “But I think Lynette noticed some differences too.” And she was mostly the one who’d read through it with him.

The kiss brings a small smile to Odessa’s lips. For a girl who grew up without much in the way of affection (that she’s been allowed to remember), any act of kindness is soaked up and cherished.

The book is eyed with curiosity when it’s procured from the bag. Her brows furrow for a moment, but she recognizes the cover instantly, even though he doesn’t identify it by name. “El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan,” she breathes out, unnecessarily, as she takes the hardcover in her hands, running her fingers along the spine and the cover with reverence.

It had been his. It had been hers. It had been his again.

Odessa looks up at Mateo uncertainly for a moment before she folds open the front cover and starts paging through the book that she knows practically by heart by now. She knows where the poetry is sketched in the margins. Memorized the words so she could take them with her in her head to the library, to her dictionaries, to translate, before she had enough knowledge to do so on her own.

Leaning forward, Mateo looks back down at the book, watching as she flips through it. He hadn’t noticed it immediately, but sometimes he took comfort in looking at his handwriting. They were so similar, him and the other hims. They had some of the same quirks, even if their worlds had been vastly different. This one more than any other. He hadn’t been as big into poetry as he had been music, but this man— he could tell he had been. Sometimes he wondered if they had been songs.

“There,” he finally points, below a poem about a nightingale. Or a ruiseñorita as it had been written. He had known it must have been about Des, and know he knows it must have been about Destiny, but. “That’s not my handwriting.” And he’s pretty sure it hadn’t been there when him and Lynette first went through the book together to see it, thinking about the man who must have written it.

A man long dead now.

It’s not quite Odessa’s either. For one, she has the looping script of a doctor who doesn’t give a fuck if anyone but the pharmacist can read what’s on the prescription pad most of the time. For another, she doesn’t dot her eyes with hearts and stars. Not since she was—

Well, since she was Destiny’s age, she supposes.

Odessa laughs, startled by this discovery. “Look at this,” she muses. Obviously he’s already seen it. “How… I know this wasn’t here before. I’d have seen —” Her eyes fall shut and her mouth drops open in a soundless gasp of air. The book slips from her hands and lands on its top on the table, pages fanned open.

It’s the only warning he gets before she lists to one side, as though she were suddenly unable to support her own weight.

She’s running through the hallways. At the same time, she’s standing in a different corridor, on the opposite end of the facility. The wind whips through her hair as she stands on the rooftop, watching the aurora swirling over the nearby Deveaux Building.

As she pitches to the floor, Odessa lets out a pained cry.

“At first I thought it was Evie, but…” Mateo trails off as she suddenly drops without warning, catching her as she pitches toward the floor. He kneels down to lower her against him, and keep her from hitting the floor too hard, arms going around her. “Whoa, whoa, hang in there, Des,” he says, reaching up to brush hair out of her face in an attempt to look at her eyes.

No version of him had much in the way of actual medical training, but he could see that she wasn’t at her best. In fact she seemed somewhere else entirely.

“Are you okay?” He half wants to ask if she’s ate today, because that’s often one of the problems that comes up at the Benchmark. Patients skipping their meals and nearly passing out from low blood sugar levels or something, but he’ll wait for her to answer him first.

The catch is a good one. Fortunately, it wasn’t a hard fall, and he finds her easy enough to compensate for, making the transition to the floor a smooth one, even if she does sort of slide a bit like her legs are made of jelly for a moment there. His grip on her arms and back keep her from hitting the tile.

Odessa curls in toward her brother’s embrace instinctively, tucking her face against her shoulder the way she remembers doing when they were young. Even if it’s only a memory of the muscle. She trembles in his arms and catches her breath. “Y- I’m fine,” she promises, but could stand to have a bit more strength in her voice to sound convincing. “Don’t— Don’t call anyone. They’ll just end our visit.”

Her breathing evens out before long, muscles relax. “It’s… I lived a paradox,” she explains quietly. “Or… she did? We all did, I guess. Existing as one mind with three bodies in different worlds. Sometimes it’s a little overwhelming.”

In some ways muscle memories were more reliable than those in the mind. Mateo knew that better than anyone, now that he understood that the first thirty years of his life had been wrong. It had been changed, altered, sanitized. He hadn’t known he had an ability at all, until the switch had been turned back on and the sound roared into him. Both of him remembered that moment far too well. But everything up until then, for both of them, had been both the same…

And a lie.

“Yeah, I can understand that,” he says quietly, voice soothing as he continues to hold her. Part of him would consider getting help for her, but she’s talking, and she’s right. They would end the visit, and he hasn’t had many of those. This was the first one without children or Lynette in tow, too.

“Our mom was a paradox all on her own. I’m not surprised we both turned out to be one too.”

Both a little bit of a paradox. “And you got it worse than me.”

Again, it strikes Odessa just how quiet it is with the two of them in this close proximity. The sound should be deafening. They should feel both unnerved and at peace wrapped in this familial embrace. But there’s no power that calls to them now. No void, no promise.

Odessa lets out a shuddering sigh and wraps her arms around Mateo a little tighter. “I miss her. I miss her so much.” He didn’t have the time with her the way she did — but at the same time, he did. Josefa Ruiz raised him. She didn’t have that luxury with Rianna Price. She only had Juliette Luis in her adulthood, with her memories scattered as much as Odessa’s own. The situation was fair to neither sibling, nor their shared parent.

“I was in the Ark,” she starts to explain softly, this paradox of hers. “Destiny,” she corrects. “The alarms started to blare and the… The announcement came from overhead, like they had the day that I met him. The Mateo from her world. And she found him there, in the same room I did.” She swallows back a lump of emotion, still with her face buried against her brother’s neck as she continues in her soft voice. “He found her… And he said goodbye.

“That’s when she found the book.” Odessa lifts her head finally, eyes glassy from the pain of that memory that shouldn’t even be hers. “But you still have it…”

Destiny and her brother had found each other and had the chance to say goodbye. Mateo Ruiz let out a long exhale, from a breath he didn’t remember taking in, like so many breaths before— but he consciously extended the exhale, aware of the sound it made. It wasn’t the roar that should have been gnashing at his head, the gears of the universe turning— and somehow it sounded so much louder because of how quiet everything was.

“I wasn’t sure if you… remembered Destiny too,” he admits. He knew that almost every version of his sister had died in some way in the worlds in between, but he had hoped Destiny had survived, that somewhere, there was a young, innocent girl, living as best she could, without the brother he knew she had loved so much, and never given up hope of seeing again.

She had found the book. And taken it, it sounded like. It should not have been on the floor for him to have now. Maybe she had created another timeline?

“Is this her writing, then? This is Destiny?” It looked like the writing of a young, bright girl. Which is why he had thought Evie at first— but it was also so neat. Even Evie’s too good for her age writing wasn’t that good.

Slowly, Odessa starts to disentangle herself from Mateo’s grasp. Not for any desire to withdraw, but to allow him to feel as though he isn’t required to support her. “I think so,” she says of the new writing in the margins. “I… don’t have memory of writing it.” Whether she means herself or Destiny is unclear. Maybe both.

“But it must be, right?” The paradoxical nature of it is truly the only thing that makes sense to her. Even if the simplest answer is probably the correct one. When have things been simple in their lives?

“I remember… Living my life out of order in her shoes.” She pauses and catches herself going off track without signalling to him the change. “Ah, the other Odessa. The one who… The one who bought you time.” There’s a mournful note to that. They both know it had been a selfless act that has resulted in her never obtaining the thing she wanted most.

In sacrificing the reason she had lived for, Odessa Woods found something worth dying for.

“I remember you took me in.” That had been many years ago for the Mateo in front of her. Much more recent for her. “Sometimes I forget that was even me. Sometimes I forget it was you.” Odessa swallows and smiles shakily. “It all gets real jumbled up in my head.” Memory is a strange thing.

“We’re like a kaleidoscope. Pieces reflecting in different ways, but all part of the same picture, it just changes based on the way the light hits it,” Mateo responds quietly, speaking for himself in this, too. So much had been different between the two lives, but so much the same. Their various circumstances had changed them, molded them, pushed them to be something the other never had. “This me, the one who wrote in the book— he wrote wonderful poetry. I’m not that good.” He could still write it, but he never really had the level of inspiration that this one showed, writing little poems in the margins.

He didn’t have that one’s memories either.

“I remember, yeah. It was strange, seeing your eyes in her face.” He’d been spending time with that Odessa before then, talking, sharing stories. He had felt he regained his sister once again. The one who had been murdered. The one whom he had been willing to kill for.

“Taking care of you drew me closer to her. And losing her draws me closer to you.” Their life was a strange one. Fractured and broken, casting reflections everywhere.

Like the kaleidoscope.

Odessa draws her brother in for another hug. “I’m sorry,” she whispers against his ear, as if she could have done anything to prevent what had happened to her. The other her. “She loved you more than anything,” she tells him with certainty, pulling back so she can look him in the eye now. “Your Odessa… You made her a better person. She changed for you.

A tear slides down her cheek. “All she wanted to do was find some way to save the world, so you could find a place in it and be happy.” Odessa Knutson hadn’t lived long enough to find out what would become of Lynette Rowan, but Odessa Woods learned in her time, and so Odessa Price knows. (Yes, it’s strange.) “I’m so sorry she’s gone. I’m sorry I can’t be her.

If she could, she wouldn’t be here.

Her forehead comes to rest against his once more. It’s a habit she doubts either of them will ever fall out of, even if they no longer hear the harmonies of their powers. “Were our eyes really so different?” she asks finally, a small smile on her face even as more tears fall.

“Don’t be sorry for being you,” Mateo says simply, leaning forward to give her another kiss on the forehead. No, he doesn’t regret that she’s her. She’s all of them in a way, too. It had been rough on him the first few days when he hadn’t been sure how much of the Mateo from this world had been there, and how much was the Ruiz from the other world. He had felt guilty about it, even, apologetic to Lynette for losing her husband and Silvia for losing her adopted dad. But at the same time.

He was still him. He was both of them.

“I’m just glad you are alive and here. And I’m even more glad that a piece of them still lives within you.” Because he had loved that sister. Loved the original one he had known. Loved the ones he met in between. The only one he didn’t know anything about was the one from the world where he had still been Hati. And a cyborg.

That one had gotten his happy ending too, with his Lynette. And that was enough for him. He just wished he would have found out what happened to the Odessa there.

“We changed each other,” he adds after a moment. “We both made mistakes and bad decisions, but we both wanted to change when we were given a reason to.” There’s a pause, then he nods. “But yes, your eyes were different. The eyes can’t lie.”

Her eyes were how he had figured out what she had done. Why it hadn’t been a surprise to him when he learned she killed the other him.

“Do they look different now?” Curious, she wonders if something so simple as her eyes can be altered by the complexity of her mind now. All the different versions of her that color who she is now.

The headache is starting to subside. It never lasts long, but then maybe it’s that she’s averse to continuing the line of thinking that tends to bring it on in the first place. Dwelling on the paradoxical nature of her memories rarely leads anywhere good.

“They’re different, yeah. But— I think that’s a good thing,” Mateo responds after a few moments of looking into her eyes. They were both different, because what had happened to them, what they had spent the last few years experiencing, and the people who they had met along the way. It would have been difficult not to change. “I still see you in there, though— and her.” All of them, really. Maybe even the child-like one who had seemed so innocent and sweet, sheltered from everything.

“They were all us, in some way. And we were all them.” And now they really were that, at least in some way unexplainable. Somehow.

Odessa finally climbs to her feet again and waits for her brother to do the same before she pulls out a chair and settles in at the table instead of crouched on the floor. For a long while, she seems to mull over what he’s said, staring off into some middle distance between them.

Finally, she speaks again without refocusing her gaze. “They let me see James.” Her voice is soft, hesitant. “At my trial, he… He spoke out for me. He understood me and what happened to me better than I understood myself.”

But whatever he said to her when they met, it’s obvious it was painful.

James. Woods. One of him had never met the man. Seen him at the trial he could not testify in, but Mateo had never actually met the James Woods of this world. He had met him in other worlds, though, and he had formed a singular opinion about him. “He’s a good man in every reality.” That was what he had decided. He was just good. Even when things went wrong— However…

As Mateo moves to take the seat, scooting it toward her a little so he can hold out his hand in offer to hers. “What happened?” Good didn’t always mean kind.

Especially considering what his sister had done, and been on trial for.

Odessa reaches out to clutch her brother’s hand the moment it’s offered. The tears start flowing instantly. “I’m a monster,” she insists. “I can’t— I can’t help it. In those other lives— In this one, he was… He was my friend, I think.”

Goodness and kindness offered out toward a person don’t always mean there’s a friendship.

“He said I deserve to be here.” Odessa’s face, her tone, are anguished. It hurts so terribly to explain what Woods said to her. “Said I’m self-serving and cold, and…” Her mouth pulls into a grimace’s mimicry of a smile. “And he’s right.

Mateo’s little sister shakes her head, lips pressed together as she tries to keep the quivering under control. “But he’d… He’d seen it, those things that I — they — lived. When we looked at each other… It sounds like he had more visions than most did. Maybe that’s because of his connection to me.” After all, she had more visions than most. Her strings kept attempting to overlap and cross, in any order they pleased. Maybe his tried to follow suit. She’s likely never to know.

“I offered to try and get him out of Liberty Island and in here. With me. So we could…” Her hand around Mateo’s squeezes while she wipes tears away with her other. “I don’t know. Start over? See where things would go? I just know that there’s a part of me that’s incomplete without him, Tete.”

It’s a bit dramatic, perhaps, but the situation feels appropriately so. “But he didn’t… wouldn’t let me try. I can tell he loves me.” Or that’s what she wants to believe at any rate. “But he doesn’t want to be near me.”

And that is why she feels so utterly dead inside.

Sometimes second chances come too late. Mateo squeezes her hand back and looks up into her face, feeling as if he were looking at three versions of his sister all at once. The three he had known best. He wished he could tell her that everything would get better, but he wasn’t going to say that. She was— here— potentially for the rest of her life. It wasn’t going to be easy. It never was. Could she even meet someone and fall in love again in a place like this? Did she have a chance of ever being free to do all of that again?

“I wish I could take you somewhere else.” Another world. Even if she went somewhere else and lived there, and he stayed here with his family, it might be better than the situation they were in now. Where she was a prisoner. Where she was trapped in a cage. Again.

Part of him wanted to apologize for not getting her out of this situation, for not having any way to protect her or allow her to fly again.

“I’m sorry about Woods,” he adds after a moment, something he could at least give sympathies for. “Love is complicated.” How would it feel if Lynette hadn’t wanted to be with him anymore once she found out about his past? He’d half expected it, dreaded it, but… no, she hadn’t rejected him. He still wondered if she even understood how much blood he had on his hands.

“I know,” Odessa murmurs. If anyone would spare her from this, it would be Mateo, if only he could. Her fingers squeeze back and she holds to him like he’s her tether to this world. In some ways, he’s her tether to every world.

His solace offered for her situation with Woods is acknowledged with a nod. “I don’t understand it. Love, I mean. His decision I understand. If I were good, I probably wouldn’t want someone like me in my life either.” It’s dismissive, and she flashes a look up, baleful, silently asking him not to argue with her this time about whether or not she is good or evil.

“It was so much easier when I didn’t care. I could be the Nightingale, and I could just… claw my way to the top of the food chain and destroy every obstacle in my path to greatness.” Odessa searches his face for some recognition of what that kind of power feels like. Surely he understood. Hati understood what that had been.

“I didn’t care if anyone else died, so long as I continued to live,” she carries on. “Now, it’s like I feel everything so keenly. The things that I’ve done… The terrible things I almost did.” The version of her that was his, she had had a heavy hand in killing the world. It’s a guilt she both carries inside of her now and yet one she’s relieved of for having turned coat. For having done what she’s known best for.

“It was easier when he was dead,” Odessa admits finally. “Every world, he died. It was out of my hands. He had left me through no fault of our own. Now… Now, I have all the power.” For once, she isn’t referring to the ability that was stripped from her at Sunspot. “And there isn’t a damn thing I can do with it. It’s not enough. I can’t make him” A mournful whine cuts short her thought as she begins crying anew. “I’m glad he’s alive,” she clarifies insistently. “I couldn’t bear it if he” She doesn’t have to finish that sentence. “But it is so much harder.

The anguish contorts her features and grips her heart like a vice. “You and Lynette always find each other. And I always lose him.”

In some ways, Hati did understand. But at the same time, he did not. Mateo hadn’t joined Vanguard because he wanted to watch the world burn around him while he survived. He had joined because he wanted to burn. He felt like he deserved to burn, so why not deserve it more. In two lives, some people in Vanguard had taught him differently. In one of those lives, that included her. He suddenly had something to survive for, something to fight for.

El Ruiseñor.” He whispers quietly. The Nightingale in Spanish. But no, she was not that. “La ruiseñorita.” Some part of him just knew that was the right nickname. Even if the only one who had actually used it had been the one who had scribbled poems in the margins of the book.

“Maybe he wasn’t your Lynette, then,” he says after a moment, even if he’s reluctant. He knows that not everyone can have what him and Lynette have. He imagines most no one could. So many lives, so many stories. They had somehow found each other and fallen in love in all the ones he knew of. Even more than once. “Do you— remember, José? In Vanguard?” he continues to hesitate for a moment. The man had been with them in the world where the Virus had been released, but he hadn’t… survived long. Ruiz had been very upset when he’d died, but it wasn’t public knowledge that… “We were lovers. We were lovers in this world, too. And in Lynette’s— the other Lynette’s. I don’t know about the blown up world, or the flooded one, but it’s possible that was the case there, too.”

It’s a little awkward of a topic. “In this world, his death was what made me leave Vanguard, run away and hide. In the other… it helped, but I might not have done what I did if I hadn't wanted to save you. And help those we had hurt.” In this world he hadn’t tried to help much at all. He hadn’t had someone to keep living for until recently, he just had someone he would stop killing because of. “Each time I loved again.”

And each time it was Lynette.

Within its cage of ribs, Odessa’s heart aches. La Ruiseñorita was the one who tried so hard to be a poet like her big brother. To hear him call her that feels right and yet causes awful pain for the one the two of her had lost.

But the notion that perhaps James Woods is not her fated love… That hurts more. A shaky hand reaches up to scrub over her face, brushing away tears from chin and cheeks. “José,” she repeats quietly, searching through memories that aren’t hers. “Yes,” she confirms in a soft voice, finally. “I remember.” There’s no embarrassment on her part for the topic. That her brother loved another before Lynette isn’t news, exactly, but it was information buried inside the Russian nesting doll of her layered recollection.

“So, you think James is my… My José then?” The one to be loved and lost. To be held within her heart and used as an inspiration to do better. Odessa shakes her head faintly. “I don’t know about that.” And she can’t exactly say to him why she feels that way. She doesn’t know. Part of it, she knows at least, is that she doesn’t want him to be the one lost to her. She wants Woods to be the one who finds her and encourages her to be someone better than her current self.

Which, honestly, feels selfish.

“I don’t want to let him go.” That’s the crux of the issue. Letting go of Woods, letting him live whatever life he has on his own terms, would be the kinder things. Not forcing him to try to improve things on the terms she finds acceptable. Odessa sighs. “But I suppose I don’t get much say in that matter, do I?”

“It’s more… I believe you loved him. And I believe it had meaning and purpose— “ Which with José, it had been meaningful and purposeful and he had loved him. Mateo didn’t know who he would have been in either world without that man. “James can still be a great love of your life— I just believe you aren’t limited to one.” That’s the point he was trying to make. Two great loves, three, four, five— “You can fall in love again. It won’t diminish what you had with James in all those worlds, but you don’t have to be alone forever.”

One love lost was not the end. It hadn’t been for him, it didn’t need to be for her.

“You don’t have to let him go. But you can move on. In this world, I didn’t meet Lynette til I was in my forties. You got time, baby sister.”

Because she would always be his baby sister. Now more than before.

He just hoped she found this future love outside of this place.

The last of her tears finally seem to subside and she wipes her face with her sleeve, sniffling one last time. “It’s stupid.” She’s downplaying the importance of what she feels now. “He was never mine in this world. But we’re so connected. Even before I’d ever glimpsed those other mes, I… When I thought he was dead, it’s like I dreamed him to life. We hardly knew each other before.”

Odessa shakes her head slowly. “But I kept feeling like there was supposed to be something more. I think he’s the first loss I ever really felt. The first time I cared.” It had been the first step on her path toward compassion. One she still strays from frequently. “I don’t understand it, Mateo… I have no right to him. None.”

Lips pull into a strained smile that conveys her pain and her ironic amusement about it. “I am exceptionally good at giving my heart to men who don’t want it.” He’d seen some of that in his world. The way she’d moon over Peter Petrelli from across the room, but barely get up the courage to speak to him. It had all been very innocent, girlish. In some ways, that’s what her adoration of James Woods looks like. What the love of the Odessa who had travelled with him had looked like. The grieving widow. “I spent all that time alone.”

What she’s talking about now is nothing like that. Because he’d seen what she was like before then, too. He’d seen the devotion his baby sister had given to a man who ultimately used her, twisted her genius to kill the world.

“I wasn’t alone during the war.”

It’s a topic that they’ve avoided, but since she’s reflecting on why she’s in this place…

It was a difficult topic, and one he admittedly didn’t know if he wanted too much information about. But at the same time, Mateo could tell that this was something she needed to talk about, so he nods and moves to get more comfortable, but still close enough to keep from having to raise his voice or anything. He’s also still within reach, cause he shifts his hand to hold hers.

Sometimes he wondered what it must have been like, for the first Mateo that Lynette had met in this world, the one from another world. The one who left them with a book and a memory. How had it felt to see her, a Lynette who had never met him, who hadn’t loved him. How would things have gone differently if he had survived. If he had stayed. And how would things have felt for him— to have a woman that wasn’t his.

He’d felt that way with the second Lynette the other him had met, like he’d had no right to her. He remembered the doubt, the worry— that he wasn’t really Manuel’s father— But no. He was. Now. But things might have gone differently if Lynette hadn’t loved him back, seen her Mateo in him. And if the Eve of that world hadn’t brought them together.

“Tell me about him,” he adds after a moment. “The one who was with you during the war.”

The look she gives him when he asks the question is one that seems to respond Do you really want to know?

But if he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have asked. He’d have continued to dance around it and they’d continue to pretend like that portion of her past hadn’t happened.

“Michal.” When Odessa speaks his name, it’s in a quiet voice, like she’s afraid if anyone overheard, she might be in some kind of trouble. “He was an agent with the Company when I was still just a—” She halts herself, refuses to call herself a girl. That’s what she does when she’s trying to undersell herself. Make people underestimate her. “Newly manifested.

As she’s telling her story, her gaze is focused anywhere but her brother. Anywhere but the here and now, truthfully. Her focus is on the distant past, and memory makes her laughs quietly, a genuine, if rueful, sound. “I had been practicing my Russian, because I was enamored with the notion of the facility in Odessa, Ukraine.” She laughs a bit more, catching her lower lip between her teeth briefly. “It was not good, and he laughed at me. With me, he said at the time. Corrected me, allowed me to practice a bit. I remembered that.” Like she remembers it now.

“I remembered him when he reappeared in New York, and he remembered me.” Her lips press together against that smile then, like she has just pinpointed the moment where everything went so very wrong. How it would have been better for if he hadn’t recalled the young doctor, with her braces and her books and her terrible accent. “The dome over Roosevelt Island,” she clarifies, uncertain if that event means much to him - either version of him - but it’s an anchor. An important bit of context. “The tension was so thick. It was untenable and it had to end. So, we teamed up and we made that happen.”

One hand lifts instinctively to her shoulder, for a moment about to pull aside the collar of her sweatshirt so she could show the scar she earned for her trouble, but she no longer bears it, and she hasn’t for years. Her thumb hooks against the stitching there then instead.

“He was amazing to me, Mateo.” Now her eyes to fix on her brother’s face again, meeting his own. He can see the awe she held — the awe she still holds — for the man in question. “He never once had power like I did, and he was still confident as you please. Convinced of his worth. Convinced of his strength.” And the most astonishing thing, to her, is, “He wasn’t afraid of me.”

The next portion of her story causes her to look away again. “Then, my ability was stolen from me.” The first time. “I didn’t know what to do. I was so… terrified. So angry. So, I reached out to him. I revealed my secret to him and he promised to teach me how to be strong.”

For someone who values strength as much as Odessa Price does, that had been an offer beyond her ability to refuse.

“He promised me we could destroy the Institute. I could have revenge for what they did to me, and embrace my newfound humanity. It’s why I was at the Arcology when it was destroyed. He gave me the means to help bring it all down.” Odessa tips her head back to stare at the ceiling as a breathy chuckle escapes her. “Funny, if he hadn’t poised me to be there, I never would have gotten my ability back.” And if she hadn’t gotten her ability back, she wouldn’t have been quite so desperate to escape Eltingville when the Hunters rolled in. Maybe the chips would not have fallen where they did.

“I didn’t know where else to go,” Odessa admits, tilting her head down again. Her fingers finally tighten around her brother’s hand. “I couldn’t seek refuge with the Ferrymen. I didn’t have the resources to survive on my own. I just…” There’s so much shame when she admits the weakness of her character and her heart. “I didn’t want to be alone anymore. And there he was.”

Her eyes close then, overwhelmed by the memory that washes over her then. “Odessa from Odessa,” she whispers, fingers of her free hand curling to brush over her palm. The sensory component to a memory that’s the better part of ten years gone. One that brings her equal parts joy and pain. “I don’t know if he felt anything for me,” she admits, “but he could have killed me so many times, and he never did.”

To someone like Odessa, that feels a lot like love.

“He accepted me. Kept me by his side. We trusted each other.” If there’s one thing Mateo understands about his sister, it’s that once she’s chosen someone, truly chosen them, her loyalty is unwavering. “He… He understood when I had my moments of doubt.”

Which, if one reads between the lines, also means he convinced her to stay when she wanted to go.

“He held me as Oregon burned.” That is a sight that will haunt her forever. “And I thought there was no point to anything anymore. Not ever. Except to be with him.” The weight of that statement is a crushing one.

“I’m alive because Michal Valentin died to save me.” This is what she truly believes. She remembers the awful sound of the building beginning to cave in around them. Remembers running. Remembers powerful hands on her back shoving her forward.

Remembers waking up just this side of safe, and him on the other side of that line.

“I loved him, Tete.” Odessa smiles sadly, her heart clearly broken into so many pieces, but she doesn’t cry this time. “And maybe that’s why I deserve to be alone now.”

In a lot of ways it is a long and terrible story, and one that Mateo perhaps regrets asking about. But at the same time, one he understands. More than he would want her to know. He stays silent during the story, just letting her tell it, and watching her, avoiding looking away, avoiding doing much of anything to show how he might feel about this particular story. But then finally when she gets to the end, he shakes his head, reaching over to pull her closer. Despite the shaking of his head, though, what he says is, “Perhaps.”

He doesn’t let that sit for too long before he continues, squeezing her arm as he pulls her against him. “But just for the moment. Not always. You just need some time to connect with yourself. You don’t need anyone to become stronger. You already have everything that you need right here.”

And he wasn’t talking about himself in this, or Woods, or this man that she loved who had died for her. Or anyone else.

“You have Destiny. You have the Odessa Woods from another world. You have Odessa Knutson who saved half of me. You have all the strength you need. And you’ll never really be alone again.”

Odessa sags into her brother’s embrace, even though she doesn’t feel as though she deserves his compassion or his comfort. She doesn’t argue with him at first, just lets him make his assertions and even thinks about them before reflexively responding.

Even if she still responds in the negative.

“None of us — me — are strong.” Odessa sits back reluctantly, a sad smile on her face. “When I was alone all those years as a kid? I thought I was the strongest I could ever be. I didn’t need anybody. It was just me, and my power.” The whispering voice inside of her mind. In her bones. All of that is gone now.

“But I’m nothing.” Odessa averts her gaze, feeling as though she’s piecing together the puzzle of herself for the first time. “I am weak. I always have been. For all my power, I could never protect the people I love. Not my father. Not James. Not you. Not our mother. What is the point of me?”

“You’re stronger than you and anyone else thinks, Dess,” Mateo says firmly, with a hint of defiance in his tone of voice, and something else in the way that he does it. He reaches up with his finger and touches the tip of her nose with his finger, like pushing a button.

Just like another him had done. In another world. To another her. In a place outside time that hadn’t really existed. That couldn’t exist. That shouldn’t exist.

For a moment she can almost feel the shiver of the world stretching out as it had then, but then it’s gone. “You’re not nothing,” he continues. “And you’re not an awful person. Truly awful people don’t worry about being anything better.”

Déjà vu.

Her eyes shut reflexively when that finger pokes at the tip of her nose. Tension grips her quickly, not because of his action, but because of the ripple she feels. As though she still had some sense of the flow of time around her. The space between strings.

She’s under a lot of stress. It’s almost certainly nothing.

Opening her eyes again, Odessa exhales the heavy breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding. “What do you call someone who wants to be better, but never actually manages it, then?”

“I call that still a work in progress,” Mateo responds quietly, letting his hand drop away to no longer poke at her nose. There’s no more ripples, for either of them, but there’s perhaps always still the memory of that noise that had always resonated between them. The sounds of the universe.

“It’s like a piano player who just started playing — they’re shaky and don’t know all the keys yet. Their fingers slip, they don’t use their feet right — their timing is all wrong — but I don’t think you’re a lost cause.”

His hands move to take hers, holding them between his for a moment. “I think you’ve got a song that only you can ever play, that you will find someday.” It’s a metaphor, but one that he knows she’ll understand. Because he knows his sister would have understood it.

And it seems she does, if the small smile creeping over her face is any indication as he continues. “I don’t think you’ll be in here forever.” No matter what her sentence.

“Some birds you can’t cage.”

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