Summary: 'There's no turning away from what you don't want to know.' Peter, Niki, and seven moments in five years.
Written with knowledge only up to Five Years Gone, so I've done a bit of extrapolating here. I wanted to fill in what the episode left out, and this is what I came up with.
we'll burn it bright before we fall
i. you're a one-man shift in the weather
The bomb went off in New York.
Niki was horrified, but at the same time, not surprised. Some things in the world just didn't surprise any more. Strangers in mirrors and rent all paid in rows of cash. Loss of control and loss of forget.
Then she remembered that Micah was gone, and that Linderman had gone to New York. With her son.
And that D.L., after fighting with her for hours about whether she had sold her son out or not, had followed.
(never, he never believed her, never believed her and look where it left them)
She spun around to look at the mirror, searching for self-loathing in her reflection's sly smirk. But if anything, Jessica looked like her: beaten, shocked, and paralyzed.
Almost like a reflection.
(almost like her blame)
The tight clench of Jessica's fists, however, gave her away.
ii. you're the woman who just won't sell
He was a strange guy, this man – who really seemed so much more like a bright-eyed boy now lost – wandering through, looking for someone.
(who probably didn't even exist)
She was a dancer playing for a barista in this dark corner of town, because it had been months since the bomb, months and months and months of no calls home and no long lost strangers at the door. And because, no matter how much she liked it, she had to feed herself and keep herself together and nurse a hope of family living together again. Whether that had been burned to embers or not.
She didn't need to hide her occupation as much any more but the thought of Micah maybe walking through the doorway as though he'd made it out alive –
(of course he made it, god, why does she think for a moment that he's dead)
- kept her hidden, kept her moving in the shadows like she'd done in the days when she hadn't padlocked her garage closed for good.
The dark-haired man strode over to a counter with his back to the girls, ordered something clear and strong and gave her hardly a glance.
So what's this guy's story, she wanted to know. What's this guy's story, in this alley so dark and this city so down, in this bar where everyone has the same secret to hide.
Can't you figure it out, sweetie? Jessica said mockingly from her shiny-clear shot glass sitting on the counter. She hadn't been saying much lately, sometimes didn't even give Niki a sign of her existence besides a simple nod of the head or a line at the corner of her mouth. It surprised her to hear actual words.
When Niki looked back, she was gone, and the glass was emptier than the stranger's downed and drained one.
iii. you don't need guarantees
The next time she sees him, months later, he has one hell of a scar running along his face and against his eye. The bartender seems to know both him and the scar, sliding him a drink – that same strong and clear one from way back when – before he opens his mouth to order.
Something clenches in her when she sees him, and she soon realizes why. The last time that Jessica had said anything to her was the time that this stranger showed up.
She's still musing on it when one of the girls taps her on the shoulder and reminds her that she's up next.
Niki doesn't have a problem with dancing for strangers in her skin any more. When she had to do it for herself and Micah as a way to survive, it'd taken her weeks to get over the shame. But in retrospect, she'd worried far more over whether her son had ever found out or not, smart kid that he was –
(is. Is, is, is.)
- but that was then.
It'd been easy to fake it and to create a mask, create a visage that the men watching her would want to see, but it'd never been easy to reconcile the woman that they saw and the woman that she was.
(everything easy has its cost.)
"Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for Jessica!"
Easier to dance in her skin if it isn't really hers, she thinks as she sidled up onto the stage. Easier to dance if the mask is actually real, if Jessica's who she really is but isn't, or isn't any more. Or something along those lines.
Jessica would have been able to do this real easy. Real, real easy. Would just give the guys a smile and a hitch of the hips that'd make their breaths catch in their throats, then turn around in the mirror and go, "What, Niki, it's just a show. Can't do something as simple as giving them that? Can't do enough for Micah? Is that it?"
Real, real easy, she thinks, as she stares unflinchingly into the faces of the crowd.
Tonight, however, there's a guy whose eyes aren't on anything other than her face, and it really shouldn't surprise her as much as it does when she realizes that it's the same scar-faced stranger from before.
She takes it as a challenge and bores holes into him right on back, right into the eyes. But he doesn't look away, not once.
After her shift, she finds him sitting back on a stool at the bar, drinking as though he'd been there all along. "I think I've seen you here before, haven't I."
He looks up, taking his time to reply. "Maybe you have."
She motions to the bartender and he slides her a glass of water. It's too early in the day for her to consider anything else.
There's silence for a moment, or two or three.
"So what's your real name, Jessica," he murmurs over the rim of his drink.
"Niki," she says, letting it slip out as though she's not actually in hiding and not one of those people whose faces they're constantly parading on the news.
His breath catches ever so infinitesimally against whatever the hell he's drinking before he tips it down his throat. "Niki, huh."
"But not here," she says, and there's a little warning in the jagged edge of her words. "Not ever."
"You're not the only one that's trying to hide."
Her grasp around her water tightens.
He looks down again. "I'm Peter."
(and I've got the same secret as you.)
She looks back into her glass, but no one's there to comment, no one there to smirk.
iv. you just want something to build
After several visits, she suggests that he move into the apartment. It's been a long while since she's sold the house for good, and she figures that he hangs around so much in Vegas for being an out-of-towner that it's cheaper to live in one place together, considering. And there's the fact that she's reconciled with the knowledge of who he really is.
He doesn't tell her that it really doesn't take him much effort, going back and forth from wherever he goes to wherever he sleeps and everything.
(she probably knows, anyway.)
But he takes her up on the offer. It's not like he has anything to move in anyway – all he needs is a spare dresser to dump some clothes in and a couch to lie down on. He'll be the most unobtrusive house guest ever, if he can help it.
That's until Peter kisses her a month after he moves in.
It's only the two of them now. Micah's dead and D.L.'s gone and Jessica disappeared after he first felt her presence and Nathan's never going to come to this stretch of Vegas and who knows where the rest of his family is, anyway.
They can play at being together. They have no one left to act for, after all.
He slides his hand down her thigh and it's a far cry from a practiced line in the set script that they've thrown away.
She smiles at him, and he doesn't think about how fierce and fragile she looks right then.
(because this is not the start of a love story, only a refraction of the dark morning light)
v. before you turn to the knife
The two of them take their time with whatever it is that they have, slowly learn things about the other that they've already guessed before the words are spoken. Things definable by the names of Jessica and Nathan.
(Micah and D.L. and Hiro and Bennet)
It's funny how both of their (not-)siblings influence them, in a twisted kind of way.
They're sitting on the couch. He has his arm on her shoulders, and they're staring straight ahead. If the TV isn't there it probably won't even make a difference, as neither of them are processing the white noise of "America remembers". But still, it's enough to let him look at her out of the corner of his eye while she's distracted by the screen.
How did they ever get to this point, he wonders.
Niki looks particularly brittle (when does she not?) at that moment and he shifts, close enough to whisper into her ear, almost does.
But she puts a finger on his mouth, keeping her eyes fixated where they are. "Shh."
She doesn't need to say that it was getting to the important part of the speech on the screen, because he knows that isn't true. There is no good part about remembering, these days. He left the good fight and Jessica left her and they live every day like every other day now – without thinking too much about what they no longer have. Without thinking too much about anything at all.
He conveys all of his feelings to her through deep kisses and touches anyway, inhales through the tangle of her hair and knows that it's her tacit acknowledgement of what they are and the feelings that she dares not say.
Just because I might die tomorrow from what I do doesn't mean that you shouldn't mean anything to me right now, or that I shouldn't mean anything to you, he whispers without words, and her pained eyes turned to the ceiling say but you know the truth anyway so why the hell does it matter in response.
They are two jagged pieces that have been ripped from where they're supposed to be, but Peter knows (believes) that you can always mend something that's broken.
(except when you can't)
vi. something's bending to break
Peter knows that D.L. has stayed alive longer than Niki's aware of.
He's never going to tell her that he saw him after the bomb. Alive.
He'd worked with Hiro and Bennet at hiding several groups of people like them. He'd met the man who could phase through an explosion, phased through existence until he was the only one left standing in the smoldering wreck of the city, and learned enough fragments about his son, wife, and life. He'd dimly heard him talking about Niki, and god, someone has to tell her about Micah, and he let them both down so much, and now that the world knows about them, someone has to go take care of Niki and watch out for her and make sure she's all right and what will Jessica do and please.
D.L. knew that the best way to keep her safe was to disappear completely, to cut any ties to her, to make it seem like he was dead.
Peter had never made a promise to him.
Naturally, it was a hell of a coincidence that landed him in that shadowy bar, where a certain Jessica danced on stage while trying to avoid reflective surfaces and bright lights.
And another that he kept seeing her after instantaneously figuring out who she was.
He kept telling himself that he wasn't going to feel guilty about it, because there was nothing to feel guilty about. Her husband won't be able to see her ever again and she thinks that he's dead anyway and maybe Peter made or didn't make a promise to him and only two broken parts can come close to a whole.
He keeps telling himself that he's not going to feel guilty about it.
Then one day, maybe less than a year later, he has one of those dreams of his, not about him but instead the first group that he'd helped to hide. It nags at him all morning until he caves into his whim and tries to locate Candace, using Molly's ability.
D.L. can't be found on the face of the earth either. And then Peter knows.
Niki's never known, but it wouldn't have made a difference anyway. Because D.L.'s supposed to have been dead all along and in the end everything's the same.
(but only Peter knows it)
It wouldn't have made a difference, he reminds himself as he lies next to her in the dark. It wouldn't have made a difference.
He drags his fingertips along Niki's neck, through her hair. She shifts and murmurs but doesn't wake up, just edges closer to him. Jagged familiarity, like she trusts him to keep from fracturing her with one more hairline crack.
(he tells himself that it's not misplaced trust)
But it doesn't make a difference. They'll all be dead sooner or later anyway. Sooner, if this world and the president have their way. So it's never really mattered and he's never really felt guilty, hasn't it and hasn't he.
Peter's not a good guy any more, and he knows it, even if Niki won't believe it.
(but if she knows this story, and the other one, how he took her son away from her, maybe she might.)
vii. it's just a matter of when
But what she will believe is that one day, he'll leave her. He'll leave her like every other important person in her life has; she should've looked out for herself and herself only, shouldn't have gotten attached.
"Why can't you just let go?"
He had stopped fighting with Hiro and the rest long before he'd made a promise to her. He had let go. She was the one who couldn't forget, the one who kept reminding him of what was lost.
Her, not him, he reminds her, forcing her to look into the mirror. Her, not him.
"You walk out that door, you don't come back."
Because you're leaving me anyway so why the hell does it matter, why the hell.
I'm not leaving you, he thinks bitterly as he glances back one last time, I'm not leaving you. The Hiro from the past is going to return to his own time and this reality is going to change and in the end, I can't leave you if we never met like this anyway, if we'll never meet like this.
So he thinks.
"You walk out that door, you don't come back."
He believes that there is more to what they are than two shattered people looking for solace in all the wrong (right) places. He believes that they came together for a reason that isn't entirely born from grief and broken glass menageries.
And, he believes, however the actual future turns out, that they'll meet again.
Not that it'll matter. Because when they'll meet again, Niki will still have D.L near her. Still have Micah to protect and to hold. Still have Jessica looming in her reflection. Still have everyone that mattered enough to make or break her and leave her the way she is now.
So no, Peter's not leaving her, and he's not clinging desperately to anything the way that she thinks he is. Because he's not clinging to the memory of the bomb.
(He's just tormented by the knowledge, and if this is his one chance to reverse fate and keep himself from killing millions, from killing Micah, from essentially killing D.L., from being the catalyst to this new world, then he'll damn well take it. Because he owes her that and it's his fault that they're gone, all his damn fault.)
And he's not leaving her.
(You can't leave somebody that you've never been with. Because if she was truly happy, with the ones that have always meant the most to her at her side, then she'd never have been with him in this kind of a life. And it kind of stings to think of it like that, but it's the only way that he can.)
If they'll know each other in the brighter future and if he tells her this story then, he's sure that she'll thank him with that purse of her lips and that resolve in her eyes (if she doesn't laugh at him for being crazy first). There's no question about it. He pales in comparison to the ghosts that she won't leave behind.
So yes, he walks out that door. Walks out to change the past. Walks out to make a future.
(walks out and leaves her behind)
The one thing that he thinks about, though, with each step that he takes, is that he'll probably feel for her all over again, no matter what the circumstances will be.
(the cynic inside of him laughs at him, and reminds him that love is not an absolute; in fact, it's never really existed much at all besides fleeting declarations of eternity and clichéd silver-tongued lies, convenience and opportunity with flowery words.)
Behind him, several thousand miles away, Niki throws a glass with good aim despite her tears, shattering it against the face on the screen representing a mockery of their lives.
She knows the truth. She knows that she'll never see Peter again.
Not in this life, anyway.
Lyrics are from Vienna Teng's 'Hope on Fire.' Had no idea how much that song fit what I was writing until I was searching for a title.
Major thanks to Dex (Aliora) for sitting through this and pointing out all of the iffy parts. Comments and the like are adored. And by the way, nope, haven't seen anything past 1x20 (though whatever happens, I won't be surprised), so spoiler-free comments would be awesome too. :D