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Claire settled herself onto her couch, wary not to muss her carefully arranged hair. She pulled a small compact from the pocket of her dress, and dabbed at her lipstick.
Danny was napping quietly in his room, and Claire leaned forward to light the candle on her coffee table.
Her toes wriggled with excitement in her high-heeled sandals, the fresh manicure bright and sparkling.
She glanced at the time on her phone. Not long now.
She pulled a battered fold of paper from the pocket of her dress. She could probably recite this thing word for word now. But she wanted to read it one more time, just for sentimental reasons.
It was the letter that had had her name on it, the one that she'd found by her bed, the morning after Future Peter had made love to her. The act that had created the sleeping child in the room down the hall.
This was what had got her through two years of waiting. Two years that had been frustrating and difficult, but was going to be well worth it in the end.
Claire lovingly unfolded the letter.
Sorry I had to leave so fast. I've already been here too long, though. Plus you were asleep, and you looked really happy. I didn't want to wake you up.
I admit that it's easier this way too, both for you and for me. Saying goodbye is something that I hate more than anything in the world, and you and I have had to do it way too often.
I don't want to leave. I hope you know that. I never wanted to leave you. But I have to, of course, and, as you can see, this is the last date on the piece of paper. So I won't be coming back anymore.
I wish that wasn't true. I wish I could just ignore the dates that are written on that piece of paper, but I don't dare. They haven't steered us wrong yet, so I am going to trust whoever is at the helm of this ship and go back to my present day.
I hope you'll be waiting there. I know you'll be waiting there.
Read the stuff in the envelope. Give me the sheet of paper with the rules on it and the one with the dates as well on the night I find out about the baby. When I find out the truth. And no, I don't know who wrote them. It's in my handwriting but it wasn't me that wrote it.
You keep this letter, though. I wrote it for you.
The key is to a locker, #3227 in the Newport Airport. I put some money in there for you. Don't scrimp, okay? Get a big apartment if you want. Spend a lot of it, and don't get a job. It won't be too much longer now, anyway.
Now, Claire. I don't know if you know this, I don't know how you could, but here goes. It takes 5 hours and 40 minutes for me to recover from a time jump. I don't know why it works that way for me, but it does.
After I would jump back to see you in the past, I would go back to my apartment. In my time. Then I had 5 hours and 40 minutes before I could jump again. I hated it. I hated the waiting. I would set my watch and just pace the floors until it was time. I could barely sleep or eat, I was so anxious.
Of course, there was plenty of time. Time to think about what we'd talked about, to sit in my apartment and think about what it all meant.
It has been a little over four years for you since the first time you saw me. When you nearly beat my head in with your tumbling trophy.
It's been a little under five days for me since that all happened. Five days since you gave me the dates.
You asked me once if Right Now Peter loved you. I didn't answer, because I was scared and stupid, and I thought I was doing the right thing. I thought I would be able to talk you (and myself) out of this.
And at first I really thought I could. For the first couple visits, I really thought I could.
But I realize now how naïve I was, to think I could change something that was already decided, years ago. Yes, Claire, the Right Now Peter loves you. The person you call Future Peter loves you too. I started loving you the minute I saw you in the hallway of your high school, the minute I saw you give me that secret smile. Like you knew something, and I didn't.
And I was right. You had a secret. You knew something about me that I spent a long time denying, though it didn't take me too long to figure it out.
I wanted to ask you then what it was you knew, but I didn't because I thought you were just a high school student and I was an old man (remember?).
When I found out that you were Nathan's daughter, I tried to forget, and I started to build up that wall around myself, the one that allowed me to act like a semi-indifferent family member around you.
All that was a lie. I never felt like your uncle. I never was indifferent.
When you gave me this paper with the rules and the dates on it, I thought that I would be able to undo all of this. I u promised /u myself that I would come back and change things. I was committed. I had decided that nothing was going to stop me. I swore that I was only going to come to the first few days that were listed. Just long enough to get you to trust me, so you would come to New York and be safe.
I was, under no circumstances, going to fall in love with you more than I already was.
Five days, Claire. That's all it took for you to undo all of the promises I made to myself. Years of promises that I made - ones about honor and what's really right.
I don't care about any of that anymore. I only care about you.
And you didn't do it with any wiles or tricks, or special powers. You were just being the smart, kind, funny person that you are.
I love you. You are my every hope, dream, and desire personified. I don't want to live my life without you, and I've decided that I am not going to.
I'm coming back now, back to the time I belong in. It's all very quick for me, and convenient. It doesn't seem fair. I know you're going to have some tough times ahead of you. I'm sorry that I couldn't be there for you. I'm so sorry.
But I am going to make it up to you, if you'll still have me. And I'll understand if you don't. You have every right in the world to be pissed at me, and I wouldn't blame you if you hated me for the rest of your life.
But try not to be too mad. Because I really want to hold you – I can't wait to just be able to hold you and not have to worry about smashing the butterfly and to talk to you about these things. To plan our future together.
Don't worry about all the drama. None of it matters. Because we are going to make it work. I am going to make it work. I want to finish up this letter just so I can hurry and do that.
But I have to write this, to give you something to lean on in the difficult times ahead. You're going to take a lot of shit on my behalf, and Right Now Me is a clueless moron and I'm sorry that he is. But I swear to you that I am going to make it up to you – I swear that I am going to do nothing but dedicate myself to making you happy for the rest of our lives.
This is the last time that I am going to say goodbye to you. I promise.
I love you, Claire. Stay strong. I'm coming back right now.
Someone knocked loudly at her door, and she dropped the letter onto the couch beside her. Her heels clicked on the wooden floor in her haste. He was earlier than she expected.
She threw the door open.
Five days ago, Right Now Peter had left her apartment, shaking and scared.
Standing in her doorway now was Future Peter, smiling at her with eyes that seemed to know her every secret. And he did, now.
Her hands covered her nose and mouth. She'd imagined this moment a million, trillion times, but it had never included her crying. But now her shoulders were shaking and she was sure her makeup was going to run, and she'd so desperately wanted to look nice for him.
He stopped smiling.
"You're here…" she sniffed. "You're here." She wiped her eyes awkwardly and didn't know where to put her hands.
"If you want me to be," he said softly.
"If I...If I want you to be?" Her voice squeaked. "Are you high?"
She saw relief begin to break over his face, and she spoke grumpily. "Of course I want you, you idio-"
Claire was interrupted by a forceful grip that made her gasp, and then he was holding her tight against him and pressing kisses all over her wet face.
"I'm sorry, I was-" said Peter.
"Shut up," said Claire, and pulled his mouth back to hers. She kissed him eagerly, pressing against him with all her strength. He was sort of half-walking, half-dragging her into the apartment.
Some time later she pulled away, briefly, and slammed her front door shut. She wrapped her arms around his neck, couldn't bear to have her body away from his.
"What are we going to do about Nathan? And my dad," she said shakily as he kissed her neck.
"I don't know. I don't know, I don't care." He said it like he meant it, and went for her mouth again.
She giggled. "Seriously!" He kissed her for a long moment, swallowing all her laughter that was laced with a tiny bit of worry.
"It's all going to work out, I know it." He ran his hand over her forehead, and she smiled, feeling that wonderful feeling of trust shake through her. This was the Peter who made her feel safe, made her know that…
"I'm gonna make it work." He held her face in his hands, leaned his forehead against hers. "I promised you it would work out and it will, okay? I'm not even worried about it. You shouldn't be either."
She sighed with relief. This was the Peter that knew his own mind, and anyone who got in the way of that could just go to hell. Thank God. Thank God.
His hands slid into her hair, and she watched his eyes grow warm and golden. "God, your hair. I love your hair."
Her back was against the wall and she smiled with pure pleasure as he kissed her harder. For a long time. It might have been hours, and she loved every precious minute of it. Things were escalating again, like they had in her apartment long ago, and she started to pull him into the bedroom. To the big, sunny bed that she'd bought knowing how nice he would look in it. Next to her.
Peter pressed her against the wall in the hallway, and kissed her deeply. She could see the bedroom door. They were almost there when he broke their kiss unexpectedly, and pulled away from her.
"Danny." He blinked. "My son! I want my son," said Peter with a huge grin on his face.
"He's asleep," said Claire shakily, straightening her hair and gulping a few deep breaths. "We could wake him up, if you want," she said happily, and she skipped to the table by the entryway. "I could show you these first, though."
Peter followed her closely.
"I took a million pictures of him, remember? You always told me I was dumb for taking so many." Her arms were filled with several large photo albums, props that hid the trembling in her arms quite well until they ceased.
Peter looked over her shoulder, and stood very close to her as she spoke. "There's more in the back, too - tons. I took some every day. Video, too, but that's on the computer…"
Peter grabbed the album that was on top, and opened it. Peter's handsome face was fascinated as he flipped through a series of photos showing Danny eating a red popsicle, his baby face sticky and pink and beaming.
Claire chuckled at the memory of that day. "I've got video of that one too. You should have seen the laundry that day."
He thumbed through the rest of the pages quickly. "You took these for me?"
She nodded. "Yeah. You couldn't be there, but I knew you'd want to see…someday."
He turned his face from the album, and set it on the table. He gently unloaded the heavy books from her arms, and set his hands on her shoulders, lightly.
"You're amazing. Thank you...geez. I'm sorry you had to do this on your own."
"It's okay…I had a choice, you know. I could have changed things. But I didn't want to…I wanted things to be this way," said Claire.
She stepped forward against his chest, and he sighed and wrapped his arms around her.
He leaned away from her for a bit, and looked at her. "I'm glad you did. I don't get why, but…I'm glad."
"What do you mean?" asked Claire.
"I mean, I can't believe how hard this must have been for you. And you knew how hard it was going to be…but you did it anyway."
"Of course I did," she said bluntly.
He just looked at her.
She resisted the urge to roll her eyes, but it was so I painfully /I obvious. "I love you, you know," said Claire simply. "Loved you since I first saw you. I never wanted anyone else…not really."
He took a short little breath, like she'd just said something that hurt him, and she thought she saw his eyes tear up, but that would have been silly. He looked away from her abruptly.
When he looked back, she realised that she wasn't looking at Future Peter anymore. He was In The Past Peter, Right Now Peter, and Future Peter all at once. From now on, he was all of them. From now on, he was just Peter.
Her wait was finally over when she felt his lips on hers.
thanks so much for reading and especially for reviewing. not to be a feedback whore, but it's so very much appreciated when you take the time to drop me a line.
this fic is very indebted to the book 'the time travelers wife' by audrey niffenegger for its ideas regarding the logistics of time travel. it gave me a place to start and work out from. i should probably also mention roswell and donnie darko for that same reason. time travel is a messy business. all the liberties and inconsistencies (which are unavoidably, really) are my own fault, and hopefully didn't deter you from enjoying the story.
finally, each of the chapter titles in this story are songs that i listened to whilst writing this, and i thought they fit well. they are as follows: 1-time stops by explosions in the sky, 2-this side of the blue by joanna newsome, 3-johnny come lately by catatonia, 4-hide and seek by imogen heap, 5-bachelorette by bjork, 6-dirty business by the dresden dolls, 7-another lifetime by alexandre desplat, 8-he can only hold her by amy winehouse, 9-branches by midlake, 10-secret smile by semisonic, 11-bones by the killers, 12-hand of god by fall out boy (okay i lied - i have never heard this song, but i wanted that title), 13-butterfly by weezer, 14-i know it's over by the smiths, 15-prelude for time feelers by eluvium