"Hello again, son."
Silence answered his greeting. There was the faint rush of wind in the leaves of the overhead maple, the gentle sound of a birdcall. It was amazing how the sounds of the street never seemed to reach, here.
"I don't know what to tell you," Walter continued, "Or, where to begin, for that matter. There's so much swirling around in my head, I don't even know where to begin. But it's good, Peter- for the first time, in a long time, it's… better."
He thought it was a simple blemish on the headstone, and gently reached out to brush it off, when he felt the weight of it on his fingertips, and paused. Slowly, Walter scooped up the medium-sized, slightly tarnished silver coin, lifting it from it's resting place and rubbing it with his thumb. As he examined it, a small, strange shiver crept up his spine.
"How long have you been coming here?" Someone asked, and Walter jumped, looking up. His sighs came to rest on what had to be the strangest man he had ever seen. He was, at even the most careless of inspection, completely bald, with a sheer lack of eyebrows of any kind, but, after a few moments to wear out this disturbing fact, Walter somehow felt as if he knew him. The stranger only stared back at him, his pale gaze hinting at nothing.
"A very long time," Walter answered at last. They stood in silence, staring at each other.
"You lack an arm."
"Yes. I… lost it. I loose a lot of things," but Walter could see that, somehow, this man already knew all about him. It felt as if the entire conversation were just a courtesy… "This is my son, Peter."
"But it isn't." Wind rushed overhead again, the only thing moving on the stranger the hem of his long, black coat.
Walter looked back to the headstone, "No. I suppose you're right."
"You have an arm, on the other side."
Walter glanced up sharply.
"You have a son, as well." The stranger tilted his bare head almost unnoticeably, his eyes thinning as if he were concentrating. Or perhaps questioning. "Your questions are normal, Walter. We have met, but not now, not like this. You do know my name. No, I don't think you will ever remember it. But it is alright."
"That we've met, or that I can't remember your name?" Walter questioned with a half grin.
The stranger did not answer, his head righting itself on his dark shoulders, "I have come to apologize."
"Peter was supposed to die, Walter."
"I'm aware of that."
"But this grave is empty. There is another, much like this one," he looked at the coin poised in Walter's fingertips, and Walter glanced down at it himself, "If I had not erred, you would still have your son."
"But I do have my son," Walter said, looking back up at him with a small smile, "Somewhere, a me has a him. Just as I'm sure that one of me out there has an arm, an eye, and an ear… and can remember people's names."
The stranger looked truly surprised, and Walter somehow knew that this was very rare.
"You know what's on the other side. For that, I envy you. But I've seen my son- he looks well. Well enough without me, in any case. Being here, talking to this empty grave and utterly useless mass of granite… it's ridiculous, but I feel closer to him. But if you are truly sorry… then there is something you can do, for me."
The stranger tilted his head again, and Walter clarified.
"Give him a message. Not Peter… him, the me on the other side. Tell him to take care of our boy, would you?"
The stranger nodded, "I will do that, Walter."
Walter smiled, looking down at the coin as he pushed it over his index knuckle with his thumb, flipping it over each of his fingers in a quick, fluid motion. He smiled softly. When he looked up again, the stranger was gone.
He met Astrid in the car, still fiddling with the coin in his fingertips. "I want a root beer float," he suddenly complained airily.
There was a lot of stuff, in the basement lab at Harvard university. Most of the stuff belonged to one Prof. Walter Bishop, but the rest of it could have come from any number of places. The stuff was often stacked in file cabinets and innumerable cardboard boxes, in no particular order, but as of late and with the introduction of an assistant that went mad without a sense of order, in the chaos, the lab had begun to considerably shape up.
Not that this didn't slightly vex Walter, being so accustomed to everything being anywhere, and so unaccustomed to someone mussing around in his stuff.
Astrid watched the professor shuffle along muttering things under his breath as he carried with him a thick stack of files under his arm. He dropped them onto a small, cleared spot of counter space between a dissected microscope and a crate of extension cords. At last he plopped down in his swivel chair, stooping below the counter to open a cabinet door.
He carried himself considerably well, for being a sixty-two year old man. And only having one arm.
"You remembered to look in the under cabinets," Astrid smiled, breaking the last, slow, half-hour silence.
"Now you've gone around and re-arranged everything, I've about had to sketch out a map," Walter grumbled. But he still seemed silently pleased that she had noticed, "where on earth did you put my stamp?"
"You can't use the stamp anymore," Astrid said, stretching tiredly in her desk chair and rubbing her eyes, "we swapped to the labels, remember?"
"And I suppose it's no trouble at all for me to grab up a pair of skizzors and snip them out?" Walter frowned, nudging the cabinet door shut with his knee and turning to hold up the sheet of labels Astrid had printed out only a few weeks earlier.
"Wait- did you just say 'skizzors'?"
"My point is, if you expect me to use something that is an easier alternative, please consider actually making it easier," Walter said, doffing the sheet of labels onto yet another cardboard box stack.
"Sorry," Astrid said, rising and going to retrieve the sheet, "I meant to perforate them, I forgot. Do you want me to cut them out for you?"
Walter let his head drop to the counter atop the files with a dull thud, "I want my arm. Get me my arm from the trunk of the car."
"I know, I know," Astrid sighed, rubbing his shoulders, "but we've talked about this. We're weaning you off the arm, remember?"
"I want my arm," Walter whined again.
"No, no. Come on, Walter, we'll get through this. Things can only get better, from here, am I right? I'll get the skizzors." Astrid smiled, and headed off for the supply box. Not everything had a place just yet, but they would, soon enough.