Disclaimer: Gundam Wing and all its characters © Sotsu Agency, Sunrise, and TV Asahi; The Time Traveler's Wife, published in 2003 by MacAdam/Cage, is authored by Audrey Niffenegger. All fics are not for profit.
A few lines from the book's chapter Dissolution are incorporated in this chapter; the book's last chapter is also entitled Always Again.
Home before Midnight
by Schizoid Sprite
Chapter 6: Always Again
"Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity." -Henry Van Dyke
January 14, 209. Quatre is 23.
"Audee, our pyjama party is coed?"
"No it's not."
"Then what's that man doing on your bed?"
Quatre, eyes still stinging from the tears the dizzying journey to that date and his previous conversation with Dorothy caused, jammed a pillow under his head and forced a smile at the doorway. Blocking it was a small girl—perhaps eight or nine years old—that wasn't Audrey. There was something very familiar with the kid, but he didn't realize who she looked like until Audrey's singsong voice mentioned her name.
"Helena, there's no one…." Audrey came into view, halting when she saw him. "Daddy?!"
He propped himself up with an elbow but Audrey plunged onto the bed to wrestle him in a hug, sending him lying flat on his back again. He choked a laugh and wrapped his arms around her.
"How's my little angel?" he croaked quietly. "You're so…grown up. What's the date today?"
Audrey opened her mouth to answer, but somebody else's voice filled the air.
"Whoa my gosh! That is uncle Kethra?"
"Quatre," Audrey corrected. "Come here, quick. Daddy, here's Helena. She's uncle Heero and aunt Relena's first girl."
"Hi," Quatre greeted. Helena hesitantly tiptoed towards them and squeezed herself to the remaining space on the bed, a lovable coil of flesh that was actually more of a Heero than a Relena. She has her father's hair, messy and chocolate dark, and the way she glared was very reminiscent of the one that Heero used to wear.
"Hello, I'm Helena D. Yuy. Pleasure." It was Relena's voice, adjusted to at least half an octave higher, speaking Heero style. She faced Audrey. "You can touch him, Audee?"
Audrey's eyebrows rose to her hairline. "Huh? Yes, why?"
Helena poked Quatre's arm, then drew her finger back as if his skin was scalding. "Whoa, I can touch him, too! Does that mean the movies are not right?"
"Movies? What movies?"
"The scary ones. They say we can't touch ghosts."
September 3, 203. Quatre is 23.
"So they're right when they say a broken heart can make a carpet out of beer cans."
Quatre froze in mid-movement when a pair of boots waded across the drunken clutter he left on the floor, advancing towards him. He lifted his eyes when the boots clicked to a stop about a yard away from him.
"Hi," a blonde teenage girl, standing akimbo and looking down at him, greeted jauntily. "I'm a harbinger from the future and I bring tidings, both good and bad. What shall I disclose first?"
Quatre's face kinked in bewilderment for a while, then he broke into a dour laugh. "From the future?" He took a clumsy swig from his half-emptied can. "If this is the effect of alcohol on a mind subjected to and cursed by a devil's apparatus, I should've decided to remain a teetotaler."
The girl laughed, too, but more sincerely. "Too late for that. But just in case you're thinking I'm just a hallucination, you're mistaken: I'm real and I've only got a limited time here with you. What shall I tell you first, good news or bad news?"
She plopped herself next to him, curling like a question mark as if for effect, hugging her knees. Quatre eyed her cautiously, and he thought he saw a young Dorothy in her. He scrunched his eyes close and flipped them open quickly, dismissing it as the effect of beer.
"Good or bad?" the girl repeated.
He must have seen her somewhere before; she looked awfully familiar. Dorothy was right when she said his world was filled with too many blonde girls, but if this girl was one of those, she should've stood out. Almost all females in his business and social playpen flashed a primp-and-proper image. This one projected a tomboyish aura, even choosing to wear a black tank top, tight-fitting jeans, and a silver ankh dangling from her neck. He took another gulp of the bitter fluid and shook his head.
"I heard you like fairytales, so perhaps you like happy endings. I got to tell you the bad news first."
She handed him a folded paper. His head was spinning, and after he read the content of the letter, his head spun some more.
"Well," the girl said when he hesitated to fold the paper again, "the bad news is, time flies. The good news is, you're the pilot."
Quatre understood what she said, but he wished he didn't. "When did I write this letter?"
"In the near future, I surmise: the "messenger" there is me. I don't think you have to write it anymore, though, since...well, it's yours now. Do what you want with it. It's like the list of dates you gave ma—Dorothy. Doesn't have a beginning and ending, right? I got that letter when I time-traveled to the day you and Dorothy switched briefcases, back during the war. It's tucked between the pages of her Moleskine notebook; I managed to get it before you went to get your briefcase back."
"I'm confused," he said. "If it's from the future, then why did you get it from my past?"
"Because a version of you from the future time-traveled and left the letter in your past." She shrugged. "Perhaps you're going to do that after I leave, now that the letter's in your hands. I think you want to inform Dorothy or your younger self about what will happen, but that's as bad as the Grandfather Paradox. I can't let you do that."
"Because that's cheating," she said matter-of-factly. "The same reason why you can't change anything when you journey back to your father's death and all. Time just used me as an instrument."
Quatre fell quiet. The girl kicked an empty can that rolled to her foot.
"I know I'm going to die young," he said softly after a long moment of silence. "I learned that inadvertently from my last travel, from a little girl. I'm not going to live long enough to see my Audrey grow up. But I just didn't realize it'll happen so…soon."
She looked down and kicked another can. "I'm sorry."
"You don't have to be. I'll never blame a messenger for the news she brings. But tell me…I know you, don't I?"
The girl avoided his stare, and Quatre suddenly figured out who she was.
"Oops," she whispered, glancing at her nonexistent watch. "Tempus has fugited. I need to travel back home."
"Wait…you inherited it? Did you—"
"My mission as Death's assistant is accomplished," she said with an obviously fake yawn, getting up. "I'll answer no questions."
"Got to go now, sir!"
"Wait!" Quatre bolted up from his seat and grabbed the girl's elbow to stop her. "Audrey."
The name was a magic spell of seconds-long immobility. Neither of the two moved for a while until Quatre felt her trembling.
"Don't!" she shrieked suddenly, shaking off his hand but not facing him. "Don't say my name! Now you ruined it! I'm supposed to be a nameless messenger but you ruined it! You're not supposed to know this! You're not supposed to know I can…"
"You inherited it, then. My Chrono Displacement's mutated."
Her string of convulsive sobs confirmed his statement. She sank to the floor, among the smelly cans of his breakfast, lunch, and dinner, shaking with muffled cries. Quatre rounded her and tipped her chin so he could see her face. He didn't feel drunk anymore.
"Audrey?" he muttered brokenly. "You're really my Audrey, aren't you?"
She refused to meet his eyes again and Quatre took this as another yes.
"Is your mama okay in your present?" he brushed the tears that seeped from her eyes, unaware that his started flowing as well. "What's she doing when you left? Does she know you're going to meet me? Y-you shouldn't worry her too much, she's already spent a large part of her life worrying and waiting for me when I traveled...When you get back, you tell her I love her, okay? You tell her I don't care whatever she's going to say, and she's going to say a lot, knowing her…but just say I love her, okay? Did she…do you have a stepdad?"
Audrey's response was a mixture of fumbling words and nods and shakes of head. She locked her arms around her father's neck and wept some more, and Quatre felt his heart, his Space Heart, throbbing louder than before.
"I'm sorry if I can't see you grow up," he murmured almost soundlessly. "I'm sorry if I can't be so much of a father to you…"
"Mama's right." Audrey was trying to sound happy, but her tone came out very unpleasant because she was weeping. "You have a penchant for apologizing for every little thing even if it's not your fault, you idiot."
Quatre let out a short gulp of laugh and hugged her tighter.
"You'll meet mama," she said sotto voce. "You have to because she's going to wait—I met her when she's eighty and you still haven't showed up."
The shards of his heart shattered into smaller pieces. "Eighty?" She's waiting for me all her life?
"I know you can't control your travels, dad, but you have to try. Please. Mama…she still wants to know why you never told her you're good at drawing."
"She loved you, dad. She still does, and that's the truest thing that ever happened in her life. She's just overwhelmed by her knowledge about ZERO's effect on her, but her love's never been a lie."
"I know," he whispered to her ear. "I know."
In the next few moments, they wordlessly shared their secret sorrows in their tears, in their tight embrace. Quatre wept because he was not fortunate enough to see the years that passed since that day, when little Audrey was soundly slumbering on her crib, to that same day, when Audrey was as old as Dorothy when their timelines converged for the second time. It was funny, thinking that he could see the product of more than a decade in just a single day.
He got a lot of time in his hands but he let them all fly. He wept because he knew time flies, and he knew he was the pilot yet he did nothing. He wept because he was not strong enough to fight for his feelings towards Dorothy. It was too late now.
"I think I'm going to travel," he said, feeling a different nausea from the one brought on by the alcohol.
"Me too," Audrey muttered. "See mom for me, dad."
And they were both gone.
November 10, 195. Quatre is 23.
He was back in that music room. No one else was present, and he knew what to do.
The briefcase—Dorothy's—was on the floor. He picked it up and unlatched it, and a thousand memories sluiced back to his head. He smiled at them as he slipped the letter into the mauve Moleskine notebook.
Audrey was wrong about him cheating. He put the letter there not because he wanted to apprise his younger self or a younger Dorothy about his untimely death. It was because he wanted Audrey to get the letter so he would be able to inform himself from a few minutes ago—that was also eight years forward from this date—that time, not experience, was the cruelest teacher. It gives the test first before it teaches the lessons.
"Time just used me as an instrument," he recalled Audrey saying. Wrong again. It was him who used her so he would do a right thing for one last time. It was a cursed, unending loop.
He ran his fingers over the keyboards and played the 'Sunshine Sonnet'. He was in the middle of the piece when colors burst across his vision again. He bade AC 195 farewell, for he knew it would be the last time he would be visiting it.
September 16 260, Quatre is 23, Dorothy is 80.
"You'll meet mama. You have to because she's going to wait—I met her when she's eighty and you still haven't showed up."
He saw her standing on the widow's walk when he opened his eyes. A madonna against the bleak background of a colony night sky, she held Pietro, his violin, the careful and loving way she would hold an infant. She was looking far beyond the railings and into the sea of city lights below, waiting for him.
"What took you?" she asked with a sad smile. He tried to ball his hands into fists, but he became too weak all of a sudden to do that. He used the railings as a crutch as he walked towards her, and she took her own little steps to meet him. They stopped a hairsbreadth away from each other, drinking in each other's appearance.
He reached out to her and touched the delicate lines of her face, her crow's feet, the snow-white hair that fell on her brow, her eyelids.
"You just proved to me how powerless time is against your beauty," he said in a sincere undertone, pressing a kiss on her hand. "Did you miss me?"
"I waited fifty seven years for this day and you're going to ask me that?"
Somewhere in the house, a clock chimed midnight.
"Oh, let me rephrase," she chuckled feebly. "I waited fifty eight years for this day."
"I'm glad you managed to get home before midnight. I'm finally eighty one."
He folded his arms around her, the new fact adding to his heavy load. "Happy birthday…"
"This is the greatest gift I've ever received, Quatre. Thank you."
In so many occasions he heard it's wrong for boys—men—to cry, but most of the time he felt otherwise. So feeling it was right, he let his tears run down his face again, burying his head on the crook of her neck.
"You smell of beer," Dorothy observed.
"You made me drink," Quatre sniffed with a mocking tone of blaming. "Audrey saw me three sheets to the wind and snapped me completely back into soberness. I always know she's going to be so beautiful like you."
"She traveled to your time?"
"Yes. She told me you still want to know why I never told you anything about my drawings."
Laughing, Dorothy tore away from his hold and looked him straight in the eye. "Tell me why."
"Simple." Quatre broke the eye contact when he stared down at Pietro. "It's because I don't feel the need to draw anymore. Drawings for me are visual representations of my dreams. I draw something I want to understand, something I want to be true, and when they do come true, I'll erase or throw the drawing away. When I met you, there's nothing left to wish for or dream about; you're my everything. Meeting you is my fairytale and no matter what will happen, I know I'm going to have my happy ending."
He looked up just in time to see her pearly tears rolling down. He cupped her face and kissed them away.
"Let me play," he said quietly, taking Pietro from her arms. He played a lively happy birthday and let it fade out into their self-composed theme song, the 'Sunshine Sonnet'.
"I love you Dorothy, and it isn't because of a lie. I love you because it's the only real thing that could ever happen in my dream-like existence. Keep that in mind…"
Dorothy walked forward to enclose him in an embrace, but by the time she reached his position, he wasn't there anymore. Time stole him away from her again and she was left alone crying, crushing the violin to her chest.
January 25, 187. Quatre is 23, and 15, Dorothy is 7.
He had trekked back into the past, and he thought he knew when. It was the day little Dorothy beat a fifteen-year-old him at chess.
"So this is it," he told himself peacefully. He fingered the plastic ring on his pinkie, the toy a little Dorothy gave him when she proposed. He kissed it and marched under the lights of the Catalonian mansion, searching for Dorothy's room. He was positive he looked like a big stupid fleabag, with his hair bedraggled like a mop and the beer's perfume cloaking him, but Dorothy wouldn't mind. She wouldn't mind anything at all just to see Mr. Prince.
He knew he has to give the ring to her now whether he liked it or not; he would accomplish this because it was in Dorothy's possession in the future. His Space Heart was roaring madly inside him, but he couldn't care less.
He stopped outside a door when the throbbing accelerated, then pressed his right ear against it.
"Oz is not a place where I am lost," he heard Dorothy say from inside the room. "It is my home and I'm safe there, that's why Papa talks good things about it. There are a few Wicked Witches there though. They keep on clinging to Papa like leeches because Mama is with Mama Mary and the angels now."
A pause, and he heard his young voice: "I'm sorry to hear about your mother."
"Don't be. I'm sure Mama is happy playing with God's cloud attendants."
Quatre's hand fell mechanically on the knob but a millisecond before he could twist it, he heard a gunshot. It was way too close that it might have broken his eardrum. He reached to cradle the shell of his ear, but the moment he peeled off his hand from the door, he lost his balance and collapsed to the floor. Pain broke out to every part of his body, its epicenter at his chest. He winced when he touched it. There was blood.
The screamed declaration was followed by more gunshots. It all happened too fast that he didn't feel anything, but he was aware that bullets were being punched into his body, producing more pain epicenters. Trembling, he reached to remove the ring on his finger and hurled it away from him, bouncing against a corner where Dorothy might find. She would find it, of course.
For the first time since he began traveling, he felt grateful when the vertiginous sensations of time's call oozed around his brain. His Space Heart whispered something to him, revelations, realizations, visions. The colors were calmer now when they invaded his eyes, and he smiled, sensing that whenever he was going now, there was going to be peace.
September 3, 203. Quatre is 23, Dorothy is 24.
She dropped the book she was reading when he appeared in front of her, blood-drenched and disheveled, falling forward. A rush of adrenaline shot her up from the bed and she caught him in an embrace. They crashed to the carpeted floor in a bloody, ungraceful heap, Quatre draped over her.
"Quatre!" she shrieked hysterically, her immaculate white nightgown quickly darkening into a horrible incarnadine. "Quatre, what…when did you…Rashid, Ahmed! Call an ambulance! Help us! Q-Quatre, I'm…no, no, no don't close your eyes, I'm here, Dorothy's here, look, look at me…"
She patted his face and forced him to focus on her, to keep holding onto her. He smiled up at her and coughed when he tried pronouncing her name.
"Don't speak please," she sobbed, brushing his hair away from his face. "Don't speak now…help will be coming soon. You'll be okay, you'll be okay…"
He seemed ridiculously calm. He caught a fistful of her hair in a loose clasp and tugged at it, weakly pulling her down, down so he could softly claim her lips with his own in an abrupt contact.
"Quatre," Dorothy's voice broke. It was an I'll-love-you-even-in-death kiss. "I never laughed at any of your jokes so don't make one right now, I'm warning you! It's not funny! Die on me and I'll kill you! Quatre—"
He laughed. "Y-you'll kill me?"
Dorothy swatted his shoulder lightly. "I said don't speak! Rashid! Where's the ambulance?! Try calling Iria!"
"Shut up! Speak again and you'll feel sorry marrying me, you hear?"
"I-I'll never regret…"
"I said shut up!"
"D-Dorothy, I told you, it's g-going to be useless. I'll die tonight and—"
"That's a lie! You're not going to die and certainly not in my arms! You hear that?! No one's going to die tonight!"
"S-sorry," he gasped with a poor attempt at winking, obviously knowing what she wanted to do. "I think ZERO's on my c-camp. My Space Heart says whatever ability that m-machine gave you, it doesn't have clout on me. Apparently, my feelings for you are t-too rigid for it to perforate my system…"
"You're hallucinating," she cried. "Don't speak until Iria arrives. Please hold on…"
"I-I'm going to prove you wrong when you said I loved y-you because of a lie."
"I'll never forgive you if you die on me! Never!"
"Y-you didn't remind me…y-you spoke nothing of the sort when I met you in the f-future."
He once again gently grasped her hair and she lowered her head, biting her lower lip. "I l-love you, Dorothy," he muttered, a pair of glittering globules of tears dribbling down his temples. "I've never said and felt anything truer than this."
"You won't leave me if you really love me!"
"I'll n-never leave you for a second if I can help it, but I have no choice." He flashed a tired, sleepy smile. "Your voice r-relaxes me…Sing for me, please?"
"No," she sobbed mulishly.
"I said no!"
And like every scene akin to this, it was him who sang for her. He lightly touched her cheek as he hummed the notes of their love song, quickly wiping away red smears he left there with his thumb. She firmly cocooned him in her arms as if the gesture could lend him some of her strength, when in truth she was just too hesitant to let him go. He was slipping away, breath by breath, tear by tear, heartbeat by heartbeat, so, so slowly, like the sands of time seeping through the narrow center of an hourglass…
He finished the song. He lied there motionlessly, a hint of contentment on his face, as if he was just asleep and having a pleasant dream.
September 16 260. Quatre is 23, Dorothy is 80.
When you receive this, newspapers with my obituary are perhaps already a part of history books (I say "perhaps" because you know, it's seems absurd and self-important to declare one's own death as an out-and-out fact. And "things" can happen). I know it's not the nicest thing to start a letter with and I want to tell you so many things, but I'm running against time. Like I always do.
I hope this death of mine didn't create so much of a fuss to you, and if it did, I'm really sorry. As of now I don't know how I will die, but I'm sure I'm going to discover it soon because a messenger from the future just came to indirectly notify me that I don't have enough time left to do what I want.
Dorothy, I want to tell you again that I love you. You can stop time from flowing when you kiss me, you can turn everything to illusions and you're the only thing that's real when you say you love me. You made this bizarre life of mine worth living, and I lived it for you. Tonight I feel that my love for you has more density in this world than I do, myself: as though it could linger on after me and surround you, keep you, hold you. I guess I'm ready now.
I hope that you made the right decision after my demise—that you decided to continue to love, to be free. Of me. I hope you stopped waiting (you've been doing it all your life) and you went on embracing and celebrating life, which is beautiful.
While it's true that this abnormal displacement will bring me my death, I just want to say I never regretted having this disorder. I met you because of this, I met a grown-up Audrey even if I'm not around to see her grow into a woman like you. I love you both so much and I thank ZERO for making our paths converge.
I never really left you, Dorothy. I'll be beside you, loving you always.
"He came from the day you beat him at chess before he returned to you the night he died."
Dorothy lowered the paper and eyed a sixteen-year-old Audrey levelly. "So the gunshots that day…"
Audrey nodded in answer, toying with her ankh pendant. "I'm going to meet him next, going to show him that letter. And he's going to be here."
Dorothy wrinkled her brow. "Honey, Quatre can't control his travels like you. He cannot choose when to go."
"He'll be here," Audrey churlishly responded. "I promise that."
Dorothy handed the letter back to her daughter, and in a blink, Audrey was gone. She held Pietro in her arms and closed her eyes, thinking about how everything was connected to each other, a chain of events broken and repaired and broken again by time.
She waited exactly the same way she waited for him before, except now she held a promise left by her daughter, something she could hold on to with assurance. She feared that Audrey's miraculous setup would misfire, but time taught her to never believe her doubts and to never doubt her beliefs. Sooner or later, it would all pay off.
She turned, and a feeling of renascence washed over her when she laid her eyes on him. "What took you?"
The broken clock is a comfort; it helps me sleep tonight
Maybe it can stop tomorrow from stealing all my time
And I am here still waiting, though I still have my doubts
I am damaged at best like you've already figured out.
I'm falling apart, I'm barely breathing
With a broken heart that's still beating
In the pain, there is healing;
In your name, I find meaning
So I'm holding on, I'm holding on,
I'm barely holding on to you.
The broken locks were a warning you got inside my head;
I tried my best to be guarded, I'm an open book instead.
And I still see your reflection inside my eyes
They are looking for purpose, still looking for life.
I'm hanging on another day
Just to see what you will throw my way;
And I'm hanging on to the words you say,
You said that I will…I'll be okay.
The broken lights from the freeway left me here alone;
I may have lost my way now, haven't forgotten my way home.
-Broken by Lifehouse, The Time Traveler's Wife OST
1. Audrey's appearance when she meets up with Quatre—black tank top, silver ankh, tight-fitting jeans—is based on the character design of Death from the graphic novel series The Sandman by Neil Gaiman. She's sort of played the role of a death harbinger here so I thought Death's outfit will suit her (and I love Neil Gaiman so much so anyone can consider it a shout out).
2. The rainbow colors that Quatre always see when he time-travels is inspired by Delirium, a rather colorful and interesting character, again from The Sandman. I thought of Delirium because of Quatre's frenzied reaction when he first used the Wing Zero.
3. Pietro, the name of Quatre's violin, came from the Italian composer Pietro Mascagni. His most important work is the opera Cavalleria rusticana. The opera exemplifies the Italian operatic style called verismo (Italian for "realism"), which stresses the violent behavior of people under great emotional strain (can anyone say that I love the Wing-Zero-crazy-Quatre scene very much?).
4. Helena, the name I gave Heero and Relena's daughter (which came from the combination of their names) is also inspired by the song Helena by My Chemical Romance. Its hair-raising music video sends me always connecting the name with ghosts and the dead (see for yourself), thus the role I gave her at the first part of the last chapter.
5. Audrey, the name of Quatre's daughter, is of course from Audrey Niffenegger, author of this story's muse. Audrey is the equivalent of Alba, Henry's daughter, who inherits his Chrono Displacement.
6. Turning lies into truths is the superpower of Allyson Hargreeves, aka The Rumor, a character from the graphic novel The Umbrella Academy by My Chemical Romance vocalist Gerard Way.
Thank you very much to those who stick with me, I really, really enjoyed writing this! I don't know if this last chapter became too angsty or overdramatic (I've been watching a lot of tear-jerking soap operas lately, plus heartbreaking real-life stories of people affected by the wrath of the typhoon Ondoy). I don't know too, if I've been too involved with this fic because I sort of cried when I killed Quatre, LOL. Seriously. Tell me what you think!
The "trivial thing" I'm talking about in chapter 5 is of course the plastic ring. Do go back to chapter 3 and the toy ring is there, at the part where Dorothy meets with little Milliardo (some of you may have passed it as, well, something trivial). The briefcase switcheroo (and Dorothy's mauve Moleskine notebook) and Pietro from chapter 1, and the drawings from chapter 2 are of course not out of place, unlike what my critiques here at home are always telling me. :P
Thanks, everyone! It's been fun!