Frank comes back.
He comes back and she's happy to see him. Really, truly.
Standing at the airport with a sign and everything, a genuine smile on her face, one he mirrors easily. His steps increase in speed as he approaches, the bag slung over his shoulder bouncing violently against him.
It's something out of a movie when they embrace, he spinning her around in a big circle, she laughing delightedly. When they settle, slowly sliding down the length of him, her arms stay wrapped but slightly off-kilter.
The sides of her wrists rest against the back of his head, rather than neck, and he looks at her curiously. It hits her then, eyes widening slightly, why the embrace is so awkward.
Peter is taller.
She makes him dinner.
Noodles, sauce, and chicken, nothing special. It looks like a mess but tastes okay, and Frank is so surprised he gobbles it up without a single criticism. Sipping on a glass of wine, she asks for a taste, and he only quirks an eyebrow.
Later, when the plates are disregarded and she's curled up against his side on the couch, he flips idly through channels on the television. She asks him to stop at a familiar scene. A man in a trench coat and fedora, Reagan just like she thought, is standing at an airstrip telling his lady love that if she doesn't get on that plane she'll regret it.
Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow.
Frank squeezes her gently when lady love refuses to go, choosing to stay with him.
"I love this part," he says quietly.
She only frowns.
That isn't how it ends.
She wears her hair down a lot.
No time since she got back to get the tattoo redone, and no explanation to Frank as to why it would be gone in the first place.
(Or why she kind of doesn't want it back.)
She's running late.
The alarm didn't go off, Frank was already gone, and she's just… Running late.
It's the only reason she can think of for grabbing the one jacket she never planned to wear again from the closet. (Why she kept it at all a thought forcibly kept at bay.) Her lone souvenir from the other side.
Walking quickly through the parking structure with her head down, hands shoved deeply into the pockets, she stops dead in her tracks when the slick paper slips between her fingers.
Her breath catches as she pulls out the photo strip, thinking about telling him that it became something more, and with sight of her smiling face how it could have been a lie?
Peter took this, she knows he did, saw him pull it from her bag as they hauled her away. Even if she tries, she can't recall an opportunity he might have had to give it back.
Or a reason he would have.
The clock reads two when Frank shifts so suddenly, he rips her right out of a dream. Eyes move to his blurry form, sitting on the edge of the bed.
"Hey," she mumbles, reaching across the sheets for him.
"Did something happen?" he asks, keeping his back to her. "While I was gone?"
Wide awake suddenly, retracting her hand and moving to sit up.
"What do you mean?" She tosses out cautiously.
"You've been different," he replies. "Little things sure, but noticeable."
Brows furrow as she tries to think of anything she may have said or done, irritation welling when she can't.
"You talk in your sleep," he says so softly, she isn't sure she hears him right. "That's new."
Finally, he turns toward her though her eyes struggle to find his in the dark.
When he speaks again, she's glad she can't.
"Who is Peter?"
He hasn't slept.
It takes three days for someone to notice.
Astrid's big concerned eyes finding his as he kneels down to help pick up the shattered remains of the beakers he just knocked off the counter.
"Are you alright?" She asks, cradling a particularly large piece of glass in her palm. "You look exhaust-"
"I'm fine," he interrupts, looking down in concentration of the task at hand.
Heading straight for the coffee afterward, he's lost count how many cups have been drunk in the last seventy-two hours, but it's to a point where he can hardly taste it anymore.
Tilting his head back and rubbing at his eyes, he attempts to force the weariness away by sheer will. He wants to sleep, it's not like he doesn't, but anytime he sits still long enough to actually try, the only thing he can see on the back of his eyelids is her disappointed face.
The only thing he can hear: I don't want to be with you.
Walter cuts into the chest of the latest victim of the odd and unexplained. Twenty-eight year old male, died of apparent asphyxiation, though nothing appears to have blocked the airways. No history of asthma or breathing problems either.
He stands on the other side of the gurney, half paying attention, one eye on the work and the other on the door. Thinking any minute, she could walk through it again.
"My god," Walter says once the ribs are spread. "The lungs appear to be crushed."
The diatribe that follows sounds a thousand miles away, eyes drooping to half-mast, as he teeters unsteady on two feet, trying like hell to stay upright.
Attention snaps to Walter, who's looking at him expectantly with an open palm, which Peter immediately places a ten blade in.
"I'm fine," he says automatically.
"That's good son," Walter replies with a nod of encouragement. "But I believe I asked for a suction tube."
There's an old saying, or proverb, or something. About whom to feel sorry for, the trickster pulling the ruse or the fool dim enough to fall for it. It's on the edge of his brain, but he can't remember exactly, or if it existed at all.
Staring down into an empty mug, he can hear her asking him, why didn't he hold onto her?
The easy answer: He didn't have to.
She was right there in front of him, and he was too blinded by happiness to see something wrong.
She moved, and didn't tell anyone.
He stands in the middle of her now empty living room with his hands in his pockets. It's been more than a week since he's seen her. A miraculous feat considering they're still (technically) partners.
It's strange to realize that, except for the few days he took off for the Pacific Northwest (the detour to the other side not withstanding) after finding out about where he came from, they haven't gone this long without talking since they met.
Looking at the bare walls, he sighs before wandering around them. Memories flash before his eyes, all good, if you discount the jagged twist that it was never really her.
In retrospect it's almost impossible not to see.
She fooled everyone, not just him, but he of all people should have known.
He should have…
He thinks about calling her a hundred times over, but still knows (though if the last few months are any indication, one could say he hardly knew her at all) well enough to leave it alone. That she will talk to him when she's ready.
"I'm fine," he says to no one in particular.
He is so tired.
Wood polish and disinfectant.
There's something oddly comforting about the smell.
Walking into the alley, nearly empty as usual, as if it hasn't been months since she last set foot inside and heading straight for the counter where Weiss is occupied with a pair of size seven and a half shoes.
"Agent Dunham," he greets in that familiar monotone. "It's been awhile."
Putting the shoes down, his eyes narrow curiously at her.
"But that's not entirely your fault is it?"
Part of her would really like to get a hold of the hat he pulls at these Jedi mind tricks from, but knows better than to even bother asking.
"Think I need to bowl," she says, pressing her palms flat against the counter.
He quirks an eyebrow.
"An excellent idea."
She watches as Weiss approaches the line, bottle of beer resting idly in her hand, the oddly smooth form that guides the ball to a perfect strike. Eyeing her expectantly as he walks back to jot down the score, she takes a purposeful drink, avoiding contact.
Taking a seat across from her, he steeples his fingers and waits.
"What?" She asks.
"Nothing," comes the reply. "Just waiting."
"For you to talk about whatever it is you came here to talk about."
She sits up a little straighter.
"Who says I want to talk?"
The corner of his mouth upturns the slightest bit, and it's the closest thing to a smile she's ever got from him.
"Somehow I don't think bowling was the actual motivation for this visit," he says, taking a swig of his own beer. "You're up."
The ball is perfectly weighted in her hand, but she still only manages to chuck it down the lane like a rock, slamming hard against the wood and clipping a mere two pins. His face is pinched in a grimace when she looks back, and she can only shrug.
She came to clear her head.
It's turning out to be a bad idea because, without the stress of dealing with the disaster her life has become, thinking about Peter becomes a main focus. Weiss catches her eye again with a knowing look so focused she wonders, not for the first time, if he can read minds.
"Matters of the heart aren't really my forte," he says, scribbling the in the column of his scorebook. "But what I can offer is this. You're angry, that's obvious, and most likely justifiable. Trust is a necessity for you, and it's been shaken."
Her grip in the bottle tightens.
"And what really stings is that you know, deep down, it isn't their fault but you expected more."
She looks away.
"People are bred to disappoint," he says, standing and shaking the now empty bottle in his hand. "It's what we do. But ask yourself this Agent Dunham. Is the being disappointed worth sacrificing a happiness you're afraid you don't deserve?"
He walks off to get another beer, she assumes, and leaves her to stare down into the tunnel of emerald glass and ponder.
Boxes are everywhere.
It's a safe be that, if they were still littered around her old apartment despite having lived there for years, they'll be around this one just the same.
The whiskey and glasses are the first thing to be put away, and she's glad to have the amber liquid at her convenience despite not having unpacked much else. Letting out a long breath after the first sip, the familiar burn one of the only constants she has left.
It's only a matter of time before Peter finds out about this place. (Knowing things he shouldn't, always a thing with them.) What he'll actually do with the information, she isn't sure, but he has been keeping his distance so far, and (even if the fact that he isn't trying buzzes like an insecure gnat in her ear) she's glad for it.
She needs time. Space.
It drives her crazy that she let him in so deep. After John she swore, never again. But Peter never had to push, never had to prod. He was just there and, little by little, she let him closer.
All for naught, it seems. He couldn't tell the difference between her and a double, and part of her will never be okay with that.
Draining the rest of the glass, she thinks about what Weiss said in regards to her and deserving happiness.
Tossing the empty tumbler into the sink, she sighs and rubs the back of her neck. Might as well attempt to sleep, even if it's pointless.
It takes looking though four boxes before she finds her clothes, pulling out a pair of pajama pants and her Northwestern shirt. In the bathroom, she freezes at the sight of her reflection.
He's no longer a projection of her mind attempting to show her the truth, but it seems part of that is still there, just beyond the corner of her eye.
Not her alma mater printed across the front, but his.
Hitting the light without bothering to brush her teeth, she flops onto the mattress of her still unfinished bed.
It feels like hours before sleep comes.
Not once does she realize there was no attempt to take the shirt off.