SUMMARY: The first few weeks after Nina receives Cameron's breakup letter.

DISCLAIMER: I don't own anything, and I'm not making any money from this story.

A/N: Peter/Nina, written by Christmas present request. Thanks a great deal for the lightning beta, LadyKate, especially since you've never seen "Windfall."

Color

by Alicia

-"What was that like for you?"

-"It nearly killed me."

The first few days vanish in a haze of darkness and pain, of tears and long stretches where Nina cannot remember what had transpired. She expects this, at least as much as one can anticipate the course that losing the love of one's life will take. She expects the pain to fade. No one can be expected to live in this kind of blinding pain indefinitely. It could not be possible. If there was any justice in the universe, the tire iron on Nina's chest would crush the breath from her lungs and end her suffering.

The others measure the journey back in firsts. The first time Nina is able to keep food down. The first hour she successfully spends alone. The first night spent in her own bed rather than huddled on her parents' couch staring at nothing. The first trip outside the house. The first day back in her ordinary routine.

The first person outside the family to contact Nina is Peter. "How are you?" he asks, eyes warm and open, morning sunlight creating a halo around his head.

How can Peter not realize the ultimate futility, how can he just carry on as if nothing has changed? And how, in the name of all that's holy, can he ask such a stupid question?

As Nina walks past Peter without answering, she notes that the glow of the sun is pale gray instead of yellow. No such concept as "color" exists in the universe. Not anymore.

Some of the most important "firsts" that Nina expects never materialize. The first hour she spends without thinking of Cameron, forever out of reach in the endless goal to go without thinking of Cameron for a single minute. The first dream for her own future without the hopeless irresponsible guy who would only drag her down anyway, drowned out by the constant parade of dreams Nina and Cameron built together. The first pleasant ordinary conversation with another person, forever beyond Nina's intellectual ability to achieve. "Uh-huh," "mmmmm," and "that's nice," compose her repertoire.

The grapevine had quickly spread news of Cameron's letter – long before Nina emerged into the world – so people step softly around her and offer sympathy. Their patience wears. It is not as if Cameron is dead. He's still out there, traveling the world, chasing his dreams … their dreams … his dreams. Nina's dreams, too, dammit. Cameron can take everything else from her but not that.

Peter doesn't seem satisfied with one-word responses. Nina avoids him. Peter seeks her out. Nina snaps at him. Peter turns away, hurt, then tries again in the next few hours. Nina doesn't understand. Peter is Cameron's friend. Peter probably knew Cameron's breakup plans long before she did, Nina thinks, Peter and Cameron orchestrated the whole betrayal together and now laugh at the girl stupid enough to give her life up to waiting for Cameron. Ultimately Nina knows that isn't true. She loved … loves, dammit … Cameron. She knows him. Cameron had not even planned their breakup well enough to write his final letter with proper grammar or clear handwriting or correct postage. Cameron would not have confided in Peter. Does Peter think that Cameron did all he could, or is Peter angry at Cameron? The idea that Cameron did nothing wrong is almost as painful as the idea that Cameron did the unforgivable. Alone on the sidewalk after pushing Peter away for the umpteenth time, Nina cries her last tears of the breakup at the thought.

She reaches her first day without tears less than a week after receiving Cameron's letter. Two weeks beyond that milestone, Nina wonders what has changed. The weight on her chest and the darkness of the world are still the same, so why are there no more tears?

She lays her hand flat on her desk, then jabs her pencil into the back. She should cry, damn it all, she'll explode if she doesn't. But her hand doesn't hurt, and her tears refuse to fall, and she throws the pencil against the window where it clinks off the glass and falls to the floor.

Cameron is landing on a plane in the United States as he realizes his mistake. He sees, for the first time in months, the familiar shape of the continents, the familiar coloring of the trees (although Nina has forgotten what to picture), the familiar noise of passengers shouting only in unaccented English. The familiarity brings his ultimate future through his mind, and he realizes he cannot picture it without Nina. He whispers her name, then shouts to the crowded airport. She hears. She comes, wherever it is that he has landed. She runs to him, and he spins her around and kisses her and holds her and wipes away her tears and tells her he is sorry, over and over and over.

Nina blinks, and she has placed the same fork on her parents' dinner table enough times to dent the napkin – back and forth, drawer to table, table to drawer. She blinks again, wiping stubbornly intangible tears, and forces herself to finish setting the table.

The daydream returns. Usually unbidden, but Nina never prevents it from filling her mind. It is fantasy, but reality is unbearable and in the moment fantasy has a chance to let her breathe and smile.

"Nina?"

"Hmmm?" she says to Peter, not-so-unobtrusively glancing over his shoulder for an exit route.

"Come over tonight."

She looks down. "I'm not good company," she says. She means it. She wants Peter to go away. People irritate Nina these days, with their condescending looks and unreasonable intellectual demands, but Peter particularly frightens Nina. He knows things about Cameron that she doesn't. Or he knows nothing about Cameron that she doesn't. Either way, Nina doesn't want to know.

"Come anyway. Please."

Because a faint shaft of yellow breaks through the black and gray at Peter's feet, Nina says yes.

She manages to avoid daydreaming about Cameron at dinner. She gives her usual "mhhhm" and "that's nice" responses, although she does manage to avoid the flashes of anger at the way Peter's roommates have their lives and studies and jobs and still have their futures. Nina is over that. Other people have futures. She doesn't. That's just the way things are.

Peter suggests watching a movie, but at Nina's empty assent, he changes tactics and suggests that they play Monopoly. Nina loses. Or does she win? She doesn't remember.

She rises to leave, but Peter grabs her hand. "Stay," he says.

Nina can't spend the night at Peter's without Cameron. The atmosphere is too much like the slumber parties of their childhoods, where Nina and Cameron always arranged to be opposite one another during 'spin the bottle' and were forbidden by common consent from being on the same charades team. Plus, Nina didn't want to cheat on Cameron. Except … except …

It is more because she fears the shadows in her mind than for any other reason that she says "yes."

Peter smiles. There is more pain than joy behind his eyes, but there is a flicker of hope amid the clouds.

Nina wishes she could remember the color of his eyes.

She does not cry as they prepare for bed. Peter asks if she wants to talk. She tells him she can't.

"Okay," he says.

It is almost enough to inspire Nina to break. She wishes it would. But the walls in her heart remain stubbornly inflexible.

It is an airport just like that of her fantasies, and Nina runs into Cameron's arms just as she has practiced so often. Cameron spins her around, off her feet, then puts her down and leads her toward one of the airport seats. He slips his arm around her.

"Cameron, why…"

He does not apologize the way he had done in Nina's daydreams, showing Nina that this is not her own wish fulfillment. He says, "There are a lot of people who are important to me. You're one. And I'm yours."

"I'm yours," Nina repeats, and as she says the words over and over, the airport fades and she becomes aware that the arms wrapped around her are not Cameron's. "I'm yours." The dream is gone. Cameron is gone. It can't be. "I'm yours." Nina clings. Reality is unbearable. "I'm yours."

"Nina," Peter says.

She's crying into his chest. Quietly. Even though she feels as if containing the storm alone will kill her, Nina muffles her voice. She must not wake Peter's roommates.

"Let go," Peter says. "It's okay."

The walls crumble. Finally. Nina feels as if the maelstrom is tearing her to pieces, one bit at a time flying off into the wind. But Peter is there. And there is love and safety somewhere beyond the rest of the chaos and whirling pain.

"Stay," Peter says again.

"I will." It will be a long time before they could – or should – make decisions. But in the moment Peter is the only thing that exists. In the moment Peter has to stay. It's inconceivable that he wouldn't. To her horror, Nina finds herself whispering, "marry me."

"Someday," Peter says. Nina's face is still buried in Peter's chest, but she can hear the smile in his words.

Peter's bathrobe is tinged with blue. Not dark gray.