Jodie isn't sure what to make of her current situation.
As she picks idly at the plate of scrambled eggs set on the table in front of her, she can feel Aiden swaying awkwardly back and forth in the air above her, slipping in and out of the diner window to her left. Snow is twirling by, semisolid fluff slowly filling the city streets, slowing traffic and obscuring the light provided by the streetlamps. It would be dark soon.
The young man sitting across from her in the booth has a similar air of uncertainty about him. He picks at the fingers of his black leather gloves, shoulders fidgeting.
There's nothing visibly abnormal about him. At least, nothing that most people would notice simply by looking. He has brown hair, not too long but shaggy enough that it reached the tops of his ears. Hazel eyes show beneath a few stray locks, examining her just as surely as she is him.
Both their eyes move upward to the space above each other's heads.
That's what's abnormal about him.
Though she can't see it, a low vibration in her gut alerts her to the presense of an entity hovering about him. An entity, that, revealed by a quick peek through Aiden's spiritually enhanced gaze, is tethered to him by a bright purple cord. They'd been going through this routine for the better part of half an hour, neither of them saying a word and only occasionally taking a bite of food or sipping cocoa.
By now, both of them knew who the other was. It was sort of obvious even if the circumstances weren't quite so opaque.
Somehow, whether it be through some trans dimensional portal created unknowingly by the government, or by some random rift in the fabric of reality, the two of them had come face to face. Four of them, if you counted their respective entities, yet, at the same time, the four of them were still just two.
Jodie took a long shuddering breath, drops of cocoa splattering her lips.
Sitting in front of her….was Aiden.
Or, what Aiden would've been.
His dimension was one where he had been born, and she, his sister, had been choked in the womb.
This meant of course that the entity hanging invisibly around him by the cord was her, Jodie. A version of her who'd lived twenty-three years without a body or knowledge of her own nature.
….Dear god, this was surreal.
"So, Aiden…." She said, breaking the silence at long last. "….how's life?"
There was a pause, then he laughed.
"That's a hell of a question," he said, showing a strained smile. "I actually have one for you. Why do you pronounce my name like that? 'Eye-den'. That's kinda weird. I always pronounced it Ayden."
That was a weird question. Werid, but definitely easy to answer than the huge reality defying ones that were the obvious elephants in the room.
"I'm not sure, honestly," she said after a moment of consideration. "That's just what I always called him. I don't really remember where it came from….what do you call me…her?" she gestured above his head.
"Jane," he replied. "Or Janie, depending on the mood. No idea where that comes from either."
"Jane," Jodie repeated, testing the sound of it on her tongue. "Where'd you grow up then? Fake parents?"
"Yup," making a popping sound on the p. "Till I was about eight. Then they ditched me with Nathan and Cole. They raise you too?"
It was Jodie's turn to nod.
So far, it was astonishing how far they're lives lined up. Two paralells lines running side by side. No doubt they diverged in places. Genetically speaking, they were siblings, fraternal twins. But in some ways, they were essentially gender inverted versions of each other.
"CIA?" Ayden continued. "Navajo Ranch, Life on the streets, Black Sun?" With each event he listed off, he leaned slightly forward until he was draped over his cooling plate of food. He was just as eager for answers as she was.
"All of that stuff….can't we just, share the past? See what's the same?" she pointed above her head, then above his. "You up for it, Aiden?"
Without a moment's hesitation he sent her an affirmative through their tether. Not words of course, just raw emotions. Like his human counterpart, he was curious.
"Jane?" Ayden asked, not looking up, rather keeping eye contact with his flesh and blood 'sister'. Silence, and then…"Yep. Let's do it."
In the same instant, the two felt a chill flood their veins. Breath became visible pouring from their mouths foggy condensation. Above them, their respective entities approached one another, swirling tethers twisting together as a blue flame of psychic energy bloomed into existence between them. Eyes rolled into the backs of skulls, leaving only white in place of irises.
And, the memory exchange began. Flowing from one person to another through the entities.
At first, the images were fast and rapid. Pictures that lined up with hers almost exactly, give or take a few changes of aestetic.
There was a little boy playing with action figures in a blue patterned room, only to have them ripped from his hand by an unseen force and smashed together in the air.
"Stop it Jane!" he cried, voice high pitched and indignant. "I told you, you're no fun to play with! Go away!"
More images came, black entities with gaping orange mouths and oily tendrils leaping from the shadows of the dark garage.
Snowmen in the backyard, one haphazard and slapped together out of three giant snowballs, the other a perfect replica of the boy made entirely out of ice. Later came a snowball fight, and the raised backhand of a fake father.
Here, the images started coming faster. All the things that were unchanged from Jodie's own life blended with her own memories seamlessly.
Going to live under Nathan and Cole's care for the first time, only to be left their forever by a hateful father figure and a tearful step-mother.
Stopping the out of control condenser at fifteen, helping Nathan to perform tests wearing the same 'Princess' crown that had adorned her head and read her brain waves for nearly a decade.
Being recruited into the CIA by Ryan, running training courses and doing equations in a classroom. Countless tidbits of memory that were virtually the same as hers. But there were large portions mission, key parts of her life that didn't show up at first. Missing people, missing events. The night at the bar, the mission into the snowy artic, life on the streets and the birth of Zoe…
That was when things started to slow down. Chunks of memory started to fall into place, filling in gaps…..
Ayden sprinted down a dark alley way, shooting terrified glances over his shoulder. There were tears in his clothes, and a bloody cut was smeared across his exposed forearm. From high above a helicopter spotlight flickered over his face when not blocked by the surrounding buildings. The young man's heaving breath was punctuated by the sounds of whirling blades, heavy footfalls of pursuing swat teams, and the shouts demanding that he stop where he was.
In one fluid motion Ayden flung a nearby trashcan in his path. An unseen Jane launched it backwards, taking two swat members in the chest.
With no time to celebrate, he and his invisible helper darted down a second alleyway to the left.
An outstretched ankle tripped him up, sending him sprawling to the ground.
"Don't make me do this, Ayden," a voice said.
From a nearby archway that led into what was probably an old, derelict factory, stepped Ryan Clayton. Like the swat team he wore a bullet proof vest, though it was of a slimmer make and bore a different emblem declaring his branch of special forces. His gun was drawn, pointed down at the form of his one time close friend.
Growling through the pain, Ayden looked up, glaring fiery daggers.
"Fuck you," he spat. Ryan didn't miss a beat.
"Come quietly, Ayden," Ryan pleaded. His voice didn't change much, he was trained to veil his emotions, but nonetheless it was clear that he was more than a little concerned. "Come quietly and they'll go easy. Please, man. I'm asking this as your fri-"
"Stop right there," Ayden cut him off, managing to pull himself up to one knee. "One, that's bullshit. They can't use me as a weapon anymore, so they'll kill me instead. And two, don't you fuckin' dare call yourself my friend. That was over the second you helped make me a murderer."
Any kind of reply Ryan might've given was cut short by something invisible clamping like a vice around his windpipe. His gun fell to the concrete with a loud clatter, his hands went to his throat as the oxygen began to drain from his lungs, and his feet kicked uselessly as he was lifted three feet off the ground.
Ayden watched him nearly twenty seconds, watching as the purple crawled it's way up his cheeks and the kicks grew weaker.
Then, he sighed.
"Drop him, Janie."
There was a pregnant pause as the entity considered the order. Even through the memory, Jodie could tell she didn't want to. Her body-less counterpart was much like Aiden in that respect. Ruthless to anyone who dared threaten her companion in any way shape or form.
Ryan slumped to the ground, wheezing.
Carefully, Ayden stepped forward and picked up the dropped firearm. He checked the magazine, there was half a clip remaining, before tucking in behind his belt. He looked down.
"Come after me again, and I'll let Jane do what she wants." Another sigh escaped, or maybe it was a groan in disguise. "…Fuck you, Ryan."
Spinning on his heel, he sprinted off down the alley.
"I'm an idiot, aren't I Jane, letting him live?" Jane agreed wholeheartedly.
Everything fizzled out of existence as the memory changed, leaving Jodie temporarily in a shapeless void of nothingness while everything reformed. So, to Ayden, to a man, Ryan had a been a close friend rather than a boyfriend. Through the link that melded their memories, she could hear Ayden laugh as he observed her at first awkward romance with her fellow agent.
Time flowed backwards this time.
Ayden was younger now, fourteen, with wobbly knees that came with the sudden growth spurt his body was undergoing on the outset of puberty. A very light smattering of pimples coated his face, hastily covered up with cream that hadn't been entirely rubbed in.
This didn't seem to matter to the pretty blonde girl holding his hand, blush matching his own filling her pale cheeks. Curls cascaded down her shoulders, twirls of yellow against the fabric of her dress.
"I had a great time, Vanessa," Ayden whispered. The two of them were approaching a lean house at the end of large cul-de-sac. Jodie recognized the building style as part of the DPA living complex. Whoever her 'brothers' date was, she obviously lived close to unit 4, on the base.
"Me too, Ayden," she said just as quietly, blush brightening.
They stopped outside the garden gate, lush scents of flowers floating upward between the posts of the wooden fence. Neither of them said anything. Matching smiles of equal parts embarrassment and bliss spread over their features.
Then, they both leaned in, eyes closing, lips not an inch apart-
Vanessa screamed. A large portion of her hair hand been yanked upward in a condensed bunch. Her screams intensified, her scalp wrenching with pain.
"JANE!" Ayden roared. His expression was petrified, staring up at the space above his date's head. "Stop it!"
Reluctantly, Jane released the girl, letting her drop down to the sidewalk. She stumbled back against the fence, painful tears falling down her face. Ayden rushed to her side, but she pushed him away.
"Get away from me!" she shrieked, tearing open the gate and running down the path towards her house. "I knew you were a freak!"
Ayden watched, his own tears forming, as the front door slammed shut, leaving him alone in the darkness of night.
Well, almost alone.
"You stupid…bitch!" he cried. "You stupid, stupid bitch!" That was far more vulgarity than he'd ever used in a single sentence. But the situation was more than enough to merit it. "Why do you always have to ruin everything!? Why can't you let me be happy? Just once!?"
Jodie could relate.
Through the memory, she could feel her spiritual counterpart's reply. One she found all too familiar.
"You don't need her. You have me, Ayden."
"Shut up!" he screamed, storming off down the walkway. "Shut up! You don't freakin' get it, do you!? Just leave!"
The scene faded, and the limbo nothingness returned as things again reformed.
"So, Aiden messed with you're love life too?" Ayden asked.
"You could say that," said Jodie. "He calmed down during my first date with Ryan, but he still threw a hissy fit when I was getting ready."
Another laughed echoed in her ears.
"Still can't believe you dated that guy. He was my best friend when I was with the agency, but god…I can't imagine dating him, or Jay for that matter. He was a pretty cool guy once you got past the stoic Native persona."
"I am a girl, you know," Jodie pointed out. "I'm gonna be interested in different things than my interdimensional twin brother. You started dating way earlier than I did. Never really had a relationship until Ryan."
Ayden quirked a nonexistent eyebrow.
"Didn't I just watch you kiss some British kid when you were fourteen?"
"That doesn't count," Jodie dismissed curtly. "When it ends with me locked in a closet and the entity-you setting the house on fire, it doesn't really qualify as a date."
"Any romances you want to warn me about?"
He made a pensive noise in the back of his non-throat. Nope, Jodie decided, he wasn't gonna tell her directly.
"You could say."
"Anyone I'd have met?"
"….Yeah, you could say that."
Their collective consciousness was plunged back down into the icy river of each other's pasts.
Jodie watched as snowfall fell heavily on a city of gray concrete and iron skyscrapers reaching upwards. Unlike the snow outside the diner in the present, it fell with no such pleasant wafting motion, instead deciding to fall with the intensity of it's denser cousin the hailstone. More than two feet of white fluff filled the roads, barely abated by the passing of plow trucks.
From beneath a nearby overpass the lights of four makeshift campfires pierced the coldness of the night. A warm orange glow radiated from under the bridge, keeping alive the displaced occupants.
Ayden sat against one of the graffiti covered walls, cradling an infant in his arms. On the mattress beside him slept a read headed woman wrapped in a puffy hand-me-down coat. Carefully, Ayden reached over and brushed the hair from eyes, fingers pausing momentarily on her forehead.
An eye flickered open.
"Hey there," she said with a ghostly smile. She glanced at the sleeping infant. "She being good for ya?"
He nodded, smiling back.
"Hasn't made a sound."
"Wait," Jodie interrupted the memory, freezing it like a static filled transmission. "You hooked up with my roommate? I was only with these guys for a few days. How'd the hell that happen?"
"I was with them longer," Ayden replied, watching her version of events. "Damn, that was some hit to the head you took. Bastard, hit ya while you were down. That didn't happen to me, I got hurt later….Did the other me show you some trippy vision of your birth and the future?"
"Yeah, he did," Jodie answered. "….Did the other me basically pull you back from Beyond?"
"I can take a turn if you want," Tuesday said, squeezing Ayden's hand. He shook his head, smiling.
"Nah, you gets some more rest. I'm fine."
"Can I help you?" the two of them looked up to see Stan step out of his own campsite, looking towards the opening in the bridge that led to the fifty foot fall down onto the train tracks.
A black man with a bit of a gut and a peppering of winter facial hair covering his chin had ambled into the clearing. He wore a straight black jacket, and had nervous hands shoved into his pockets. In a nearly robotic trance, Ayden handed the baby back to her startled mother, and approached the newcomer.
"Cole?" he asked, apprehensive. The man turned, and a grin spread across his face.
"Hey there, little man," he said.
Without hesitation Ayden embraced him. This was Cole after all, his big brother in everything but blood. He pulled away, looking him in the eye.
"What are you doing here?" he asked.
Cole's smile faltered. Not a lot, if you didn't know him well it would go straight over your head. But to those who knew Cole, the slight crease at the edges of his mouth was more than enough to give everything away.
"They forced you to help find me, didn't they?" Cole said nothing.
Jane swiveled around the pair. Through her eyes, Ayden could see the miniscule red dots moving ever so slightly on the scientist's back. She flew out into the cold air above the tracks. Two snipers on the old apartment buildings across the way. At least ten swat troopers on both the left and the right walkways.
With the other side of the clearing blocked by a wall, he was completely surrounded.
"I'm sorry, little man," Cole said, and Ayden could tell he meant every word.
"It's alright, Cole," Ayden whispered back.
He peered over his shoulder at his new friends, who were watching intently. He glanced at Tuesday, who by now was a bit more than friends.
"Can you do me a favor?" he asked Cole.
This was an odd request.
""Course," Cole replied nonetheless.
"Don't let them hurt these people when I'm gone. Whatever they're using to blackmail you water to the fact that they can't kill you. The DPA has too much pull with the agency, and the higher ups won't stand for losing a senior researcher to a trigger happy cop."
Cole gulped nervously. Not for himself, but for Ayden.
"They said if you came quietly, they'd-"
"We both know that's crap, Cole. They want me dead, and they don't give a shit what they have to do to get me. You move two inches to the right, they blow my face off. I wait too much longer they'll just shoot through you. Promise me Cole, you'll protect these people from them. They'll want them as witnesses."
Cole closed his eyes, expression full of melancholy. Finally, he nodded.
"Don't do anything stupid, little man. I missed you." Ayden smiled, tightening the embrace one more time.
"I missed you too. Can't really promise the first thing though, I got Jane with me after all."
Cole chuckled despite everything.
"Missed you too, Jane," he said to the air. "Keep my boy safe, ya hear?"
There was no reply of course. Both because Janie had no voice, and because the moment to reply was ended by the blurring of the air around them, rippling with the creation of a force field. The bang of the gunshots came a nanosecond later.
High caliber bullets slammed into the fuzzy dome, mangled remains bouncing away in what seemed like slow motion. Tuesday yelled, Stan and the others cursed and flung themselves to the ground. They weren't in danger of course. The shield sealed off the underside of the bridge from the outside. Nothing would get in, but he would get out.
Flinging Cole gently as he could to the side, he sprinted towards the ridge. As he ran, the shield melded with each of his steps, forcing an outward facing dome in front of his. Oncoming bullets hit one after the other, and then he jumped.
Suddenly the memory sped up exponentially.
The Black Sun, a gaping void between both Jodie and Ayden, standing side by side in front of it on parallel planes of existence. As seemingly one, they leaned over the console, grasping desperately at the switch as the moments of their lives swirled by in an unending whirlwind.
And then they were standing in Eden like garden on a cliff by the sea. A lush tree bloomed on the crest of a hill.
In two parallel lives, they stared in dumbfounded awe at their newly revealed twin, standing before them, naked, in the form that would've been theirs had life not been ripped from them in the womb. Tears trickled down their faces.
One last image flew by, of an apocalyptic hill overlooking the maw of Oblivion itself.
Then they were back in the diner, the smells of their food having long since faded with the oven's heat.
Hands came apart, and their eyes met. Somewhere above, their entities drifted apart, resting.
"When I saw you, the other you, which is still sort of you-I mean, like this," Ayden gestured to her body. "I thought you were the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen." He smirked, mostly to himself. "I hated you, for as long as I can remember. Hated her for ruining my chance at a normal life."
"For driving away people, for making you different than anyone else," Jodie continued for him. "For making my whole damn life such a fucking mess….but-"
"I loved you the whole time," this, they said together.
A long pause followed, filled just with the examining of each other's faces, gazing into each other's souls. Because even with these bodies, even with the personalities altered by having entirely different lives either as human beings or as entities tethered to their living twin, they recognized each other for who they really were.
Siblings, bound together by fate or by some invisible tether, it didn't matter, but bound all the same.
"Same trippy vision of the future, huh?" Jodie asked after a while. Ayden nodded. "Did yours have Zoe in it?" Another nod.
"She was with me when Jane came back to me, after the Black Sun. I think she can see her."
"My Zoe's the same….her powers are starting to show. She can see the tether, sense it when it passes through her. Gonna train her, if I can."
"Me too," Ayden said. "It's….sorta bizarre, thinking about teaching her this stuff. Especially with what I'm asking her mom when I get back."
An eyebrow shot up Jodie's forehead.
"What do you have to ask Tuesday? Permission to teach her? That shouldn't be a problem. She said yes to me, probably will to you too." Ayden shook his head, smirking again, but far more devilishly this time.
"Not that….I kinda wanted a girl's opinion on this. Guess my twin sister'll do," he reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a blue square box. The contents twinkled in the light. "Think she'll like it."
A matching smirk bled onto Jodie's lips.
"I think there's another memory you need to show me, little brother."