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The Universal Constant

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[May. 30th, 2008|10:02 pm]
The Universal Constant

the_constant

[infinitenesmith]
[Current Mood |annoyedimpatient]

TITLE: The Universal Constant, Part 8
AUTHORS: infinitenesmith & hauntermooneyes
RATING: Mostly PG-13 with occasional spurts of R-rated language
PAIRINGS: Desmond/Penny (pre-established), Dan/Charlotte (hints of)
DESCRIPTION: A post-Island Lost/Discworld crossover fic. It's been a little less than a year since all the problems have been sorted out with the survivors of Oceanic 815, the mysterious island on which they were marooned, and its other inhabitants. But Desmond Hume is finding it difficult to re-adjust to life. He's plagued by nightmares and disturbing visions. He always feels as if he's being watched. Is it paranoia, or something far more sinister? Only Ms. Hawking and the History Monks know for sure...

NOTES: All right, so the finale was awesome, and you're going to hate us after this, and we have a BIG SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT at the end! Enjoy!

If you're unfamiliar of the Discworld characterization of Death, these wiki entries will be helpful: Death, Death's library, and lifetimers.


Abaddon was standing at the window in his office, hands clasped behind his back, thoughtfully contemplating the outside world, when the door banged open and an irate Charles Widmore stormed in.

“Abaddon,” he said, his quiet tone far more intimidating than yelling ever could have been, “you told me this situation would resolve itself.”

Abaddon half-turned from the window and gave Widmore a politely confused look. “I'm sorry?”

“The situation with Hume, you half-wit!”

“Ah, yes. That’s under control.” Abaddon turned his gaze back to the window. Widmore strode over and laid a hand roughly on his shoulder, forcing Abaddon to look at him.

“I expected things to be taken care of long before now,” he hissed. “I’m not paying you to take your time.”

"I assure you, sir," Abaddon replied smoothly, "everything that can be done is being done."

"Why is it taking so long? What are you doing, playing games?"

"No, sir. But I have collaborated with an entity that prefers to take its time."

"The Auditors again?" Widmore snapped.

"Yes, sir."

"Why didn't you say?"

"I didn't think it would matter, sir. Is there a problem?"

"Of course there is! It's taking too long. He should have been crazy and out of my daughter's house long ago."

"I assure you that they are doing everything they can. But...there have been...complications."

"What are you talking about?"

Abaddon waved a hand expansively. “Hume is…resilient. And your daughter isn’t helping matters.”

For the first time, Widmore looked taken aback. “What has Penelope got to do with it?”

“She has been taking steps, Mr. Widmore. To ensure Hume’s well being. It has thrown quite the wrench in our work more than once along the line.”

Widmore shook his head. “She’s being a fool.”

“Nonetheless, we can’t do much when she’s in the line of fire,” said Abaddon with a disturbing little smile. “As per your request.”

Widmore fixed him with a long, steady look. Abaddon met his gaze. For a long time, the only sound was the faint murmur of conversation from downstairs and the sound of buses and cars beyond the window.

"If she is in the way," he said at last, "get her out of it."

"Oh?"

"Don't harm her. Just...remove her from the situation. Or him. Pack him off to Timbuktu, if you must. I want him away from my daughter. This foolishness has to end."

“I’m only doing what you’ve hired me to do, Mr. Widmore.” Abaddon’s smile became just a little more unsettling.

Widmore’s eyes narrowed. “Abaddon, if I have to take this into my own hands it will not be pretty.”

“I’m sorry?”

“For you.”

“Ah.”

“Do we understand each other?” Widmore raised his eyebrows, the rest of his face a mask of dangerous calm.

"Of course."

"If any harm comes to my daughter," he added, turning to go, "it will be your head."

"As you like, sir."

After the door slammed shut behind Widmore, three grey robes materialized in the air over Abaddon’s desk. Abaddon didn’t turn to look at them; instead, he spoke as if to the view he was so industriously scrutinizing.

“We don’t have much time.”

There is always time, said one grey shape.

Until we have taken care of Hume, added another.

It is going quite well, said the third, sounding pleased.

The words arrived in Abaddon’s brain without the aid of his ears. He rocked back on his heels and continued to stare out the window.

“How soon can we be rid of him?” he asked after a moment.

Very soon.

How soon?”

Soon enough, they repeated, sharply enough that he paused before continuing.

"I have been given permission to remove the girl from the situation."

If that were necessary, we would have already done so.

"Has she become a problem?"

A pause. Then, A minor one.

"Then may I suggest removing her? I'm not allowed to have her hurt, but..."

No. Our way will work.

But we will keep it in mind, said the third with caution.

Yes. It pays to be careful.

"Perhaps I could distract her," he suggested. "To give you time to...take care of him."

There was a thoughtful silence. The Auditors conversed in a realm of speaking beyond his reach. Then: We feel that this may be a good idea also.

"She seems to leave her home quite often. I will find her and have a...talk with her about Hume."

This also sounds like a good plan, agreed one of the shapes.

We understand that humans often find pointed discussion quite convincing, said the others.

“In which case, I will do my job and, I trust, you will do yours.” Abaddon was careful to keep any hint of an order out of his voice. Auditors didn’t take orders, especially not from humans.

To his private relief, they answered in chorus, For the good of the Universe.

---


Meanwhile, the monks were in a panic.

Panicking monks may be hilarious, but they are never productive. The instant the Mandala settled from the raging whirlpool of sand it had been moments before, the frantic senior monks broke pattern and ran about trying to stabilize everything that had gone awry. The world chessboard had been rattled; they set it right. Flowers in the clock garden meant to open at night were opening in the middle of the day; they stood unsure of what to do and then set that right, too. None of them, in their frenzy, noticed the teenage abbot and his own closest senior acolytes marching into the monastery and hunting down Brother Campbell.

"Back off, back off, I need my space!" the abbot snarled at the monks at his shoulders. He glared up at Brother Campbell. "What the hell is going on?"

"Er--"

"Er? Er? What do you mean, er? Do you even know?"

"Well, er, sir, I mean, yes, we know--"

"Out with it, man!"

Brother Campbell took a moment to regain his composure. "Well, sir, Hume--"

"We know about Hume! What happened to him?"

"Well, he's--being targeted by the Auditors--"

"We know that, too! We looked into it after that last huge problem!"

"With all due respect, sir, didn't you see it coming on your Mandala--?"

"Our Mandala is huge," he snarled. "How dare you think you know more than me? You can't tell me what to do!"

"What?"

"I'm going to my room!" The abbot stormed away across the bridge. Then he came back. "Sorry about that. Look, we didn't see it, but now we have on account of that bloody great hole in it. Why hasn't anyone put it right? What exactly happened to Hume?"

The monks in the Mandala hall looked at each other helplessly. The abbot, like many monks, gained his wisdom over a lifetime that spanned centuries. Unfortunately, he had never quite mastered how to take it all in one go and had to be reincarnated every eighty or ninety years, leading to many awkward stages of life having to be lived over again. His teenage years were always a bit difficult; hormones had a way of winning out, even over nine hundred years of wisdom and patience.

At last, Brother Campbell cleared his throat.

“We think,” he said, “the Auditors have changed their approach.”

“This does not sound good,” the abbot murmured, while his spotty face glared daggers at Brother Campbell. “Changed it how?”

“We, er…we think that…” Brother Campbell swallowed nervously. The glare was truly unsettling. “We think that they may be using the girl—Penelope Widmore—to get to him. By, er, by…”

“By what, man? Spit it out!”

“By duplicating her, Your Reverence.”

There was momentary silence, punctured by the Mandala's faint shifting. The abbot narrowed his eyes. "What?"

"They can take on human forms, Your Reverence, and they've taken on hers. It's even turned up on the chess board."

"Show us. Right now."

Shoulders slumped in resignation, Brother Campbell led them to the vast universal board. The abbot, with some help from his companions, clambered up onto the table and picked his way across to Desmond's piece. He stood over it for a long time, eyes narrowed. Then he came back with a grim expression.

“This is a very serious problem,” he murmured. “They should never have been allowed to take such forms. They never should have learned how.” He looked up sharply at the assembled monks. “Has anyone tried to intervene?”

Shocked looks passed between them.

“Er, Your Reverence, we aren’t supposed to—”

“We manage time!” the abbot snapped. His hormones got the better of him again and he began pacing angrily. “Hume is a—a hub, a necessity, and here you all are letting these abominations whittle him down to a gibbering mess!” He stopped abruptly and blinked, staring into space. “Terribly sorry. Now. What can be done? Any ideas?”

"He's got some," said Ms. Hawking's voice, behind them. They turned as a unit. The old woman was striding purposefully across the floor with a man--Daniel Faraday, Brother Campbell realized--sauntering along behind her and staring around him in awe.

"This is amazing! You track the flows of time using sand, like--like some kind of flat hourglass--" He caught sight of the chessboard, gasped, and hurried forward. "You can track people?"

"Who is this?" the abbot demanded.

"Daniel Faraday," Ms. Hawking replied, meeting his gaze. "He knows more about the universe than even I do."

"Is that right?" The abbot turned to the fascinated scientist. "Mr. Faraday?"

Faraday appeared to come out of a reverie and straightened up. "Yes?"

"I am the Abbot of the History Monks," the abbot declared, ignoring Faraday's gasp. "Ms. Hawking believes you know a lot about the universe."

"Well, well, I wouldn't say--"

"How many times per minute does the binary pulsar PSR 1913 + 16 usually tick?"

"A hundred and eight," Faraday answered promptly. There was a murmur of surprise from the assembled monks. "I've been tracking it for ages with a machine of mine. It's started going down since Desmond's problems started-- it was higher before--"

The abbot rounded on the monks. “The tick of the universe is slowing down and you’ve all done nothing? Do I have to do everything around here myself? I’m going to my ROOM, and this time I MEAN it!”

This time, he stomped all the way out of the hall and partway down the path outside before regaining control of himself and returning to the vast chessboard. Faraday stared at him with wide eyes.

“Reincarnation,” Ms. Hawking murmured in Faraday’s ear. “It’s difficult on him at times.”

"Oh..."

"Your Reverence," she added curtly, "I noticed it first. I told them not to concern you with it."

"Why?" he demanded. "Why would you take this upon yourself?"

"Desmond Hume is my charge. I didn't think he was as...central...as he's turned out to be."

"You thought wrong!"

"Obviously."

The abbot went quiet again. Clasping his hands behind his back, he moved this way and that among the pieces on the board, sizing each one up. All assembled watched him anxiously, except for Faraday, whose face was lit with intense fascination.

At last, the abbot stopped and pointed to the figures of Charles Widmore and Matthew Abaddon. Both were, by now, quite large, and Abaddon’s especially had taken on a certain menacing quality.

“Have we done something about them?” he inquired.

“I sent Benjamin Linus to have a word with Widmore,” was Ms. Hawking's reply.

“I see.” The abbot frowned. “It doesn’t seem to have done much good.”

“I’m afraid not, Your Reverence.”

“It would seem, in fact, Ms. Hawking, that Benjamin Linus is dead.”

What?” Ms. Hawking hurried with uncharacteristic speed over to where the abbot was standing and followed his gaze. Sure enough, the piece that represented Ben Linus had stopped moving, and was fading quickly.

“Abaddon no doubt took advantage of the last temporal instability in order to dispose of him,” the abbot said slowly.

“Why would he—” Brother Campbell began.

“Use your brain, man!” the abbot snapped. Then, more calmly, “I’m sure he saw Linus as a liability, someone who could turn a good plan bad very quickly. Of course, we know how disastrous that plan really is…”

---


BENJAMIN LINUS?

Ben shut his mouth abruptly and sat up, patting his face, his head, his chest. "Where did the bullet get to?" he murmured, looking around.

I WOULDN'T KNOW. I DON'T GENERALLY SEE THE DEATH ITSELF.

He looked up at the tall man in black standing over him. "Is that right?"

YES.

"Are you the one that shot me?"

NO. THAT WOULD BE THE MAN MAKING A FAST GETAWAY DOWN THE STREET. The man--was it a man? His face was so strange--hesitated, looking distracted. I'M SORRY, DO YOU THINK YOU CAN MAKE IT ON YOUR OWN FROM HERE? I HAVE...SOMETHING TO LOOK INTO...

"What? Wait--"

Death looked down at him from atop his high white horse. YES?

"What am I supposed to do now?" Ben demanded, getting to his feet.

Death looked as surprised as a skull can. DO? YOU DON'T DO ANYTHING. I THOUGHT THAT WAS THE POINT...

“But I'm dead, aren’t I?”

AS A DOORNAIL, I BELIEVE HUMANS SAY.

“Isn’t there something else?”

MANY PEOPLE BELIEVE SO. SOME BELIEVE THAT IT IS FIRST NECESSARY TO PAY A PENANCE FOR LIFE’S…LITTLE MISTAKES.

There was, somehow, quite a lot of ice in the short pause between words. Rather than being chilled, Ben took offense.

“A penance? Are you suggesting that I—”

WHILE YOU ARE WAITING, PERHAPS THIS MIGHT HELP PASS THE TIME. Death handed down what turned out to be, on closer inspection, a hardback book with the words “Benjamin Linus” inscribed on the spine. THEY CAN MAKE FOR INTERESTING READING.

"So you're just going to leave me here with a book? Don't I get to see my daughter?"

GOODBYE FOR NOW, BENJAMIN LINUS.

"I said wait--!" But Death pressed his heels into the horse's sides and was gone. Ben scowled at the place where he had been and then looked down at the book. Sighing, he sat down to read.

---


A horse landed, rather nimbly for such a gigantic animal, in the middle of the room. A couple of the monks flung themselves out of the way. The abbot, Ms. Hawking, and Faraday looked round in surprise.

Death dismounted. WHAT IS GOING ON?

"See what you've done?" the abbot murmured. "Even he's getting involved..."

Death put his skull to one side. THERE WAS A SLIP.

"Yes, sir. A big one."

WHY?

"The Auditors are back. They're targeting Desmond Hume."

AH...FATE'S FAVORITE PLAYER.

"Time's, too."

LOBSANG... He paused. YES. HE ALWAYS DID TAKE SO MUCH INTEREST IN HUMANS. SUSAN TOO.

“Who’s—” Faraday began in a murmur, but Ms. Hawking shook her head sharply.

“It’s Death, you fool,” she shot back in an undertone. “Don’t interrupt.”

“But, but the pattern…” Faraday’s gaze was no longer on Death, but on the chess board and the great spiral of grey robed shapes that covered most of the area around Desmond. He moved away from the monks and picked his way carefully among the pieces.

The cluster of Auditors around Desmond was getting denser. There weren’t any more appearing; rather, those that were already there were becoming more solid, more real. The closer they were to Desmond, the more opaque they were, as if his deteriorating sanity was somehow giving them power.

Faraday frowned. If the malicious forces outside the universe were gaining that much power, the balance of everything was going to begin to tip very, very dangerously…

WHAT IS HE DOING?

"I don't know. Ms. Hawking! Get him down from there!"

"Mr. Faraday, you come back right now!"

He ignored them. There was an--an answer in his head, if he could just hear it...

The other monks heard him muttering to himself, scanning the Auditors on the board, looking from them to Desmond and back again. "They're forming a circle," Ms. Hawking heard him say. "Like they're hunting him. And there's that fake Penny at the forefront, and the other Penny...the real one..." She was getting...pushed..? She wasn't standing as close to Desmond as she had been. There were Auditors pressing in on her, too, almost as if they were trying to push her away.

The real Penny's piece was fighting the current. He could see that. So how...

Penny was Desmond’s constant. Faraday had known that, but now he could see what it really meant. It was all laid out in front of his eyes. She didn’t just keep him grounded for a given number of events in time; she kept him stable all the time. She was trying to…to intervene, and the Auditors didn’t like that. So they were taking her out of the picture entirely, moving her further and further from Desmond in a way so covert that it took something as subtly intricate as the chessboard to make it noticeable.

“But aren’t there rules?” Faraday said aloud as he circled the fake Penny again. “They can’t just change…but they are, aren’t they…”

“Mr. Faraday!” Ms. Hawking’s sharp voice cut into his musings. “Kindly move off of the chessboard!”

“But Ms. Hawking! The Auditors are—they’re taking Desmond’s constant away!”

"What are you talking about?"

"Penny!" he exclaimed, rounding on her. "Haven't you seen? Haven't you been looking? You're all standing around shouting because you didn't notice it happening, but Desmond's constant is being taken away from him in the meantime!"

"What do you mean, constant?" she demanded, but she had a sinking suspicion that she knew.

"Penelope's keeping him sane. Right now, he's sane because of her. Look--come look--they're taking her away."

"I thought they were just tricking him with a fake," said Brother Campbell worriedly.

The abbot and Ms. Hawking exchanged a sudden look. Ms. Hawking got up on the table and hurried across to Faraday. "But maybe they're replacing her..."

“They can’t keep up a trick like that forever,” said the abbot, scrambling onto the board after her. “They’re not capable of sustaining physical form for long.”

“They don’t have to,” Faraday murmured, half to himself. “Just so long as they can trick him often enough that he believes…if he thinks that there’s something wrong with her, that he can’t trust her any more, then…”

I HATE TO INTERRUPT, BUT I BELIEVE THAT YOU SHOULD SEE THIS, YOUR REVERENCE.

The abbot turned. Death was standing by the table, an hourglass held aloft so that it caught the light. Just visible on the surface of the glass, etched in lines of shadow, were the words “Desmond David Hume”. Like most lifetimers, both bulbs held some measure of sand, that in the top pouring steadily away onto that in the bottom, making an almost inaudible hissing noise.

In this lifetimer, however, there was something going awry. The top bulb did hold sand and it was moving into the bottom bulb, but there was no rhythm. The sand stopped and started, trickled and poured, all at random intervals. It looked as though there was a storm going on inside the glass. Death drew another hourglass from his robe, this one etched with "Penelope Widmore," and held it up beside Desmond's. The sand was moving in a strong, solid rhythm, but every time Desmond's sand jumped or jarred, her sand gave a little skip or tremor. The storm going on in his top bulb was going on in her bottom one.

"They're linked?" snapped the abbot.

IT WOULD APPEAR SO. MENTALLY, IF NOT PHYSICALLY.

"I've never heard of that!"

I HAVE. ORPHEUS AND EURYDICE--ODYSSEUS AND PENELOPE--ANTIGONE AND HAIMON--ROMEO AND JULIET--HERMIA AND LYSANDER--STORIES, BUT ALL STORIES HAVE A GRAIN OF TRUTH. He stowed the hourglasses. SHE IS LINKED TO HIM, YOUR REVERENCE, AS YOU SAID.

“Oh, this is bad,” Faraday groaned, beginning to pace. His steps took him back and forth among the masses of Auditors, but he barely noticed. “If they’re—if that’s true, then—”

THE LINK WILL NOT BREAK. EVEN IN STORIES, IT CANNOT BE DONE.

“But there’s such a thing as romantic tragedy,” Faraday countered, apparently unaware for the moment that he was contradicting the Grim Reaper. “One lover dies, or the other believes that there’s been a betrayal, or…anything, really. It’s all so complex, almost more so than time. And Desmond is important to time, so if he…if she…”

“Hold on,” the abbot murmured, holding up a hand. “The Auditors cannot physically eliminate Penelope Widmore. That would be a gross violation of the most ancient of rules…”

“They’re not killing her; they’re…testing the link. Stretching the bonds.” Faraday waved his hands vaguely. “It’s like…like rubber bands. They can be stretched, but eventually something will give. Maybe not the band itself, but something…”

“Surely you could answer that?” said the abbot, turning hopefully to Death.

Death shook his head. DESMOND HUME’S FUTURE IS A MYSTERY, EVEN TO ME.

The abbot looked back to the chess board, frowning at the spiral of Auditors.

“We have very little information,” he said at last. “But something must be done.”

"Abaddon's piece is moving," said Ms. Hawking suddenly. They all looked at her. Faraday even stopped pacing and stared down at the figurines.

It was indeed. The man was slinking through the Auditors--and they let him through, parting like sheep for a collie--and getting bigger as he went. When he finally stopped, it was right next to the real Penny's piece. He didn't move any further. None of the Auditors did, either, not even the fake Penny.

IT APPEARS THERE IS A MOMENTARY TRUCE.

"No," Ms. Hawking replied. "Just a grand pause."

---


A grand pause…

The universe was holding its breath, but, being human and well inside its workings, Penny was oblivious. All she knew was that Desmond was getting worse, and she didn’t know how to make it better this time.

But she would find a way. She would. She had to.

To human beings, for whom the universe is just a coincidence, time is both relevant and irrelevant. They come up with extravagant methods of wasting time and then wish for more. They put millions of dollars into studying the flow of it, the way it shapes them and how they can shape it, and are brushed aside by intelligent men with poor backgrounds that step up to the scientific plate and hit a home run. They vow never to submit to destiny but fulfill their fates in what they believe to be their own choices.

Time likes patterns. Patterns are safe and interesting. It also likes tragedy and romance, both of which are also interesting. Desmond and Penny had a pattern--together, apart, together again--as well as tragedy and love.

It hadn't accounted for the Auditors. There was no place for Auditors in history. That was why they were so dangerous.

So as Penny cradled Desmond in her arms, murmuring gentle nothings into his hair and feeling his shoulders tremble, she was unaware of how many beings--immortal and mortal, material and immaterial--were relying on her at that moment to save them. Or how many cold, calculating minds were doing their careful work to make sure that she didn’t.

The Auditors existed outside the universe. When they got inside it, it was like sticking a very small pin into the delicate workings of a clock. Important things slowly went grink and sproing until all that was left was the casing; still technically a clock, but useless without the bits that made it work.

Of course, there would always be someone who thought that the clock was so much nicer without the tick, and would go out of his way to remove it. That being lived inside the universe, and his name was Matthew Abaddon. He was human only in the sense that he had a physical heart that pushed blood through his body, that he had lungs that expanded, and that he had a sentient mind and walked on two feet. In reality, he was about as human as the Auditor-Penny. He had no compassion for the human race. As far as he was concerned, they were just a bunch of worms mucking up the workings of the universe. The fact that he was one of them had conveniently escaped his knowledge.

The Auditors liked him. He was a good servant. He worked as hard as he could to make sure they got what they wanted, and he was willing to do anything they asked. He was...convenient.

They were waiting, though. Oh yes. Penny wouldn't leave Desmond’s side today, not with him in this state. They knew that much. They knew how sentimental and stupid humans were. Tomorrow, however...tomorrow she would go out to do research, and they would finally get him.
Yes.
Indeed.
Desmond Hume would be taken care of, the universe would die, and everything would finally be neat and tidy.
As well it should be.

---


Desmond finally slept, slipping into blissful, dreamless darkness more out of exhaustion than anything else. Penny lay with her arms around him, her touch soft, as if she could shield him from the world if only she held onto him for long enough.

She wished that she could. Oh, how she wished.

In the morning, she would find a way. Somehow, she was going to connect all the pieces that she had been gathering and get the whole picture, and it would all make sense.

Yes. That was what she had to keep telling herself.

---


In the morning, Desmond seemed like he was feeling better. He still scanned corners and shadows as if he expected something to leap out of them at any moment, and he flinched a little when Penny touched him, but he could talk without a tremor in his voice and he didn't look so pained or terrified.

"Are you going to be okay if I go out for a bit?" Penny asked him after breakfast, in the midst of loading the dishwasher.

He looked up. "Where are you going?"

"The library again. I want to get this figured out."

"How long will you be?" Desmond asked.

She heard the undercurrent of urgency in his voice and straightened up. She took his hands and squeezed them, searching his face. "It'll be okay, Desmond. I'll be back soon. I'll just go check out some books and come straight home. I promise."

She really was trying to help. He couldn’t say no to that. “All right.”

Penny gave his hands another comforting squeeze. “I love you, Des.”

“I love you, too, Pen.” He tried to smile when he said it, but the expression was strained.

It was with no small amount of apprehension that Penny left him alone in the flat. Once she had gone, Desmond went to the bookshelf and pulled down his book.

He didn’t have to read much. Just a couple of pages. Penny would come back while he was reading, and he’d stow the book away again. She’d be back long before he finished it, and so everything would be fine for another day.

One page at a time, one day at a time. He didn't want to think about what would happen when he reached the end of the book.

Penny got back sooner than he expected. It was only fifteen minutes and maybe two pages later when the door opened and her voice called, "Desmond?"

He got up and quickly tucked the book away as she came into the room. "Hey, Pen," he greeted, turning.

Something was different about her. It was a subtle sort of difference, as...always, but it was enough. She looked at him the wrong way, held herself the wrong way, moved the wrong way. Stiff. Claylike. Like a puppet with a bad puppeteer.

And she didn't seem happy to see him at all.

"What were you doing?" she asked.

“Just, er. Relaxing. Waiting for you.”

“Don’t lie to me, Desmond.” The sharpness in her voice was wrong, too, and it stung. Desmond found himself taking an inadvertent step back.

“I was just reading, Pen.”

“Reading.” Her voice was leaden, lifeless. "Reading what? Your book again?"

That was sharp, too, and barbed. Poisonous. He cleared his throat. "I..."

"Answer me, Desmond."

"Yes, it was--my book again."

"I don't like you reading that." --but it wasn't said like Penny would say it. Penny had always been nice about it, almost apologetic.

"I...know."

"Then why do you do it?" she insisted, somehow deliberately insulting and deadpan at the same time. "To hurt me?"

"What?" He stared at her, derailed. "What do you mean? Why would I--"

“You said you thought it was possible, Desmond.” Accusation dripped from every word. “That you were capable of hurting me. And now I see that you are.”

“No, I—Pen, that’s not what I meant…” This was horribly wrong. It had to be a nightmare. Had to be. There was no other explanation. Penny wouldn’t say these things. Not his Penny.

He was backing himself into a corner up against the bookshelves. The thing that wasn’t Penny was advancing slowly, her frigid gaze burrowing into him.

"Of course it was. Don't you remember? You said it exactly," she murmured. He made a valiant attempt to burrow into the books. "You said you were afraid of it, even. I don't know why you were. You're going out of your way to do it now."

"But I'm--"

"Don't lie," she snapped, voice rising in actual anger. "You know exactly what you're doing. You make me sick."

Desmond felt sick. It couldn't be Penny. It couldn't be Penny. ...right? He had to be dreaming. He was asleep on the couch, that was it. Asleep and having a nightmare. Except that he could feel the shelves digging into his back, and it was a frighteningly real feeling.

In one quick movement, unsure why he was doing it aside from pure, basic instinct, he ducked sideways and ran in the direction of the bedroom.

Desmond!” Shrill. Penny’s voice was never shrill. “Don’t run away from—”

Desmond slammed the bedroom door in the face of the ensuing tirade and leaned against it, panting.

Penny meant everything to him. She shouldn’t be so…so horrible, so icy, so scary. He knew he wasn’t dreaming, so was it a hallucination? How could he deal with a vision so cruel? Even worse, what if it wasn’t a vision at all, and Penny had finally come to her senses and realized that, in his current state, being with him would only cause her pain?

She wouldn't be so cruel about it, something in his head insisted. You know her. Even if she did...

Right. Right. That was...right, except that the locked doorknob was rattling. He shuddered.

"Penny, just--give me a minute," he managed to call through the wood. There was a pause, and then he heard her footsteps leading away down the hall. Desmond closed his eyes in relief and sank down to the floor, putting his face in his hands.

"I told you not to run away from me, Desmond," said the not-Penny's voice. His head snapped up. She was standing over him, eyes narrowed, hatred etched into the lines of her face. Penny had never--not even when he left her-- "Why don't you listen?"

He made a frantic, animal noise. He scrambled to his feet, almost falling over himself, and flung the wardrobe doors open. A swift and panicked search got him the key, which got him into the drawer, which--yes, thank God, thank God it was still there. Desmond swung around, gun up.

"Going to kill me, Des?" Penny--not-Penny--asked him, crossing the room and double-checking the lock. "That'd be just like you, wouldn't it?"

His hand shook, making the gun weave in the air. He could feel the trigger under his sweaty finger, reassuring and terrifying all at once.

He couldn’t pull it. He couldn’t. It didn’t matter that this wasn’t really Penny; it still looked like Penny, and he couldn’t convince himself that he wouldn’t be doing something horrible if he fired.

Slowly, keeping his eyes on the thing that wasn’t Penny, he moved his hand, bringing the barrel of the gun to his own temple.

This was the only way to stop it. He knew that now, had known it since the day he sent a bullet crashing through the bathroom mirror. One shot, one moment, and all the horrors would be over. Anything else he did was just delaying the inevitable.

He shut his eyes and grit his teeth, bracing himself. “I’m sorry, Pen.”

The words were meant for his Penny, not whatever was standing in front of him. Whatever was standing in front of him just smiled to itself.




And now for a nine-month hiatus!

 


 


 


Kidding! The show may be keeping everyone waiting, but we'll be back next week. Promise. :)


(Crossposted to lost_fanfic, desmond_fans, des_pen, desmond_penny, infinitenesmith, and hauntermooneyes)
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