Characters/Pairings: Charlie, Caitlin
Spoilers: Up through 4x08, “Once Upon A Time In Texas”
Disclaimer: Heroes belongs to Tim Kring, NBC et al.
A/N: Written for tiptoe39, because she told me to. Apologies to Douglas Adams!
Summary: Charlie’s day has just gotten that much stranger when she meets someone else marooned in time.
Charlie’s head was spinning, and she felt shaky and weak all over. She thought that she’d gotten used to feelings like this back when she’d gotten diagnosed, but this was an entirely new version of that.
“Hang on, just lay there until the spinning stops. You’ll be ok in a few minutes.”
Charlie obediently lay there, listening to the Irish-accented voice’s very reasonable advice. Finally she felt well enough to sit up, and blanched as she looked around. This wasn’t Texas, or Japan, or any place she’d seen or read about. And that was saying a lot.
It wasn’t so strange at first glance, just a bar, a pub with the name “Ricky’s” set up over back wall. But the fact that outside the windows was nothing was what scared Charlie the most. It wasn’t a street or a field or anything. Just nothing. Empty blackness. And somehow Charlie knew that even the strongest light would reveal nothing out there.
The woman next to her was about her age, with green eyes, dark red hair, and a sorrowful air about her. “Ok?”
“I think so,” Charlie said tentatively, trying to ignore the black. “Where’s Hiro?”
“There’s no one else. You showed up alone.”
“No. No, that’s just not possible. Hiro was going to take me Otsu, we were going to-.” Charlie caught herself choking up and fiercely hugged herself hard to keep from crying.
“Where is this place?” Charlie asked, trying to calm down.
“Nowhere. Nowhen,” the woman said, shaking her head. “Do you… know about abilities?”
“Well, yeah! Hiro, my friend, he could travel through time-.”
“Peter could do that too,” she broke in. “Guess it’s not so strange you ended up here. This is what happens when someone makes a mistake with a time-traveler.”
A mistake. Charlie felt her eyes mist with tears. How could Hiro make a mistake with her when they’d been ready to start on something new? The tears spilled over before she could stop them, and Caitlin reached out to hug her close, letting her cry out her shock against a comforting shoulder. Pulling her up as her sobs died down, Caitlin tugged her to the bar… which now looked halfway familiar. The dim, green-walled pub now seemed to have some features Charlie recognized from the diner.
“I didn’t think this was going to happen,” Caitlin said, walking around to push a cup of coffee across the bar. “I get plenty of visitors, but someone that didn’t come here under their own steam…” She trailed off, her voice a question.
“Charlie. My name’s Charlie.”
“Charlie. Glad to meet you. My name’s Caitlin,” Caitlin said, smiling. Charlie didn’t know what to say, she was so wrung out from everything that had happened today.
“How- how long have you been here?” Charlie asked tentatively, taking a bracing sip of coffee. Crying wouldn’t help her, having hysterics wouldn’t make anything better, she’d learned that a long time ago. She’d learned how to look on the bright side of everything… though this was enough to throw anyone for a loop.
Caitlin nodded her head at the wall behind the bar, where dozens of tally marks showed, carved into the paint. “I’m real careful about setting my alarm. If I’m right, I think I’ve been here about five months.”
“Are we stuck?”
“Yeah…” Caitlin trailed off, and sighed. “Not fair, but what’re you going to do? Peter didn’t mean to do this to me. He was trying to find his family, his memories. He pulled us both to some future, a horrible place where almost everyone was dead. Then… He didn’t have really good control over time-traveling, and went back without me. Whatever he did when he got back, it made it so that future never existed. Except I wasn’t born in it, so I didn’t wink out when it did. I ended up here.”
Charlie stared at her with wide eyes. A distillation of every sci-fi film she’d ever seen, every science fiction book she’d ever read, and every real theoretical science article she’d ever perused were all clamoring for attention in her ordered mind, along with everything she’d ever learned in Sunday school.
“Are we in Purgatory?” Charlie asked without thinking.
Caitlin’s return smile was incredibly sad. “It’s crossed my mind. I’d’ve said yes, except you aren’t the only one who’s come here. Like I said, I get visitors. People come and go, but I stay here. Peter’s come back a few times, or… at least some version of him, from some other future. He doesn’t always know me.” She smiled a little more genuinely. “Let me tell you, I really let him have it the first time he showed up. Beat him senseless with a bar stool.”
Charlie couldn’t help it, she giggled.
“Oh, he got up right after. He heals himself, in addition to whatever else he can do, and he apologized a lot. He’s always apologizing, trying to get me out of here when he figures out who I am and where I came from. Doesn’t work though. I don’t think the universe wants to let me leave. Either that or Peter still hasn’t figured everything out yet.” She paused, looking thoughtful. “Actually, it’s probably that. He’s a passionate man, and prettier than me, but has the common sense of a doormat. I expect I’ll be here a while yet.”
Charlie laughed, almost snorting her coffee, and Caitlin laughed along with her, sounding easy and relieved.
“So, Charlie, who’s this Hiro?”
“My best friend,” Charlie said, and hesitated a moment, unwilling to tell anyone such an unbelievable story. Then she glanced outside, suppressed a shudder, and turned back to tell Caitlin about the unexpected tourist from Japan that had defied time and space to save her.
“And I was mad after. Is that weird? He saved my life, and I was so mad at him. He let Sylar go, and he told me that man was a killer, but he had a destiny too. And me… I was ready to die.” Charlie looked deep into her coffee, trying to find the words before looking back up into Caitlin’s face. “I mean, I’d already tied up all the loose ends and had everything figured out and then all of a sudden there I am, my whole life ahead of me again, and I don’t have any idea what to do! It’s a shock, and I wasn’t ready!”
“I think I’ve met him,” Caitlin said softly, reaching out to grip Charlie’s hand in hers. “Hiro. He keeps coming back here, looking for you. He just never told me your name. I think he was afraid to jinx it.”
Charlie returned the grip so hard it hurt. “I said he loved me. And I know he did. He was the best thing that ever happened to me. He wanted to give me that happy ending, I know it. I just don’t know what happened to us…”
“Butterflies. He said once that it was something about butterflies, that stepping on too many could destroy the universe. Or something. Sometimes he gets a little excited and impossible to understand.”
Charlie smiled and let go of Caitlin’s hand. “That sounds like him.”
“D’ya want to help me? Until this place lets us go?”
Charlie looked around. “Help you with what?”
“Serving the customers. I said you weren’t the only one that comes here, just the only one that wasn’t trying to. Most of the time travelers come through here, and when they do, they’re hungry. And I think they’re getting tired of my cooking,” Caitlin said. “Can you make anything?”
Charlie blinked at Caitlin’s matter-of-fact acceptance of her strange fate, and turned with a start as the bell over the front door rang. Standing in the doorway, almost blending in with the blackness, was the dark-haired man she’d last seen in the storeroom of the Burnt Toast Diner.
“Sylar, good to see ya,” Caitlin said, cocking her head. “What’ll you be wanting?”
He stared at Charlie like he’d seen a ghost. Which, she reflected, he probably had. Who knew when or where he had come from? He couldn’t hurt her now. He’d had his chance, and he hadn’t. And here and now she was protected by whatever strange universal laws that had sent her here. The bar at the end of the universe.
“How about the best pancakes in all of Texas?” Charlie suggested suddenly. Caitlin grinned at her, and Sylar stared at them in something like shock before nodding.
“I’d like that,” he said slowly.
Charlie jumped down to go to the kitchen, and Caitlin caught her as she walked by. “One of the perks of the job, you can ask them about anything. And they’ll tell you. Trust me, if they’re here, they’re desperate to talk to someone. You can learn anything from them. One of them’ll help you find your Hiro, I know it.”
“I’ll remember that,” Charlie said, smiling. She finally walked back into the kitchen, no longer afraid.