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there's a crack in everything

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They leave her at a bus station with ten dollars in change, scrounged up from their various pockets.

“What about you guys?” she asks after safely depositing the small collection of bills and coins into her own pocket.

“Don’t worry about us,” other-Petra says, clearly exasperated, but hey, it’s not like she’s the one leaving her other self in a very vulnerable-to-ODAR position.

“We’ll be fine,” Carmen adds, nodding. Maggie gives her a hug, and Ben claps her on the back. Then June steps forward, one eyebrow raised.

“You better listen to those two,” she gestures to Petra and Carmen with a tilt of her head. “Because they’re right. We’ve got this.”

It’s the most comforting thing she’s heard from any of them, and it’s mostly because it was June that said it. Petra exhales and nods. “I believe you.”

June snorts. “Good.” She shoves her hands into her coat pockets. “Now, get going, and don’t spend all that in one place!”

Petra laughs and pats her pocket. “Of course not.” She watches them climb into the van, stares at Carmen and Petra as they do rock-paper-scissors for who gets to drive. She remembers when she left Carmen the first time, climbed out of the car with her bus ticket and didn’t look back.

She regrets not looking back.

Carmen wins and heads for the driver’s seat, cheering. Petra turns around and meets her eyes. They know exactly what they other is thinking, so she can’t help but smile. Petra smiles back.

Her hand rests on the door handle. She doesn’t open it, she’s still facing her. Don’t hesitate now, Petra thinks. We’ve got this.

And to prove it, (to whom? Herself?) she turns and walks into the bus station, letting herself take a quick glance back from the doorway as she does.

 


 

When they were little, really little, probably in the 90s or 80s, Carmen hardly ever slept in her own bed. She got nightmares too much, and sleeping with Petra kept her calm. She also had the uncanny ability to wake up before their monitor came into their room each morning, so she could slide back into her own cold bed without getting found out.

With the possibility of getting in trouble gone, how could Petra say no?

By the time they hit the 70s, Carmen was sleeping in her own bed most nights. She still asked Petra to sing, and Petra did, any time she asked, but Petra missed the warmth, the actual presence of Carmen beside her.

Petra didn't realize until she was gone just how much her own sleep was helped by Carmen.

And by then, it felt too weird to ask her to come back.

 


 

Because she’s predictable, Petra buys a ticket to the border, which is as far as the station’s buses will go. She wants to go back to Mexico, not for any particular reason, but because it’s familiar. It’s home. Or at least, she wants it to be the home it once was.

She realizes with a heavy lump in her throat that she doesn’t actually know what to do now.

Last time she left, she at least could pretend Carmen was safe, with some version of the people who helped raise them. Last time, mere days after she arrived in Mexico, she’d decided to find June.

This time is different. This time, there’s no plan. There’s no grand escape. Just a slow slinking off into the night, feeling more alone than she ever has her entire life.

What now? she asks herself.

Well, she'll need money. Clothes, food. And, yeah, she won’t kid herself—a recorder.

 


 

When they land in 1950, when Van dies, when Petra feels her fear and anger building in her chest like an air pressure gauge about to blow, she sits for an hour, maybe more, holding Carmen in her arms and letting her soak her shirt with tears.

Her mind is a swirl of messy, nonsensical thoughts, hatred for ODAR, terror at being left alone by so many people, and the deep-seated knowledge that after this, she’s gone. The thought Would Van be upset with me for leaving? is immediately coated in regret because she wasn’t there when he died. Then, both thoughts are chased away by the awareness that Van wouldn’t be that upset; no, he’d understand. He’d always understood.

Carmen inhales through a sob and sounds like she’s drowning, and Petra compulsively tightens her arms around her. We can go, Carmen. We can escape this place. Bus tickets. She’ll sneak out tomorrow morning, before the funeral, and buy some bus tickets.

Petra wants her life back.

 


 

It takes about a year after the jailbreak, but Petra eventually realizes that they’ve really done it. All of them. They got out, and she and Petra and Carmen are moving forward, like they should be. She wishes she could be with Carmen, experience it with her. But someone is. She doesn’t even know if they’re safe—she records a diary, but she doesn’t do anything with it. She’s been too scared of ODAR. But screw that. If they haven’t found her by now, they’re probably not going to.

Not unless she wants them to, at least.

“So, yeah,” she tells her recorder. “I’m gonna go back to Point-of-Exile. I mean, I’m not gonna tell them I’m there or anything, but it’d be nice to see if Lou and the others are doing okay. And...and I wanna make sure that they haven’t found them.” The inflection in her voice is heavy. “You,” she adds after a second. “I just need to know you’re safe.”

 


 

Petra falls to the ground with a thud. She's shaking and bleeding and she looks scared, and for a second you're angry, because she's the one that's done this a million times, how could this happen? How did she not see this, stop this? How could she get hurt?

How could she leave you alone?

She stretches her arm toward you, dragging in her blood. You collapse to your knees, ignore the red stains on your pants.

Her eyes—you know her eyes. They’re glassy, but familiar. Her hand is wet when it grasps yours. "Go," she chokes out, almost silently. "Go!"

Like you're moving through syrup, you pull away from her, pull your hand from hers, get up and run. She told you where she put the timepiece—two hundred steps beyond the trees. You just have to make it that far.

Everything feels out of focus. Flashes of light puncture your vision as you run out of the house. Yelling pierces your ringing ears. You hope they're all too preoccupied with each other to notice you, or wonder where your other half is.

Two hundred steps beyond the trees.

A bullet flies past you and embeds itself into the tree ahead of you, setting all your senses on fire. Your breathing is harsh and heavy, but you don't dare stop, knowing someone is behind you.

"You always do this!" A woman yells, overlapped by—

"Stop!" Which sounds terrifyingly close, and—

"We have to go right now!" And—

"PETRA!" Carmen. You don't stop you don't stop, you heave yourself over a log, smear Petra's blood on the wood, trip over a rock and counting, counting, one fifty-six, one fifty-seven, one fifty-eight—

"Enough!" A man’s voice. You hope it's Lou, not Whickman.

Regardless, it's too late now. You can see it. Another bullet flies, but it's way off the mark. You skid to a stop in front of the timepiece, slam the date in and hit the button. It’s your turn now. She was the one that had this down to a science, but now she’s gone, and it’s up to you. You, and the next Petra. Hopefully you’ll get it right this time. The world flashes, white and red filling your vision, until it’s all gone. Until it’s just you in an empty forest. Sun on your back, tears on your cheek, and blood on your hands. Alone.

 


 

The older Petra gets, the more time she spends away from ODAR, the easier it is to remember. Right after she left, right after she went from having Van and Carmen to having no one at all, it was awful.

She’d always known, growing up, how different they were, how special, like they’d been told. It wasn’t till she travelled around America and Mexico that she realized that her childhood wasn’t just different—it was horrific.

Most children don’t wake up in the morning wondering if everybody who’d been there at dinner would be there at breakfast. Most children don’t live in deathly fear of a little cough. Most children don’t watch their friend get sliced in half and slosh to the floor. Most children don’t grow up with a dozen siblings that they slowly watch get picked off by disease and disaster, don’t grow up with a slowly shrinking dorm room, don’t grow up being trained to be, as Petra realized, a spy.

 


 

“Arrorró mi niño, arrorró mi sol,” Petra sings under her breath. She pulls her shirt collar away from her chest and flaps it. It is so hot today. “Arrorró pedazo, de mi corazón.”

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” A man’s voice breaks into her thoughts. Petra’s jaw snaps shut in embarrassment, but she quickly realizes he wasn’t talking about her singing. Next to her is a young man, probably about her age, looking between her and the painting she’s in front of.

The Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes is doing an exhibit open to the public, which Petra couldn’t bear to pass up, but it’s so hot and she doesn’t have change on her for a drink, and she’s sort of drifted off, mentally, and now here she is singing to herself while some guy tries to chat with her about the art, which she hasn’t been paying attention to.

She smiles weakly. “Uh-huh.” Then she actually turns to look at the piece he’s referring to.

It’s instantly recognizable as a Frida Kahlo piece, and another second tells her it’s Las dos Fridas. The Two Fridas. Petra has to fight to keep a straight face. Really, what are the chances?

“The juxtaposition is so thought-provoking…” the guy next to her goes on. Petra pulls on her shirt again. He’s not wrong, but she’s not really interested. In him, at least. She’s always interested in Frida.

“I can relate,” she murmurs under her breath. She traces the artery that connects the two Fridas with her eyes, from the painting of her once-ex-husband, and follows it down to the scissors in left-Frida’s hand. Blood drips on her white dress, a contrast to the red embroidered flowers along the hem. Blood binds, and blood kills. Petra shudders a bit before pasting a smile on her face. “Lovely chatting with you, but my sister’s waiting for me, I should go find her!”

And with that, she turns and leaves the young man alone. Until she’s out of sight, she feels as though the two Fridas’ eyes follow her path.

 


 

“Why should I trust you?”

Nikhil looks straight at her. “Quite frankly, you shouldn’t trust anybody in this business. Find them, don’t find them, do what you will. But if you want to take back control of your own life, to help stop ODAR making decisions for everyone else, the name on that paper can help.”

Petra glances at the paper in his hand before looking back into his eyes. He looks...steady. Anchored. She takes the paper with a nod and watches him leave.

It’s not until she’s on the bus, leaving ODAR and Carmen behind, that she takes it out again. It’s a piece of notebook paper that he likely brought with him from whenever he’s from. Idiot, she thinks fondly, unfolding it.

June Barlowe is all the paper says. Petra has no idea who that is, or how she’s involved with ODAR. But Nikhil’s right. She wants her own life, one that’s anchored and secure. So, maybe...once she’s set herself up somewhere...she’ll reach out to this June. And she’ll see what they can do together.

 


 

"I miss you so much," Petra says into her recorder. "Every day." She has no plans to send the tapes anywhere, and she finds the freedom to be frank exhilarating. "I hope you think of me too, I do. Why do I do this to myself? Why do I sing?" She sighs and whispers, "I love you."

She shuts off the recorder and stares at it. She still doesn't know who she's talking to when she records these—Carmen? Or other-Petra?

Does it matter? she wonders. The cruel part of her brain likes to tell her it doesn't, because it's not likely either of them are thinking of her.

Petra won't begrudge them their escape, she won't, not ever. But it doesn't mean she doesn't feel ugly sometimes, doesn't mean she doesn't feel like she was ripped off sometimes. Petra got the short end of the stick; she had to live the break in more than once, had memories of one with a decidedly less than happy ending. And she was the one that left, leaving Petra and Carmen together. They were a matched set—why would they wonder about her? Why would they need to? She was an extra. They had everything they'd ever needed right in front of them.

Petra, on the other hand, has a recorder. Like she’s Dr. Grissom, or something.

It’s better than nothing, she thinks, and sings herself to sleep.

 


 

“Where have you been?” Sally asks her the first moment they’re alone. They’re right outside the gates of ODAR, mere hours after she and Ken arrived back in Point-of-Exile.

Petra shrugs. “A lot of places, really.”

Sally glances at the gates briefly before pulling Petra into a walk. “And the others?” she whispers.

“I haven’t seen them for three years. Not since the last night you saw them too,” Petra says. Sally looks confused, so she elaborates. “Other-Petra and I, we didn’t want to stay together.” The lies hurt her, but she says them anyways. “It felt too strange, like I was constantly second-guessing myself. So we went our separate ways.”

Sally’s brisk pace slows to a stop. “And that was it?” she asks. “All of the Anchorites one way, and you the other?”

Petra nods. She focuses on keeping her face clear of emotion.

It seems to work, because Sally’s face gradually grows less confused. She punches her lightly on the arm. “Well, it’s really great to see you. Especially now! You picked a heck of a time to come back.”

Petra’s lips spread into a smirk. “That wasn’t exactly an accident.”

 


 

“I’m back. In Point-of-Exile. Semi-permanently, at least. It feels strange, being here without you.

“I got to travel to DC on ODAR’s dime last week. It was for Esther’s trial, which sucked, but flying commercially for once was kinda cool. Usually when I fly, I hire Jasper. Have I mentioned him before? He’s great. I dunno what I’ll do when he retires, though, he’s getting pretty old.

“Anyways, uh, getting off track. I flew on ODAR’s dime, and now I’m back in Point-of-Exile, so, it’s probably not hard for you to guess, but uh...yeah. I’m back with ODAR. Conditionally, at least. I refuse to do field work, but they’re so lost without Partridge that I don’t think that’s much of an issue right now. Sally and Bridget have asked me to help try and clear Esther’s name.

“I...I really don’t know how to feel about it. I mean, it keeps me here, with Sally and Bridget and Lou. And yeah, I agree with Sally that the trial was a mess. And then there’s Luka…

“In an attempt to track down Partridge before he went dark, I just got a man killed and gave another Timepiece to the Russians. I feel awful about it.” Petra sighs loudly, then winces. “Sorry if that was too close to the mic.” She doesn’t know why she apologizes. It’s been three years of no contact, does she really think they’re going to come back to her now? Does she really think they'll ever hear this? Oh, well.

“I don’t know how it is for you. I don’t know if...not being alone...is enough, or if you feel the same as I do.” Petra runs her hand along the table. “But I’m so angry,” she whispers. “I’m so angry about what they did all the time, and I don’t know how to stop. I’ve tried for so long, and nothing has worked. So I’ve decided to stop running. I don’t particularly love being back here, but I’ve got to try.

“I hope you’re doing better than I am. I hope you’ve discovered the secret to living forward in time and thriving, because I sure haven’t. I hope...I hope it’s the two of you together. I want that to be enough for you. If it’s enough for you, then it’s enough for me.” Petra knocks her knuckles gently on the table and ignores the way her eyes burn. “Love you,” she says lightly.

 


 

Petra stands outside Sally’s house, hands stuffed in her coat pockets. March nights are a lot colder in Colorado than in Mexico, although neither are nearly as bad as Russia had been.

Sally’s neighbour’s lights are still on, which is a bit odd, but it’s not like Petra knows her; who’s to say she’s not up and doing something at midnight? Maybe laundry. Petra turns her back to the light and looks out over Sally’s yard. Her main garden patch is back here, along with her greenhouse, before her yard slowly fades into the forest. The neighbour’s lights don’t reach beyond the first row of trees, and Petra focuses her gaze as far into the distance as she can. It’s too dark to see anything in great detail, but she can picture it in her mind. She’s lived here for too long, in whatever decade, for better or worse, to not be able to picture it.

Petra tips her head back. The sky is clear, not a cloud in sight, and the Milky Way is huge and bright. She closes her eyes, and she breathes.