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Theory of Change

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Peter grabbed a pad of paper and a pen from the nurses’ station. The girl on duty—a blonde slip of a thing with fingernails painted pink—started to protest, but pulled up short when she saw the intensity in Peter’ face: even when he was hiding his scar, he still had the look of a killer. She was afraid; he didn’t need her buzz of nervous thoughts to tell him that.

 

“Just need some paper,” he said. He worked to make his voice softer, to round his vowels the way this Peter should, but still the words came out clipped and harsh. The nurse just looked at him, wide-eyed and frozen. Her nervousness irritated him, and he couldn’t help scowling, just a little, to watch her flinch. If he was really Peter—the Peter from this time—the nurse would probably be smiling at him, wanting to take him home and feed him. Peter took a moment to wonder when he’d sacrificed love for fear. As he walked away, Peter felt the nurse’s frightened thoughts dissipate until all that was left of the encounter was an unpleasant memory.

--

 

Nathan was still asleep when Peter returned to the room. Coming back from the dead took a lot out of guy, Peter knew, so it was probably for the best that Nathan continue to rest. He closed and locked the door and settled into the chair by the window. He considered for a moment browsing Nathan’s dreams, then thought better of it. Shooting Nathan was enough of a betrayal for one day.

 

Instead, Peter balanced his stolen pad of paper on his lap and let his mind drift. He could feel his hand moving somewhere far away, but the images that flashed before him weren’t of a hospital room. When he opened his eyes, the sketch pad held a familiar picture: the world tearing itself apart in fire and blood.

 

“Damnit.” Peter incinerated the pad of paper and brushed the ashes onto the floor. He’d done what he came here to do: stop Nathan from telling the world about what they could do. That was supposed to change things. That was supposed to fix things.

 

Peter went to Nathan’s bedside and smoothed out the sheets. He’d been prepared to kill his brother to stop what was coming. If shooting Nathan hadn’t worked, then maybe Peter was a fool. His betrayal had been for nothing. He’d been certain, hadn’t he? He’d just always thought that Nathan’s announcement had been the thing to bring tragedy down on them all. He believed it; he’d even tried to convince Claire. He wouldn’t have done this—couldn’t have sacrificed Nathan—unless he was sure the fate of the world depended on it. But he’d been wrong. Again. He’d failed his family. Again.

 

“I’ll figure it out,” he whispered, and pressed a kiss to Nathan’s forehead. “I will make it up to you.” He closed his eyes, concentrated, and bent space.

--

 

Something about being in his old apartment always made Peter feel uncomfortable. It was like watching old home movies, but with one important difference: the memories here were recent enough that Peter could feel embarrassed by them. Had he been so naive only four years ago?

 

Predictably, the place was in disarray. Peter—the real Peter, the Peter from this time—hadn’t lived here for months. A step forward sent an empty whisky bottle spinning across the floor. He remembered now. Nathan had been living here after his miraculous recovery from the burns that had disfigured him, wallowing in guilt over Peter’s supposed death. Another time Peter had failed. He’d taken the coward’s way out and tried to hide from his destiny, letting himself be imprisoned. Then he’d let himself be manipulated into almost destroying the world. But Peter didn’t have the luxury of guilt. He couldn’t doubt himself. He was the only one with the power to fix things, which meant he couldn’t be afraid.

 

He began grabbing bottles and other debris off the floor and dumping it all in an overflowing trashcan in the kitchen. He didn’t have the luxury of guilt, and anyway, Nathan was alive. He was alive, but the future hadn’t changed. Peter froze in the middle of levitating a half-empty whisky bottle. Maybe that was it. Maybe the future hadn’t changed because Nathan was still alive.

 

Peter ran to the kitchen and began pulling out drawers. He couldn’t just assume that Nathan’s death was the answer he needed. The assumption he’d made before had led him to shoot Nathan in the first place, and if the picture he’d drawn today was to be believed, the sacrifices he’d made so far hadn’t changed a damn thing. He pushed aside some paper bags and a pair of pliers at the back of a drawer and finally found what he was looking for: a ball of twine. If Peter was going to kill Nathan for good, he had to be certain it would fix things.

 

The twine was a little tangled, but he pulled at it patiently, phasing pieces through each other until he’d straightened it all out. Peter had to get his facts straight as well. And when it came to time, the only way to do that was the way Hiro had taught him: string theory. He’d map out everything he knew and find what he needed to change. He would do anything he needed, sacrifice any part of himself that was still intact so that the next picture Isaac’s power showed him would reveal that the he was a hero, that all his sacrifices hadn’t been for nothing, that the world could, in fact, be saved.