Kerry ages differently than Cary does. It doesn’t show, not immediately, but as time goes on and they celebrate birthday after birthday, alone in a tiny apartment with a slice of cake and the television on full blast, he realizes that he’s older than her. It’s probably because he’s the main body and she’s the supplement, so he’s carrying the burden for both of them, but that doesn’t change anything.
He’s growing old and she isn’t.
“People are staring,” she says. She picks up a loaf of bread and tosses it to him.
He catches it without looking. “People always stare,” he tells her.
“They should mind their own business,” she replies. She pauses and leaves the aisle, before returning with a copy of Eye of the Dragon.
“We’ve already seen that,” he sighs.
He sighs again and takes the movie. He’s never been the type to be withholding. Not after what they’ve been through. “Fine, but that’s it for now. We don’t have that much money to spend.”
“You don’t have that much money to spend.” She runs on ahead, glancing around at the variety of food and the brightly colored packaging and he’s glad he brought her out for this. It’s less fun when you’re just reading the list and grabbing what’s on the list.
There’s a woman on the other end, watching Kerry as she grabs a bag of chips and starts crinkling the packaging. Cary stiffens, wary of what might happen next, but the woman passes the aisle and he lets out a breath of relief.
Kerry looks at him and then rolls her eyes. “Stop worrying, old man, I can take care of myself. Besides,” she grabs the chips and drops them into the cart, “no one cares about us.”
“I care about you,” Cary says.
“Not what I meant.”
She rolls her eyes again but she smiles and he smiles back.
They move next to a boxing gym and he gets her a membership there. He doesn’t like it when she’s away like this for so long and it’s very distracting to suddenly want to punch or kick while he’s trying to do his work (sometimes he just goes along with it because it’s much easier to do that than to resist), but it’s offset by how happy Kerry feels when she comes back.
It’s something that’s exclusively hers, and she loves that. It’s not that she feels resentful of Cary for having his own interests and tastes, it’s just that she has something that makes her feel like an individual. Like she’s her own person.
It makes Cary feel weird, because then he starts to think about whether they’re two souls who inhabit one body or one soul inhabiting two bodies and where does one end and the other begin and who is the real one and who isn’t real and –
He learned a long time ago that he shouldn’t think about it too much.
When Kerry comes home, she rushes into his arms and pulls him into a hug and he relishes the short moments where he can feel her as she enters him.
“Did you have to do punches and footwork?” he groans as the pains start to set in. His hands swell and his feet ache and he bustles over to the kitchen to grab ice.
“Damn, you are getting old,” she laughs and he can’t help but smile.
“Not that old,” he says quietly. “Come on, I’ve got some stuff I want to talk through.”
The first thing Walter asks is, “So are you two…?”
Kerry punches him in the face.
When they first learn about human anatomy, Kerry spends the whole time laughing while Cary does his best to understand the menstruation cycle and what they might have to go through when the time comes.
His peers think he’s jerking off to it, but he doesn’t care about that.
When the time does come, it’s Cary who has to deal with the cramps and the aches and literally everything else, while Kerry has to hold his hand and bring him comfort food.
“You know it’s hurting me too, right?” she asks.
“It’s hurting me a lot more,” he grumbles, and curls up further under the blankets. It’s just the cost of being the host body, he thinks, and it’s more than a small comfort to know that Kerry doesn’t have to deal with this kind of pain.
The first thing Oliver asks is, “So when you two read something separately, do both of you gain the knowledge when you come together or only one of you?”
Cary takes to him immediately.
The longest time Kerry stays out is when they’re both working to try and preserve Oliver’s body. They work day and night, nonstop, just the two of them. He doesn’t eat, he doesn’t sleep, they just work.
He thinks of the cryogenic freezing. She thinks of the diving suit.
He’s the one who cries throughout the night and she’s the one comforting him until the sun rises in the morning.
She doesn’t come out for a month after that and he doesn’t make her.
He always lets her out when it rains. He’ll be standing on the sidewalk, coat wrapped around his body and umbrella gripped tightly in his hand, and she’ll be out running in the rain, relishing the feeling of it on her skin.
It’s moments like these where he thinks about it. How much he cares for her.
And he loves her. He loves her more than he loves himself, with doesn’t seem to make much sense except that it makes complete sense. He loves her so much.
She spins around, hair flying and water splashing at her feet, and she looks to him and grins. He smiles back, letting out a slow sigh.
They’re walking through the park, not many people out beside them. She flicks raindrops at him and he groans as his glasses get fogged up. He stops to tie his shoe and she runs ahead of him.
Neither notice the car. And then –
A passerby calls nine-one-one, about a hit-and-run and a young woman bleeding out in the middle of the road. When the paramedics get there, they find an older man with blood gushing out from his head, all but unresponsive. There’s no woman in sight.
It takes Kerry a while to want to come out for the rain.
Oliver is the one who spends the most time with them. Walter comes by from time to time, mostly to get updates on research or to see if Kerry is out, but Oliver doesn’t matter if there’s Cary and Kerry or Cary and Kerry. He just comes by to chat.
“I’m not sure if this is a fair match,” he says the first time they play chess together. “I mean, it’s two on one.”
“If it helps, Kerry hates chess,” Cary says.
“Does she now?” Oliver moves his knight. “What does she like instead?”
“Checkers.” Cary scoops up the knight with his rook. “And chemistry.”
Oliver laughs and Kerry says, “I like him.”
“I like him too,” Cary says aloud, and Oliver can’t help but grin.
The first time Melanie sees Kerry and Cary separate, she nearly screams.
Kerry laughs for what feels like hours, and it takes a while for Melanie to recover from this social faux pas and see them again.
“I’m sorry for the way I reacted,” she tells him. “It was wrong of me. You two have a very special gift and you shouldn’t be made uncomfortable by anyone else for it.”
“Why does she think we were uncomfortable by her reaction? I thought it was hilarious,” Kerry says.
“She’s just trying to be nice,” Cary sighs. He gives Melanie a polite smile. “Thank you, Dr. Bird. We appreciate it.”
They don’t see much of Melanie after that, not until it’s just them running Summerland, but she doesn’t seem to open up to them, at any point.
“For a psychiatrist, she’s pretty reserved,” Kerry notes. She kicks the punching bag and Cary’s leg jerks.
“She just lost her husband and we’re effective strangers,” Cary replies. “Did you stretch before exercising?”
“I always stretch.” She stops the punching bag, panting slightly, and looks at him. “But she’s not even reaching out to us. She could make an effort to try and be our friend.”
“Grief makes people act in strange ways,” he says with a shrug. He goes back to examining the new mutant’s brain – something Wallace, or maybe Wallace something. “I mean, imagine what you’d do if something happened to me.”
Kerry’s fingers clench and Cary can feel nails digging into his palms. “I don’t want to talk about that,” she says.
“Neither do I.”
“Good.” She pauses, then starts stretching out her legs, and Cary feels his heart ache in his chest. He wonders if she knows how much he loves her, but that’s a stupid thing to wonder. Of course she does.
Kerry meets Ptonomy before Cary does. Sometimes she likes to spar with other people, and sometimes he’s working on something with a quickly-approaching deadline, so they don’t always get to go together. But she comes back one day and says, “That new recruit is pretty cool.”
“Which one?” Cary asks.
“The one who can read memories.” She touches his back and goes inside of him. “He told me what it was like to be born. Do you remember that?”
“You know I don’t,” he replies.
“I think you’d like him. He’s weird.”
“We’re all weird. Can you grab my pen?”
Kerry gets asked out on a date while they’re in the grocery store. Cary is in one aisle, considering between two types of peanut butter, while Kerry stares at a woman with lovely long hair and tells her that she smells amazing.
She comes back to Cary with a phone number on her arm and a reservation at a restaurant for next week.
Cary spends the entire time before on a crash course of how to pass for a singular human. She laughs – a lot – when he gets into sexual education (“You never know,” he insists when she tries to get him to stop) but she pays attention and when he drops her off at the restaurant, he’s fairly confident she’ll be fine.
At least, he really hopes so. She deserves some fun and socialization in her life, and it’s not fair he gets to be the one to have friends – that is, when he had fun and socialization and friends in his life.
He doesn’t eat that night, not when he feels full on Kerry’s food, but it’s not until later that night when something happens to sufficiently distract him. He’s sitting at his desk, staring at some complicated equations and trying not to think of whether or not Kerry is having a good time, when he feels hot.
His clothes feel too constricting and then his clothes feel very constricting when blood rushes down and his dick gets hard. He leans back in his chair and tries not to think about it too much but it’s impossible. His body feels so sensitive, phantom hands on phantom limbs, and he bites his lip to keep himself from moaning.
Kerry must be having a very good time, he thinks, and then, for whatever reason, he starts to laugh. He’s still laughing when he comes, and he wonders what Kerry will think of it when she returns.
She’s back the next morning, unlocking the door and climbing into bed to retreat inside of him.
“How was it?” he asks.
“All right,” she says. “Not my thing, though.”
“Okay.” Cary lies there for a few minutes before getting up to shower.
The first thing Ptonomy says when he meets Cary is, “So do you eat her favorite food or does she eat it herself?”
“She doesn’t like to eat,” Cary replies.
“She doesn’t like to eat?” Ptonomy repeats, incredulous. “That’s ridiculous. What kind of food has she tried?”
Cary stops to think about it for a moment. “Well, there was this time we went to a diner and they served us this amazing pie – she liked that.”
“Pie, huh?” Ptonomy strokes his chin. “Okay, I can work with that. Come down to the mess tonight. I’ll cook for you too.”
“Okay,” Cary says, sounding confused. He waits until he’s left to ask, “What do you suppose that was all about?”
“What do you think?” Kerry laughs. “He’s trying to be friends with you.”
“Oh. So, that’s what that’s like.” She laughs again and he smiles, just a little.
He does end up going to the mess, Kerry beside him, and there’s Ptonomy, as promised, with two slices of pie. “I didn’t know whether you two would share or not, so I brought two.”
“I want my own,” Kerry says, and she takes the plate from his hands.
“I’ll be fine,” Cary says. He sits down beside Kerry, across from Ptonomy and gives him an appraising look. “So, what’s your mutation exactly?”
“I’m good with memory. For example, I can tell you in exact detail how Kerry and I met, and I can tell you about the last time the two of you had pie.” He holds out his hand. “May I?”
Cary hesitates, just a moment, and then takes it. And then they’re no longer in the mess hall. They’re in that tiny diner, on a cold September morning after a long and arduous car ride. And Cary can see himself and Kerry, sitting at a corner booth. Kerry is picking out three different types of dessert and Cary is trying to calculate how much money they have left and how much time they have before they need to start moving again and –
And then they’re back in the mess hall and Cary feels like he’s going to faint. His mind is rushing at a hundred miles per hour, trying to analyze, trying to understand how this works. “I – I –”
“I know,” Ptonomy says with a slight grin. “Sorry, I probably should’ve warned you a little more, but, well, I guess I wanted to impress you.”
“Impress me?” Cary repeats. His head is still spinning. “I – what?”
Ptonomy reaches over and hands him a glass of milk, which Cary drinks up without a word. “Kerry told me I should. It was her idea, actually.”
Cary turns to her and she just raises her brows mischievously, picking at the food idly. He looks back at Ptonomy.
“So,” he says, “did I?”
“Did you what?”
“Did I impress you?”
Cary pauses a moment and thinks about it. “Ptonomy, would you mind if I strapped you to some machines and monitored your brain while you exercise your powers?”
Ptonomy lets out a laugh. “I thought you’d never ask.”
It’s after they move for the third time that Cary decides to stop dating. It’s not really fair to them, not when they can’t understand that he’s completely and utterly devoted to a woman who is both him and who isn’t him.
“You don’t feel alone?” Kerry asks him.
“Why would I?” he asks. “I have you.”
It’s after their third brain scanning session and his fourth mission with Kerry when Ptonomy kisses him.
He’s unstrapping himself from the machine and Cary is holding the scans in his hand, gesticulating as he tries to explain why it’s so incredible that so many parts of Ptonomy’s brain are active and – and Ptonomy gives him a strange and peculiar look.
Cary lowers his hands. “Was I talking too fast again? Or was I talking too much to Kerry?”
Ptonomy laughs, and then he stands up and kisses him. It’s a nice kiss, a perfectly nice kiss, and everything in Cary’s brain stops. His glasses slide to the edge of his nose and he drops the files and he just stops.
After several long, time-stopping moments, Ptonomy finally pulls away. He looks a little nervous, a little hesitant, afraid he may have made the wrong move.
“You should kiss him again,” Kerry says.
“What?” Cary says. “But – the files –”
“I’ll pick up the files.” And then while Kerry is pulling out of his body, Cary finds himself leaning forward and kissing Ptonomy again.
The second kiss is actually better than the first, or so Ptonomy will tell him later. Kerry will just complain that Cary’s lips were too chapped to actually enjoy the first one.
Cary doesn’t remember breathing even once until Kerry’s back in the facility, and it takes all his effort not to have his hands shake when he has to pull the bullet out.
Ptonomy is there, holding Kerry’s hand, but he’s looking at Cary. “You can do this,” he says, voice firm but gentle. “Just relax. She’s going to be okay.”
When it’s all over and done, Cary spends a good couple of minutes crying over her, crying into Ptonomy’s chest. He can feel it, every inch of her pain, and he has no idea whether or not she’s going to wake up.
“I’m sorry,” Ptonomy sighs. He rubs circles into Cary’s back. “I was supposed to protect her.”
“It’s not your fault,” Cary says. He stands straight, wiping his eyes with his sleeve and putting on his glasses. “Just make sure that those who did this to her pay.”
There’s one morning, back in their first apartment, the first time they’re living alone, when Cary looks into the mirror and says, “I love you.”
Kerry stands in front of him and says, “I love you too.”
“Good.” He clears his throat. “Now that we’ve got that out of the way, we have a biology paper to write.”
“What do you think the parasite is going to do to them?” Kerry asks.
“I don’t know,” Cary sighs.
“Do you think they’re going to be okay?”
“I hope so.”
He grips the steering wheel tighter and slams on the accelerator.
She groans as she comes to consciousness, and he’s right there for her when she wakes up. There’s no way to describe how relieved he feels to have her there again, with him, alive. He rubs her shoulder and leans down to whisper. “Hi.”
She looks up at him and smiles a little. “Miss me?” she asks, chuckling.
“Yes.” It’s the simple, honest truth. He swallows hard. “Are you ready?”
She gives him a weak nod and he lies down on top of her, letting her slowly drift inside of him. He feels her cringe, struggle, pain, and he lets out a slow breath. “It’s okay,” he says. “I’ve got you.”
He always has her, and he always will.