Pete is not one of those guys who obsess over the rules. In fact, he breaks them more often than not. But, as logic goes, he needs to know exactly when he's breaking them, how many of them he's breaking and in what measure, either to show the right amount of repentance or to deny having done anything. If his calculations are correct, he has already broken three rules since he woke up this morning and it doesn't seem like he's going to stop anytime soon. Specifically, in this very moment, he thinks the fourth is being broken while Leonard enters his machine and unleashes himself upon the thousands of buttons in front of his eyes. How it got to his point, he barely knows. But again, he rarely knows how anything gets to any point when Leonard is involved.
He was checking on a new third-level instance that had come to life during the night when he noticed that the probability of it to be doomed was past the 70%, which meant the instance was born already problematic and probably flawed too. The protocol in these cases is to cut off the instance immediately to facilitate the emergence of a new instance and to more easily contain any possible damage. But Pete doesn't like to do that. In fact, he's currently nurturing several instances that have the potential to be doomed in the hope that he will be able to turn the tide someday. It's a very risky way to proceed, that requires way more time and effort on his part, but he really can't live with cutting off an instance without giving it a chance first. Or simply, he can't live with the idea of having to deliberately destroy a Leonard, no matter how harmful he could be to the others, but that is something he doesn't admit with anyone, not even with himself.
In the new instance, Blaine and Leonard live separate lives and after a first completely apathetic encounter they don't seem to have the means or will to meet again, which is the only real cause for any of their universes to collapse. Except for death, any other major disaster have proved to be fixable so far: temporal separation (extremely rare), emotional incompatibility between them (very rare), a pre-existing stable relationship of one or both of them (rare), social impediments (common), presence of a third love-interest (very common), emotional baggage of variable gravity (extremely common), age difference (baseline situation).
Pete checked where Cody was and didn't find him – something that hadn't been happening for a least a year – and then resolved to go in himself to have a better look a the situation, which was broken rule number one. It's not strictly forbidden for a Keeper to personally get involved in the instance, but it's still not advisable because it can lead to serious consequences. It's especially not advisable to him, who made of involving himself his weapon of choice. Anyway, he went in and he tried to move things around to no avail. But the instance was not doomed yet and he could feel that it too could turn out right. Pete has no scientific explanation for the feelings he sometimes has on his own tree-universe, but they're usually right. So, after having established that Cody was not even born (weird), that Adam didn't seem to have his usual kind of mother hen influence on his boy, and that Anne was... not available, Pete did the only thing he could think of: he went to pick up the original Leo in the canon universe, that is the very first one that generated the others. This, of course, was broken rule number two.
A Keeper doesn't make contact with his constants, except in extremely rare, life-or-death, last resort kind of situations. And under no circumstances a Keeper explains to his constants how their universe works. He considered these two very important laws, obviously, but given that he had not only already got involved in Leonard's life, but also had a love affair with him, and that Leonard and his husband had helped him prevent the collapsing of their universe several times in the past, Pete thought that he could just ignore those two laws one more time. Besides, once the cat gets out of the bag, you can put it back in, but everybody knows there's a cat in there. Right?
Pete went to pick up Leonard because Leonard doesn't accept the idea that somewhere in the universe-system a version of himself exists that doesn't love Blaine and has no interest whatsoever in being with him. That for him is simply not possible. His brain can't absolutely process that information, it's like trying to imagine a new color. Now, in the past, with this particular mindset, Leonard was able to convince other versions of himself that it was in their best interest to give their Blaine a chance, and Pete really hopes Leo can do it again.
Only now that they're here in his machine, ready to reach the instance in question, Pete realizes that if Leonard can't convince his other self to be with Blaine, it will be impossible to convince Leonard to let it go and cut off the instance. Pete sighs, closing the door behind himself; this is a problem for later.
“What was this for again?” Leo asks as he turns to him, pointing at a button. Pete is not used to have guests in his machine, let alone him. Leonard's tall, slim figure looks out of place in here.
“I never said,” he answers, getting closer to him. Unlike the blue box of a fictional time lord, his ship doesn't have a central dashboard. If it looks like anything, it's more like the Enterprise, with a long dashboard running around the walls, and a couple of comfy armchairs in the center; except that he never uses those armchairs and there's a series of monitors where the window of the ship should be.
Leonard smiles. “Tell me now, then.” It's supposed to be a polite request, but it's one that doesn't expect no for an answer, and that's because he knows exactly the effect he has on Pete. He tries not to use it to his advantage, sometimes, but the times that he does are way more.
Pete sighs. “You know I can't tell you how any of this works.”
“Yes, but that's for the people who don't know anything, right?” Leo insists. “I mean, you have already broken the fourth wall with me, so what's the point?”
Pete frowns. “Excuse me?” If a wall got broken, he is not aware of it.
“You know, the virtual boundary between the actors and the audience? When a character talks directly to the audience, revealing to them that he knows that what he's starring in is a play, a movie or a video game, you say he broke the fourth wall. That's what you did to me. As the puppeteer behind the curtains of my life, you came and explained to me you were there.”
“I didn't exactly say I was your puppeteer.”
Leo ignores him. “So now there's no wall between us or, better, I can go on the other side of it and see what's there.”
“That's the point, you shouldn't be able to do that.”
Leo shrugs. “But I am, right? There's no turning back! Besides, what are you afraid of? It's not like I can find another one of this spaceships lying around and steal it,” he says. And then, suddenly curious he asks, “Or can I?”
“No, you can't,” Pete instantly answers before Leo can convince himself that there are time-machines ready for the taking. “Each of us is assigned a machine the moment he becomes a Keeper, and it works only by reading his DNA signature. So, even if you took one of these machines, you wouldn't go very far without its owner. And before you think of killing me or drugging me, I need to be alive and conscious to move this thing.”
“I would never!”
“I'm not sure about that.”
Leo pretends to be outraged. “I am very offended,” he declares, looking anything but. “So, it's like a living creature?”
“Not exactly. It's more like a part of me,” Pete tries to explain. “My heart beating makes it work, like any other of my organs.”
Leo nods and then clacks his lips. “So, this button...?” He asks again, and when he sees Pete's frustrated face he adds, “Oh, come on! I'm here to help, right? What do I get in return?”
Pete raises an eyebrow. “I don't know, you get to travel through time and space, see one of your parallel universes and save it from almost certain death?”
“Yes, but I've already done all that! Besides, it's not like this instance dying would mean the death of everything else, so it's not like I'm saving-saving it.”
Pete looks at him even more unconvinced. “You would never let any of yourselves die.”
“I would never do that, no,” Leo instantly shakes his head because saying the contrary would have been too big of a lie. “But the rest is true! I mean, come on! Teach me something! I know you love teaching!”
Pete sighs again, perfectly aware that he had lost this fight even before it started. “Alright,” he caves in. “That button and the one next to it open the dialog box to calculate distance.”
“Well, all the distances,” Pete says, a little confused by the question. “Any length from one point to another.”
“But you said all our instances exist in the same time.”
“So,” he seems to hesitate for a moment, “does it mean that they are in different places?”
After inserting the coordinates for their destination under Leonard's curious eyes, Pete sits down on one of the central comfy armchairs for the first time in ages. “Well, yes. If they were to exist all at the same time and in the same space, it would be mayhem. In fact, it's not even possible. They are like branches of a tree. When one new branch is born, the old one doesn't stop to exist and they both grow together, but in different places on the same trunk.”
Leonard nods and Pete can see the little gears in his head spinning, helping him grasp concepts that he's already familiar with, due to the insane amount of sci-fi works he devours. “And what about this?” He asks next, pointing at another part of the dashboard.
“Well, that's complicated, but to put it simply, it calculates mass, among many other things,” Pete explains. He won't mention the kind of mathematics that the machine works on. “Instances' masses have to fit in a specific range. If the mass of an instance grows too much, it's probably because it's about to give birth to another instance.”
“Like when you put too much plots in one book and you better start a spin-off.”
Pete chuckles. “Yeah, something like that.”
Leonard sits down on the other armchair, his long legs outstretched in front of himself. “Why do you have two of these if nobody is allowed in here?” He reasons.
“A long time ago every Keeper had a companion to share his travels with, and the two of them needed two armchairs. Then more and more Keepers refused to take a companion with them and now nobody does anymore, but the armchair remains as a testimony of the past.”
“Really?” Leonard says, excited.
“Nah, I'm just messing with you,” Pete laughs, watching Leo's expression turning from expectant to disappointed. “It's just interior design. You kind of want it to look like a living room since you spend most of your life here.”
For a moment Leo seems offended, but then he snorts. “So, this whole thing, this spaceship, runs on your life force or something?”
“What? No!” Pete blinks a couple of times. “I mean, do you have any idea of how much energy does it need to move? It would suck me dry just turning it on.”
“Mh.” That seems to make sense to Leo. “But I don't want to think that a futuristic civilization like yours move through the universes on vehicles that run on petrol!”
“In fact we don't,” Pete says, almost disgusted. “Petrol is a very primitive fuel.”
“We're trying, man,” Leo jokes. “We're just monkeys!”
Pete chuckles. “No, time-machine are electric.”
Leo looks up. “Excuse me, what?” Now in his mind there's a very clear image of Pete's time-machine parked somewhere and plugged into a charging station with a big-ass plug, like electric city cars. “And how do you recharge it? Where? How long does it take?”
“Of course I don't recharge it! It's not a phone nor a car!” Pete says, shocked. Then he sighs. “You know how my home planet exists outside of everything, the universes and time as well, right? That's because it's not really a planet. I mean, it is, but at the same time it works in a different way, which is kind of obvious since it doesn't answer to the rules of physics. Anyway, it is its life force that keeps the machines running.”
Leonard is listening to him carefully. Pete loves how everything has the potential to excite him and amaze him. It's actually the only one of his childlike characteristics – and he has many – that's admirable and makes him wonderful. And if something sticks with him, he can perfectly explain it back to someone else. That is how he got Blaine to understand how the multiverse works. Pete has also seen him explaining the water cycle to his five years old twins like it was something never heard of before. He was mesmerizing. If Pete remembers correctly, three or four alarms set off before he found the strength to tear his eyes off him that time.
“So, let me get this straight,” Leo says. “This machine is part of you, but it runs on the planet's life force, which, I'm assuming, it's also what makes you and your people run, like, forever.”
Pete looks at him suspiciously. “Excuse me?”
Leo chuckles. “You look young and you probably are for real. But your mom and dad looked a little too young when I saw them, so I'm assuming you are immortal.”
Pete clears his throat. That was unexpected and he wasn't really planning on telling that to Leo. “We're not immortal, just very very long-lived.”
“Same difference from my very very mortal point of view,” Leo says, offering him a charming smile. “Anyway, it means you're connected to the planet as well and not in a new age sort of way. You depend directly on it. So, you, the planet and the machine form an electrical network.”
Pete looks at him really impressed. “Yes, it's exactly like that.”
Leo smiles again. “That's impressive,” he comments, then he crosses his legs and sits like that on the armchair, his knees protruding from it. “And how many instances does our tree have?”
“Between deviations from your canon and completely alternative universes, there are about forty instances so far,” Pete answers right away. He grabs a tablet-like thing from a small table next to him and types a few things on it. Leo tries to get a glimpse, but all he sees are a bunch of glyphs that he can decipher: Pete's native written language. “Look.”
A few moments later, the wall of monitors bleeps and they both look up. There's a map on it in the form of a stylized tree. Leo can clearly see the trunk and the various ramifications sprouting from it. Some of them end with a rounded shape, like leaf, most of them don't. The entire map is made of tiny pulsing points, like the stars forming a constellation. “Wow! Forty?” He says, and there's so much awe in his voice that Pete can't help but laugh.
“It's still a young universe,” he says and enjoys seeing on Leonard's face the realization that forty is actually a very low number. “But it grows fast and steadily. There's a completely new instance every two or three weeks. Sometimes even two at the same times. And most of them are strong ones, meaning that they have the potential to generate others in the future.”
“Really?” Leo asks, unable to tear his eyes off the map. He can't read the captions under the branches or understand which universe is which, but he's totally fascinated by it and he could stare at it for ages.
“Yes, it's because the trunk it's pretty strong,” Pete explains, and then he smiles when Leo turns to look at him, half pleased and half moved. “Obviously all trunks are stronger than the branches, but yours and Blaine's is very peculiar, so your tree-universe is too.”
Pete doesn't want to really explain the reason behind this peculiarity, that Leonard and Blaine are a genetic mutation, that originally they should have had two separate tree-universes and ended up sharing one like twins in the womb, that their trunk is strong because it's actually the fusion of two. But he doesn't need to say anything because to Leo's eyes the notion that he and Blaine are strong is inherent to them. They were born to be together, thus the super strong tree. That much is true, so why ruin the romance with scientific explanations?
“Why are some parts of it brighter than the others?” Leo asks, frowning and pointing at the screen.
“That's where some life-changing decisions are being made,” Pete explains. “As you can see, something is currently happening somewhere with you people. Luckily, until no alarm sets off, everything's fine.”
“What's happening here?” Leo insists, pointing at a specific instance. “What is this?”
“Sorry, I can't tell you this,” Peter says, and he manages to put enough gravity in it that Leo doesn't push the question further.
“So, what do you do when you're busy somewhere else? Record everything and watch it later?”
“Yeah, something like that.”
“Great, I have a superior galactic being constantly binge watching my life,” Leo comments, again half shocked and half pleased. “It'd be creepy if it wasn't actually amazing.”
“I'll go with amazing,” Pete chuckles. Then, a bell rings and a voice announces something in a language Leonard has never heard before and can't even place next to one he knows. “Oh, here we are.”
“What did it say?” He asks, as he stands up and follows him, supposedly towards the door.
“Something on the line of you've reached your destination. It's a very expensive GPS system,” Pete explains. Then, he presses his open hand on a wall, activating a panel that slides inside the wall itself. Inside it there's something that looks a lot like a wardrobe. “Here, you'll need this.”
He gives Leo a thick fur-lined coat. “Ugh, I hate cold places,” he comments, wearing it. “Is winter very cold here?”
“Winter is all there is for now,” Pete says. “It tends to last for years in this instance.”
Leonard's whole face lights up. “Is this a Game of Th—“
“Oh, for the love of God, no!” Pete rolls his eyes and then pushes him out of the spaceship into a pile of fresh now. “This is just winter. Now, let's go.”
Leo laughs happily, and the freezing snow doesn't bother him one bit.
Nothing can't really bother him when there's a new world to explore.