Louise knew when she said yes to having her baby that Ian would leave her. The aliens had given her a gift that could save both of their species, but it came at a heavy cost. She knows that time is not linear. She knows that the actions that should be in her future have already been done. She’s already made every choice without even knowing she was making them.
She’s experienced her daughter’s death more than twice now. She’s seen her daughter die enough times that while she cries, she no longer has that anger at a child being taken far too early from their parents. Maybe she should hate the aliens for that. Or maybe she should thank them, after all this makes her grief so much less.
She misses Ian though. Ian was a bright spot in her life, and she wishes that he would be here to hold her when she wakes up crying in the middle of the night. She wishes that she didn’t know from the start that they were doomed. She never needed to look forward from this day in her memories despite the fact she could. She can’t handle knowing everything again.
A knock on her door draws her out of her head. No one should be at the door. No one gives sympathies to her. Ian gets plenty, but she’s the evil mother, who brought a daughter into this world that she knew would die. The public hates her. The government still loves her. She opens the door slowly just in case someone has decided to make her suffer for her choices.
Ian stands outside as the rain pours all around Louise’s house. He doesn’t know how he got here. He was driving endlessly, trying to get their daughter’s death out of his head when he heard Louise’s words from years before. “If you could see your whole life laid out in front of you, would you change anything?” He needed to see her. He needs to see her. When the door opens, he sighs in relief.
Her voice hasn’t changed. Once he thought it was because she didn’t love their daughter. Then as he was driving, he remembered all the things she did to make sure that her daughter got a happy life for as long as she lived. He knew she loved their daughter. That means all he has left our questions. Questions that he needs answers for, so he showed up at her door.
“I have questions that only you can answer, and I need those answers,” Ian says. He can’t quite tell whether the waver in his voice is from the anger that usually surface he sees her, or whether it’s the tears threatening to fall again.
Louise regards him for a long moment. She never bothered looking this far ahead, and if she chose to she could see how this goes right now. But she finds that she doesn’t want to. She doesn’t want to know this is the end again. “Come in, then. No need to get soaked any further.”
Ian shakes his head immediately. “I have to have one answer before I go any further.”
Louise sighs. She should have seen that coming, but she wanted to believe that he’d be a little more understanding given everything that’s happened between them. “Ask me.”
“Have you seen this?”
“No. I chose to never look further than our daughter’s death. I could barely handle the information I got there, but I think I looked for those because I knew of her from our time with the aliens. I needed her to save them, and they needed me to see her to save them. You’re the scientist among us, you can explain it better than I ever can.”
Ian nods and steps into her house. A shiver travels down his body as the warm air from outside no longer keeps the chill from the water, but he barely notices. Instead, his eyes are drawn to the picture of them as a family sitting on her wall.
Louise leaves him there in the hallway for a time. She doesn’t need to try and start this conversation. If Ian came to her after all this time, then he’s decided to make an effort. She’s not sure yet whether he’s trying to take a step in the right direction on moving on from their daughter’s death or whether he’s attempting to patch up their relationship. She grabs a towel from her bathroom. The blue one has always been his favorite.
That’s when her body freezes. She got new towels after the divorce. Even if Hannah had wanted to keep some things from before their marriage fell apart, she hadn’t kept any of the objects that they shared. That meant she knew this towel become his favorite. She curls up in the hallway with tears streaming down her face. She can’t ignore the future. That’s the curse for learning their language, she can’t ignore the future, because it affects her present.
That’s how Ian found her minutes, hours later. Ian may know that it has been precisely 23 minutes and 32 seconds since she left him in the hallway, but time seems meaningless to her now too. He reaches for the towel and wraps it around himself to dry off. He doesn’t speak, he doesn’t have to. The next words have to be hers.
“I didn’t look.”
“But you know, anyway.” His voice isn’t accusing. It’s just stating facts. A scientist to his core.
“You should leave. This won’t help you.”
Ian’s sigh carries through her body. When he stands, she’s sure he’s going to leave, and she’ll forget she knew that towel was his favorite. Instead, that towel drapes over her shoulders as he pulls her into him. “First question, how early did you know about her death?”
“The day I asked you that question. The one you threw in my face too many times during the divorce.”
Ian nods. A part of him knew that. Those words haunt him every time his eyes fall closed because as a scientist those words mean something different. If you could see your whole life laid out in front of you, would you change anything? He hates so much of this. The way her face seems so broken by the fact she can see the future. The way their marriage crumbled because he didn’t want to place the pieces together. The way he knows that the science doesn’t support his anger. The way his anger fades every time he thinks about this.
Louise stares for a long moment. “You aren’t going to leave?”
“Last question. How much of the science did you bother understanding?”
“Probably the same amount of understanding you put into the language. I knew the amount I needed to do my job, but I didn’t try to piece together the rest.”
Ian nods and places his chin on top of her head. He knew she hadn’t because if she had, she’d know the answer to her own question. “Will you listen?”
“Listen to science or listen to another rant.”
That startles a laugh out of him. Only Louise would ask that in such a dead pan tone as if it doesn’t matter to her one way or another, but that’s a portion of what made him fall in love with her in the first place. Because he did love her. He does love her. Shit, he never stopped loving her. His anger just kept growing, so he left.
“Neither. If I’ve already told you this, then you already know. You just need to be reminded. You didn’t make any choices based on the future. Sure you did actions based on the future, but based on everything you’ve ever told me, you’d already made them.”
Louise furrows her brow as she regards his words. “But what does that mean?”
“Time isn’t linear, you’ve proven that. Time is circular, but it’s still steady. The only reason you can see things is because they happen. You wouldn’t know your daughter had cancer not to sleep with me that night until after you slept with me. You asked me once whether I would change anything if I knew and the answer is yes and no. If I was in your exact position, no. If I was omniscient, yes. My anger should have never been directed at you, but at everything that let you know in the first place.”
Louise pauses for a moment. Then she starts laughing and she barely stops herself from curling into herself and trying to get away. “I knew.”
“That night. I debated telling you know. There was a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that it wouldn’t work. I knew these words.”
“I know. I knew the second I chose to explain it on the drive over here that once I did, you’d know the truth and that I told you to destroy our marriage in the first place. God, we’re a mess.” Ian shakes his head. Only the two of them would manage to throw off the balance of physics and language only to destroy themselves in the process.
Louise lays her head down in his lap dropping his chin into the air as she stares up at him. “So what now?”
“Now, we do what we should have done in the first place but didn’t because we were too busy being angry or confused or stubborn. We remind ourselves that our love didn’t die with our marriage, and that our daughter wasn’t the whole of our love.”
Louise leans up and takes his lips in a chaste kiss. They may not be perfect, and they were going to hit bumps, but they were going to try. That’s what counts. Their love will withstand this. That’ll be enough for her. This isn’t forgiveness, this isn’t even the setting aside of anger. This is understanding of the world they live in, and how much the aliens really screwed them over.
Ian kisses her back for a moment, before leaning back. He doesn’t need her to stop knowing the future, he doesn’t need her to change. He needs to recognize her pain for what it is. She’ll feel the pain long before he ever knows why, and he’ll be there for her then, so she can be there for him later.