She laughed, again, and he dug his fingers into his thigh.
Sigma tried to focus on his dinner. The chicken was under-seasoned, the potatoes were too salty, and the peas hadn’t been cooked long enough. Mira’s vegan kung pao tofu dish looked better than the shit on his plate. He glanced over at Diana, not for any other reason than to see what she was eating. Sandwich and potato chips, mostly untouched, maybe because it was just as unappetizing as his meal, or maybe because she was too busy talking to Carlos to eat.
Junpei was sitting with Eric and Mira, while Akane was at the same table as Q, who had also opted for the sandwich and chips, possibly because it was easier to eat with the lack of visual input. Phi had eaten quickly and excused herself; she wanted to try to get into the administration offices. They were supposedly empty now, with all the staff having left after orientation to move to the secondary location. He had offered to go with her, but she thought it’d be better to go on her own.
Or she was just annoyed with him.
He realized he was still staring at Diana, but at least nobody had noticed.
“It’s a revolutionary development,” she was saying. “It’s still experimental, not FDA approved yet, but when it is, we’ll no longer have to rely on skin grafts for burn victims.”
He rubbed his arm, as if to reassure himself that the skin there was real. FDA approval meant nothing after the pandemic, and Akane had more than enough money to secure the ABT and the doctors to transplant it onto his body. Diana had assisted in the operation, their first kiss happening shortly before he was put under. Even having seen the future, Sigma assumed there were multiple timelines that branched off from his surgery. One where he lived and went on to create the Nonary Game on the Moon, and maybe infinite others, including one where he died on the table. He couldn’t be certain he was destined for survival, and even though he’d only really known her for two weeks at the time, he had kissed her cheek as she reviewed with him the details of the procedure.
She had blushed, then briefly pressed her lips to his, seemingly unembarrassed by the fact that the anesthesiologist was already there.
I’ll see you in ten hours, she had whispered. It took fifteen hours, ultimately, but she was there when he woke, having fallen asleep in a chair next to his bed. And she had kissed him again, even though he had to have had the post-surgery version of morning breath.
He was still staring.
Diana looked so … happy. Animated, but then again, she always was when she talked about medicine. Surely that was it, and it had nothing to do with the man sitting across from her.
Carlos wasn’t quite as muscular as Sigma was, so even though Diana often expressed appreciation for his physique, she couldn’t be as impressed with Carlos as she had been with him. And she said she preferred the ‘tall, dark, and handsome’ type; Carlos only met two of those criteria. And yes, he was an honorable firefighter who saved lives, but … she wasn’t flirting with him, was she?
Five or six months from now in the bad timeline, she would tell him that if the world hadn’t nearly ended, she would have thought it was too soon to get involved in a relationship. So there was no way she could be interested in Carlos now. She wouldn’t want to … it would be a rebound thing. She …
A small blob of mustard was left on her lip after she took a bite from her sandwich, and Carlos pointed to her face, bringing it to her attention. She wiped her mouth with her hand, but ended up smearing some of it down to her chin.
“Hold on, I’ll get it.”
Diana froze as he brought his napkin to her chin, cleaning it off. She forced a smile.
Dammit, Carlos, can’t you see you’re making her uncomfortable?
Sigma had seen that look on her face before, when he’d tried to advance things a little too quickly. But unlike Carlos, he had picked up on it immediately and –
“Sorry,” Carlos said.
“It’s okay.” Her response came a little too quickly, and then she turned her attention to her chips.
It was … it was discomfort. Right?
Maybe she was actually attracted to him. Maybe she was working on building a friendship with him, and with an eye for possibly turning it into something romantic in the future. Maybe the traps in Dcom that blew off his arms also killed Carlos. He had always suspected the woman Akane told him he was trying to save was Diana, but maybe Carlos had been there, too.
For not the first time, he cursed whatever had mangled their memories. If only he or Diana or Phi had just been able to tell Akane exactly what happened, they wouldn’t be going into this blind.
If she was interested in Carlos, what did that mean if they succeeded?
Sigma suspected that, unless he ended up in the timeline where they failed, his older consciousness might stay in this body. He had a scientific rationale for it, but perhaps it was just more hope than anything else. For years, he had fantasized that he would be able to start back up with Diana. Not immediately. Without the planetary emergency, he would have to go slow. It might take years. He’d be willing to do it. He would do anything for her. She would have years, now. He could give Diana decades.
But what if Carlos made a move? He was a good man with a good job, and everyone here probably thought Sigma was insane. Even if she didn’t think that, in this time and place, he was just a student with no means of support. Carlos would save people from fires and then she would help patch them up at the hospital. Carlos could give her a nice home with a white picket fence and children with her hair and his eyes and … fuck. Fuck.
“You’re staring at her again.”
Phi sat down next to him. She didn’t look pleased.
“Nothing?” He finally averted his gaze, focusing on his – now cold – dinner.
She shook her head. “We’ll talk later, but there was one place I couldn’t get –”
Diana laughed again.
He stabbed his chicken with his fork.