Narto looked up as his daughter walked into the room. "You're back, then," he said, running a hand through his hair, now tinged with grey. "How'd it go?"
"I got it," Diane replied, sitting down heavily on the chair next to him. "There's... well, there's a lot here."
"She was always like that, was Lou," Narto noted with a wistful smile. "Talked a lot, wrote a lot, dropped a lot of things on me when I wasn't expecting them." He sighed, glancing down. "Did she... did she guess?" He swallowed. "I couldn't stand it if it turned out she'd spent her whole life expecting this..."
Diane shook her head. "She figured out who I was, and I had to tell her about the first accident, but not the second. As far as she was concerned, all she had to fear was a little memory loss."
Her father nodded. "Thank you. It's better that way." Reaching down, he stroked his wife's hair gently. "Have you... read any of it yet?"
Diane nodded carefully. "Like I said, there's a lot of details. Problem is, a lot of it's discarded later, so I have to go through and figure out what's still active. I think... the way she wrote it, I think she was trying to make something that would jog her own memory, not mine." The yellow-haired woman sighed, looking over at her mother's still form. "If I'd told her... would she have been more careful, Dad? Would she have stayed away from that cliff?"
"She wouldn't have remembered," Narto said soothingly. "Nothing we could have done would have prevented this, Diane."
"I agree," a voice said behind them. Diane jumped up, knocking the chair over as she span round.
Narto moved more slowly, turning to face the newcomer as if afraid she would vanish. "It is you," he said softly.
The visitor held up one hand and wobbled it from side to side. "Sort of," she admitted. "Diane, I'm not the woman you just left in '05. And I'm not the woman who's going to end up lying in that bed."
"... parallel universe?" Narto asked. The parallel version of Louise nodded.
"Not such a nice one, actually. The Mysterious Somebody never left HQ, reign of terror etcetera etcetera... your sister's still alive, though, Narto." She scratched her right ear vaguely. "And, let's see... you're courting Terri Ryan, I'm sleeping with Selene Windflower, and we've never met each other. So there I was, massive feelings of impending doom hanging over me, when suddenly my Voice From Heaven tells me I'm taking a side trip to your world." She sighed. "I don't like being away when it's getting so critical... I don't like being away from Sel... but you need help."
Diane looked at her thoughtfully. "Is your author, um, the same person as mine," she asked, "or is he a parallel too?"
"I haven't asked," Lou confessed, "but I'm voting for 'same'. But, look, this isn't important. You lot need help."
"You're telling me."
Lou brushed her hair back irritably. "Your PPC's in worse shape than mine, and of the two people who can reliably get help from the shaper of it all, one's in a coma." She looked at the older Lou in her bed. "And you need her."
"We do," Narto agreed, and then lowered his eyes and admitted, "I do."
Parallel Lou smiled. "I like you," she said. "I think I know why I've not been allowed to meet your parallel. Anyway. Trans-dimensional travel has a whole bunch of side effects which are generally avoided by swapping two identical people, or grafting timelines together, or whatever. This time, we haven't done that, so I get to make use of them." She flexed her wrists and stepped closer to the bed. "Oh," she added, glancing at Diane and Narto in turn, "you might want to stand back. I've never done this before."
The pair scrambled away and Lou leant forward, studying the face her older self. She shrugged slightly and murmured, "Apparently I age well." Then she kissed the other Lou lightly on the lips.
When the pyrotechnics had faded, Diane and Narto moved forward warily to the bedside. There was no sign of the parallel Louise, and the one on the bed seemed the same as before. Narto sighed softly and opened his mouth to speak.
Lou's eyes snapped open, darting from her husband to her daughter. "Diane," she said in a hoarse voice, "your mouth's hanging open. Narto, when did you last shower? Or at least brush your hair? Honestly." Pushing herself up into a sitting position with weakened arms, she gave the pair a long look. "All right, I'm back," she said. "What have I missed?"
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