Missing Time
Summary:In which the newest member of FicPsych gets her first client, and he hasn’t heard of Bleeprin yet.
Timeline:October 2003 and April 2004.
Published:June 8, 2020.
Rating:PG-13/T - Low-key existential angst and matters pertaining to mental autonomy, some mild language, and the single allotted F-bomb.
Betas:Huinesoron and Phobos.

The mop-headed twenty-something standing at the counter of the nurses’ station was tall—quite a bit taller than Head Nurse Suzine. She had to tilt her head back to look him in the face. It made his thin eyebrows seem even more arched than they already were, and in her professional opinion, they were approaching the level of Elven Eyebrows o’ Doom. He wore thick black glasses, a purple-pinstriped shirt, a black tie with silver paisley, and flared gray slacks. Overall, very Revenge of the Nerds if it had been set in the ’70s instead of the ’80s. However, Suzine Sachs was not one to be intimidated by nerd rage.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “but we don’t just take in agents willy-nilly. It’s the Department of Fictional Psychology for a reason, you know. Why don’t you try Medical?”

“Because that’s not what I need,” said the young man. He had a clipped way of speaking, as though each word were a cut-out from a different magazine. The fingers of his left hand drummed an erratic sequence on his thigh. “I’ve been to Medical. My body is healthy. The doctors don’t want to see me.” His slight emphasis on “doctors” told Suzine he meant “the real doctors.”

Her purple-lacquered nails dug into her palms. “If you think you can stand there and insult our line of work while you insist we make an exception for you, you’ve got—”

“Hey, what’s up?”

Suzine twisted around to see who had entered the station. “Oh, it’s you, Robinson.” The nurses’ aide, a brown-haired, green-eyed woman a little older than the young man, was a pain in Suzine’s neck. Still, her arrival gave the head nurse a way to make her priorities clear to the demanding agent. With a sweet and completely fake smile, she excused herself (“Just one moment, please”), shut the sliding glass service window to the nurses’ station, and turned to her intern. “What do you need? Make it quick.”

“Bogglish sent me to tell you they were able to release Mulder, but we’ve got a Spangel[1] situation over in 104 and Legolas is back again.” She sounded bored, and immediately broke eye contact with Suzine to peer at the young man. “Who’s this?” That was her problem: she never knew when to mind her own business.

“Just an agent who thinks he’s more deserving of our time than everyone else in the multiverse. It’s not your concern, Robinson. Tell Bogg—”

“But maybe I can help,” said the insufferable woman. “Come on—I’m not doing anything else, so let me handle this kid.” Like she had room to talk. “What does he want?”

Suzine glanced over her shoulder at the agent. He folded his arms and glowered at her.

“He declined to say,” Suzine said archly.

“Suzine, it isn’t as though you’d be taking me away from anything important,” said Robinson. She gestured toward the depths of the ward. “They don’t need me right now.”

Suzine breathed heavily through her nose, counting to five. Then she put up her hands. “Fine!” She turned around and slid open the window to address the young man. “This is Jennifer Robinson. She will see you in her office.” With any luck, the two of them would keep each other occupied and spare Suzine a headache.

Robinson beamed and practically skipped out through the lobby-side door of the station. “Hello!” She tried to take the agent’s hand, but he jerked it away. “Well, this way, then,” she said, spirits somewhat dampened.

“I want a complete writeup, Robinson,” Suzine called, leaning out the service window. “No shirking on the paperwork!”

“No problem!” Entirely too flippant for Suzine’s liking, the girl waved over her shoulder as she led the young man away to C-14.

Once they were out of earshot, Jenni Robinson heaved a sigh of relief. “Stars, I hate the bureaucracy around here.” She shook her head. “Sorry about all that. I’m going to take good care of you, don’t worry.” She paused and held out her hand formally, smiling up at the agent. “You can call me Jenni.”

The agent raised one eyebrow to a very impressive height above the other and stood with his arms crossed. “I’m not talking in the hall.”

Jenni let her hand fall, but kept her smile fixed in place. “Fair enough. It’s not far, if the labyrinth gods are feeling merciful today.”

She walked on, and her new charge stalked after her. With speculation about what his deal was occupying her mind and gods-knew-what going on in his, C-14 deigned to put in an appearance right between C-12 and C-16.

“Here we are,” Jenni said, pushing open the door and stepping into her office-cum-living quarters. She gave an ironically sweeping gesture, taking in the cramped, rectangular room.

The problem with quartering, as far as Jenni had been able to work out, was that the floral minds directing the PPC were slow to comprehend animalian physical and social needs, and they hadn’t planned on so many people actually living in HQ. In the oldest parts of the complex, of which Section 31 was one, the rooms didn’t even have individual plumbing. (The nurses shared communal sanitary facilities and a lounge kitchen with a TNG-era replicator built in.) Agents were given response centers on the understanding that they were there to receive assignments and do paperwork. If one room was adequate for two Action agents, then surely the same should suffice very well for a single Infrastructure agent.

Jenni had made the most of it by compartmentalizing the front half of her room into work space and the back half into personal space. In the front, her desk faced the left-hand wall, and a cream and brown two-seater sofa sat against the right-hand wall. Between them, she had a coffee table centered on a round, mild green rug. In the back, her bed and wardrobe fit against the farthest wall, and a cornflower blue rug covered the floor. The gaps were filled up with a bedside dresser, a couch-side end table, a filing cabinet, and bookshelves. She had a few potted herbs from various worlds ensconced here and there, which lent the room a certain liveliness and a pleasant spring-like scent.

The young fellow took it all in with a skeptical gaze. “Is this really your office? It’s not very professional.”

“It really is,” Jenni answered with a shrug. “Standard accommodations, minus the console. We work with what we’ve got.”

“It’s not what I was expecting.” His gaze lingered on the double bed, and he squeezed his arms more tightly around his ribs. “Are you sure you’re qualified for this? The armband means you’re just an intern, right?”

Jenni could have truthfully said yes, that she had decades of hands-on experience helping people with all sorts of problems, and that she was the best there was; but she didn’t. She couldn’t back up a statement like that while keeping up her appearance as a normal 28-year-old woman, and “normal”—or at least “not speshul”—was what she wanted. Even if it meant spending her days changing bedsheets, scrubbing floors, and wearing the demeaning urple armband of a PPC intern.

Instead, she said, “Nurses’ aide, more accurately. Tell you what: let’s go through the admittance paperwork, and then if you decide you can’t stand to speak another word to me, you’re free to go.”

After another moment spent scowling at the furniture, the agent nodded. “Fine. Might as well get the intake over with.”

“Excellent.” Jenni went to her desk and nodded for her guest to take the couch. “Have a seat. Would you like some tea?” She lifted her electric kettle and checked the water level. Just enough for two; she’d take a shallow cup if necessary.

“No. Thank you,” the young man added. He walked to the two-seater, but didn’t sit down.

“Oh,” Jenni said, disappointed. To refuse the offer of tea was no less than to tread on her sense of hospitality. He couldn’t know that, of course, so she rallied and tried again. “What about klah, then? Or just water?”

“That won’t be necessary,” he insisted, gray eyes flicking briefly over her face and then away again. “I’d just like to get down to business, if you don’t mind.” His tone indicated that he didn’t really care whether she minded or not. The drumming of his fingers against his thigh grew more erratic.

Jenni gave him a measuring look. So full of nerves, and he seemed determined not to be put at ease in the slightest. Well, she would just have to find another way. She placed the kettle back on its base with a click. “All right. Just business, then. But you might as well sit.”

He jerked his head in acknowledgment and did as instructed, though he remained bolt-upright on the edge of the sofa. The drumming kept up.

Jenni seated herself in her desk chair and rifled through drawers for a clipboard and the right set of forms . . . which she didn’t have. Even though the Department of Fictional Psychology did technically cover agents ever since the much smaller Department of Psychology had merged with it about a year ago, the PPC was a bureaucratic agency from hell, and therefore whoever was responsible for updating the paperwork was wildly out of sync with actual developments. The only forms Jenni had were for the canons most heavily afflicted with badfic and some broad catch-alls.

Considering her charge’s long shirt collar, wide paisley tie, and woven leather belt, she settled for Modern Earth, Western Civilization. “Here we are. First things first: name?”

He hesitated before replying: “Supernumerary.”

Jenni raised her eyebrows; one corner of her mouth went, too. What a mouthful. “Is that your birth name?”

He scowled. “Of course not. I prefer to keep my real name private.”

“All right, fair enough.” She wiped the smile off her face and jotted down the alias. “I’m curious, though: why that, and what do they call you for short?”

“Is that really relevant?”

Jenni blinked. She’d thought he might want to tell the story behind his unusual choice; most people would. This guy was pricklier than a needlethorn bush in full flush! “Never mind, then. Next question: age and date of birth?”

The form said “if known” in parentheses. That question was annoying when the canon didn’t establish such specific facts. It wasn’t a problem here, though.

Supernumerary answered easily this time: “Twenty-five. November ten, 1950.”

Jenni wrote it down and, having done the math, looked up at him again. “Do you know what year it is now? Or at least, what year most of us agree it is?”

He nodded. “2003, I’m told. I jumped twenty-seven years forward in time when I came here.” His jaw clenched. Whatever he thought about that, he wasn’t sharing it.

Jenni moved on. There would be time for detailed inquiries later. “Where do you come from? Be only as specific as you want to be. I doubt your history has been scrambled by a Mary Sue, so I’ll trust whatever you say is accurate.” She offered a half-smile.

Unsurprisingly, he did not smile back. Rather, he frowned. “I . . . most recently, I was at university. In the new Rare Book and Manuscript Library. And then I wasn’t.” He stared into the middle distance. His eyes wandered as though tracking something that Jenni couldn’t see. “That’s how I came here. L-space, the Librarian said.” He shook his head as if to clear it, and his finger-tapping stepped up in tempo. “Generally, the United States of America, Earth. Is that enough?”

Jenni wasn’t sure what had just happened; why that question agitated him more than the others. “You don’t want to say what state?” she prompted gently.

“No, I’d rather not.” He crossed his arms. “It doesn’t matter.”

“All right.” Jenni sighed and glanced over the rest of the forms. There were a lot of questions designed to establish the patient’s mental state—could they remember their family members or significant others, could they do simple figures, could they name important events in their Earth’s history, how did they feel about the color lavender, etc. It would take forever to get through all that, and it would, in Jenni’s considered opinion, do not one lick of good.

To Supernumerary, she said, “You know what? I think we agree that this is stupid.” She dropped the clipboard onto the coffee table, where it landed with a clap and a flutter of disturbed pages. “Forget the forms. I don’t need a bunch of paper to tell me you’re wound tighter than a corkscrew. How can I help? Tell me what you think I need to know.”

He seemed taken aback by the noise and the sudden loss of procedure. He sat gaping a few moments, his fingers stilled, before pulling himself together again. He adjusted his glasses, gave a sniff, and resettled himself. “Well. The fact of the matter is . . . ” The tapping started up again.

Jenni looked for a pattern—one, six, one, eight, long pause, three, three—but it still seemed random, and she gave up. “Go on.”

“I’ve been forgetting things,” he said in a strangled voice. He’d had to force himself to admit it. “Recent things, never old things. But there’s nothing wrong with me. There’s no reason for it.”

Jenni leaned forward, frowning in concern. “There are plenty of reasons you could be more forgetful than usual. Stress comes to mind. How long have you been here? What department are you in?”

He gave her a long look, and she got the distinct impression that he thought she might be stupid. Still, he decided to answer her. “I’m with the Floaters. I’ve been here eight months and change. I’ve worked with Agent Cameo the whole time. And it’s not ‘stress’. I would know if it were.” He definitely thought she was stupid.

“All right,” Jenni said, unable to help being annoyed. “Tell me more about it. Are you forgetting certain kinds of things, or does it happen at certain times, or under certain circumstances that you’ve noticed?”

“No. It’s random. Last week, it was . . . breakfast.” He curled his lip, but not at Jenni. He looked away, at the potted athelas on the end table to his right. “I must have eaten, but I don’t remember it. The first thing I remember is tidying up the response center. A month ago, we visited the Supply Depot, and I don’t remember the walk back, just putting everything away in the closet. Yesterday, I was playing a game on the console, and then I was halfway to the laundry room.” He shook his head. “See, there are gaps.”

Jenni wasn’t quite sure what to make of this. “Supernumerer—” She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment. “I’m sorry. Do you have a nickname?”

He scowled at her sidelong, then said, “Cameo calls me Nume. And other, less dignified things. ‘Nume’ will do. You don’t have to say my name at all, though. It won’t work.”

“What won’t?” Completely baffled, Jenni put her hands up to say she was innocent of malicious intent.

“Using my name to get under my skin. Shrink tricks like that.”

Jenni brought her hands down by steps: take it easy. “I’m not trying to trick you. I’m trying to understand you. You’re concerned that you don’t recall what you had for breakfast on a particular day? The little moments between one thing and the next?”

“I know how it sounds,” he snapped. “You’re supposed to take me seriously, right? Or at least pretend?”

“I do take you seriously. I’m not pretending.” Jenni shook her head. “But I don’t understand, and you’re making this a lot harder than it needs to be. I can’t help if you’re not going to trust me a little.”

Nume shot to his feet. “Then you’re right: you can’t help. This was a mistake. I’ll figure it out on my own.” And he left.

Jenni sat stunned, her mouth hanging open with a call she hadn’t managed to voice in time to stop him. What had she done to deserve that? What had happened to him to make basic trust a bridge too far?

A few minutes later, Suzine came around and leaned through the open doorway. She didn’t say anything, just stared with her dark, critical eyes.

“Well, you didn’t want him in the department anyway,” Jenni grumbled, shamed and furious. “Do you still need a report?”


Months went by before anything further came of the incident, and if time weren’t enough to drive it from Jenni’s mind, the events of April 2004 were more than sufficient.

First, supporters of the Canon Protection Initiative unintentionally caused a massive power outage in Headquarters when they visited J.R.R. Tolkien’s grave. The concentrated outpouring of canon-love temporarily stopped the professor from spinning, and since he alone was responsible for supplying half of HQ’s energy ever since the release of the Jackson films and the subsequent fanfic explosion, the Department of Dead Author Electricity Generation had to scramble to bring enough other authors online to take up the slack. In FicPsych, the loss of power meant the loss of the Subconscious Suvian Soundproofing System, which meant headaches and bizarre, hormone-fueled nightmares for everyone, canon and nurse alike.

The incident left them short of Bleeprin and the new Anti-Lustin, both indispensable to the nurses since they’d been introduced. When a spate of Sueification broke out among the population of Headquarters later in the month, FicPsych struggled to cope with the afflicted. By then, they had officially designated a small secondary ward for the use of agents who needed to be kept temporarily under observation. It was nearly filled with disturbingly beautiful maniacs wearing ever-more impossible shades of black before the department could resupply the two crucial medications and treat them. The cause of the outbreak was revealed to be a surge of badfic about the PPC, which was more meta than most people liked to think about.

To cap off the month for Jenni, a particularly bad case of character abuse landed Remus Lupin in FicPsych—literally. Some careless agents had simply opened a portal underneath him and dropped him into the lobby, Stupefied. They never turned up to do the check-in paperwork, either.[2]

The nurses later found out what had happened to Lupin by dint of interviewing him and correlating his account with recent Intelligence reports. To give the badfic’s Suvians a problem to solve, he had been abducted from his home by Voldemort and tortured for days by the Dark Lord and an uncanonically aggressive Peter Pettigrew. As if that weren’t bad enough, the full moon had come on, and Voldemort had stood back and laughed while Lupin in werewolf form had mauled and bitten Pettigrew, transforming him into a werewolf, too. They had fought, and Lupin had nearly killed Pettigrew before the agents on the case had intervened.

Remus Lupin’s greatest fear was that he would attack someone and pass his curse to them. He was understandably distraught to wake up on the floor, in a strange place, with his latest memory being of doing just that.

Jenni liked Remus. In school—in the Marauder-era AU she had been living in before everything fell apart—they had been friends. Not close ones, because Remus had kept everyone except the other Marauders very politely at arm’s length, but even without knowing him very well, she had liked to see him smile. Now, knowing as much about him as any fan could, she would have leapt at the chance to do more to help than just make him laugh now and then.

Which was why she was all but explicitly forbidden from speaking to him.

She had to stand back and bite her tongue while the giant Norwegian nurse, Pablum, wrangled her confused and hurting friend into a room. Pablum was a gentle man, and Jenni knew he would never harm Remus, but it was maddening to watch him physically restrain someone she knew she could have talked back to himself with some patience and maybe just a little psychic nudge to help calm and reassure him.

But no. Instead of doing what she was called to do, Jenni was obliged to perform routine room checks, deliver meals, stock cabinets, and accept other restricted tasks that just about anyone could have done. Chewing her own arm off would have been easier to bear.

What was the point of being in this crossroads of the multiverse if not to put her experience and skills to the best possible use for the greatest number of people? She’d left meddling in the plot continua behind of her own free will, once she realized she didn’t belong out there. Well, mostly, apart from just a couple of loose ends she had to wrap up in interdimensional nexus-space, which hardly counted. She wasn’t going to drop her friends there without a word, anyway; doing anything that callous was unthinkable. So, what about voluntarily reforming herself made people like Suzine think she couldn’t be trusted to help someone she cared about?

In her more honest moments, she knew the answer well enough. She wanted to fix everything, was the problem, not just the damage done by badfic. The multiverse was full of people who hadn’t been given a fair shot at happiness due to the circumstances of their birth or to cruel twists of fate, and Jenni had the potential to be a cosmic force for balance. She brought healing where there was harm; she offered love where it was lacking. With all the power she had to make things right, the idea that there were times she shouldn’t interfere—that sometimes canon characters had to be broken for their stories to have meaning—was a bitter pill to swallow. The propriety of her interest and her conduct in pursuing it were suspect because, before coming to the PPC, she had gone too far.

Only the Flowers knew the particulars of the AUs and the trans-dimensional snatching, but all the senior staff of FicPsych knew she was a borderline Sue. (Her forest-green eyes and a tendency to break into song with scant provocation didn’t help.) Learning to be better was the real reason she was here now, and why she kept her head down and did what she was told even when it made her angry enough that Frank or one of the Plants complained at her to keep it down.

But knowing why she couldn’t be with her friends anymore didn’t stop her from missing them. She missed all of them: Remus, Ame, Lily, Morganna . . . Severus.

Some more than others.

And that was just the Potterverse.

This was the melancholy tenor of her mood when Supernumerary showed up again out of the blue. Jenni was off-shift and reading a book on her sofa, knees drawn up. The door was open; she liked to know what was happening outside, and she wanted the nurses to know she was available if they needed her, so she didn’t often close it when she was in. Thus, the young man was able to walk up to the threshold and lock eyes with her before she had a chance to shift into a more dignified position.

“Um. Hello?” said Jenni, not immediately placing him. His hair was different: shorter and gelled back from his high forehead.

“It’s happened again,” he said.

“‘It’? What—” It clicked: memory lapses. “Oh! It’s you! Super-duper!” She knew that wasn’t quite the name, but she couldn’t remember what it was. She’d accurately described her feelings about seeing him return, so close enough was better than right.

She dropped her book on the end table and got to her feet right quick. Only socks on her feet, and a baggy black t-shirt and bluejeans otherwise; sheesh. Supply Depot couture was not the picture she would have chosen to present to a formal client, but since she didn’t have regular office hours yet, she agreed with whoever had decided it was better for him to come and see her in her downtime than not come at all. She pretended nothing was amiss and gestured for the young man to take her place on the sofa as she shuffled the other way around the coffee table. “Please, come sit.”

He eyed her with extreme skepticism as he stepped into the room. Just inside the door, and no farther. He folded his arms; one finger tapped erratically away at his bicep. “Supernumerary,” he corrected her. “Or Nume. It’s not that complicated.”

“Sorry—Nume, then.” She flicked the switch on her electric kettle to start it. “It’s been a while. I wasn’t expecting to see you again.” She smiled at him, letting him know she was pleased he’d come.

“Well, I wasn’t expecting to be back here,” he replied snidely. “But it was worse this time. Either I’m going crazy, or . . . ” He shook his head and looked away.

“Or what?” Jenni tilted her head.

“Look, I just need to rule out some bizarre form of acute psychosis, all right? If I tell you what happened, do you think you can do that without putting my whole life under a microscope?”

With far more certainty than she actually felt, she answered, “Yes.” This was her first shot at being able to do something real and positive for someone since she’d gotten here. She was not about to let it slip away again, not after what had happened with Remus. She could curb her curiosity for the greater good. As easy as not thinking about pink elephants. No problem.

“Okay.” Having made up his mind, Nume went to the sofa.

“Good.” Jenni pushed the door closed.

As before, Nume sat stiffly on the edge of the seat. He also distinctly avoided the spot Jenni had left a moment ago, as though it were contaminated by something worse than body heat.

Jenni took a seat in her desk chair. “So . . . where do you want to start?”

Nume was silent, tapping one foot and staring at the top of the coffee table. After a moment, he looked up and said, “Do you have coffee? Or just tea and whatever the hell ‘klah’ is? Sounds almost Klingon, but I know it isn’t.”

Jenni wondered why he had remembered a strange word she’d mentioned once five months ago without knowing what it meant, but she didn’t dare ask. “No coffee. Sorry.”

“You should get some.”

Jenni pursed her lips to one side. “Why should I do that?”

“Because it’s what normal people drink. Nobody seriously drinks tea unless they’re British or—or just weird, and your accent isn’t fooling anyone.”

One of Jenni’s eyebrows arched. She supposed she did have an accent to American ears—maybe anyone’s ears. Her speech was an amalgam of inflections absorbed from the various cultures she’d spent her lives in. Most of them were neither American nor British, though most recently she had in fact been a dual citizen, with an American mother and an English father. Her vocal patterns were as unsettled in their identity as she felt much of the time, and they mixed and blended freely, depending on where her frame of mind took her.

She was weird. But this was her office, and her willingness to let Nume set the terms of their encounter didn’t extend to tolerating insults. “Pardon me,” she said, “but are we here to discuss my accent, or are we here to discuss your problem?”

Nume shook his head. “If it has to be tea, it better be Earl Grey. Hot.” He blinked, startled, and scowled at his Doc Martens. Apparently he hadn’t meant to say that last word, but it had slipped out anyway.

Jenni was intrigued. A Star Trek fan, huh? With . . . what, Tourette syndrome? It would explain the tics.

Of the tea, she said: “Fortunately, that’s one of my favorites. How do you take yours?”

“Black. No sugar.”

Somehow, Jenni wasn’t surprised. She nodded and turned to prepare two cups. Over her shoulder, she asked, “So, you like Captain Picard?”

Behind her, Nume scoffed. “Almost anyone would be better than Kirk. I’ve been pretty sure he’s a Gary Stu ever since I learned what that is. The Sues can have him. Better him than—than just about anyone else, really.”

So fandom questions were fair game. Jenni turned back with two mugs of tea, Earl Grey, hot, and set one in front of Nume and the other in front of herself on the coffee table. “Who’s your favorite character?”

Nume’s expression froze over. “This is off-topic. I now have a hot beverage intended to make me feel welcome and at ease. Are you happy? Ready to start doing your job?”

Wow.” It slipped out. Jenni blinked, and shook her head, and took fandom back off the table. Talking to this guy was like walking through a minefield—a smart one, too. It was frustrating, but it was also fascinating.

Jenni would have bet money the Trekkie would appreciate that word choice in better circumstances.

She grinned. “Okay. Let’s start. Go ahead.” She picked up her mug and settled against the back of her chair with her legs crossed at the knees.

One of Nume’s eyebrows rose above the top frames of his glasses. His long, sallow face even bore a slight resemblance to Leonard Nimoy; Jenni saw it now, and wondered how much he’d cultivated that eyebrow. He was a Vulcan sympathizer, for sure. No wonder he didn’t approve of Kirk. Even Spock didn’t always approve of Kirk.

He spent a moment attempting to stare her down. When Jenni didn’t blink, he rolled his shoulders in a disgruntled manner and picked up his cup to sip at his tea. His fingers did a dance along the side of the mug. “Well,” he finally said, staring at the liquid, “it was on a mission. In the Shire—you do know The Lord of the Rings?” He looked at Jenni over his glasses.

“Yes, I do,” she said evenly, and heroically refrained from reacting to his latest jab at her competence.

“Good.” Nume nodded and went back to scowling into his tea. He gave a resigned sigh. His fingers fell still. “I remember catching the Sue inside the Green Dragon. Iris Brandybuck. Hobbit. Non-canon: Mary Sue.” He blinked hard. “She had just tackled Sam, and she was lying on top of him with her . . . her huge . . . bosoms.” He grimaced in disgust. “I charged her: Being a Mary Sue and disrupting the canon of Middle-earth. Being an uncanonical sibling of a canon character, using Japanese suffixes in Middle-earth, causing Hobbits to set up arranged marriages, causing Elves to be cosmetic surgeons, and employing stupid biology. I mean, just look at yourself. You shouldn’t be able to stand up!” He gestured with his free hand toward but not actually at Jenni.

She opened her mouth to respond, but he didn’t stop talking.

“Cameo was kneeling to my right. She had her bow trained on the Sue. She says, ‘And WHY can’t you leave the elves out of it? What is it with you Sues and the elves, huh? Not to even mention the Japanese thing. You know, just for that—I was going to shoot you, but you don’t deserve it. YAH!’”

Jenni jumped at the sudden shout, and Nume himself flinched to his left, as though startled. A little tea sloshed over the side of his cup and dripped onto his thigh, but he didn’t seem to notice.

“Cameo drops her bow. She leaps at the Sue. She pulls her off Sam and rolls her onto her back. Bosoms; I can’t help but see them, and they’re all jiggly and wrong.” Nume shuddered and turned his head. “Cameo pulls her chopsticks out of her hair—they’re orange—and she rams them up the Sue’s nose. She . . . she stirs them. I feel sick.” He looked it, too; his cheeks had blanched of the little color they had. “Then she pulls them out. There’s blood and brain leaking out onto the Sue’s face, onto the floor. There’s this sweet metal smell; it’s disgusting. There’s a puddle. And I’m down on the floor, it’s soaking into my pants and it’s on my hands and it’s still warm and glittery; I’m mopping it up, and I know I decided to do it, but I don’t remember moving.”

He blinked rapidly and began muttering, almost chanting, under his breath:

Two and two are four; four and four are eight;
eight and eight are sixteen; sixteen and sixteen are thirty-two.

Inchworm, Inchworm, measuring the marigolds.
You and your arithmetic; you’ll probably go far.

Inchworm, Inchworm, measuring the marigolds.
Seems to me you’d stop and see how beautiful they are.[3]

Seems to me you’d stop and see how—no, not beautiful. Not at all.” Finally, he raised his eyes. They were shadowed and wary, like a dog that had been beaten until it no longer knew what to make of a helping hand reaching its way. His fingers resumed tapping.

Jenni realized she was holding her breath and let it out slowly. “Wow,” she said in a soft echo of her earlier exclamation. “I think I understand what you’re trying to tell me.”

Nume jerked his head in an affirmative. “For the record, I’m one hundred percent non-GMO human; I have never encountered any unsafe levels of radiation, gamma or otherwise; and my family ruled out demonic possession when I was five and three months and six days old.” His mouth twisted in a mockery of a smile. “I’m just lucky, I guess.”

“Okay.” Jenni frowned down at her knees, thinking. She would have liked to ask any number of questions about what he’d just said, but she was sure he would shut down any line of inquiry that didn’t pertain directly to his complaint. Poor Nume; what must his life have been like to make him so guarded?

She met his eyes again. “Let me just say this out loud so I know we’re on the same page: Normally, you remember everything. Literally everything.”

Nume looked annoyed, but he nodded. “Eidetic, photographic, total recall, whatever you want to call it. No mnemonic tricks necessary. Whether I like it or not.”

“But now, since you’ve started working here, you’ve been experiencing gaps?”

Another nod.

“And . . . ” Jenni grimaced, but pressed on. “I need to know: why don’t you think it’s a problem for Medical? I can think of half a dozen physiological issues that could alter your ability to create and recall memories, and that’s without trying very hard.”

Nume glared at her. “Medical was the first thing I tried. I don’t have a brain tumor, or a chemical imbalance, or some fictional mind-rot. I eat right. I sleep as well as ever. I get plenty of exercise chasing Sues. I’m not a moron. And I hate repeating myself to people who think I am.”

“I don’t think that,” said Jenni. “In fact, I think you’re a bit too smart for your own good.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means I get that you’re bristling at me because you’re scared.”

“You don’t know—!”

“Yes I do.” Jenni tipped her chin down. “I’m not going to hurt you, Nume. I would never do that.”

He laughed.

She hadn’t actually expected him to believe her in the instant, but he laughed at her: a sharp, short bark of utter scorn.

“I’ve heard that before,” he said, lip curled. “It sounds just as stupid every time. What is it with girls thinking you can just bat your eyelashes and expect any self-respecting guy to eat from your hand like a total sap?”

“That’s not—!” Jenni knew the sentence was a lie as the first words left her lips. Nume was right, and it hurt. Her cheeks burned. She took a deep breath and started over. “Look. You don’t want to trust me, fine. You can be as nasty to me as you want. I still want to help you, and I’m trying, but unless you want me to lift the information I need straight out of your head, I can’t know anything you don’t tell me. We’re not going to get anywhere if you aren’t even willing to cooperate with basic questions. And you came to me. Remember?” She tilted her chin down pointedly.

Nume’s face turned red and he drew a breath to shout at her, but he stopped short. The color drained back out of his face. “Wait. Lift information—you can’t actually do that, can you?”

Jenni cursed to herself. Even here, where giant telepathic flowers ran the show, she could never be sure how much it was right or wise to tell people about her true nature. Hell, sometimes she still wasn’t sure what the truth was. Sometimes she still thought of herself as a Hogwarts alumna who’d gotten lost researching advanced divination in an attempt to unlock the secrets of the universe and save a friend’s life. Sometimes she woke up in tears, missing people and places from other worlds, other lives she’d half-forgotten and only recently pieced back together, just to realize all over again that she hadn’t belonged and could never return. Sometimes she wasn’t sure where she was, or what she was doing here, or whether she really existed at all.

One thing was constant: she wanted to help. She had to. She knew she could do it better than anyone, and it was frustrating when people wouldn’t let her.

Dr. Freedenberg (among others) said that was a borderline-Suvian ego talking, and that she had to accept people’s right to determine their own fate and follow the course of their own story, not the one she wanted for them. She took the point. Her status was only borderline because she was not in the habit of exerting her considerable potential to force her help on people. She’d given up operating with her full gamut of abilities long before she’d heard of the PPC because free will was perhaps the most important thing there was. One convinced against their will was of their own opinion still, as Masterharper Robinton’s clever adage went.

Jenni also knew all too well that supernatural powers stood a strong chance of frightening people, even in worlds where they normally existed. The worst part was that she hadn’t meant to reveal herself just now; she had let her frustration and pain make her careless, and she’d slipped.

“No,” she answered Nume, speaking as though to soothe a skittish horse. “I can’t—because it would be wrong to do it without permission. Because I won’t.” She watched his face.

His eyes shifted and his mouth worked in a tug-of-war between curiosity and fear. “But you could. You’re some kind of psychic.” He looked toward the door and his body inclined that way, too. Fear was winning.

“It doesn’t matter, though,” Jenni insisted, half-raising a hand to stay him. She was appalled that she might have scared him into bolting again, might have ruined both their chances at solving his problem. “I—I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to freak you out. I just want to help, and I need you to talk to me to do it right. Please?”

Nume stared at her, hesitating on the point of rising to his feet. “That’s pretty pathetic,” he said—but he remained seated. “Desperation you could see from space doesn’t make people want to take you seriously.”

“Yeah,” Jenni said weakly. “I’m working on that.”

Nume made an involuntary noise, quickly contained. It might have been a laugh, but his face gave nothing away. After another moment’s speculative regard, he said, “You’re really psychic, though? Not the fake, crystal balls and—and tea leaves, bullshit kind?” He raised his mug and an eyebrow.

One corner of Jenni’s mouth turned up. “I mean, I could look at the bottom of your cup if you want, but it doesn’t work so well with tea bags. Really should have been full leaf if we were gonna do that.”

“Forget it.” Nume shook his head. “Just stay out of my head.” He drank, watching her over the rim of the cup.

“You have my absolute promise. Never without permission.”

“Good.” He went on with a challenge: “Anything else you might want to tell people up front before they decide to be in the same room as you?”

Just when Jenni had thought he would let it go and they could go back to focusing on him. She scowled. “Not with that attitude. You know, having a chip on your shoulder you could see from space doesn’t make people want to take you seriously, either.”

“I prefer it if people leave me alone,” he snapped back, “but that’s not an option right now. Unfortunately, you’re the only one still willing to give me the time of day on this.”

“And you’re the only one giving me even half a chance at doing what I’m here to do,” Jenni replied. “I guess we’re stuck with each other—so you might as well try to play nice.”

“As long as you keep all your freaky tricks to yourself.”

Another staring match ensued. This time, Jenni broke first.

She knew better than to vent her feelings on someone else like this, dammit, especially someone like Nume, who had all he could handle of himself. He was different. He had reasons for being mistrustful, and she understood his defensiveness. It came from a place similar to her own: fear of being misjudged and rejected for being what she was. Maybe he recognized that, and that was why he was still here. None of it excused his spite, but she could let her hurt go. It was less important than doing the job she was meant to do.

Her anger drained away. She drank some of her tea to allow a little more breathing space and to wet her throat.

Nume nursed his own cup and watched her, silent and still but for the tap of one finger against the ceramic.

“So,” Jenni said in a neutral, mid-tone voice. “Do you want to start from the top? I’d like you to walk me through all your episodes of missing time. I’ll need to take notes. Then we’ll see if we can find a pattern that would explain them.”

Nume nodded. “Freaks together, then. All right. Hope you don’t have to be anywhere soon.”

Jenni suppressed a smile. “I’ve got all day.”

She found some note paper and a pen, and they began.

It took the better part of two hours to go over the dozen or so episodes Nume recounted from the past several months. When he allowed his recollections full steam, they were almost as vivid as life, and he was prone to getting swept up in them and to keep reciting information past the point of use. Jenni was barely allowed a word in edgewise to clarify a point or request an additional detail.

He did finally explain that all the tapping was part of the strategy he had developed to allow himself to function in the present each day. By training his recall on something with no relevant context, especially endless numbers like pi or a Fibonacci sequence, he could block other memories from crowding in on his consciousness. It worked best when he engaged his body: the immediate haptic feedback of a tapping finger or foot kept his mind rooted in the here and now. Thus, he could rarely relax—he was always jittery, always anxious that something would trigger a memory in a way that took him by surprise. When that happened, he would reach for some vocalization like the Inchworm Song to wrench his mind away.

Jenni would have loved to find out what his childhood was like, and how he’d learned to cope in the ways he had, but Nume resisted such personal inquiries with stubbornness bordering on paranoia. He was focused on the issue of his memory lapses to the exclusion of all else, and he stuck to the facts, permitting no editorializing, not even on his own part. Jenni got the impression he had a working hypothesis already, but, as he pointed out with some acerbity, telling her what it was would bias her outlook, defeating the purpose of seeking another perspective.

He wanted a Pensieve, somewhere to deposit his thoughts and have them shown back to him from new and different angles. Jenni could do that. She could listen, and reflect, and see what would take shape.

The first incident had been over a year ago—he’d joined before Jenni, but he declined to tell her exactly when. He had ignored the lapse, writing it off as a fluke effect of his strange new circumstances. Six months later, when he’d first come to FicPsych in October 2003, the count had climbed to four, and he had begun to get nervous. He told Jenni every test that Medical had run on him, and the results, in exact detail. (She later got one of the senior nurses to pull his records, just to be sure, and found that Nume’s recall was accurate to every decimal point.) Physically, he was in tolerably good health—somewhat prone to minor injuries and illnesses, but PPC Medical had access to the most advanced remedies in the multiverse, and could cure a cold as easily as swatting a fly. That wouldn’t be a problem for him anymore.

But the memory lapses had increased in frequency, and though he didn’t say it in so many words, it was clear the latest one had him properly frightened.

“I don’t understand why I did it,” he said, holding his third cup of tea in both hands while his leg jigged to a beat only he knew.

The only times he had been still were while drawing on his memories. On top of everything else, Jenni had a strong suspicion that he was frequently exhausted—his remark about sleeping “as well as ever” had gotten a little red flag in her mind. She was amazed that he hadn’t died of chronic stress, and she resolved to find a solution to the real problem of his memory before his own brain killed him. The odd gaps, if they weren’t a sign of his mind’s architecture finally buckling under the load, were the least of his problems.

With his permission, Jenni had switched him from black tea to a caffeine-free, soothing mint blend on his second cup. The herbs weren’t strong enough to have an immediate effect on his level of physical tension, but it was all she could do for now.

It seemed he was waiting for a response to his statement. “What do you mean?” she prompted obligingly.

“Well, I’m not afraid of blood.” He glanced up as though daring Jenni to argue, then back down at his tea. “But I hate mess. And it was Cameo’s mess, not mine. She didn’t have to do that disgusting thing with the hair sticks.” His lips and nostrils pulled up in a nauseated grimace; he was probably seeing and smelling it again, but he shook his head and came out of it. “Why’d I decide to clean up after her?”

Jenni thought about how best to respond to the question, obviously rhetorical. Pointing out that she didn’t know him nearly well enough to hazard a guess was tempting, but wasn’t likely to cut much ice. Her next idea seemed little better, being of an interpersonal nature, but she tried it anyway. “Do you get along with her?”

To her surprise, Nume snorted and answered her. “Christ, no. She’s annoying as hell. Too cheerful. Too . . . orange. No one should wear that much orange. Especially someone with no concept of personal space.” He shivered; his shoulders twitched.

Jenni wondered whether that was relative to most people or just to him and his very large personal bubble.

Before she could ask, he went on: “I think she likes me. She says—she says stuff—about my eyes.”

The look of bewilderment on his face was almost comical, but Jenni had come to recognize the way his head ticked ever so slightly back and forth as he paged through a sheaf of recollections, discarding all but the most relevant from the forefront of his thoughts. He was working hard. There must be a lot there.

She called him softly: “Nume?”

His head jerked up. “Yeah. I mean, no—never mind; it doesn’t matter. She’s just an elf-fancier. A Legoluster,” he sneered, “but canon Legolas. Fair skin and gray eyes—that Renaissance standard of beauty, you know.” He rolled his own gray eyes.

“Hm,” said Jenni, deadpan. “Not sure I see it. Sorry, hon, but you’re not that pretty. Weaving!Elrond at best.” Maybe if he didn’t already have permanent frown lines stamped into his cheeks and forehead, or at least looked like he’d ever cracked a smile; but she had a sufficient sense of him to keep that opinion to herself.

He gave her a sharp, suspicious look anyway.

Jenni didn’t blink.

Nume snorted, accepting her teasing. “Yeah. She’s crazy—but she gets the job done. It could be worse.”

Pleased, Jenni automatically reached down and rapped on the wooden top of the coffee table.

Nume winced. “Dammit. You’d think I’d have kicked the habit of saying crap like that by now. I really hope it’s not worse. I—” Abruptly, he yawned, and shifted in his seat, looking embarrassed.

“Well. I think we’ve done enough for one day.” Jenni smiled to hide her concern. “Give me a day or two to look over this” —she patted her clipboard full of notes— “and see what I can see. I’ll write to you if I need more. Let me know if anything else happens in the meantime.” She stood, leaving the clipboard on her desk.

Nume nodded and popped to his feet with her.

As he went toward the door, Jenni intercepted him and offered her hand. “We’re a team now. Right?”

Nume squinted dubiously at her. “Mutual co-dependents at best, and a couple of sad suckers, too. But if you want to tell yourself different, swell.”

He shook her hand before he left, but he’d managed to take all the joy out of it. Jenni was stung to anger again. She stood where she was, glaring at the doorknob. He was a doorknob.

After a moment, though, she rolled her shoulders and let it go. It was kind of impressive, the way he could clamp off even the most basic overtures of friendliness with surgical precision. Winning his trust would be a real challenge, and all the more worthwhile for it. She would do it right. No tricks. Just work.

It took less than a day for Jenni to spot some common elements in Nume’s memory lapses, but more to understand them.

Until the latest, they had all taken place within Headquarters, most of them in or around his response center. The missing moments were all seemingly unconnected and innocuous of themselves, but they all led to Nume doing something—tidying the room, carrying a load of gear, washing laundry, and so forth. Again apart from the latest, they were things he would have done anyway, according to him. There was no reason for the moment of decision-making to drop from an otherwise complete, logical sequence.

The precision of it nagged at her. Nume had a rough sense of how long most of the gaps were based on context clues from the surrounding circumstances, and none were more than a handful of minutes in duration. There was no way that was random.

The key lay in the incident that didn’t fit the pattern. He had done something he might have chosen not to do, and couldn’t remember what had led him to his choice. Why?

Jenni had to force herself to allow for the almost unthinkable possibility that the incidents were motivated. Somehow, they had been induced for the purpose of manipulating Nume to take action. If that were so, the question was who stood to gain from it.

The answer suggested itself easily enough, but Jenni didn’t want to see it. She delayed contacting Nume while she tried desperately to come up with any other explanation that fit the facts. She read everything she could find about eidetic memories from any World One-approximate continuum, researched “bizarre forms of acute psychosis,” as Nume had put it, and consulted her colleagues.

It was pretty much all bad news. Her concern for his long-term wellness grew, and she found nothing to reassure her about his immediate predicament.

She didn’t know how she was going to tell him, but Nume forced her hand by sending her a terse message, almost exactly forty-eight hours since their last meeting, inquiring after her progress. It would have irritated her if the situation were less serious. He was scared, and if what she suspected were true, he was right to be. She bit the bullet and asked him to come see her as soon as possible.

The door was open when he arrived about twenty minutes later, and he walked right in without pausing for an invitation. “Well?”

Jenni had heard his rapid footfalls approaching and was on her feet, waiting for him in front of the sofa. “Sit.” She indicated the space beside her, nearest to the door.

He raised one eyebrow quite high and glanced at the door. After a moment, he swore under his breath and closed it. Jenni sat, and Nume dropped down onto the other seat like a piston.

“Give me the bad news,” he said.

“I’m not completely sure yet,” she warned him, and took a deep breath. “Do you and your partner have a neuralyzer?”

Nume swore again, well above his breath, and shot back to his feet to pace the room. “I knew it! That bitch! I’m not losing my mind—I knew she had to be doing it.”

Jenni stared at him, mouth agape. “You knew?

“Yes—no.” He shook his head. “I mean, I suspected—she’s always fiddling with the flashy-thing; she loves it—but who the hell would do something like that?” He put a hand to his head, fingers curling into his short hair. “That’s . . . that’s . . . I knew she was nuts; I didn’t think she was evil. But if you see it, too . . . I’m not crazy.” He stopped pacing and shook his head more fiercely. “I’m not making it up . . . ’m not lying . . . I really know all that . . . ” He kept muttering, talking to no one who was actually present.

“Nume?” Jenni half-rose.

He didn’t hear her; he was badly lost in the memory he’d triggered. He stared down at the floor, but his occasional glances up went above his height; whoever he saw in his mind’s eye was taller than he was. His affect had gone clear, full of childlike terror and defiance. “I’m telling the truth!” he insisted—and snatched one hand to his chest with a yelp.

Jenni went to him without another thought. She took both his hands in hers, both to give comfort and to prevent him from striking her if he lashed out reflexively. Indeed, he jerked at her touch, but away, and with little force. His eyes flickered up and down, not quite finding her face.

“Nume, listen to me,” she said in a steady voice. “Whatever you’re seeing isn’t happening now. You can tell the difference, can’t you? Listen to my words.”

She thought fast to come up with something she could use to draw his focus—something she knew well enough to stick with a while; something he would know, too.

It would have to be a song. With her history, singing to bring someone back from the brink of madness could get her into trouble and maybe even qualified as “freaky tricks,” but it was all she could think of on the fly. At least what she had in mind wasn’t romantic.

Should old acquaintance be forgot,” she began, and paused. It was a little ironic. But definitely not romantic. It would have to do.

She took a breath and began again:

Should old acquaintance be forgot
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot
and auld lang syne?

Nume’s eyebrows contracted, and his thin lips began forming the words just half a beat behind Jenni. She smiled as she went on.

For auld lang syne, my dear
For auld lang syne

By this time, Nume had caught up. His voice came in: a reedy but note-pure tenor. Jenni was so surprised she dropped out for a line.

We’ll take a cup of kindness yet

They finished the chorus together:

For auld lang syne!

Nume looked her full in the face, raised an eyebrow, and surprised her again by going on:

And surely you’ll buy your pint-cup
and surely I’ll buy mine
and we’ll take a cup of kindness yet
for auld lang syne.

He stopped, chest rising and falling shallowly. “What,” he said, “don’t know the rest? Typical. And in poor taste.”

“Sorry,” Jenni said. She smiled and might have said more—a welcome back, maybe a few words of encouragement—but her hope for a moment of heartwarming camaraderie to cement them in friendship was dashed.

Nume looked down and saw how their hands were clasped. His lip curled, and he jerked his hands free. As if to rub in the rejection a bit more, he took two generous steps back and tucked his hands up into his armpits. “Don’t do that again,” he ordered, glaring.

Jenni rolled her eyes. “Oh, please! What do you think I’m going to do, lay eggs in you?”

“For all I know, you could,” Nume riposted. “This isn’t Kansas. There are tin men, straw men, talking animals, witches, wizards, and Technicolor girls who can transport themselves between worlds. And one fluorescent fucking orange girl who’s been stealing my memories.”

He shook his head and returned to the couch, where he sat heavily.

Jenni, shamed even more than he’d intended, turned away and switched the kettle on.

A few silent minutes later, she sat in her chair across from Nume with two steaming cups of tea and placed one in front of him.

“No eggs,” she promised. “Just a hot beverage intended to make you feel at ease.”

He gave her that unimpressed over-the-glasses look. “One word: poppies.”

“If you want to belabor the metaphor, go right ahead, Dorothy.” Jenni made herself smile.

Nume snorted. “Touché. Let’s not beat a dead horse of a different color.” He nodded once and picked up his mug. “Jury’s still out on whether or not you’re a witch, though,” he muttered.

Jenni said nothing. She was pretty sure he was just talking smack to keep her on the back foot, but she couldn’t sincerely protest her innocence knowing her old wand was tucked away in her wardrobe.

Nume frowned at her, clearly having expected more banter. When she still didn’t say anything, he resettled his shoulders and sipped carefully at the hot tea. “So now what? Can you de-neuralyze me? There’s a way to do that, right?”

“Er.” Jenni grimaced. “You haven’t seen the second Men in Black film?”

He shook his head. “Have to triage my research. Sequels tend to get lower priority. Why?”

“There’s only one de-neuralyzer in existence, it’s owned by MiB, and it looks like a giant toilet bowl.” Jenni wrinkled her nose. “You would have to be extremely determined to get the kind of clearance you’d need to use it, and not mind the humiliation.”

Nume’s lips pulled up. “Great. So I’ll never know what went missing. That bitch.”

“What we can do is report her,” Jenni said. “Headquarters isn’t exactly great at law and order, but what she’s done is a breach of ethical conduct whether it’s technically against the rules or not. At the very least, we can probably get you reassigned.”


Jenni blinked. “What?”

“I said no.” Nume scowled at her. “Don’t report her. Don’t tell the Flowers.”

“Why not?”

“Because . . . ” A slow smirk spread across Nume’s face. “Now I see her game, making me do all the dirty work she doesn’t want to do. Well, she messed with the wrong guy’s brain. I’m on to her, so she can’t fool me like that again.”

“I don’t know,” Jenni said, frowning in concern. “So far, it seems like she’s been taking advantage of the suggestibility of the neuralyzer state without giving you thorough enough replacement memories, but that could change. If she gets better at it, you might not realize it’s happened.”

Nume shook his head. “She’s not that bright. No, I can deal with this. Then I won’t have to deal with some stupid newbie instead.”

Jenni stared at him. “You don’t think just about anyone would be better than someone who would do that to you?”

“Better the devil you know,” Nume said. “In case you haven’t noticed, I don’t like people. I don’t want more irritating little collections of peccadilloes in my brain if I can avoid it.”

Jenni pursed her lips. Something about his tone reminded her of . . . aha. “‘What is a man but a miserable little pile of secrets’?”

Nume gave a disgruntled sigh. “I was trying not to repeat it. Some idiot was running around shouting it at people over and over in the Cafeteria the other day. My version’s better.”

Jenni disagreed—Nume’s version didn’t describe himself as well as the original. She shook her head. “Well, look, about Cameo . . . I’ll make you a deal. You don’t want to report her—fine. I won’t do it if you check in with me every month or so, to make sure everything is okay.”

Nume regarded her shrewdly. “Is this for my peace of mind, or yours?”

“Both,” said Jenni, not flinching. “I have a responsibility to keep people safe—not just you; other people, too. If there’s any sign that she’s continuing her manipulation of you, or doing it to anyone else, you will tell me, and I will take action. Is that understood?”

He seemed to regard her in a new light, and answered seriously. “I’m sure it’s just me. Me and the canon characters. But I’ll keep my eyes open.”

“And you’ll come in regularly?”

Nume let his head roll back in an exaggerated show of aggrievement. “Fine. It’s a deal.” In a gesture at odds with the sour look on his face, he leaned across the coffee table with a hand extended.

Jenni took it, and with a firm shake, they sealed the bargain.

Nume drank off half his tea and stood up. “Right. Time to go tear my partner a new one.”

Jenni rose, too. “Tell me how it goes?”

He considered. “Hm. Come to think of it, write to me tomorrow morning. If I don’t tell you all about the enormous fight I’m going to have, I’m either brainwashed or laid up in Medical with multiple stab wounds.” He gave her an unpleasant smile. “I’m kidding. Probably.”

“You have a rotten sense of humor.” Jenni folded her arms.

Nume raised an eyebrow; his lips moved around some words that he managed to prevent himself from voicing.[4] He said: “Yeah. Well. Get used to it.” He started for the door, but swung back around. “And get some damn coffee in here, will you? If I have to get my head examined once a month, a real beverage would make it less tedious.”

Jenni wasn’t sure, but she thought she detected the faintest trace of humor in his tone. She smiled. “I’ll look into it.”

“Good. See you around, then . . . unless I forget!” He spun around and went out the door in a hurry. Jenni heard him break into a laugh as he walked away.

She chuckled to herself. She was in! Okay, things hadn’t gone exactly the way she would have liked today, but Nume hadn’t run away, and he seemed willing to let bygones be bygones about her getting touchy-feely with him. He would give her a purpose and a reality check every now and then, which she could admit she needed. She would give him support with his partner and his other problems.

She already had an idea about how to help with his eidetic flashbacks. There was that Bleeprin stuff that had come out of the Hogwarts Fanfiction Academy. It had the ability to dull or completely block negative memories, and it was catching on like wildfire. It might be just the thing, if Nume could be persuaded to give it a shot after this business with the neuralyzer.

And eventually, maybe, in time, he might just learn to relax and open up a little bit.

Jenni could dream.

Neshomeh’s Notes
  1. Name smoosh of Spike/Angel, Buffyverse.
  2. See “Pain and Regrets, Power and Battle,” courtesy of Huinesoron. Thanks again!
  3. “Inchworm Song” by Frank Loesser, from the 1952 film Hans Christian Andersen.
  4. Nume is reminded of “Jenny Brown” by the Smothers Brothers. Give it a listen; it’ll make perfect sense by the end.

And the rest, as they say, is history. {= P

I wrote this story to answer for myself the question of exactly how Jenni and Nume met and started down the road to becoming vitriolic best buds. It ended up being primarily Jenni’s backstory, but I was especially excited to show what Nume was like back in the early days.

It’s also a general PPC history piece, touching on such events as the merging of the Departments of Psychology and Fictional Psychology, the 2004 Blackout, the first PPC Badfic Game (exemplified by “Agent Dafydd + The Gurl” by Huinesoron and Vemi), the evolution of the response center, and the increasing availability of Bleeprin.

How Jenni convinces Nume to give Bleep a chance is a story I don’t know if I’ll write. He probably doesn’t take that much convincing, honestly. There’s a big difference between dulling unpleasant memories of your own volition and having random memories erased without your knowledge or consent. I think he becomes willing after one too many squicky badfic scenes stamp themselves on his brain, maybe with a bout of nervous exhaustion on top of it. With his brain overclocking all the time, it was bound to happen now and then.

Oh, and a Word from God: Nume officially terminates his client relationship with Jenni at the same time he applies for his transfer to the DIC in the spring of 2006. By that time, Nume’s been therapized about as much as he’s ever going to allow, and they’re basically just hanging out—if we consider playing a long game of “who can get under whose skin the most” to be hanging out, anyway. {= )

This website is © Neshomeh since 2004. This page’s content was last updated 06.08.2020.
The PPC belongs to Jay and Acacia and is used with permission.
The fanfiction parodied here belongs to its original writer and is quoted in accordance with Fair Use.