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The Mirror Cracked
By Nightingale
 

(Disclaimer: only Aeon is mine, everything else belongs to The Wachowski Bros. And Warner Bros, and is used here without permission.)
 

Just when things seemed to be going perfectly, (or at least tolerably) boom! Out of the blue, lightning hit - in the form of a book, of all things. Not just any book, mind you - a book with my name on the cover. My old name, that is. Not even the whole name, just enough to make me pause and look at it again.
Nightmares, a novel by C.J. Madison - the cover said. Why she thought using her initials would fool anyone, I'd never know. Maybe she truly didn't realize she had anyone to fool. I found that hard to believe, after meeting her - hell, even before meeting her. And meet her, I did, even sooner than I'd planned. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I ran inside the store and immediately seized a copy of the book from the display, much to the confusion of my companion, Neo. He'd accompanied me into the Matrix on a routine surveillance mission - that was our code for our little "outings". We went to escape, to pretend for an hour or two that we were just ordinary people, to enjoy each other's company without feeling the pressure to save the whole fucking world. Oh, don't get the wrong idea - we never did anything much more than talk, much to my disappointment. Sometimes there'd be a silence, and our eyes would meet, and I imagined he was remembering the same thing I was remembering. Maybe he was. I could never see into his mind after that one night we'd shared together, at least not until...

No, I don't want to go there yet. It's not time. I have to make you understand why I did what I did, and to understand that, you have to understand what I felt for Neo. To put it simply, I loved him, though nothing was simple with us. I loved Neo from the moment I saw him, as cliche as that sounds. I love him now, even though it's been 2 years since I've seen him. 2 years - I barely knew him for that long, and yet it feels like I knew him my whole life. Maybe that's because my life was such a wreck up until the day we met. It wasn't such a picnic after, either, but he made it bearable.

Did he love me back? I have no idea. He always claimed to love Trinity, but I know as well as anyone else that loving one person does not rule out the possibility of loving another simultaneously. As I said before, there were moment, brief, fleeting moments in which I thought I saw a shadow of love, a whisper of words that would never be voiced. And then... one of us would break the silence, with a nervous laugh, or some meaningless chatter, anything to break the uncomfortable silence before we did something that we'd regret later.
I regret nothing.

I opened the book, paying little attention to the words inside. The title alone had been enough to make me suspicious, now all I needed was confirmation. And sure enough, there it was, on the inside back flap of the dust jacket: a picture. It may as well have been a mirror. There, staring back at me, was a woman who looked enough like me to be my twin, except she wasn't my twin. She was me. She didn't smile for the camera, and she wore a thoughtful expression. Her eyes seemed to be looking through me in a particularly unnerving way that sent shivers down my spine. I stared at it, trying to gain the courage to slam the cover shut on those eyes, but that proved uneccessary as Neo's hand reached out and took the book from mine.

"What is it?" he asked, and then saw what I'd seen. "Holy fuck." He exclaimed in wonder. "I take it you didn't write this?"

I shook my head. "Not unless I've been living a whole separate life that I'm unaware of." For a moment, Neo looked at me as if he thought this was quite possible. I had, after all, lived a double life in the past. I resisted the urge to smack him upside the head nearly as well as I always resisted the urge to throw him on the ground and show him what he was missing. But he already knew that, and he also knew that I was telling the truth. Which is why he took a deep breath, released it, and said, "Man, this is weird. What do you want to do about it?" Then his eyes followed mine to where they had just wandered - the sign behind the display, that read:

Book signing: Tuesday the 19th, 2-5 pm. Come meet the Chicago Times Best-selling Author!

Neo and I shared a wordless glance, before I spoke. "Guess that solves the problem of how to find her."

"What do you plan to do, show up claiming to be her biggest fan, and just by coincidence, her long lost identical twin?"

That time I really did hit him, but only in the arm. Not as if he'd have felt any pain in here, anyway. Still he looked at me as if I were crazy, not to mention unnecessarily violent. I rolled my eyes.
"Of course not, smartass. I'll disguise myself, change my RSI a little. Do you think I'd look better as a blonde or a brunette?" I asked, only half kidding. I really did wonder. Neo only shrugged and said, "I think you're nuts, that's what I think."

"Oh, and you're the picture of sanity." I shot back, mentally deciding that I would change my hair to a dark brown, as either blonde or my current fiery red would draw too much attention to my presence. I wanted to blend in for a change, and that meant being as nondescript as possible. Also, I knew Neo would have said he preferred brunettes, if doing so wouldn't have hurt my pride by reminding me that Trinity was a brunette, and also the person that Neo had chosen over me. Then I realized that Neo most likely had absolutely no idea what kind of power he held over me. Or maybe he did, who knows. I sure as hell never did figure out what was going on behind those dark brown eyes of his. Maybe that was part of his charm. Maybe I was better off not knowing.

I showed up on Tuesday looking quite different from my usual self. Thanks to a few alterations that I'd programmed in before leaving my ship, my new hair color was joined by an outfit that looked like it had come out of the J. Crew catalog. Or worse, the Gap. In other words, depressingly normal. Or perhaps comfortingly normal, depending on your point of view. The only things I kept the same were my sunglasses and my gun. The first because I was afraid of what would happen if she looked into my eyes, and the second because anywhere there was a crowd, there was a danger of Agents.
Neo showed up as planned, at the coffee shop across the street from the bookstore. He, too, was dressed rather plainly, but I must admit that his jeans made his ass look great. I stood up from the table where I'd been nervously sipping my caffe mocha and waved him over, a friendly smile plastered onto my face. Neo waved back and crossed the room to greet me with what could have passed for a genuine hug, if we both hadn't known better. He did show genuine concern, however, when he realized that I was practically trembling.

"Are you okay?" he asked as he released me from the all too brief embrace.

"I'm fine. Just a little nervous, that's all." I didn't know why. I'd faced worse things in the past, and I'd even had past experience with meeting a clone program of myself. Hell, I'd shot and killed my agent clone and barely blinked an eyelash. But this time was different. Something told me that this was no clone I was meeting today. Despite Neo's obvious skepticism about the authenticity of this second me, he could tell it worried me, and tried to reassure me.

"Don't worry. If it's a trap, we're ready." I knew that meant that he'd come armed with a gun or two, as well.

"That's not what I'm afraid of." I replied, as we headed out of the coffee shop together, looking for all the world like the happy couple I wished we were. "I'm more afraid that it's not a trap."
Neo nodded. He understood what I meant. Or even if he didn't, he pretended to.

We arrived at the bookstore relatively early, but there was already a line halfway down the block. Apparently the other me had a pretty good number of fans, even though Nightmares was her first book. I'd found that out through a bit of research - that is to say, I read the author bio on the back inside cover of the book while Neo and I stood in line.

"I see you decided to read it after all." Neo commented as I finished reading the bio and flipped through a few pages. Earlier I'd told him that I had absolutely no desire to know what was written on those pages. I hadn't changed my mind since then.

"No, I just thought she might notice if the book hadn't been opened. If she's me, she's not stupid, and she's sure as hell not blind."
This brought a soft chuckle from Neo.

"You're curious. Admit it."

"I am not. Well, maybe a little. But it's creepy... it's like... deja vu almost, only diff-" I broke off midsentence, seeing Neo's demeanor change immediately. He looked tense, on guard.

"Deja vu..." he repeated with a frown, then shook his head. "Sorry, just a passing thought."

"Yeah, I know. Bad choice of words. I didn't mean that kind of deja vu. I've just got a bad feeling about this whole thing." I frowned, knowing that my bad feelings were usually right on target.

"That's why we're checking it out." Neo gently reminded me. He sounded almost protective of me in that moment. Of course, that was probably just because of the promise he'd made to himself following my sister's death. He held himself responsible for that, even though if anyone was at fault there it was me. He'd sworn to look after me, even at times when I made that difficult by resisting. But can you blame me? I didn't want him as my keeper, I wanted him as my lover. They always say to be careful what you wish for. I was soon to find the truth in that statement.

As the line edged forward, I became more nervous. I couldn't see my double through the crowd until we were about 5 places from the front of the line. When I did see her, another unwelcome shiver ran down my spine. She and I had on the exact same clothes.

"What was I thinking?!" I hissed under my breath at Neo, not daring to even remove my sunglasses for a better look at her. "Stupid, I'm so stupid..." I chastised myself for not having the sense to pick something a little further from what I'd have worn normally. But then, I thought I had done that. It just shows how much a person can change in a few years.

"I can't do this, she'll take one look at me and know. Here. You take it." I shoved the book into Neo's hands, along with the special pen that we'd had implanted with a scanning device. All she had to do was sign the book, and we'd get a reading on her DNA that would tell us whether she was a human clone, an agent clone, or just a lookalike.

"Are you sure?" Neo whispered. We'd both been counting on my intuition as a big factor in this mission. I knew in my heart that if I spoke to her, shook her hand, anything - I'd know for sure whether I was talking to a mere lookalike, or something more. But there was also the risk that she would know, too. I hadn't thought of that, and it seemed too risky now that we were standing only a few feet away from her. I could hear her voice, the occasional laughter as one of her fans said something amusing, and it was chilling. The voice was my own, that much was certain. I couldn't stay here any longer.

"I'm sure. I'll keep watch out front. If there are Agents, you need someone to stand as backup anyway." He couldn't argue with that. We'd taken a risk coming in alone, but I hadn't wanted the others to get involved on what could very well have been a wild goose chase. Besides, Neo had come only because he'd wanted to help, and if he couldn't help me, nobody could. "Be careful." I cautioned him before I left the line. I realized that it would be a bad idea to walk out the front, with all those fans still waiting. If they mistook me for her, I'd be in deep shit. So would she, for that matter, if angry Agents mistook her for me. So I thought fast and headed off to the ladies room, where I slipped out a window and lurked around by a side window, watching as Neo approached the front of the line.

He was chatting with her as he handed her the pen. She looked at him confusedly for a moment before taking it. I hoped she bought the story we'd come up with about it being a lucky pen, or some other such bullshit. Apparently she had, as she flashed him a brilliant smile and signed the book with a flourish.

"Okay, mission accomplished, now get your ass out of there." I muttered under my breath. Of course, Neo didn't listen. He kept talking to her for a few moments. If I hadn't known better, I'd have said he was flirting. That should have flattered me rather than made me jealous, but for some reason it just disturbed me. "Neo, NOW!" I growled, and whether he heard me or not, he ended the conversation and left the line with a word of thanks to the other me. She smiled again and watched him leave for a moment before shaking her head, as if to clear it.

"Yeah, he's a hottie, get over it. I did." I said, watching her turn her attention back to her next customer. Then I laughed at myself... if the apparent liking she had taken to Neo was any indication, maybe she was me.

"What do you think?" I asked, frantically snatching back the book and pen from Neo's hands the minute that he exited the store. He didn't answer me at first, and was wearing a strange, almost puzzled expression. But then, Neo always wore a vaguely confused look when he wasn't out kicking some serious ass. I repeated my question, slightly impatient.

"Neo? What'd she do, put a spell on you?" I asked, glancing back in through the window. The crowd had shifted, so I could no longer see her face. It was just as well - we needed to get out of there before we attracted any more attention. Not to mention find a place that we could upload the data collected by the microchip in the pen. We started walking, and Neo finally started explaining.

"It was weird, something about her was just wrong. Her eyes maybe, I don't know."

"Do you think she was an Agent? Or a clone?" I asked, surprised. I didn't know why, but for some reason I'd thought she was going to be human, at least.

"No. She was no Agent." Neo answered my question with a certainty that seemed to contradict his earlier statement about something being 'wrong'.

"How do you know that?" I asked.

"I stole a look at her code."

I had to giggle at that one. It made him sound a bit like a futuristic peeping Tom, looking up a girl's skirt to see whether or not she had on anything underneath. The mental picture that came into my mind was almost funny enough to make me forget the purpose for our mission.

"What?" Neo asked, noticing that I was fighting to keep from cracking up entirely.

"Nothing, never mind. So you looked at her code, what can you tell from that?"

Neo shook his head. "Not a lot, just a translation of her phsyical appearance, which I could see anyway, and whether or not she's an AI. She wasn't."

"So you're telling me she's human?"

Neo shrugged. "As far as I can tell."

"But you said there was something odd about her?" I asked, wishing that I'd had the courage to face her myself after all.

"Yeah. I couldn't quite tell you what." Neo frowned in thought.

"You talked to her for a few minutes, did she say anything? Use any of my mannerisms, maybe? Say something that I would have said?" I pressed for an answer, even though I doubted Neo noticed any of that stuff about me. For one, he was a male, and most guys I knew didn't even notice that much stuff about their girlfriends.

Neo surprised me, though. It wasn't the first time, and it wasn't to be the last surprise of the day, either. "Actually, she did." He stopped to look at me, studying my face as if he thought I might have been the clone. "Or rather, it was more something she didn't do."

"What's that?" I asked, impatient.

"Look at the inscription." He nodded to the book that I held in my hands. I opened it, and read aloud what she had written.

"To Neo: may all your dreams be good ones." I snorted derisively. "Well, that's certainly sappy enough." In truth, I'd have probably written something even worse, but I didn't say so, because something else occurred to me. "You gave her your real name?! What the hell were you thinking?" I slammed the book shut again and glared at Neo, who looked at me sheepishly.

"I wasn't. She asked me my name, and I told her. Force of habit, I guess."
Neo shrugged. "But that's the weird thing... she didn't find 'Neo' to be an odd name at all. In fact, I'd have sworn she already knew my name before she asked me."

"You're paranoid." I concluded. "Nothing is unusual these days, especially not in a city like this one. She's probably used to dealing with strangely-named freaks on a daily basis." Neo looked offended at my choice of words. "You know what I mean." I sighed, still impatient. "Look, it's all well and good that you and she 'connected' or whatever, but it doesn't answer anything. All we know is that she's not an Agent, that doesn't mean that she's not something just as dangerous. Let's get this to a computer." I held up the pen that had hopefully done its job.

Minutes later we were standing in a crowded, noisy little cybercafe. I stood behind Neo as he worked, decoding the information that the pen had collected. I looked about nervously, keeping watch for any signs of trouble. This place was entirely too public for my liking, but it was close, and we were in a hurry. As I watched, a snotty little cyberpunk girl walked by me, taking one look at my clothes and rolling her eyes. I fought the urge to grab her by her purple-streaked hair and inform her that under my pristine white sweater and faded jeans I had on black leather underwear. Not that she'd have cared, anyway. Besides, I'd have been lying - I didn't have on any.

"Whoa."

Neo's voice snapped me out of my dirty thoughts, which was odd considering that he was the source of most of them. "What? What did you find?" I asked, leaning over his shoulder to get a better look at the screen. What I saw nearly froze my blood in my veins - but oddly, brought a strange sense of relief.

"She's..." Neo began, only to be interrupted.

"She's me."

We stared at the screen for a full five minutes, looking for any loopholes, any discrepancies at all. If this second Carla Madison was a clone, she was the work of something far superior to the Agents. Cloning technology only went so far, and was rarely without error. Every gene on every strand of DNA could line up perfectly, and yet the end result would be flawed in ways that were subtle at first, but more pronounced to those who could compare the clones to the original version. A comparison of her data to mine showed an absolute, 100% match. Voice and handwriting samples were the same as well, something that rarely, if ever, happened.
Once outside on the street, I found my voice again.

"What does this mean?" I asked Neo, who looked even more baffled than I did.

"I don't know. It doesn't make any sense. If the Agents wanted us, they had us in the bookstore. I don't get it. If it wasn't a trap..." Neo trailed off, lost in thought.

"I think we spoke too soon. Look." I pointed up the street to the bookstore we'd left earlier. Parked in front were several black cars, inconspicuous to most, but like a red flag to Neo and I.

"Agents." We said in unison.

"Let's get the hell out, now." Neo said, starting to cross the street. There was a phonebooth about 2 blocks in that direction, we'd have had plenty of time to escape before the Agents came after us. But I wasn't leaving. I caught Neo by the arm.

"Wait."

"Wait, are you nuts?" Neo turned to look at me like I'd grown three heads.

"Yes, that's a given. But I don't think it's us they're watching. I think it's her, and I think she knows nothing about it." I couldn't say what had given me this sudden revelation, as I couldn't remember having had any of my prophetic dreams in weeks. My gift had been almost a forgotten memory lately, for which I was strangely thankful. Sometimes it was more of a curse than a gift, seeing a dismal future and knowing that the responsibility fell on me to help stop it before it became reality. However, because my gift had gotten Neo out of a sticky situation or two in the past, it gave me the credibility now that I needed to convince him to stay.

"Look" I said again, my eyes still locked on the bookstore entrance. My other self had just walked out, accompanied by a man who I didn't immediately assume to be her significant other. He just didn't have the look about him that I thought she'd have gone for. He did have her by the arm, however, and seemed rather protective of her as he opened the passenger side door to a little red sports car for her.

"Who the hell is that guy?" Neo asked, as if I should know the answer. We both watched as he climbed into the driver's side, and started to pull out of the parking space.

"I dunno, nice car though." I said. "Easy to spot in a traffic jam." I hinted, none too subtly.

Neo caught my hint, and sighed. "You owe me for this."

I smiled, knowing that I'd won the argument before it even started. "Sure thing... how do you want repaid?" I winked flirtatiously, causing him to blush ever so slightly. Neo hated it when I flirted with him, or at least so he claimed. Personally I think he enjoyed it, and was just too committed to that damn Trinity to say so.

"So what are you going to say to her when you go barging into her house univited?" Neo asked, once we'd knocked out a taxi driver and stolen his car.

"I dunno yet, will you just watch where you're driving?" I snapped.
By the time we got there, I still hadn't thought of what I was going to say to her. But I could sense that she was in danger, that I was in danger, and that the danger was closer than either of us could have imagined. When we pulled up to the curb near her house, we were unlucky enough to meet up with the man in the red car.

"Shit." I tried to hide my face so he wouldn't see, but it was too late.

"Hey!" he waved to us, and hurried over. "You must be Carla's sister! Wow, I never kmew you were a twin. Chloe, right?"

"Yeah, that's me." I smiled and nodded. What else could I say? "And you must be um...." I pretended to rack my brain for a name. "I'm sorry, Carla doesn't talk much to me about her boyfriends, ever since a little rivalry in high school..."

The man laughed and shook his head. "Oh, no, I'm not her boyfriend. I'm just her publicist."

"Oh." *At least he didn't say he was her Agent, I thought.

"And I've got to be going, actually. Nice meeting you, both of you." He nodded briefly to Neo.

"Yeah, seeya." We wasted no time in heading for the front door.

"Nice." Commented Neo.

"Yeah, well, let it never be said that I'm not a good liar." I rolled my eyes. Maybe I should have stuck with the Agents, as deception seemed to be what I was best at. But secretly, I was proud of my skills, which is why I didn't even think to look back and see Carla's 'publicist' frantically dialing his cell phone, why I didn't hear him ask for Agent Smith, and why the words "They're both here." Never reached my ears.
But Agents were going to be the least of our troubles, as I was soon to find out.

"Who is it?" I heard my own voice call out, in response to the ring of the doorbell.

"Well, here goes nothing." I replied, and held my breath as I heard her footsteps approaching the door.

"Just some friends...err, fans! Friends and fans, we'd like to do a quick interview with you, if that's okay?" I forced the words out, as she opened the door. She stared blankly at us for a moment, and then oddly, stepped back to allow us in, with no further questions. I shot Neo a look of amazement, which he returned.

"I'm sorry, it's a mess around here." She apologized, though the house was impeccable according to the standards I was used to. "I wasn't expecting company."

"That's okay, we weren't expecting you, either." I laughed nervously at my own joke. Neo jabbed me in the ribs with his elbow, as I’d done to him earlier. Payback, I guess. Carla smiled back, and turned away from us momentarily, headed for the kitchen. "Can I get you two anything? I have coffee, tea..." she trailed off as she disappeared into the other room. Neo and I exchanged another look, this one more alarmed than before. She hadn't even reacted in the slightest to being faced with the two of us. That meant she had been expecting us, despite her statement to the contrary. Duh, why else would she have let us in? I mentally berated myself.
"So what brings you two here, besides your apparent fascination with my book?" she called from the other room. I could hear her rummaging around through the cabinets as she spoke.

"Should we tell her any version of the truth?" I whispered to Neo, who only shrugged. He was as much at a loss for answers as I was.

"It's your show." He said.

"Gee, you're so much help. I'm so glad I brought you with me." I rolled my eyes, my words dripping sarcasm like honey, though I was glad to have him here, if only for moral support, and for the safety that I felt in his presence.

"Shit!" I heard Carla's voice, and then a loud crash from the kitchen. Instinctively, I ran in that direction, but collided headlong with myself as she came out, holding a towel around her hand. "Dammit, dammit all to hell! I'm sorry." She apologized again. "I'm not usually like this, I've just had the strangest feeling all day, the strangest sort of déjà vu...." She trailed off, her eyes meeting with mine. Or rather, almost meeting with mine. She had this farway, blank look, one that I was not able to explain until she spoke her next words.

"Ever since the accident, ever since I lost my sight, I've sensed things... that's how I'm able to hide it so well. But the visions it brings...well you've both read the book, you must know the story by now." Right about then I was kicking myself for not reading it. It hit me, that was what was so strange about her eyes… she could be looking straight at me but not appear to see me, and yet she somehow seemed to see more than either Neo or I did. "It wasn't all autobiographical, of course, but much of it was. " She laughed nervously, as she removed the towel from her cut finger. Instinctively, I took her hand in mine and examined it, not just the cut, but the palm itself. Identical, she was identical to me, down to the fingerprint, but that was not what caused us both to draw in a sharp intake of breath as our hands touched.

In that moment, I saw her life flash before my eyes, as she must have likewise seen mine. I saw the so-called accident, and the events that had followed. I saw the nightmares that plagued her, and that had also inspired her to write. But more heartbreaking, I saw her happiness, her peace, something that I had never been able to achieve. And I saw that peace shatter under my dark touch, as she relived my life, and remembered it. She'd closed her blankly staring eyes during the transfer, and opened them as I released her hand, finally seeing once more out of her Matrix given eyes, the illusion created by the Agents finally broken.

"You." She said, but surprisingly, she was not addressing me. She had fixed her gaze on Neo. "I always pictured you to look just as you do." She smiled, a smile full of wonder and joy. "I can't believe it's really you. I’d almost convinced myself you didn’t exist, that it was another of my dreams. Oh, I hope you don’t mind that I made you a character in my book…"

"Uh... would anyone like to fill me in on what just happened?" Neo asked, confused.

"She knows." I said, tears of both joy and sorrow running down my face.

"I've always known." She replied, as she turned her attention from Neo to me again. It was true, she was me, and therefore she had always known the truth, which was why she wasn’t shocked or afraid now. She stepped forward to hug me suddenly, as if I were a long lost friend, which I suppose I was. It was the most amazing feeling, I can't even describe it. If you ever have the opportunity to meet yourself, you'll know it. If you've ever wanted to step through the mirror and speak to the girl with your face that lives there, like Alice through the looking glass, you'll understand.
What seemed like hours later, we released each other, though it had been in reality only seconds. Neo repeated his question, a bit impatiently this time.

"If you two are done bonding, would either of you like to explain?"

"Two realities... the worlds split..." I searched for the rational explanation for it, though it defied all rationality. Meanwhile, Carla had stepped forward to stare at Neo in wonder again, a rapt expression on her face.

"I can't believe you don't remember me. You must have mistaken me for her, last time."

"Last time?" Neo shook his head. I bet he was wishing he had a little of our psychic gift right then. "What last time, you mean back at the bookstore?"

"No, but I knew that was you, I knew the minute you opened your mouth. Voices are like fingerprints, and I knew when I heard yours... I just second guessed myself, like always. But I knew, I knew you were the man in black, the one who called me Aeon. I knew you wore black, because you sounded so sad." She laughed, then grew serious. "Did you ever find Trinity?"

"Trinity? Yes... I mean, she was missing?"

"You said, "Tell Trinity I'm sorry." She frowned, as if the memory were unpleasant. "Trinity, she's the other woman...?" Carla looked at me for confirmation. She'd seen all of my memories, but it would have taken her ages to piece through them all, as I continue to piece through hers to this day. I nodded affirmatively, still trying to figure out a way to explain how reality had split into two, and more importantly, what had happened in this reality before the two had begun to merge once more. I'd already figured out that the Agents had stolen Carla, plugged her back into the Matrix, and erased her memory, and also somehow blocked one of her receptors to make her blind. I guess they thought her gift of sight was somehow tied to the literal sense. I was also trying to figure out how it was that Carla managed to stay so calm after what had just occurred. I guess she just took it all in stride, like one of her dreams, and waited for the outcome to make sense of it all.

"You seemed so lost... I wanted to help you find her." Carla was still speaking to Neo, who was finally starting to understand, at the same moment that I started truly paying attention to what she was saying.

"It wasn't you, Neo." I said, interrupting him as he opened his mouth to say that very same thing.

"I know." He answered, a frown darkening his face. "Then that means there's another me...?"

His question was answered soon enough, when the door blew open, as if controlled by some divine wind. We all turned around, frozen in shock by what, or rather who, we saw there.

"Neo!?" all three of us gasped at once, even the 'real' Neo, which would have been comic if it had not been so awful. This Neo carried two guns, one in each hand, and a look of destructive anger on his face. He was out for blood, for my blood, it seemed, as he slammed the door with a thought and headed straight for me.

"You bitch." He addressed me, and only me, ignoring the other two. Neo instinctively tried to shield Carla, the only innocent here, pushing her back toward the sofa and placing himself between her and this madman. Unfortunately, this left nobody to shield me. But I stood unafraid, or maybe just too stunned to move as Neo's double continued his accusations.
"You, you dare to deny that you knew me, even now?" his eyes would have burned holes through my body, if they had been fires. "We're the only two left, Aeon. You and me, just the way you wanted it, and now you dare to pretend you never knew me?"

"Neo, there's been a mistake. A misunderstanding." I spoke calmly, rationally, my voice steady in spite of the fear that had crept its way in so soon after the earlier calm.

"FUCK YOU, AEON!" he screamed at me, as his finger tightened on the triggers of both guns. "The only mistake I made was believing that stupid bitch when she told me I was the One." He laughed, bitterly, humorlessly. "She died insisting that I was, can you believe that? She told me I was still The One right before I filled her full of lead."

Someone gasped in horror, though I can't remember if it was me, or Carla. Even that distinction wouldn't matter much longer.

"Neo... I'm sorry. Whatever happened... I'm sorry." It was all I could say, seeing the rage on his face, and not knowing why it was there, but sensing that this Neo, like my double, was genuine, but a somehow twisted version full of only pain, anger, and hate.
"So am I." He said quietly, his eyes locking with mine and causing the world to go still. "So am I."

Then my world exploded in a blinding haze of light, as a loud crack of gunfire filled my ears. The room spun, and I didn't understand what was happening to me until I felt myself stumble backwards and start to fall.
"No..." I gasped, choking on my own blood as it filled my mouth. The world started to go dark and fuzzy around the edges, and it was all happening too fast for me to stop it. I couldn't even take in a complete breath, now. "Oh God, no." I didn't want to die, not yet. The brave, fearless Aeon dissolved under the pain and knowledge of her impending demise. I felt arms catch me from behind, and I looked up into the face of Neo, my Neo, the one that I'd always known would be with me at the end.

"I'm sorry, Aeon." He whispered, repeating the words that his crueler self had killed me with.

"Don't be." I spoke, even as I breathed my last shaking breath, a tear falling from my already glassy eyes as they closed for the last time.

But it was not the last time, as I opened them again, and was watching the scene from the corner in which Neo had pushed me into just moments before.

"Carla."

I breathed my own name silently, realizing what she had done in that last moment. We'd changed places, she'd given herself, forced me out of my own body and given me hers. The mirror had cracked and she'd stepped through it, giving me a second chance. I offered her a silent thanks even though I knew none was necessary. She already knew my heart better than I knew my own.
I stepped out of my corner, making some small noise that drew the attention of the double.

"Aeon?" He whispered, looking at me as if seeing me for the first time. I held out my hand to him, beckoning him to come to me, all the while searching his eyes, searching for the Neo I had known, the one that sat now cradling the other Aeon in his arms, tenderly stroking her hair back from her face, which was serene even in death. I smiled for her, rather than shedding a tear, for I'd always said that if I had to die, to let it be in his arms.

I saw that scene in the corner of my mind, however, as my eyes never left the other Neo's. I held out a hand to him, beckoning him to come closer, to put down his gun. "It doesn't have to end here, Neo." I lied, for we both knew it did. But he came to me anyway, his eyes revealing the broken soul underneath. What pain had he known, what had made him like this?
"Neo, please. Whatever it is, whatever happened, it's not the last word. Reality is flexible, you of all people should know. The rules can be broken. The rules don't even have to be, at all." I was talking sense to a crazy man, and I knew it. But I also knew that he was done, his mission completed. He'd killed me, and I'd survived it - the only one of his victims to do so. He'd shot them all, knowing that whichever one survived would be the one he'd pass his legacy, his one-ness to, for that person would be the only one who deserved it. A strange rationale, but his nonetheless. I could read his thoughts clear as day, as he slowly lowered his guns, and handed one of them to me.

"Then you end it." He begged me, pleading me with his eyes and the remnants of his shattered heart. "You're the only one who can."
I merely nodded, taking the gun, and then taking this shattered Neo by the hand. I locked eyes once with the other Neo, whose hand had gone to his own gun, and who was prepared to destroy his other self without a second thought. I shook my head imperceptibly, as I silently mouthed the word "No." He looked as though he were about to protest, his anger and grief over the loss of the original Aeon tempting him to act out of revenge.
*Maybe he does love me* I thought, briefly, before I turned my gaze back on the second Neo, the broken one.
"Why did it have to be me?" he asked, his voice breaking as tears formed at the corners of his eyes. "Why not someone else, someone who knew what the hell they were doing, someone who could have stopped it? God, why?!" he demanded, seizing my other hand in his. He gripped both of my hands tightly, as if I were the lifeline, the only thing that kept him anchored in this world.

"Because you were the One, Neo. You did this, you split reality... and in doing so, you split yourself."
The first Neo looked up at these words, piecing together the final piece of the puzzle, and being hit by all the guilt of the implications that this brought. When he'd stopped that building from exploding, turned back time just three minutes, to save the crew members that otherwise would have died, he'd torn a hole in time, and forced another reality into being. A dark, grim reality, in which the war was nearly over, and The One was a man defeated by his own self.

"Then help me end it. Help me end the nightmare." He asked me once more. What else could I do but comply? I'd have stopped time for him if I could. And that's exactly what he was asking me to do. The least I could do was take some of the pain away first. I glanced back at the first Neo, perhaps seeking his approval, or perhaps just making sure he wasn't about to shoot either of us. I couldn't think of him as the 'real' Neo, any more than I could think of the Aeon that lay dead on the floor as the real me. Both were equally real, or else neither were. And the Neo that stood before me was the Neo that I had known, this was what had happened to him after feeling the worst pain that a human being can know. I felt silent tears burn their way down my face as I reached a hand up in a vain attempt to dry the river that coursed down his. His eyes asked the silent question that my heart answered.

*Yes.*

I led him back toward the bedroom in the back of the house, closing the door behind us as we went. I know what you’re thinking, dear reader, and at one time I would have wished that I could have kept this Neo, that my love would have been enough to heal his shattered soul. But it wasn’t, it never could have undone the damage that he’d done to himself. This Neo had died long ago, whether it was with the death of his Trinity, or maybe even before that – I didn’t want to ask, my jealousy of her lingering even now that I had ‘won’, in a sense. This Neo came to me with only one request, one prayer. I was his angel, and in that last moment before I pulled the trigger, I was the one he loved.

A few minutes later, I emerged from the bedroom once more, my white sweater stained with blood, making me a very literal mirror image of my other self. The other Neo had come running at the sound of the gunshot, and stood frozen in the middle of the hallway, as he took in the picture before him.

"It’s all right, Neo. I’m fine." I said, my voice surprisingly calm though I felt so weak in the knees that I could barely force my legs to move. Neo came to offer me his arm to lean on, but I couldn’t even look at him, just as I hadn’t been able to look at the other as I pulled the trigger, or afterwards. I couldn’t bear to see his face, though I knew he was finally at peace. I couldn’t live with that image, and for once the fates spared me from seeing it in my mind’s eye.

"What the hell happened?" Neo asked, as he led me out of the house.

"I told him I loved him, I kissed him goodbye, and then I killed him." I said simply, shaking Neo’s arm away from me. "Don’t." I told him, as he started to follow me. "Don’t touch me." My words were not harsh, but they were a command that Neo followed, though he protested.

"Aeon, wait – which one are you?" I never did answer that question. I never even said goodbye to him – I couldn’t, not twice in one day, or one lifetime. I understood his need to know, really I did. But the truth was, I couldn’t have told him then, as I can’t now. Did Carla sacrifice herself for Aeon, switching bodies at the last minute, or did Aeon simply leave all of her memories with Carla? It doesn’t matter – either way, the outcome is the same.

I am still me. Always, just me.

END