"Are you ready for this?"
Millie fixes Rip with a glare that would make anyone else in the universe wither and die; he doesn't even blink. Damn the man. "No, I'm not ready for this." She bites the words out and, no lie, it takes all her self-control (fine, all her self-control and a fair bit of therapy) not to fly at him and beat her fists against his chest while she rails thunder and damnation down upon him. Of course, she happens to know that he wouldn't react to that either.
She knows that because she'd done it once, a long time ago, and he just stood there like a brick wall, took every hit, every curse word she threw at him and when she was finished, he just looked at her and lifted one eyebrow. "Finished?" he'd asked.
She'd hit him again for that.
He'd deserved it, and more, and he knew that too.
Damn the man.
"If there was any way-" He almost sounds like he means it too, like he'd give her an out if he could, which is such total bullshit that Millie has to clench her fists in the hopes that her fingernails digging into her skin will be pain enough to distract her from what bullshit it is. Of course, fists only serve to remind her that she's got one hell of a right cross, or she used to, back in the day. Like riding a bike, right? Some things, you never forget.
Even if you want to.
Instead of hitting with her fists, she hits him with words. "You and I both know that's crap, so don't even try it." Something flickers in his face and it takes her a moment to realise what she's said, that the word "crap" has pushed his buttons. Something about crude and vulgar language; she's heard the rant before and she didn't give a damn about it then either. She's got bigger issues to deal with at the moment so if a four letter word offends the great Rip Hunter, well then, frankly, she's got another four letter worded phrase for him.
"Well, it's not as if they're likely to put much pass on me," he points out and while it's perfectly reasonable, it also reminds her why she's been chosen for this mission.
She wants to hit him again.
"Let's just cut the chit chat." The vehicle is all ready to go, just waiting for them to step in, for Rip to man the controls and get them to where they need to go. The thought makes her stomach churn - it's been almost twenty years since she went near one of those damn machines and it hadn't been her choice then either. "I do not want to be here. You know I do not want to be here. But since you say I need to be-"
"Then I don't get a choice. So let's just get this over with, OK?" She stalks to the vehicle, climbs in and sits down, doing up the buckle of her seat belt with hands that are none too steady. She crosses her arms when he slides in beside her, hoping that will hide her trembling fingers and if he notices them, Rip knows better than to comment.
He punches all the right buttons and Millie's stomach drops as the ship begins to rise, like it's staying on the ground like she wishes she were. It drops still further, if that's even possible, when the wormhole opens before them and Millie has the strangest desire - or maybe not so strange - to push a few buttons of her own and crash the damn thing before they reach the event horizon.
She doesn't though.
Instead, she sits tight as they enter the mouth of the wormhole, clenches her teeth as Rip steers them through. Just as she starts to see daylight, she gasps, hands rising to her lips as she sees a man in a red suit running faster than the eye can normally see around the mouth of the wormhole. "Is he-" she begins and Rip snorts.
"Trying to close the wormhole. Bloody twenty-first century physics." The ship lurches and his hand shoots out to the console. "Hold on, it's going to get bumpy."
It's Millie's turn to snort. "You've got no idea."
He manages to land the ship smoothly on the roof of a tall building where a small group of people are gathered. She lets him emerge first - perks of seniority and all that - and sees him lift his hands in what's meant to be a non-threatening gesture. "Sorry to drop in unannounced," he says and she rolls her eyes because seriously?
A blur of red and The Flash stands in front of Rip, between him and the other group of people. "Who are you?"
"Name's Rip Hunter."
The Flash tilts his head. "Wells mentioned you."
Which may have been the wrong thing to say because instantly one of the group steps up to stand beside The Flash. A tall, dark skinned man in a beanie hat with a suspicious, almost fierce expression levels his gun at Rip, his aim not wavering as he stares at him like he's daring him to make a move.
"Now, Detective." Rip sounds like he could be talking about the weather. "There's no need for gunfire."
Millie chuckles to herself. Then, louder, "I don't know about that... I wouldn't mind shooting you sometimes."
She's relieved that her voice stays level while her heart is pounding, and it only gets worse when she steps outside the ship. Seeing Rip's exasperated face is a momentary boon, but then she looks past him, sees The Flash staring at her, frown visible even with the mask.
Then she looks beside him.
Joe is staring at her like he can't believe what he's seeing (which is probably the case, let's face it) and his gun drops slowly, along with his jaw. His breath hitches before he speaks and when he does, all he can say is, "Millie?"
Millie is a grown woman, fully versed in the way the human body works. There's no reason her knees should go weak when a man says her name.
But she hasn't heard her name said by this man in almost twenty years and that's exactly what happens.
Then a girl - no, a woman - steps forward. Her eyes are wide, her jaw trembling and she grips onto Joe's arm like he's the only thing in the world she's sure of. He probably is.
"Are you ready for this?"
Millie turned to face Rip with what she hoped was a confident, professional look on her face. After all, this might have been her maiden voyage to the past but she'd been training for months, years even, for this, had been chosen over candidates who were longer serving and possibly better qualified than she was. And no, she wasn't going to look into that too hard; the Time Masters had their own reasons for picking people for missions and if they picked her, well then, who was she to argue?
So she had no intention of ruining things by showing Rip Hunter, of all people, exactly how excited she was to be going on this mission, no intention of letting him know that whole swarms of butterflies of excitement and anticipation were whirling around in her stomach, that she'd hardly been able to sleep last night from going over trajectories and physics and instrumentation panels in her head. Certainly bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet, which she was trying very hard to stop herself from doing, was a big no-no.
She clasped her hands firmly behind her back, nodded just as firmly. "Yes, Sir."
The expression that crossed his face was close to pain, an interesting change from his usual sang-froid. "You don't have to call me 'Sir,', Evans. Rip is fine."
"Yes, Sir." The words slipped out without any conscious thought and she would have been embarrassed except for the flash of irritation that crossed his face was actually amusing.
"You know your mission? Have all your documents, your provisions?"
"Co-ordinates are all laid in for late twentieth century Earth," she confirmed, glancing down and wrinkling her nose at her era appropriate clothes. Some things were going to take a bit of getting used to. "Go bag is in the vessel with extra clothes, money and documents."
Rip nodded. "Remember, computers weren't as commonplace then, computerised records even less so. Which is good for us, but it makes those papers even more important. We've backed up your legend as much as we can, but there may be black spots, so be prepared to improvise."
"Copy that." Millie was all ready to get going but she got the impression that there was more Rip had to say, more that he wanted to say. "Anything else I need to know?"
"Mission parameters are observe and report." Rip opened his mouth as if to say something else, then closed it again. "Land, hide the ship, return in one week." She still felt as if there was something else, didn't move until he jerked a thumb towards the ship. "Well, what are you waiting for, an invitation?"
There was no way of replying to that so she didn't. She did allow herself one bounce on her toes, one quick smile as she made her way towards the vessel, buckled herself in and began her manoeuvres.
She didn't think she'd ever get tired of the rush of exhilaration that went through her on first sight of a wormhole, and the feeling was intensified one hundredfold at least on this, her first solo mission. She negotiated the event horizon and the slipstream easily, breathing a sigh of relief when she made it through and came out on the other side, piloting easily to an open patch of grassland. The lights of Central City twinkled in the distance and she flew the ship to a copse of trees, grabbed her bag of supplies and set the invisibility mode before she left. It was going to be a bit of a walk but it was nice night, not too cold, the stars bright overhead and there was a spring in her step as she moved through the grass.
Until a familiar whirr of engines stopped her in her tracks.
She spun around, jaw dropping in horror as she saw the ship not right where she left it, but worse, hovering a good ten feet above the ground. "What the-" She heard her own horrified whisper but when the ship shot up, when a wormhole opened up ahead of it, words failed her completely. All she could do was watch as her ship, her only way home, vanished, presumably heading back to the future without her.
"OK, Millie, don't panic." She knew talking to herself out loud was a bit crazy but under these circumstances, she needed to hear the words, even if it was only her who was saying them. "Ships are built with a fail safe. Something goes wrong, they default to that, they fly back home. The second it arrives without you, they'll send back another one. Best thing you can do is proceed with the mission."
Pep talk given, she proceeded with her walk, arriving in Central City just as the sun came up. She'd been given the name of a motel that sure enough had her booked in for a week, though one look at the room had her convinced she wouldn't be staying there that long. She knew that late twentieth century Earth had different standards of living and hygiene to her time, but seeing it was another thing entirely.
She spent the first couple of days exploring the city, reading newspapers, listening to radio and watching television, striking up conversation with random people, soaking in the different time period, its energy and peculiarities, all the waiting for a footfall behind her, a sarcastic comment about losing something, but no such comment ever came.
As the week went on, she became more and more nervous about its absence.
And on the last day, the day she was supposed to be going home, she checked herself out of her motel, walked back to the forest where she'd landed and she waited.
When morning came, she dried her eyes and made her way back to the city, once again giving herself a pep talk.
"You have ID, you have money. You need a job, a place to stay. Lie low, under the radar as much as possible. Don't draw attention to yourself, don't do anything that might change the course of history. Hope for rescue but don't expect it. Rely on your training. You'll be fine."
She hoped if she said it enough, she'd believe it. And also, that it would stop her thinking about Rip's behaviour before she'd left, how she'd felt like there was something he wasn't telling her, that he knew more than he was letting on. That, as a high up Time Master, one who travelled between the past and the future at will, he should have known if things weren't going to go to plan.
Then again, she thought, what if this was the plan all along?
After a deafening silence, The Flash is the first one to speak and Millie can hear the voice of the boy she once knew in the man's inflection. It makes her smile. "Yes, Barry," she says, and if he's surprised by her use of his name, he doesn't show it. Then again, until a minute ago, he thought she was dead so Millie thinks surprise might be a relative concept. "It's me."
"What's going on here?" One of the group, a man about the same age as Barry and Iris, steps forward. He's tall and dark-haired, extremely handsome or he would be if he didn't look so utterly perplexed.
"Isn't it obvious, Ronald?" An older man steps forward with an audible sniff at the end of his sentence. "These two are obviously time travellers from the future, sent to help the-" He gestures with one hand towards the singularity which is only gathering in size and fury. "-situation we find ourselves in."
Rip clicks his fingers. "We like you," he decides and the man looks ridiculously pleased with himself. Rip nods once at him before continuing his explanation. "As my friend here has said, we find ourselves in somewhat of a situation. Your boyfriend-" He glares at Iris and the look Joe gives him is only second to Millie's.
"Talk to my daughter like that again and I will hit you," she tells him and he knows her well enough to know she'd do it.
"Apologies." He manages to sound completely insincere. "Detective Thawne's actions, while heroic, have only served to cause a potentially world ending paradox, the results of which you see above you."
Another of the group, a younger man with long hair, steps forward. "Because if Eddie kills himself, then Eobard Thawne is never born, which means he can't go back in time to try to kill Barry's mom... which is the event that started our entire timeline..."
"My point exactly." Rip claps and not, for once, in a mocking fashion. "I can see where the brains of the operation lie." His finger wags between the two men and the younger man - Ronald? - and the woman at his side look insulted.
"Basically, the universe is collapsing under the weight of its own paradox," the younger man explains before looking at Rip as if he wants confirmation. "Right?"
"Exactly right, Mr Ramon." The kid's eyes grow wide and his jaw drops open and the obvious question can only be next. So of course Rip side swipes it by turning to Barry. "You need to come with me. We're going to take this machine, hop back in time, you're going to stop Detective Thawne from playing hero and let Eobard Thawne go back to the future." When Barry looks like he'll protest, Rip adds, "Where, believe me, justice awaits him."
Joe steps forward, in front of Barry. "He's not going anywhere with you."
Rip doesn't bat an eyelash, turns instead to Millie and her fists curl without her evening thinking about it. "I believe this is why I brought you along?"
She gives him a glare that has about as much effect as the last dozen or so she's levelled his way. "Joe, I know this is a shock..." She berates herself for that statement before anyone else can do it. Of all the stupid things to open with. Joe, however, doesn't seem to take exception to it.
"You died," he says, voice choked, hands dropping to his sides. There's a thin sheen of tears in his eyes and something in Millie breaks at the sight. All the years she's missed him, all the years she's dreamed of their reunion, she never imagined it like this. "I identified your body myself..." He shakes his head and Rip jumps in.
"Life Model Decoy."
"Indistinguishable from the real thing, especially by twentieth century science..."
"Thank. You." Millie bites the words off and for once, blessed be, they have an effect. Rip even holds up his hands as if in surrender. Turning back to Joe, Millie takes a step closer to him. "Joe, I know you have questions. And I promise you, I will answer them all. But believe me when I tell you, if you don't let Barry go back and do what Rip says? There won't be any time for any of that."
Joe stares at her for a long minute, then looks around at Barry and Iris. "Why should we believe you?" he asks when he looks back at her. "How do we even know you are who you say you are? Our whole life was a lie..."
"No." Millie shakes her head rapidly because that's the one thing she can not, will not, let him believe. "No. Our time together? They were the happiest years of my life." Tears blur her own vision and she doesn't try to fight them, probably couldn't even if she wanted to. "I never lied about us, Joe, I couldn't." On impulse, she reaches out one hand, closes her fingers around his -
- and gasps, startled, as a jolt of electricity snaps through her whole body.
She knows her eyes are wide as saucers when she stares at Joe, and his are the same, pupils dark and dilated, his mouth agape.
"Damn," he breathes. "It really is you."
She wouldn't say settling into twentieth century life was easy. Of course, there were a lot of technological conveniences where she was from that hadn't been invented yet - the idea of a pay phone on the street would never not be weird, she thought - but considering she'd heard stories of people being sent back on observation missions much further in the past, she told herself she was lucky. At least the twentieth century had electricity and running water. And indoor plumbing. She could get along fine without Internet and instant communications as long as she could have a hot shower in the morning.
Which wasn't always a possibility, or at least a lengthy possibility, but she told herself she could deal with that too. The apartment she'd found to rent was tiny, run-down and dilapidated, with one bedroom that barely fit a bed and wardrobe, a bathroom that could double as a closet where the shower was fine as long as you didn't want more than four minutes of hot water, and a living area where the couch was practically in the kitchen. Still though, it was a place she could call her own, a place where she didn't have to pretend to be something she wasn't.
She got a job too, working in a diner not too far way from her apartment. The shifts were long and she was on her feet for most of them and it was so far removed from the places she was used to that it was almost funny. But from the start, she loved the energy in the place, loved the other girls she was working with who, when they heard that she was new in town, that she had no family in the area, stepped in and made sure that she didn't feel alone. Since she had no-one to answer to, she did a lot of the early morning and late night shifts, which was fine with her, and soon she found that there were regulars who came in for breakfast and dinner, and she'd talk to them, learn their stories, tell them a little of hers.
She told herself that she was still working on her mission, even if it looked like she'd been abandoned there.
The diner was around the corner from one of the city police precincts, so a lot of cops came and went which, and Millie saw no point in lying about it, made her feel an awful lot safer when she had to open or close the place. For all the changes she had to get used to, the crime rate in the twentieth century was by far the scariest. The officers seemed to know that too, and it might have been Millie's imagination but there always seemed to be a couple of them hanging around whenever she, or any of the girls, had to close up without one of the guys around.
Some of the older officers acted like dads to the waitresses in the diner, but there were plenty of younger officers around who had other designs entirely, and plenty of the girls behind the counter were happy to let them. Not Millie though, because she was taking very seriously the lessons she'd been taught as a cadet - live under the radar, don't do anything that could affect the timeline. (She tried not to think that Rip might have known that this would happen, that she was here because she was meant to be here and that any inaction on her part could change the timeline. That way lay madness.)
She stood by that, right up until the day that one of the officers, a young guy with dark skin and dark eyes looked up at her with a smile. Officer Singh was one of the regulars, came in for breakfast some days, dinner on others, the odd lunch, and always, now that she came to think about it, when she was on shift. "So, my partner's had his eye on you for a while," he said as she stood by their table to hand them their bill. He was grinning broadly and his smile only widened when Millie glanced at his partner who looked like he wanted to shoot him where he sat. "What's a guy got to do to get your number, Amelia?"
Millie gave the two of them a smile. "I'll have to think about it," she said before she moved away. It wasn't the first time she'd used that line, and she didn't think it would be the last.
The difference was, this time, when she was standing at the till, Singh's partner came up with a fistful of notes and a smile that was a cross between shy and embarrassed. "I'm sorry about my friend," he said. "I didn't ask-"
"I didn't think you did." She crossed her arms over her chest, studied him mock-seriously. "I'm not going to hear about any friendly fire incidents involving you two, am I?"
He laughed at that and Millie joined in. He had a nice laugh, she thought, contagious. An even nicer smile. "Nah. I promise." He reached over the counter, handed her the money -
- and she gasped, startled, as a jolt of electricity snapped through her whole body when his fingers touched her skin.
She knew her eyes were wide as saucers when she stared at him, and his were the same, pupils dark and dilated, his mouth agape.
"Damn," he breathed. "You feel that?"
Millie nodded, swallowed hard. "Static electricity... All this vinyl..." She heard herself saying it, but she didn't really believe it.
"Yeah," he said slowly. "Electricity." The bell above the door jingled as Singh stuck his head back in.
"Hey, partner, if you're done making time, we need to make a move!"
"Coming." He didn't take his eyes off Millie. "It was nice talking to you, Amelia."
"Millie." He blinked in surprise, then grinned and Millie felt another tingle - or maybe the same one - flowing through her body. It really was a hell of a smile. "My friends call me Millie."
"Joe," he said, holding out his hand. She took it, somewhat gingerly, and his grip managed to be firm and gentle all at once.
When he left to join his partner, her number was in his pocket.
Millie stares at Joe, feeling as if every hair on her body is standing to attention. The look on his face, in his eyes, is so familiar that even though she hasn't seen it in almost twenty years, she remembers what it once meant, what it once would have led to. She shivers and his hand tightens in hers, his eyes darkening.
She knows that he remembers too, and she shivers again.
"Barry." Joe doesn't take his eyes off Millie. "Do what they say."
"Are you-?" Barry doesn't get the question fully out before Joe glances at him, his look somewhere between a glare of anger and one of frustration.
"Yes," he says simply. "I'm sure."
Barry holds his gaze for three seconds - Millie counts - and then he nods. "OK." He says it in a tone that tells Millie loud and clear that if Joe had told him to jump off the roof of the building first, he would have done it. Looking at Rip, he says, "Let's go."
Rip looks surprised which makes Millie smile - it isn't often she gets to see him slightly wrong footed. He falls into step beside Barry without a word though and as they walk, the man that Rip had called Mr Ramon steps forward, eyes wary.
"So that's how this works? She says it's all on the up and up and you agree with her? Just like that?"
Joe takes a look in his direction and smiles. He holds his gaze for another three seconds - Millie counts that too - and then he looks back at her. The look on his face takes her breath away and his fingers tighten on hers - she'd barely realised he's still holding her hand.
"Yeah, Cisco," he says. "Just like that."
"So, what do you want to do today?"
Joe tightened his arms around her, pressed a kiss to the back of her shoulder. Her spine was pressed against his chest which meant that she felt as well as heard his chuckle. "There's an obvious answer to that," he told her as he slid a hand down to her hip, pulling her back against him. He wasn't entirely serious, she knew, but then again, he wasn't entirely joking either.
"We can't spend the whole day in bed-" she began, turning her head towards him, and that got a full on laugh in response.
"I'd say you're wrong but you've probably already got a list of reasons prepared." His lips were pursed in apparent disgust, but almost six months together had schooled Millie in his facial expressions enough so that she could see the edges of his lips twitching, could see the humour in his eyes.
"Well..." she began, eyes fluttering shut as his fingers traced a pattern from her hip to her shoulder and back down again, "not very good ones..."
He laughed again at that but when he pulled her onto her back, when his lips met hers, it wasn't a laughing matter any more.
Much later, she made to pull away from him, shaking her head when his arm tightened around her waist. "Oh no, don't you go giving me those puppy dog eyes," she accused when she saw him doing just that. "I am getting up to make us some breakfast... lunch... woman cannot live by Joe alone."
"Shame." He pulled himself up to a sitting position, pulled her into his arms. "We could go out for lunch," he said after a glance at the clock. "Have someone wait on you for a change."
"That sounds nice." Millie all but melted into his arms from the novelty. Or from the way his lips were nibbling at her neck. It could even have been from both. "Of course, it also involves putting on clothes..."
"Not so nice." His words were muffled against her skin but she got the gist.
"I don't care what we do," she decided. "It's just nice to finally have a day together." Lately it seemed like their shifts were completely at odds with one another; they'd barely been able to make do with him and David eating at the diner.
"Hmm." The noise Joe made at the back of his throat was unlike any she'd heard him make before and she moved her head so that she could look into his eyes, raised an eyebrow in silent question. "I've just been thinking..." He looked around the tiny bedroom, jerked his chin towards the tiny living quarters beyond. "Millie, I love you, but you live in a dump. My place... Yeah, it ain't much better."
Millie frowned because he couldn't be going where she thought he was going. "So?"
Joe shrugged, looking as unsure of himself as he had the day David Singh had asked about him getting her number. "Why don't we pool our resources... get a not so crappy place together?"
It was Millie's turn to laugh, and she did. "Joe, your mama barely tolerates me as the strange girl with no family who leads her boy astray. You think she'll be OK with us living in sin?" He opened his mouth, and she beat him to it. "You know that's what she'll call it."
"So we'll get married." Joe was completely matter of fact and Millie stopped laughing instantly, lost even the faintest desire to do so. Taking her reaction for something else entirely, Joe took both her hands in his. "Millie, I know this is quick... but I've been crazy about you since the first day I saw you. They always say when you know, you know? Well, I know. There's no-one else out there for me... not any more."
Millie's heart was pounding in her chest. Partly because she was remembering all her Time Master lessons, how you shouldn't get involved with people in the past, how you should live under the radar, avoid relationships. Partly because she was remembering the time before she and Joe started dating, all those lonely days and nights. Partly because she was picturing a life with him and finding that she could do it, very easily.
"So?" Joe squeezed her fingers. "What do you say?"
Millie shook her head to clear it, not as a refusal. "So this is how it happens? Just like that?"
"Yeah." Joe smiled. "Just like that."
"We'll need a more romantic story... to tell people I mean." He blinked and she continued, "I mean, we can't tell people that you proposed when we were in bed together..."
Joe's smile was so bright it made her heart hurt. "So that's a yes?"
Millie's own smile wasn't too far behind. "That's a yes."
He kissed her and she pulled him back on the bed and they didn't go out for lunch.
They did go out ring shopping, which was even better.
"So how does this work?" The man she now knows as Cisco asks the question as he watches Rip raising the ship into the air. "Do we just wait or..."
"Basically." Millie squints at the sky, follows the trajectory of the ship to and finally through the wormhole. "Rip will get him where he needs to be, he'll stop Thawne from shooting himself and then with a bit of luck, there'll be a ripple effect through the timeline..."
Iris snorts, crosses her arms over her chest. "When were we ever lucky?" she wonders and Joe doesn't hesitate.
"1989," he says, reaching for her with his free hand, the one that's not still holding Millie's.
Millie stood in the nursery, looking down at the sleeping baby in the crib. Three days old, a pink hat knitted by Grandma Esther covered wispy strands of black hair, while she was wearing a woollen cardigan of matching pink, each stitch painstakingly knitted with love. She was lying on her back, hands covered by scratch mittens (shop bought, not even Grandma Esther was that patient ) stretched up in the air as if in victory, as well they might be - she certainly already had her daddy wrapped around her little finger.
Millie stared down at her, the little rosebud lips pursed adorably, and laid a hand on her chest just to feel it rising and falling. A rush of pure love flooded through her, threatening to choke her and it brought tears to her eyes.
"She looks like you." Joe's quiet voice came up behind her and he put his hands gently on her hips, leaning in so he could kiss her cheek. When he saw the tears though, his face fell slightly. He didn't ask her what was wrong, didn't ask how he could help. He just turned her in his arms and pulled her close, letting her rest her head on his chest, on the hollow where it had always fitted just perfectly. "C'mere," he whispered, pressing a kiss to the top of her head.
The tears came fast then and she let them fall.
When they stopped, or at least lessened, she straightened a little, swiped at her eyes. "Sorry," she said and he made a noise deep at the back of his throat that told her she had nothing to be sorry for.
"Hormones?" he guessed, looking down at her as he moved his hands to knead her shoulders. "Or-?"
Millie wrinkled her nose. "Both?" She turned her head to look down at Iris, still sleeping soundly. "I just... It's the first time in a really long time I've looked at anyone and seen myself, you know?" She'd brought a couple of pictures of her as a baby and child with her from the future - the generic, could be any era photographs, carefully replicated to twentieth century standards - and honestly, standard family portraits hadn't changed that much, even in a few hundred years. But photographs, she'd learned, were a poor substitute for the real thing and with the West extended family a real and present force in her life, she'd grown to miss it all the more. "And I just can't help but think... I wish my parents were here. I wish they could see her."
Joe's arms tightened around her. "I wish I could have met them."
"Me too." Millie turned in his arms, leaned back against his chest, looked down at their daughter. He stood, strong and steady behind her, her rock, and told him something she knew to be true. "They would have loved you."
"So how long will this take?" It's Ronald who asks the question and the older man who had garnered Rip's admiration answers him.
"In theory, I would imagine it would take no time at all... after all, if they succeed in changing our past, for us, it's already happened."
Cisco frowns. "But nothing's happening... I mean, I remember everything..." He looks around. "Don't you?"
He sounds nervous, and visibly relaxes when everyone else nods. "Your memories will remain intact," Millie tells them, parroting what Rip explained to her when he first proposed this mission. "We're at ground zero here... The eye of the storm. Whatever changes Barry enacts? You'll remember them as if you lived through them too... parallel with your other set of memories."
"Ah." It's the older man again. "A temporal nexus, of sorts."
Millie nods, even if she's not exactly sure of the terminology. "Yeah. That."
As she speaks, something strange happens, like the universe shimmers around them. Then, as quickly as it had happened, it fades, and just like that, the wormhole is gone. The ship is back where Rip landed it when she flew in it with him, and through the windshield she can see him and Barry. Aside from them, she is alone on the rooftop and she smiles to herself, knowing that they succeeded, that time has indeed reset itself and the changes have already taken effect.
Barry walks over to her, pushes his mask back from his face. "It worked," he says dully and he doesn't sound like a man who was entirely happy about it. Which Millie completely understands; basically giving the man who ruined his life his heart's desire on a silver platter couldn't have been easy.
And let's face it, she knows all about making heartbreaking decisions in the name of the good of the space time continuum.
So it's with understanding that she says to him, "You did the right thing." She pauses, lays a hand on his arm. "Unfortunately, in these circumstances, the right thing pretty much sucks."
Her candour surprises a laugh out of him. Beside him, Rip actually rolls his eyes. "We should leave," is all he gets out before she narrows her eyes and dares him with a glare to continue.
"You can go to hell," she tells him. "You don't get to drag me here, confuse the hell out of my family and drag me away again without a goodbye, or an explanation." He looks more than a little disgruntled, like he actually expected her to say, "Sure thing," hop into the ship beside him and disappear without trace. Seriously, has the man actually even met her?
The conversation is rendered moot when the door to the roof flies open and Joe comes barrelling out through it, eyes wide, chest heaving. He stops dead when he sees the three of them standing there but his eyes lock on to Millie's and they do not waver. "You're still here," he says, breathing heavily and she doesn't know if it's relief or the run up who knows how many flights of stairs that has him winded.
"Yes," is all she gets out before he's moving again and this time he grabs her in his arms, holds her close like he never wants to let her go.
She holds him back the same way.
Somehow they manage to disentangle themselves, though she thinks at least part of that is because Joe wants to hug Barry too. Their hug lasts a long time, Joe patting Barry on the back and telling him he's proud of him. If both men's eyes are suspiciously damn when they part, then Millie won't comment on it and for a miracle, Rip seems to know better as well. He also knows better than to argue when Barry says they should get inside and she falls in step beside Joe. She doesn't even look around to see if he's following her, but she smiles to herself when she hears footsteps behind her.
She knew his curiosity wouldn't let him stay here on his own, not when she knows that there are a few soon-to-be historical figures down there. (And no, she doesn't know the secret identities and details, there are still some things above her pay grade.)
Barry leads them to an elevator - no-one says anything about Joe's sigh of relief - and then into a large circular room filled with computer monitors. Ronald, Cisco and the woman whose name Millie still hasn't heard are standing off to the side, talking quietly. The older man is across the room, a cell phone held to his ear as he talks quietly to someone. He looks up when they come in, but only because Iris, upon seeing Barry, gives a sob and rushes towards him, flinging her arms around his neck and almost knocking him off his feet. Millie can hear her saying, "Thank you," over and over and over again and Barry holds her tightly and smiles awkwardly over her shoulder at another man who is staring at them with a furrowed brow and, though it could be Millie's imagination, a slight hint of suspicion.
"My partner," Joe tells her quietly, like she hasn't worked it out. "Eddie Thawne."
Millie tilts her head, raises an eyebrow. "Quite a day for the Wests," she says, equally quietly. "Two of you having lovers coming back from the dead."
When the words leave her lips, she wonders if they were too soon and when Joe stares at her for a long moment, she's afraid they were. Then he laughs without making a sound, the grin on his face and the shake of his head so damn familiar it hurts. "I have missed that snark," he tells her and she wants to lean in to him and wrap herself in his arms, see if her head still fits in that little hollow where it always did. She wants to kiss him, to see if the old electricity is still there. She wants to do more than that, wants everything they can possibly have.
Then Iris pulls away from Barry, turns and looks at Millie. "You're still here." They're the same words Joe spoke on the rooftop, but nowhere near the same tone, laced with suspicion and not a little bit of hurt.
Hearing that tone of voice from her daughter breaks her heart, all the more because she knows that, as far as Iris is concerned, she deserves it. She's not so sure Iris is wrong on that, to be honest. Joe opens his mouth but Millie stops him with a squeeze of her hand. "Yes," she says quietly. "I'm still here."
"Why?" This time, Iris's words are full of unmistakable anger. "You let us think you were dead for almost twenty years... What's so different about now?"
"Iris-" This time Joe does speak but that only serves to pull him into the path of Iris's ire.
"How are you not angry about this? She lied, about everything!"
"No." Millie doesn't have to think about that. The word stops Iris in her tracks, has Barry stepping back so that three Wests can have their space. Millie sees him stand beside Eddie, talking to the other man with his hand over his mouth but she doesn't have to be a genius to figure out that he's filling Eddie in on who she is. "Not about everything. Where I came from, how I came to Central City, yes. But Iris..." Her throat closed for a second, pain and regrets choking her. "Baby, I never lied about I felt about your dad... or you." She looks over at Joe, finds him fighting back tears too. "You two were the best thing that ever happened to me here."
Joe squeezes her hand as Iris asks, in a voice not unlike the child of Millie's memories, "Then why did you go? Why did you leave us?"
A tear makes its way down her cheek, an mirror of the one that flows down Millie's. "Sweetheart, I had to." She drops Joe's hand, takes both of Iris's. "Believe me, I never would have left you if I had a choice."
Millie hummed a tune to herself as she locked up the diner, smiling when she placed it for what it was, the latest song that Iris was obsessed with. The image of her little girl dancing around the living room, shaking her butt and singing the wrong lyrics off-key made her chuckle and she was still grinning as she got to her car, keys in her hand to put them straight into the lock - she was a cop's wife, she'd been on the receiving end of many 'keep yourself safe' lectures from Joe.
Of course, she would later reflect, the danger always came when you least expected it.
It did that night.
She gave a little shriek, whirling on her feet and stepping back instinctively, her hand flying to her chest and her pounding heart. For a second, she was sure she was imagining things, because that voice was an impossibility, one she never thought that she'd hear again. Then a figure stepped out of the shadows and she recognised Rip Hunter immediately - as always, he didn't look a day older than the last time that she'd seen him. "Rip?" She asked the question anyway because it never hurt to be sure and he nodded as he stepped towards her. Maybe it was her imagination but he looked a step slower than she remembered, almost like he was reluctant to approach her.
Almost like he was nervous.
The hairs at the back of her neck stood up slowly, one by one.
"What are you doing here?" There was no keeping the shake out of her voice because his presence here could only mean one thing, even as her mind refused to accept the truth.
He stopped walking at just arm's length away from her. "It's time to come home, Millie."
"No. No." She shook her head, held her hands up between them as if they would ward off the words. "I have a home here now... a husband and a daughter... you left me here, you can't... you can't..."
"Millie." His voice was quiet, calm and almost regretful. That thought made her look into his eyes and much to her surprise, she saw sympathy writ large there. "You will come with me." There was a pause and even though she wanted to fill it with more denials, something, maybe the look in his eyes stopped her. He sighed and she suddenly realised what he was going to say, her long forgotten suspicion turning out to be true. "You already have."
Those three words hung between them for a long moment of silence that was broken by a strangled sound that vaguely resembled the sound Millie had once heard an alley cat make when it was in pain. It took her longer than it should have to realise that it actually came from her and when Rip stepped forward, that same sympathetic look on his face, she flew at him, fists pounding on his chest, tears pouring down her cheeks as curses and insults flew from her lips. He stood stoic, unmoving, until she had nothing more to say, until all her energy was spent, then he looked down at her and raised one eyebrow. "Finished?"
She had barely started and her fist found his chest again. "You knew? The whole time?"
"The moment you walked into the Academy," he told her. "And before." She wasn't surprised, thinking back to that night, the night she'd come here. She'd sensed something was up with him and when the ship had disappeared with no-one coming to collect her, or search for her, she'd wondered again. She'd just dismissed the thought from her mind because surely someone, somewhere, would have told her if this was her destiny.
"Why me?" was her next question, one that was met with a shrug.
"Because it was you. And it will be you again."
She snorted, rubbed her hand over her face again. "Time Master bullshit."
"We call it closing the circle."
That was a phrase she was familiar with and she straightened herself, wiped her eyes. "You're a son of a bitch, you know that?"
"So you've told me. Amongst other lovely names; great vocabulary you've picked up in the twentieth century." His nose wrinkled with distaste. "You talk like that around Iris?"
Her daughter's name was like a spear to her heart. "She'll think I left her."
"No." His voice was curiously gentle. "I have a Life Model Decoy. Technology in this era won't be able to tell the difference... they'll think it was an aneurysm. That you didn't suffer." Millie pressed her lips together, grateful for that much at least. "And she'll grow up to be very significant... Her and The Flash."
"The Flash?" Millie blinked in surprise and it was Rip's turn to chuckle.
"Well, one of them at least. You know him... Barry Allen."
Millie's jaw dropped. "That skinny little kid that worships Iris?" She shook her head because in a night of surprises, that was the biggest one of all. "No way."
"Remember all those records that were sealed? That you never got to see?" Rip paused. "Now you know why. Millie, your daughter is one of the most important women in history."
Fresh tears pooled in Millie's eyes. "No," she whispered. "No... she's a little girl who needs her mommy... And I won't even get to say goodbye..."
Rip stepped forward, laid his hands on her arms gently. "I'm sorry, Millie," he said quietly, and he did actually sound it, his customary arrogance nowhere in appearance. "If I could change things... you know I would." His fingers tightened against her skin momentarily before he moved back. "Are you ready for this?"
He'd asked her that question once already in her life. Today, her answer was the exact opposite of what it had once been.
"No," she whispered. "But it doesn't matter, does it?"
Tears stream down Iris's cheeks as Millie holds her hand tightly. "I thought about you every day, baby girl," she tells her. "I missed you so much..."
Iris nods, voice breaking on a sob. "Mommy, I missed you too..." And then she is in Millie's arms, her shoulders shaking and Millie holds on tight and lets her own tears fall because this is something that she never thought she'd feel again, the warm weight of her daughter in her arms.
It feels a little like coming home.
She doesn't know how long they stay like that but it's Iris who straightens first and Millie cups her face in her hands, wipes away her tears like she used to do when she was a child. "You are so beautiful," she tells Iris. "And I want to hear all about you."
Behind her, she hears a disgusted harrumph but she can't think of anything, not even the opportunity to put Rip Hunter in his place, that would make her take her eyes off Iris.
Turns out, though, Iris has something. "Later," she says and if her eyes are sparkling with tears, there's something else there too. "There's someone else who missed you even more than I did." She's looking over Millie's shoulder and when Millie turns her head, she's looking into Joe's eyes. He looks like he doesn't know whether to cry or smile or laugh - she can relate to that - and she feels that same pull, that magnetic attraction that she first felt in that diner so many years ago.
"We need to talk."
Her voice feels thick, like her emotions are literally blocking her words and maybe Joe feels the same because he clears his throat before he says, "Barry." He's not looking at Barry though, isn't looking at anyone but Millie. "Can you, ah-"
Millie doesn't take her eyes off him either. "Sure." Barry sounds surprised, maybe a little flustered. "Cisco, can I-"
"My couch is your couch." The other man doesn't hesitate and Joe's lips twist in a smile.
"C'mon," he says, holding out his hand and Millie doesn't think twice about taking it and following him wherever he leads.
"Put me down!"
Millie laughed as Joe scooped her up into his arms and he shook his head, laughing too. "What kind of husband would I be if I didn't carry you over the threshold?" he asked and she swatted at his chest. It was a rather ineffectual swat, she could admit that; something about him calling himself her husband did that to her.
"You're not my husband yet," she pointed out to him. "Not for another two weeks."
To that, he simply lifted one eyebrow. "I've been your husband since day one," he told her and the certainty in his voice made her shiver. "That's just making it official. Besides..." He looked around the porch. "This is the first day that this place is officially ours... our new home."
Millie grinned. "Then what are we waiting for?"
With a theatrical flourish and a wide grin, Joe took a step over the threshold, pressing his lips to hers as he did so. "Home sweet home," he said and after he kicked the front door shut behind him, placing her feet on the floor before lowering her to the ground, he proceeded to show her just how sweet it was.
"Home sweet home."
The car ride was spent in silence and, just like old times, Millie hadn't been able to keep her eyes off Joe. He'd always driven when they were together - sometimes she teased him about it being some sort of male chauvinist thing, sometimes she'd admitted she just didn't like driving, which was true, it being one of the biggest differences between the centuries. Mostly though, she just liked to sit in the car beside him, watch him concentrating on the road ahead, listen to him sing along with whatever was on the radio. She could have sat in a car with him forever, just driving with no particular destination in mind, and loved every minute.
So, when he stops the engine and she looks around, Millie's breath catches in her throat. She stares at the house for a long moment, only moves when he takes her hand. "I couldn't move," he tells her with a shrug and half a smile. "All those memories... it'd be like losing you all over again."
She wants to cry, because the reality of seeing what she put him through is so much worse than she was expecting. "I wasn't sure..." She glances down at his left hand, sees the gold band there. She'd noticed it straight away and had hoped that it was still the same one, had instantly dismissed it as too much to hope for. "Your ring..."
"Your ring." He answers her unspoken question with those two little words, adds on, "I always felt like I was still married." And even after all these years, he can still read her because he shakes his head. "No tears. C'mon, let's go in."
Taking a deep breath, Millie follows him, eyes flitting around to take everything in. Once inside the house, some things are the same, some are different, the child's art that she remembered replaced by family photos, Joe and Iris and Barry though the years. She's drawn to them like a magnet, takes in each detail hungrily and when Joe appears by her side, it's hard to keep back the tears. "I don't know about you," he tells her, "but I could do with one of these."
He hands her a beer and she chuckles, raises it to her lips. The twenty-first century formulation hits her with a pleasant jolt and she chuckles again after she swallows, blinks and shakes her head as if to clear it. "Oh... I'd forgotten this..."
Joe lifts an eyebrow, looks highly amused. "You don't have beer where you come from?"
"Not like this." Millie looks down, fingers finding the label. "It's slightly less potent now. Then." She wrinkles her nose as she tries to figure out the appropriate preposition but she doesn't think that's why Joe laughs.
"Is that why you were always such an easy drunk?"
Remembering some of the early days of their relationship, before she'd learned better, Millie felt her cheeks heat up. "Another of my secrets." Her gaze drops for a second at the heavy truth and when she looks up, his eyes are serious. "I meant what I said," she tells him. "To Iris. I never lied, not about us. Not about how I felt. When I came here... I thought something had gone wrong, that I'd been abandoned here... I was just trying to live my life, fly under the radar... then I met you..." Her throat closes and she's relieved when he nods.
"I know." She must look surprised because he chuckles. "I could see your face, Millie... you never could lie worth a damn. Well... not about the things that matter." He reaches out, his fingers ghosting along her cheek and she shivers. Some things really never do change. "Tell me everything."
It's a request, not a demand, and she complies, starts with her family and the slight amendments she'd made to her history. She leaves out any details about the year she came from, years of Time Master warnings having had an effect, but the important bits, the one that matter, are all there. Especially how she got here, what Rip said, how the ship had vanished and she'd tried to find her way. By the time she gets to the night she left, her beer is almost empty and her throat aches with tears she won't let herself cry. "I called him every name under the sun," she concludes. "Thought up a few new ones too. But I had to go with him. Close the circle." She drains the last of her beer. "I hated him for being the one to make me do it... but not nearly as much as I hated myself for putting you and Iris through that." They're sitting side by side on the couch by now and Joe reaches out and closes his hand over hers. "How are you not hating me right now?" she asks in amazement and his smile is slow and happy as he shrugs.
"Millie..." Her name from his lips in that tone makes her shiver. "I've spent almost twenty years wishing I could have you back in this house... on this couch... talking to me." Another shrug. "Whatever time we have... I'm not wasting it on hate."
A chuckle, soft and low, falls from her lips and she shakes her head. "Guess I know how Iris went from wanting to throw me off a roof to hugging me in five seconds flat," she murmurs and Joe's smile could light up half of Central City.
"She's a good kid."
"Tell me about her."
It comes out as more beseeching than she means it to be and Joe blinks, looking genuinely surprised. "You don't know? I just figured..."
"I never looked." She looks down again, afraid that that confession might just a bridge too far. After all, what kind of mother not only abandons her daughter but never checks on her? Still, Millie had her reasons and she tells him them now. "I was so afraid of what I'd find out... you, killed in the line, Iris all alone... or worse, something awful happening to her..." The images of a thousand sleepless nights dance across her vision, only stopping when Joe's hand tightens on hers.
"You want pictures or DVD?" he asks with a grin and she doesn't have to think twice about her answer.
"I want it all."
Joe is on his feet in moments, pulling out photo albums and DVD cases and he talks for hours, providing a running commentary on each snapshot, each lost tooth and toy, each outfit and special occasion. He answers all her questions, doesn't seem to mind when tears creep down her cheeks, when her voice catches with emotion. He tells her about Barry too, about bringing him to live with them and when there are no more photographs to look at, Millie touches his cheek and smiles.
"You did an amazing job with them."
He tilts his head with a smile, one shoulder raising in a shrug. She knows he's pleased though, feels his cheek heating under her palm. "I'm an amazing guy," he says and she knows he's going for humour.
She just doesn't feel like laughing.
"You really are." Her heart is pounding in her chest, a feeling that only intensifies when his eyes darken, when his gaze drops to her lips. She leans in towards him and he meets her halfway, their lips meeting in a kiss that's gentle, tentative, but which still sends shivers down her spine.
It starts tentative, but it doesn't stay that way, not when his tongue darts out and touches her lips. Her mouth opens to his immediately and her arms go around his neck, pulling him closer to her. He makes a noise at the back of his throat that makes heat pool low in her stomach, brings his hands up to tangle in her hair, tilting his head to deepen the kiss as he pushes her back, presses her into the cushions of the couch and settles himself on top of her.
His kisses move from her lips across to her cheek, down her neck and the scratch of his beard has her arching against him. His fingers trail down her body as her own wander to the hem of his shirt, pulling it up so that she can touch him, feel his skin warm against hers.
He pulls away suddenly and the absence of him is like a dash of cold water across her skin. She stares at him as he stands and even when he pulls her to her feet, she's not sure what he's thinking. That much must be written all over her face because he smiles, lays a hand on her cheek. "I ain't twenty any more, Millie." His voice is quiet, amused and she grins, because neither is she. "And if I'm going to make love to my wife, I'm going to do it properly."
Millie can't speak, but she can nod, and when he leads her up the stairs, lays her down on the bed that's been in her dreams for nearly twenty years, if her voice returns, the only thing she can say is his name.
He doesn't seem to have any complaints.
Millie smiled into her pillow as she was woken by a soft kiss to her shoulder blade, then another, then another. At the same time, the arm that was draped around her waist began to move, his hand tracing gentle patterns on her stomach. She considered feigning sleep, just to see how far he'd go but then she heard him chuckle, heard his voice, all gravelly and low, saying, "I know you're awake, you know."
She turned her head so that she could just about meet his gaze, but didn't otherwise move. She couldn't have, even if she'd wanted to, because he'd tightened his arm around her waist, holding her in place. "Spoilsport," she grumbled and he actually chuckled at that as the fingers of his left hand slid down her left arm, coming to rest on the slender band of gold he'd placed there the previous day. His own ring caught the early morning light, the gleaming gold as bright as the smile she saw on his face when he pushed her onto her back, covered her body with his.
"Not even close," he said and then he proceeded to show her all the ways he was anything but.
Millie smiles into her pillow as she is woken by a soft kiss to her shoulder blade, then another, then another. At the same time, the arm that is draped around her waist begins to move, his hand tracing gentle patterns on her stomach. She considers feigning sleep, just to see how far he'll go but then she hears him chuckle, hears his voice, all gravelly and low, saying, "I know you're awake, you know."
"Oh yeah?" She turns her head so she can meet his gaze, lifts an eyebrow in what she hopes is a challenge. "So what are you gonna do about it?"
He doesn't say anything, just gives her a grin that's a bare half-notch above filthy as he pulls her around so that she's lying on her back, covering his body with hers and bringing their lips together. She returns the kiss, once again letting herself get lost in the touch and feel of him, of them, of fingers and hands touching and caressing and exploring as their bodies move slowly together in a rhythm never entirely forgotten and easily remembered.
She doesn't know how much later it is when he pulls away from her, gives her a sated smile. Her own reaction is different though, as she pouts up at him. "Don't go..." She's only half teasing and he chuckles as he presses a kiss to her lips.
"Man cannot live by Millie alone," he tells her and she admires the view as he walks away from her. "I'll make us some coffee... then I'll make breakfast."
Millie's throat tightens as the memory of a hundred and more different morning comes back to her, days when they were both off work and Joe used to insist that since she spent her days serving up breakfasts at the diner, the least he could do when she was off work was return the favour. Back in the day, that had usually led to breakfast in bed, to them working off the food they'd just consumed, but once Iris had come along, it had changed to a family affair. She considered suggesting calling her but he was gone before she could and besides, she wasn't exactly sure how Iris might feel about seeing her in the cold light of day.
A shiver runs along her spine, whether from the memory of Iris's anger or the loss of Joe's body heat, she doesn't know. Sitting up, she wraps her arms around herself, letting her eyes wander around the room. She smiles when she sees a shirt hanging up on the wardrobe door, an unmistakable impulse seizing her. Slipping out of bed, she pads to the wardrobe, pulls the shirt onto her body, only fastening the two buttons across her breasts. The material swamps her tiny frame - his shirts always did - and she buries her nose in the collar, catching the faint hint of his cologne. Her throat aches and tears smart in her eyes and to distract herself she goes to the dresser, her heart skipping at a beat at the picture she sees there.
Her wedding dress, she decides, still stands the test of time, though she's less sure about the headdress and veil. Joe has fared better, a black tuxedo being the very definition of timeless and if he has a little more hair in the picture, it still looks good on him. It strikes her how young they look, how young they actually were, younger even than Iris is now, but that's not the main thing. The main thing she notices is how happy they look, her sitting on his knee, his arms around her waist, their foreheads touching and identical smiles on their faces.
More than any of the posed professional shots, this candid, snapped across the reception room by David, who'd spent the day jokingly taking credit for the wedding, had always been her favourite of them taken that day.
Millie grinned at the words, laughing as Joe's hand tightened around her wrist, pulled her close to him. "You like saying that," she accused and he shrugged but didn't deny it.
"About as much as you like hearing it," he countered and she couldn't deny that. "Come here." He made to head towards an empty chair, and that, at least, she could say no to.
"I need to talk to your Aunt Phyllis," she protested, gesturing to the other side of the room to his mother's sisters deep in conversation.
Joe made a noise of disgust deep in his throat. "Stay away from that witches coven." His arm slid around her waist. "Come talk to your husband."
Millie would like to say that it took him longer to talk her around, but they were his family and if he was OK with his new wife blowing them off, well then, who was she to argue? So instead she let him lead her to the chair, let him pull her down onto his knee and wrap his arms around her waist, burying his head in her neck for a moment. Goosebumps rippled along her skin as he placed a gentle kiss there and when he pulled back, his eyes were dancing with mischief - he knew that was a sensitive spot.
"Don't start what you can't finish," she warned and the eyebrow he raised was nothing short of a challenge.
"Oh trust me," he said, running a finger down her arm, "that won't be a problem." He brushed a kiss over her lips then, a quick one. "Have I mentioned how beautiful you look?"
"Yes." Millie kept her face perfectly straight. "But you can tell me again."
Joe laughed softly. "Every day," he promised her, leaning in so his forehead touched hers. "For the rest of my life."
Somewhere in the distance, a flashbulb popped but Millie barely noticed. She only had eyes for him.
She's shaken out of her memories of their wedding day when the door opens and Joe comes in, two steaming mugs of coffee in his hands. She knows without asking that it's going to be made exactly how she likes it and she grins as she replaces the picture frame back on the dresser.
She grins a little bit more when she turns back to Joe and sees that he hasn't moved. He's still standing inside the doorway, staring at her with a slack jaw and a look in his eyes that she knows all too well.
Millie tilts her head, rests one hand on her hip while the other plays with the collar of his shirt. "I was cold," she tells him, all but batting her eyelashes at him and it must be her voice that breaks his reverie because when she speaks, he puts the two cups of coffee down on the dresser and walks over to stand in front of her.
"I'd forgotten," he whispers, cupping her face in his hands, "how beautiful you are." His touch is warm from the coffee mugs; she still shivers. When his hands move from her cheek down to her neck, flat across her chest to play with the buttons she'd half-heartedly done up, she shivers again, more to do with the expression on his face than anything else.
"What happened to man can't live by Millie alone?" she asks as he undoes the buttons with ease, slides the shirt off her shoulders to let it puddle on the floor.
"I was wrong," he says simply as he pulls her to him.
The coffee sits on the dresser, goes cold and undrinkable.
They don't care.
Though she wasn't a lady given to histrionics, Millie literally sighed with relief when she pulled her car into the driveway. It had been a long day, a long shift made longer by the fact that she wasn't even supposed to be working, had covered for a sick colleague after having worked the previous three days. As a result, she'd missed some much needed family time and she only hoped that Iris was still awake before her baby girl forgot what she looked like entirely.
When she opened the door, there was silence in the house and her heart sank, just a little. No Iris screaming "Mama!", no toddling feet running towards her unevenly usually meant that her daughter was sound asleep and Millie tried to remind herself that it was OK, that she had the next day off and she could get her Iris cuddles then.
It didn't help.
Hanging up her coat, she turned into the living room, knowing better than to call for Joe - Iris was usually a heavy sleeper but when it came to Millie's voice, she had ears that could make the grass grow. She saw his feet first, up on the coffee table, ankles crossed and she was about to take him to task for that when her eyes travelled up her body and anything she wanted to say died in her throat.
His legs were resting on the table as Joe was leaning back on the couch, eyes closed, his breathing deep and even. And lying on her stomach on top of him, her head turned to the side so that Millie could see it, her cheek and lips smooshed against his chest, was Iris. She was also sound asleep, Joe's chin resting on the top of her head, his arms wrapped protectively around her. Father and daughter were the picture of utter contentment and tears of pure love filled Millie's eyes.
She must have made some sort of sound because Joe stirred, blinked up at her like he wasn't sure if she was really there or if she was some sort of dream. He blinked twice more, then a lazy smile spread across his face. He traced his fingers up and down Iris's spine, looked down at her for only a second as he said, "Hey, baby girl..." He looked at Millie when he continued, "Mama's home."
Millie smiled, pushing back the tears that were only too ready to fall. "Yes," she said softly. "I am."
When they finally arise from the cocoon of bed covers and bodies, they take their time pottering around the house. There is a long shower, made longer by the fact that their decision to shower together - save time, save water - actually ended up having the exact opposite effect of what was intended, hands moving slowly over slippery bodies leading to an inevitable conclusion. When they make it down to the kitchen, they make a fresh pot of coffee and Millie leans against the kitchen counter while Joe makes them pancakes. It's almost like old times and it becomes even more so when Joe takes up his cell phone, makes a call and Iris comes and joins them. The three of them sit around the table and Iris tells them about Eddie, about how he was taking the events of the last twenty four hours. Millie knows Joe well enough to know that he was worried about his partner's reaction, but Iris tells them that he seems fine - he would have come with her, she says, but he wanted to give them some family time together.
Which is sweet of him, but Millie knows she could spend the rest of her life here with Joe and Iris and it wouldn't be long enough.
Just like she knows that they have only hours left together.
She makes good use of the time, asks Iris to tell her everything that Joe already told her last night, just for the pleasure of hearing her talk, and Iris doesn't let her down, tells her everything and, when Joe is in the kitchen, drops her voice and tells her some stories that Joe would never have heard of. Millie is sure of that, because Iris is not in a convent and Joe is not serving time for murder.
All in all, it is a perfect morning and it only comes to an end when the watch that is around Millie's wrist vibrates and she glances down to see a message from Rip, indicating that she should get herself back to STAR Labs as soon as possible. Something must show in her face because Joe reaches out, covers her hand with his. "It's time, isn't it?"
"Yes." She laces their fingers together, tries to swallow down the lump in her throat.
Iris drives ahead of them to STAR Labs and when they arrive there, when Joe parks his car beside hers, Millie sees that Iris has already headed up to the main lab. She gets out of the car but is in no real hurry to get there herself and Joe appears to share her reluctance, tugging her hand and pulling her against him. She slides her arms around his waist, buries her head in his chest and closes her eyes, wishing she could slow time down.
"You could stay." Joe says it lightly, wishfully, and she laughs softly.
"And what would we tell people who knew me before?" she asks. "Your family... David..." She tilts her head back, looks into his eyes and sees him nod.
"It's a nice dream though."
"It is." That lump is back in her throat again. "And if I could... you know I would."
"But you belong there."
"And you belong here." She looks around her, remembers what havoc Eobard Thawne wreaked on history, how much worse it could have been, and she shudders. "Iris... Barry... they need you."
Joe's hands move to her face. "Are you happy there?" he asks, genuine curiosity in his face, in his voice and Millie gives him the only truth she can give him.
"I'm happy," she tells him. "But I miss you both... every day." She lays her head against his chest once more then, listens to the beating of his heart and they stand like that for a long time before the watch on her wrist vibrates again. She allows herself a brief second of imagining ripping the damn thing off, throwing it to the ground and running away with Joe, before pulling back, looking into his eyes again. "I have to go."
Joe nods. "Just a minute." He kisses her then, his hands on her face, her body pressing close to his and Millie closes her eyes and lets herself get lost in him, committing every touch, every sensation to memory. All too soon though, he pulls away and they go to the elevator, up to the roof where everyone is waiting for them. Barry is standing beside Iris, whose eyes are looking a little damn, whole Rip stands across the room, bridling with barely contained impatience. The other STAR Labs employees are standing just behind him, the young couple and the older man with perfectly calm faces, the man they'd called Cisco beside them, a grin on his face when he looks at Joe that makes Joe roll his eyes which makes Cisco snicker. The unspoken communication warms Millie's cheeks and Joe's hand tightens on hers.
"Ignore him," he mutters out of the corner of his mouth and Millie tries not to laugh aloud.
It's an impulse that gets much easier when Rip opens his mouth and he's Rip Hunter at his most arrogant and infuriating. She grits her teeth and stands her ground, hugs her daughter and Barry, gives the rest of them a nod and a smile before she turns to Joe. Everyone else takes a step back, or maybe it just seems that way, because when Joe steps close to her, once again takes her cheeks in his hands and presses his lips against hers, it's hard to think about anyone, or anything, else.
When he pulls back, he leans his forehead against hers. "I love you, Millie," he tells her and she smiles.
"I love you too, Joe."
Slowly, carefully, she steps away from him, steps into the vehicle where Rip is already waiting. He lets her strap herself in before he speaks and when he does, his voice is gentle. "Ready to go home?" he asks and when she glances over at him, his eyes are as kind as his voice. It's a side of him she doesn't often see and the urge to snap at him dissipates like so much morning mist.
"Funny," she says, looking out through the view screen, her eyes finding Joe's figure, lingering there. "I already was."
years from now -
Thanks to some Time Master trickery, Millie arrives back the same day she left and she tells Rip, in no uncertain terms, that if he thinks that she's going to do paperwork, he's greatly mistaken. To her surprise, and his credit, he doesn't even try to make her stay, just tells her to go and that he'll see her in the morning. She doesn't question him, knowing better than to think that this sympathetic Rip Hunter is a permanent thing but perfectly willing to take advantage of it while she can.
When she arrives back at her house, she lets herself in quietly, hangs up her coat as she listens out for any noise. The house is perfectly quiet though and she turns on her heel, goes towards the living room, stopping when she sees a pair of feet, crossed at the ankle, propped up on the coffee table. A smile crosses her lips and she shakes her head, goes over and taps the offending sneakers with her hand. "Off," she orders and his reaction is a startled jump, a surprised blink, then a sheepish, sleepy smile.
"You're home," he says and she smiles, her throat tight.
"Yeah... I'm home." Something in her voice must give her away because he frowns as he sits upright. She waves away the question before it comes. "Nothing I can tell you about."
His eyes dance. "Time Master bullshit?"
"Language." She sounds like Rip, she realises, and he must know that because he laughs. "Fine, fine... go to bed."
He chuckles but he stands up, heading for the stairs. As he passes her, he pulls her into a hug, leaning down to kiss her cheek. "I love you, Mom," he tells her and she looks up at him, into those eyes she's loved for so long, at that smile that is so like his father's and she smiles.
"I love you too, Joe."