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and history immeasurably is wealthier

Chapter Text

In some ways, Lucy finds, living with Flynn is shockingly close to normal. They are, after all, accustomed to sharing space. Other elements of their routines are stranger — they actually have to do the grocery shopping, and the house, unlike the bunker, shows dirt in places that aren’t the kitchen. Lucy derives an odd satisfaction from doing the vacuuming. Their first time going to the supermarket, however, is an abject failure. She discovers he has a sweet tooth; he seems genuinely shocked to learn she doesn’t grow her own herbs. But they spend an hour wandering the aisles, trailing behind a cart holding a basil plant, a box of pasta, two individual cheesecakes (on sale), and half a gallon of milk.

“Sauce,” says Flynn finally. They are staring at the shelf of peanut butters at the time (creamy, natural, chunky, organic.) “Pasta sauce,” he says firmly, as Lucy blinks up at him. “And a bottle of wine. We’ll do the rest later.”

“I don’t know why I’m…” begins Lucy. “I don’t know why it’s so…” She finds herself suddenly, mortifyingly close to tears.

“Habit,” says Flynn grimly, as if it explains everything, as if he should have seen it sooner. He is moving faster now, striding so that Lucy has to break into a trot every few steps. “Chianti, Montepulciano — damn it, Nero d’Avola, why not.” Lucy is breathless by the time they reach the pasta sauces. “Garlic and herb… Lucy.” His voice is rough with need, and she looks up at him in sudden alarm.

“Um… are you…” She puts a hand on his arm, and he practically jumps. “Okay,” says Lucy. “Okay. Garden vegetable.”

“Thank you.”

She hooks her hand through the crook of his arm as they proceed to the register; she feels the need to assert that they’re in this together, even if she doesn’t quite understand what this is. They manage to get everything onto the belt without dropping anything. Lucy makes quiet chat with the girl on the register: four hours left on shift, got the typewriter tattoo because she wants to be an author — the model’s accurate to the 1930s, and she hopes they have a good night. Flynn grabs both reusable bags, and they’re out. Lucy’s brain supplies: safe.

“So,” she says, once she’s gotten them out of the parking lot. “You… you have some idea as to why I feel as though we just dodged a bullet? Or survived a shootout?” His sigh lasts longer than her conscientious wait at the stop sign.

“Choices,” he says. His voice is soft, drained. “Every choice, for us, for the past two years — centuries? — has been a matter of life and death.”

“At least potentially,” Lucy adds, the insistence on accuracy reflexive.

“At least potentially,” agrees Flynn. “And now…” He lets the thought trail into silence.

And now, thinks Lucy, we’re left staring at jars of pasta sauce as though picking the wrong one might cause an explosion. She says: “I’m glad you got the bottle of wine.”

He laughs mirthlessly. “Maybe I should have gotten two.”

What she almost says is: I love you. What she does say is: “We’ll be fine.” She hopes it’s true.

***

To her continually-renewed astonishment, they manage to settle in — gradually, haltingly. She gets home from a meeting with Stanford’s faculty dean to find that Flynn has done the grocery shopping. Lucy is tempted to tease him about the all-natural peanut butter, before she sees that his eyes are dark with anxiety. She tells him it’s perfect, and decides not to examine too closely her own delight in discovering how easily she can make him flush with pleasure.

They have phone dates with the other members of the Time Team, compare notes on how much takeout they’re ordering. Rufus and Jiya lead effortlessly, but Rufus protests that they did this anyway, and who in their right minds would forego Taco Tuesday?

“Taco Tuesday?” says Flynn, leaning closer to the phone. He and Lucy are packing up boxes of books, clothes, knickknacks that Lucy protests she never liked anyway. The phone is balanced on a glass vase filled with old wine corks.

“Taco Tuesday,” affirms Rufus enthusiastically. “Do you mean to say you don’t…? Man, I question your life priorities.”

“What else is new?” That elicits a bark of laughter from Wyatt.

“We should all meet up,” suggests Jiya. “Rufus and I owe our favorite taco place a sight of us in person.”

“Sounds like a plan,” says Wyatt. “Luce?”

She crawls across the floor to the phone, knocking over a pile of books in the process. “Yep!” she says breathlessly. “Yep, absolutely, see you then.”

“You’ll send us the address?” says Flynn.

“You know, I’d kind of like to see you figure it out using your highly classified and terrifying skillset. Can’t have you getting rusty.”

“Goodbye, Rufus.”

Lucy reaches to turn off the phone, and finds herself suddenly conscious of how easy it would be, from her current position, to reach for Garcia’s arm, lean up into his embrace… She turns aside, forcing herself to stare fixedly at something, anything, that is not his mouth.

“Lucy?”

She clears her throat. “Yeah?”

“Bad memories?”

She blinks rapidly, takes stock of what she actually is looking at: the cheap glass vase with its dusty corks. “Uh, no,” says Lucy. “No. I was just wondering — um — if we might reuse it. Did you keep the cork from that bottle of Nero d’Avola?”

“You’ll find it in the drawer with the corkscrew. You never know when a piece of cork will come in useful.”

His solemnity sends her into a fit of giggles. “Somehow I doubt that’s what my mother was thinking.”

“Well. Should we ever need to start a fire or replace a knife handle or…”

“Done!” She is still trying to swallow her laughter, suddenly giddy with the mere fact of survival, with the reality of discussing living room decor with the man who has become her closest friend, her housemate, who might become — will, Lucy promises herself, will become — her lover.

Chapter Text

Lucy tells herself that she should be looking forward to this. She repeats it like a mantra as she gets ready for the evening (discarding too many tops on the bed alongside a pair of black trousers that feels too boring, a skirt that no longer fits quite right.) Finally she chooses a dress with a print more cheerful than she is. It’s not as though any of the others are likely to be fooled by a mere outfit choice, at this point, but Lucy tells herself that it’s the thought that counts.

He’s reading when she comes down, leaning against the front door, taking the chance at a few more paragraphs of Science of the Seance. Lucy can’t suppress a tiny smile. Dork.

He looks up, and his brow furrows. “Do you want me to drive?” Okay, so Operation Brave Face was an abject failure. Still — might as well take advantage of the offer. She’s never liked tequila, but tonight she might make an exception.

“Sure, thanks.”

They journey in silence, except for Lucy reading out the GPS directions from her phone. (They learned within the first two minutes of a trip to a hardware store that being ordered around by a robot frays both their nerves.) On the street outside the taqueria, they sit listening to the ticking of the car’s cooling engine.

“Lucy,” says Flynn, and stops.

She sighs. “It’s nothing. I mean — it’s not nothing, but it should be.” He arches an eyebrow at her. “I know they’re married,” says Lucy. “I know that. It’s just… it’s still strange, seeing them together, as if nothing had come between them, as if all this has only brought them closer, and — ” She breaks off, draws a shuddering breath. “I know it’s selfish.”

His fingers flex on the steering wheel. She stares fixedly at them, willing herself not to cry. “It’s not selfish, Lucy.” She’s quite sure that she has done nothing to deserve his certainty. “We none of us deserve this,” he continues, his voice still lower, rougher. “Treat every man according to his desert…. But they have found grace, despite everything.” He looks over at her, a small, sad smile at the corner of his mouth. “And we’re only human.”

Lucy swallows hard. “Yeah.” She tells herself that she brought this on herself, that if she’s nostalgic for the ease between Wyatt and herself, well, no amount of regret will bring it back. No amount of self-reproach will get her a redo on this timeline. She hates the memory of her own bitterness: What, our one-night relationship? But that transience couldn’t be laid at his door, or hers; only accounted for by the unsparing cruelty of time. Striving for detachment, she can’t really bring herself to feel it was a bad decision — after all, how many chances does one get at careless, joyous sex with a trusted partner at a party bankrolled by all the glamor of Old Hollywood? They’d survived still trusting each other, at least.

“Lucy?” says Flynn again.

“Yeah,” she says. “Yeah, sorry. I’m ready. Let’s go. Taco Tuesday, here we come.” He has her door open by the time her reluctant fingers have finished fumbling with the seatbelt. She isn’t quite sure whether it’s consolation or guilt she feels, having him stand matter-of-factly between her and the indifferent traffic as she climbs out of the car, between her and the restaurant windows as she dabs powder over the tracks of tears, reapplies a bright lipstick. Lucy takes a deep breath. Commence Operation Brave Face, phase two.

By the time she’s been passed from Jiya’s embrace into Rufus’, she can feel the tension starting to melt from between her shoulder blades. She registers with mild surprise, moving to take a seat, that Jiya is still hanging onto Flynn’s forearms, transparently delighted to see him.

“You can sit next to me,” the younger woman informs him. “Lucy can go on your other side, Wyatt and Jessica can be next to each other, and Rufus and I can play footsie under the table.”

“Way to expose our top secret master plan, babe.” Jiya shrugs unrepentantly.

“So,” says Lucy, “how did you guys find this place?” It’s small, crowded with dark tables, painted with murals more notable for their color palettes than for their accuracy of perspective. The two other six-person tables in the room are filled with multigenerational groups; Univision plays quietly on two television screens, while a singer declaims “Déjame Vivir” with enviable confidence.

“This is my old neighborhood,” says Jiya happily. “The roasted squash blossom quesadillas are to die for.”

“Good to know.” Flynn is studying the menu with an expression of concentration identical to that he devoted to Napoleon’s plans for Marengo.

“You can’t order quesadillas on Taco Tuesday!” protests Rufus.

“Try me,” purrs Flynn, parodying his own threats, and Lucy is suddenly, helplessly giggling. She wonders somewhere in the back of her mind if that’s why he did it, and if so, how he seems to know her as easily and as intimately as if she’d once given him a key to her brain the way she’d handed him the keys to the house — hey, I’ll be dealing with some heavy emotional stuff, the lock sticks a little, can you water the plants?

“It wasn’t that funny,” says Jiya.

“I know!” gasps Lucy.

“Hey,” says Wyatt, “what’s the joke, and what’s the idea of starting without us?”

“We’d never,” says Rufus loyally, while Lucy straightens, suddenly sobered. “What’s the team opinion on guacamole?”

“Pro,” choruses everyone except Flynn in unison.

“Don’t tell me you don’t like guacamole!”

“Ignorance, not aversion,” Flynn assures Jiya.

“That’s something.” Rufus looks deeply unconvinced.

“I’ve been looking forward to this,” says Jessica.

Lucy takes a deep breath. She knows how this works, knows it’s up to her to set the tone. We’re all adults here. She’s had her trust betrayed too. “I’m so glad we could find a date that worked for all of us.” She can feel Flynn stiffen slightly; of course he wouldn’t be fooled, but if he can only keep his mouth shut for once… “That has to make us some kind of phenomenon, right?”

“Oh, we’re all kinds of phenomenon,” says Rufus happily. “Maybe that’ll be my next big project: time travel, now so that 30-something urbanites can have social lives. Think I can sell Mason on it?”

Wyatt laughs. “First world problems. It’s a guaranteed success.” He smiles at Lucy, half shy, half conspiratorial, and she finds herself smiling back. Between the guacamole, the hot salsa, and the first beer, things seem to be going well. Of course, it’s once she’s let her guard down that it happens.

“So, we ready to order?” Lucy loves watching Rufus in charge, relaxed, happy.

“Cop-out,” Jiya teases Flynn, when they have made their respective selections. “I thought you were having the quesadillas!”

He widens his eyes in mock horror. “On Taco Tuesday?” Rufus cackles with laughter.

They’re all more than happy to suspend conversation when the food arrives, reaching across and around each other for salsa verde, queso fresco, pico de gallo.

“Dude,” says Rufus to Flynn, around his first mouthful, “dig in.”

“Mm.” Flynn is meditatively chewing a spoonful of pickled onions, as if evaluating their flavor palette. Lucy wonders if she should warn him against doing the same with the jalapeños. “These ritual decisions are not to be rushed.”

“Just do what you like.” Rufus licks salsa off his finger. “Ignore me. This is a judgment-free zone for taco-related choices.”

“Part of the fun of Taco Tuesday,” agrees Wyatt indistinctly. Lucy, halfway through her own first taco, is perfectly content to let them argue this one out. It’s soothingly familiar, in many ways; the non-lethal stakes are a nice variation.

“Wait,” says Rufus, “wait. Do not tell me you haven’t had tacos often enough to have opinions on them.”

Flynn raises one shoulder in a shrug. “My mother had left Houston before I had a chance at a gastronomical education.”

“Gastronomical… man, you do not know what you’re missing. I can’t believe you haven’t… Lucy!” exclaims Rufus, changing tack, “how long have we been back? Are you saying you have allowed this man to remain in ignorance of tacos? What kind of girlfriend are you?”

Lucy, caught in the act of consuming guacamole, chokes on her tortilla chip, grabs wildly for her glass of water, and — as it seems to her, by the malign interposition of fate — knocks it onto the floor. Without looking over at her, Flynn hands her his own; she takes it, still spluttering.

“Okay,” says Rufus slowly. “I’m… sorry?” And then, reproachfully, to Flynn: “You might at least try to work a little less in sync.” Lucy can practically feel the man next to her trying to hold still enough to be mistaken for part of the mural behind them.

“Wait,” says Jessica, her drawl incredulous. Lucy realizes, with something like horror, that she is being addressed. “You’ve been living under the same roof, for weeks…” Lucy can hear, she can practically see, the unspoken with that… “and you haven’t — ”

“Honey,” says Wyatt warningly. Almost simultaneously, Jiya says, too loudly:

“Why is there a woman standing in the middle of a pond?” They turn as one to follow Jiya’s gaze to the mural in the corner.

“I think she’s Chalchiuhtlicue.” Lucy is gasping for air. “Aztec goddess of water, of rivers, seas, and storms. It has to be her; that skirt she’s wearing is supposed to be made of jade.”

Rufus nods. “Lime green. Close enough.”

While the rest of the table continues to evaluate the murals, Wyatt, in rapid Spanish, asks the waitress for another glass of water — sorry about the mess — and while she’s at it, could they get a pitcher of Corona for the table? Lucy shoots him a look of gratitude so intense that she’s sure it borders on adoration. He grins back at her, perhaps more at ease than she’s ever seen him. We can do this, Lucy tells herself. We can do this.

Chapter Text

Getting back into the car, Lucy reflects that, all things considered, the rest of the evening went well. There are vague plans to make Taco Tuesday a regular team date. Still… She takes a deep breath. “I am so, so sorry.”

“Lucy.” She shivers. It is indecent, it is indecent, that he should say her name like that. She finds herself thinking that Rufus, for all his lack of tact, may have some kind of point. “For what?” She just looks at him. Is he going to make her say it? “For someone else’s faulty conclusions? For the act of kindness that allowed those conclusions to be drawn?” She blinks. An act of kindness? Is that what he thinks this is? She wonders if she should clarify that she is not in the habit of kissing people breathless as the prelude to friendly gestures of hospitality… Flynn moves the car smoothly out into traffic. “You have nothing to apologize for.”

Lucy swallows. “Okay.” The pedestrian lights at the corner flash their message of caution: watch your step. “Thanks.” The silence they settle into is, against all the odds, comfortable.

***

A month after what Lucy calls the Pasta Sauce Incident, and two weeks after their first Taco Tuesday, she’s beginning to feel that things are falling into something like an accustomed rhythm. They go to their mandated counseling; Flynn continues to do the grocery shopping, with a conscientious regularity that she finds charming and incongruous in equal measure. She attends interminable meetings with university admin, works on writing up the results of her ‘research sabbatical.’ Lucy doesn’t have to feign her enthusiasm when telling her department chair that she plans an article on informal espionage networks during the Revolutionary War. She does wish, however, that it were easier to figure out where the documents she wants ended up. There’s the Library of Congress, of course, and Philadelphia, but she has a horrible suspicion that she may end up having to charm New England archivists. Lucy sighs.

“Something wrong?”

“Not really. Do you want to come on a road trip with me? Two-lane highways, roadside diners, dusty documents?”

His eyebrows climb. “Don’t tell me you need a trained assassin!”

Lucy makes a face at him. “No. Though depending on the temperaments of local historians, we might indulge in a spot of intimidation, lock-picking…”

He chuckles, then. “Lucy…”

“I know, I’m sorry; I shouldn’t joke about it.”

“No, that’s — I — ” He clears his throat, and goes back to whatever he’s doing under the sink with a screwdriver. Lucy reflects that, if the government doesn’t decide what they want to do with him soon, her house may be improved beyond recognition.

“Well,” says Lucy, forcing what she hopes is plausible cheerfulness, “I’ll keep you posted. If you’re not needed by sinister government agencies, I’ll negotiate for your services in looming over archivists.”

“Provided gratis,” says Flynn, without looking up but without missing a beat, and Lucy breathes easier.

***

Stanford puts her back in the classroom, having made it abundantly clear that it is by their special grace and favor that she’s on a half load of teaching. Lucy feels fairly strongly that recovery from time travel is more than adequate grounds for this concession, especially as she’s having to read up for lectures in a way she hasn’t done since she was a graduate student. There’s a certain irony in the fact that she’s more or less directly responsible for this, but still. It wouldn’t do to make the kind of error that any laptop-using student could fact-check using Wikipedia. And she genuinely wants to get caught up on, oh, the last thirty years of the relevant historiography that she now hasn’t read. It’s just that she is very, very tired.

Fortunately — though this, she tells herself, is a very selfish point of view to take — the byzantine bureaucracy of the US government is taking its own sweet time deciding how it wants to make use of one Garcia Flynn. Which means that, if she passes out over a pile of grading in the afternoon, she usually wakes up to the smell of something from the kitchen. She manages not to burst out laughing the first time she finds him in her mother’s apron. She tells him seriously that purple is a great color on him; she does not say aloud that the floral pattern is… incongruous. By the end of the week, she’s successfully raided a not-too-fancy home goods store, and left a striped apron on the counter when leaving for her 8 a.m. class (the registrar wants to make very, very clear that she’s at the bottom of the department hierarchy, apparently.) She hesitates over the note she leaves with it until she’s on the verge of running late. In the end, all she puts is Thanks for all the dinners.

When she gets home that evening, there’s Django Reinhardt on the stereo, and the kitchen is already redolent of cassoulet. Damn the man, thinks Lucy affectionately. It’s like a oneupmanship of oddly specific courtesies around here. To her mild astonishment, he seems to find himself amply rewarded in conversation, in hearing about how historians are interpreting their version of the War of 1812, or about the sweet kid in the front row who really got the discussion of competing ancient models for the American republic. The week after the cassoulet, Lucy almost asks him, as they are doing the dishes, how long it’s been since he’s been able to live like this. But on reflection, she thinks it might be cruel to make him answer.

Then, in the lead-up to midterms, he almost gives her a heart attack at 2 a.m. Coming downstairs, she sees his feet first, and misses a breath, nearly misses the last step. But no: a body in an unexpected place is no longer a cause for fear, and she exhales carefully, goes softly into the living room. There remains the open question of why he’s sleeping sitting against the couch, instead of lying on it — to say nothing of why he isn’t in the second of the smaller bedrooms. After a moment’s deliberation, she decides to get the glass of water she came down for in the first place; she is not surprised when she emerges from the kitchen to find him watching her.

“Hi.” His voice is half-sheepish, hoarse with sleep.

“Hi. Is there a reason you’re…?”

He sighs. “Your house has a lot of windows.”

She frowns, and then it hits her: entry points. “I still say it’s better than the bunker.”

“Yes.”

Briefly Lucy wonders what would happen if she laid down next to him, curled up against him, insisted that if he can sleep there, so can she. “Well,” she says. “Good night, then.”

“Good night, Lucy.”

It’s five nights after that that she finds him in the hall. He’s out cold, back braced against one wall, feet against the other, knees drawn up. His breathing is heavy enough that she wonders if he’s dreaming, wonders if she should wake him up. She doesn’t. She goes to the other end of the hall and returns. She whispers his name on her threshold, waits for a response that does not come before closing the door behind her. And, after what feels like a long time, she falls back asleep.

Chapter Text

Early the following Saturday, she opens her door and nearly trips over him. She’d like to think that the sound she makes is more a gasp than a shriek, but his reaction suggests differently.

“Lucy?” He’s on his feet before he’s properly awake, grabbing wildly at her, at the doorframe, getting between her and the hallway.

“Oh, Flynn.”

“What — ”

“Ridiculous,” mutters Lucy. He is swaying on his feet, but he is braced, ready to spring. “Nothing,” she says, more firmly. “It’s nothing. We’re fine. And you’re going to bed.”

“What — ” he begins again.

“It’s morning,” says Lucy, and tugs on his shirt until he stumbles obediently after her. She’s concentrating on being exasperated (she’s afraid that if she doesn’t, she might cry.) “Everything is fine. We’re safe. And you are going to sleep. In a bed,” she adds, for emphasis.

“But — ”

“Nope,” says Lucy. “No arguments.” He blinks up at her from the edge of her bed, frowning in concentration. “Just… get some rest.” The option of taking him by the shoulders and making him lie down seems dangerous for several reasons. “I’ll wake you up later.” He nods then, acquiescent, and she leaves the room without looking back.

She is as good as her word. She brings up the coffee at noon, on an old tray that still recalls childhood tea parties — tuna sandwiches cut into stars and hearts, Amy’s legs draped carelessly over her own. Looking at him, she wonders for a guilty instant why she’s failed to notice the fatigue that has etched deeper lines into his face, cast darker shadows under his eyes. But then… she’s seen him exhausted, desperate, wounded, ill; it’s not as though sleep-deprivation would register as a contrast with rude health.

“Flynn.” In some ways, it’s no different from waking him for his turn on watch. She knows that it’s safe to touch his shoulder after she’s said his name; she knows that he will reach to cover her hand with his own, a wordless reassurance. She can read the surprise on his face as he finds a mattress under his hand, rather than a tree root or something equally unaccommodating. Sitting up, he scrutinizes her face as if seeking some sign.

“I made coffee,” says Lucy. Wordlessly he takes it from her, acknowledging it with a duck of the head. Lucy frowns. “Are you okay?”

“Yes,” says Flynn firmly. “Yes, I’m fine. Thank you,” he adds. Lucy sips her coffee, waiting for what comes next. “You can always… tell me to go,” he says.

“Tell you to go?”

“Anytime,” he affirms gravely. Lucy’s glad she decided against making brunch before coming up; the eggs would have gotten cold, making this private crisis into farce.

“You are — you are — that’s absurd,” she concludes. “Are you suggesting that I might kick you out of my house because you’re not sleeping in a bed?”

“Well,” says Flynn, “I seem to be sleeping in yours.”

Lucy counts to five before responding to that one. “I put you into it,” she says. “You weren’t kicking me out of it. And — look — I meant it when I said you didn’t have to stay, but…” She swallows, waits for him to meet her eyes steadily. “I’m glad not to be alone,” she says. And then, because that is not the whole truth: “I’m glad to have you here.”

A smile pulls at the corner of his mouth; it does not reach his eyes. “I suppose,” says Garcia Flynn, “that there was a time when I… slept. Properly,” he adds, in wry self-mockery. “But it seems hard to remember.”

That decides her. Lucy puts her coffee mug down on the tray with a thunk, throws back the duvet. “Move over,” she says, and — somewhat to her surprise — he does.

“Lucy?” His voice is not quite steady. She reaches over and around him, rearranging the pillows. “What are you doing?”

“I am lazing,” Lucy informs him importantly. “I receive reliable reports from the world outside academia that this is something normal people do on Saturdays. Lazing. Staying in bed for no particular reason.”

“Ah,” says Flynn.

“Yeah,” says Lucy. “Ah.” She settles comfortably into the pillows (not quite touching his shoulder, not daring to insert herself into the crook of his arm) and retrieves her coffee.

“Your things,” says Flynn, after a few moments. “Your pillows and… and things. They smell of you.”

Lucy squints up at him, wondering exactly how much sleep he hasn’t had, these past few weeks. “You realize that it would be surprising if they didn’t?”

“Mint,” says Flynn, inconsequently.

Lucy considers this. “Are you saying I drool minty freshness into my pillowcases?”

“No,” says Flynn; “no. Wild — wild mint, in a field, with the sun on it.”

“Oh,” says Lucy. She finds that her hands are shaking slightly, and takes a tighter hold on her mug. With one arm he gathers her — gently, effortlessly — into his side, and she relaxes with a suddenness that surprises her.

“Did you think,” he asks softly, “that I would only hold you when we were in danger of death?”

She laughs shakily, sips her coffee. “I’m not sure I thought about it. I just… didn’t want to presume.”

He makes an indistinct noise that ends in a cough, and she suddenly wonders what it would be like to hear him laugh openly. “There is a certain English proverb,” observes Flynn to the opposite wall, “concerning pots and kettles…”

“As long as you acknowledge,” says Lucy, “that you’re the very sooty kettle in this analogy.” He smiles, a wordless answer. “Kick you out of the house for sleeping in odd places indeed,” she mutters. She knows, of course, that there’s far more than that at stake: his desire — his need? — to believe that she is capable of readjusting to something recognizable as normal life, even if he is not; his fear of jeopardizing her ability to do so.

They lapse again into silence. Lucy thinks of the time they shared a berth on the Titanic — and hadn’t that been a hell of a mission, racing against time and an iceberg. It had been awkward enough at first, and she’d been wretched below decks, with the tiny porthole looking out only to the blackness of the sea. And it was the damn Titanic and people had been trapped. She had said some of this aloud: what if it hits before we expect, what if the ceiling caves, what if the porthole breaks… He’d put his arm around her, matter-of-factly, securely. There. Now you know exactly where to find me. And if anything happens, you’ll be able to get out. Or we’ll both be crushed, but you’ll be crushed by me instead of the ceiling — the personal touch. She’d laughed in spite of herself, in spite of everything, and she’d woken up with his arm still around her. He’d slept then, surely?

Lucy thinks also of Khara, one of her close friends from college, coming downstairs tired and sheepish on the girls’ weekend they’d organized instead of going to their five-year reunion. I know it’s the corniest thing, but after two years of marriage, I just don’t sleep well without him there. They’d all cooed sympathetically, and Marianne had made extra coffee. And the man next to her had slept beside the woman he loved for the better part of a decade and half the night of her murder.

“Might it help,” asks Lucy slowly, “if you slept in here?”

She feels him go still, next to her; she watches him swallow. At last: “I take it,” he says, “that you are not suggesting that I should displace you.”

“I am not. Besides,” she adds, “this way, if anything happens, you’ll know exactly where to find me.”

His laughter is a shaken breath, his smile irradiating. “You’re not afraid that your ceiling will cave in, are you, Lucy?”

She nestles more securely into the hollow of his shoulder. “Not in the least.”

Chapter Text

Later, Lucy is to wonder why she decided that cooking brunch would be a nice, safe shared activity. Later, she will reflect that she had been lulled into a false sense of security by — well, any number of things: his docility and her ease; and, perhaps most of all, the mere length of time for which they have both taken so much about their intimacy for granted.

She’s the first to get out of bed, trusting that he’ll follow her to the kitchen. She supposes she shouldn’t be surprised that he’s bought a rather nice seeded loaf.

“Catch!” she tells him, and throws it across the room at him. “You can make the toast.”

She has never been a confident cook, but a graduate student’s stipend (even when paying your mother only a nominal rent) is a great incentive to learn a variety of things to do with eggs. She scrambles these with just a little milk, lumps of burrata, fresh pepper, chopped up tomatoes. When she asks Flynn to get her some basil from the pot on the sill, he looks so smug that she sticks out her tongue at him. He smiles, and something comes into his eyes that makes her turn back to the stove very abruptly, and continue scrambling the eggs with an excess of vigor.

“Basil,” he says, so close behind her that she feels the word as a vibration. Lucy bites down on the inside of her lip, and wonders if she is irritated or delighted by the thought that he is flirting with her — flirting with her! on purpose! isn’t he? — and wonders also, very briefly, what would happen if she asked him to make love to her on top of the handpicked Italian stone of Carol Preston’s immaculate kitchen island.

“Wait,” says Flynn suddenly, and Lucy almost drops the basil into the eggs as he reaches around to take her hand in his. “You’ll bruise the leaves.”

Lucy relinquishes the scissors. “What am I doing, exactly?”

“You’re being very patient with a man who’s interfering with your cooking. If you tear them, gently, you’ll get more flavor.”

“Show me?” Two can play at this game, she decides — though her voice emerges smaller than she’d like. He moves in behind her as though she’d accepted an invitation to the tango.

“There,” he says softly. The smallest of the leaves twirl into the pan. She feels as though she is watching his fingers too closely as they strip the remaining leaves. Having freed them from the stem, he holds them just firmly enough to tear them, almost artistically, into irregular bits. Lucy swallows, and thinks about delicacy of touch. “You try,” he says, his voice warm with enthusiasm, and she obeys, though she feels clumsy, awkward, too eager, as she watches the edges of the leaves darken under her grip.

“Perfect,” says Flynn happily. “Shall we get another sprig?”

“Sure,” says Lucy, and turns so rapidly that she bumps into his arm. “You — you do that; I’ll get us water.” Her pulse is almost back to normal when he adds, not looking up from the stove:

“It’s like mint.”

Lucy counts it as a victory that she does not audibly whimper. “Why,” she manages eventually, “do you know how to cook?”

“Survival skill,” he says easily.

“Sure, but — ” she drinks off most of her first glass of water — “knowing what to do with basil leaves is hardly survival-level cooking.”

“Mm,” says Flynn. “Well.” She is just preparing a remonstrance — you can’t insist on being enigmatic and mysterious about cooking, for goodness’ sake — when he continues: “The basics I learned growing up, of course.” Lucy wonders about that ‘of course,’ wonders what it might be like to have a mother who treated you as a potentially responsible human being rather than as a rival for control. “Also,” says Flynn, “as you have just learned to your cost, I’m terrible at being idle in a kitchen. I think Lorena started teaching me things out of desperation.”

Lucy can’t help it — she laughs. It’s a curiously plausible scenario: a somewhat younger, less haggard version of this man, prowling uneasily through a too-small workspace, fidgeting with things on counters until given instructions detailed enough to keep him safely occupied while the main work of the kitchen continued. The look he gives her is halfway between guilty and conspiratorial.

“Sorry,” says Lucy; “sorry.” She finishes her glass of water, refills it, sets their places with unnecessary care. Again it feels dangerously close to her lips, the confession that she loves him, that she wants him, and that underneath and beyond both of those things, she does not want to imagine a future that does not include this companionship, this mutual delight, this not-quite-casual exploration of their pasts, laying the foundations for a future in which she’ll know what to do with the leaves of herbs that grow on their windowsill. Their windowsill. Lucy shakes her head slightly, tells herself to get a grip.

“I hope you’re not burning those eggs,” she says aloud, her voice slightly too taut, slightly too close to trembling.

“Perish the thought,” says Flynn.

While he dishes up, she refills their coffee mugs, switches on the radio. Insofar as she has a conscious motive for doing so, it’s to prevent a potentially dangerous silence. But she’s soon wondering whether the universe really does have it in for her, or whether she’s just become abnormally sensitive. Saturday’s matinee opera is on, and the bass is intoning, as basses are wont to do: Let us respect a heart which, pierced by sorrow, is now shy of love. Lucy sighs, looking at the man who’s scrupulously wiping down her cast-iron skillet. Shy of love? retorts a tenor member of the chorus, with typical tactlessness. She is aflame with it! Lucy raises her eyes to heaven. If the universe is trying to give her a hint, it’s an unhelpfully ambiguous one. For now, she supposes, she can focus on enjoying brunch.

Chapter Text

She goes for a run before settling in for the afternoon’s work. They eat leftovers for dinner, finish an open bottle of wine. If their insistence on their version of normality is a little tentative, a little cautious on both sides — well, Lucy tells herself, that’s only to be expected. She grades papers during Rio Bravo, Flynn nudging her if he thinks she’s in danger of missing the best bits. She dibs first rights to the bathroom (and wonders if she might ask him to do something about the master bedroom and its bath. It’s silly, she tells herself, to have it closed up and off-limits, like the cursed east wing of some fairy tale castle. And yet.)

“Will it bother you if I answer some student emails before turning in?” He shakes his head. Lucy frowns up at him. “You could try to look a little less as though you were evaluating the odds of finding a convenient sword you could put naked down the center of the bed.”

Mercifully, he laughs. (He used to do this, thinks Lucy. He used to laugh enough that it shows in the lines of his face.) “Sorry. I’m sorry, Lucy.”

“Stop apologizing. Get in. Relax.” He gives her a mocking salute, and she makes a face at him before getting back to work.

“It would be unethical to lower a student’s grade for calling me Miss Preston, wouldn’t it?”

“Mm.” The sound is very close to a growl. “You could always send them an article about women’s fight to be given degrees. Or a transcript of the debate from — where was it, Oxford?”

“That’s the one. You know one of the first women tutors there was called a vampire by her students?”

His eyebrows shoot up. “If a student calls you a vampire, lower their grade.”

“Duly noted.”

She puts her laptop away shortly after he closes his book. The jacket copy is intriguing enough that she debates asking him about it. She decides, however, that discussing a work of scholarship on people traumatized by war and desperate for contact with dead family members, desperate to be told that those they loved were not irrevocably lost — that’s a conversation that neither of them, perhaps, is prepared to have.

When she wakes in the morning, it is with a feeling of vague surprise at having slept so soundly. She’s not too surprised to find him already gone. She is surprised, and vaguely discomfited, not to find him downstairs. Surely the man hasn’t literally run off? It’s not the day for grocery shopping. She relaxes when she finds the coffee pot prepared. Who would have thought that organizing international covert operations and organizing a household were such harmoniously overlapping skill sets? Lucy sighs, puts on a jazz record, and begins her Sunday cleaning.

She’s on the kitchen floor when he gets back. “Hey!” She pushes her hair out of her face. “Out buying a sword?”

“At Mass, actually.”

“Oh.”

He rounds the kitchen island, avoiding where she’s scrubbed, to pour a cup of coffee. “It seemed appropriate.”

“Oh,” says Lucy again.

***

Lucy is looking for her sister. She is not in her bedroom, or in the master bedroom, or in the bed she and Lucy share at night, to take turns when their mother needs them. She is not in any of the house’s hallways. Still Lucy searches, trying locked doors and turning unexpected corners. She is in a labyrinth with shifting walls, and sometimes she can hear Amy’s voice.

“Amy?” She shouts, and she beats the paneling, and only emptiness replies. The hotel’s hallways become a trench, and still Lucy marches. She slips, and falls, and rises again, and seeks her sister in unfamiliar faces. She knows that she does not deserve to survive this. She knows that she does not deserve a different fate than her sister’s. “Amy!”

She is running and running. She is running and she knows that it will not be enough, that she will not be enough, that she cannot do what she must. “Amy!” Lucy runs down a dark alley and waits for the next turn to reveal her sister, or her failure. She runs, and fights for breath.

She comes awake fighting; she comes awake weeping. “No,” says Lucy; “no, no, let me go — ”

“Lucy.”

She stops flailing, breathless. “Garcia?”

“Yes,” says the familiar voice, after a moment’s pause. “Yes.”

She sobs in earnest then, crying over weakness and failure and loss, and over not knowing just when that loss became inevitable. She tries, when she can, to choke her tears back, to get herself under control. But as if in response, he moves his hand between her shoulder blades, and she lets go. It is a particular and unexpected comfort, not to be told why she shouldn’t be crying, not to be told to stop, not even to be told to be quiet. She reaches out, and anchors herself with her fists in the fabric of his shirt.

“I’m sorry,” says Lucy eventually.

“Lucy.”

She takes a deep breath. “Okay. I’m… not sorry?”

He chuckles softly, a vibration that she feels rather than hears. “That’s better.”

Lucy sniffles, swallows. She finds it strangely touching, somehow, that he smells of cloves — Old Spice, she thinks — something cheap and conventional, selected from among the too-many options of one more everyday choice. “I — I was looking for Amy,” she explains. “And I couldn’t — I couldn’t — ”

“Shhh.” After a few more moments, he adds: “Do you want me to get you anything?”

“No!” It comes out sharper than she means it to. “Please? Just… will you stay?”

“Of course.”

He means it, she realizes, as she lies waiting for her own breathing to return to normal, for the invisible weight to lift from her chest. He means it: that he will, as a matter of course, stay in her bed and hold her while she sobs out her grief.

“Is it okay?” asks Lucy, when she can feel exhaustion pulling her back towards sleep.

“Is what okay, Lucy?” He is impossibly close, impossibly distant, impossibly gentle.

“Um, Garcia. Is it… is it okay that I called you that? Is it okay if I call you that?”

He sighs, and in the silence she fears his answer. “Yes, Lucy.” She might be imagining the feeling of his hand in her hair. “Yes, it’s all right. Sleep now.”

“Okay,” says Lucy; and she does.

Chapter Text

She still feels like hell in the morning. It doesn’t help that it’s an 8 a.m. lecture day, and at this time of year, the sun isn’t up yet. She takes a shower as hot as she can stand, pins a brooch to the most comfortable still-formal-enough-for-teaching dress she owns. Popularizing Jersey knit, of course, is a triviality when weighed against Coco Chanel’s politics, but god, it has to count for something.

Lucy tries not to feel too guilty about the fact that he’s been awake for goodness knows how long. She gets her first cup of coffee without meeting his eyes. “Just so you know,” she says, still not looking at him, “I’m using all my strength of will to keep myself from apologizing to you for last night.”

“Very impressive.”

“Ha. I…” He is regarding her thoughtfully — concerned, perhaps, but not about to ask questions. I have never had anyone in my life as steady as you. No, that is not a conversation to have at this time of the morning; perhaps not ever. “I have been talking to the therapist about it,” she assures him. “About the nightmares.”

“They’re not a problem you have to solve, Lucy.” She half-shrugs, between acquiescence and skepticism. “Apropos…”

“No one says ‘apropos’ in conversation, Garcia.”

He clears his throat pointedly. “À propos…” He pauses, glancing down. “If I… dream.” It is somewhat tentatively that she reaches across the table, but he takes her hand in both his, with a suddenness — she tells herself that desperation is too strong a word — that startles her. “If you can get a hand on my chest,” he says, “that should… work.”

“Okay.” She doesn’t need to ask how he knows. What she does wonder is: how many years? how many wars?

He looks up to meet her eyes, something like mischief in his own. “Promise me that you’ll get to safety if you’re in danger of my hitting you in the face.”

“Right. I do so swear. I’ll save myself.” It’s a weird thing to be laughing over in the kitchen at 7 a.m., but here they are. Here they are, on chairs he assembled while grumbling about so-called Swedish efficiency, laughing because they cannot do anything else. And, Lucy realizes, giddy and sleep-deprived and relieved as she is, if she doesn’t pull herself together, she might lean over and kiss him. Would that be such a bad thing? She tells the traitorous voice in her head that she would then be late for her lecture on gender and religion in the Great Awakening, and that would be a very bad thing indeed. Besides, using a man’s Christian name hasn’t been a tacit invitation to move directly to kissing since… the 1890s?

Lucy clears her throat. She’s sure she’s blushing. “Right,” she says again. “Breakfast?”

***

Later that week, Lucy turns on her phone after an afternoon lecture to have it start buzzing at her like a disturbed hive. Her first response is irritation — what can be that important? — and then she finds out. Jess has (finally) gone into labor, and the exchange labeled “Time Team” on her phone is exultant. Well, to be accurate, Rufus and Jiya are exultant, while Wyatt is transparently panicked. Garcia, meanwhile… “Deep breaths, Sergeant.” “Shut up, Flynn.” Lucy shakes her head over them — when did they all get so irrevocably under each other’s skin? — types in a cheery Good luck, guys! and goes back to her office hours.

“Should we take them a casserole?” she asks Garcia, two days later.

“A casserole?”

“Yeah. You know, with… tuna fish and noodles, or something.”

“My God, Lucy.”

“Well, I don’t know! But it’s tradition!”

“To combine boxed ingredients with tinned ingredients as a social rite?” He runs a hand through his hair, and Lucy abruptly stops thinking about casseroles. “Stew,” he says, and she snaps to attention. “We’ll make them a stew.”

“We?”

He nods, mock-solemn confirmation. “Don’t worry; I’ll slice the onions.”

“Liberty Grace Logan.” Lucy can feel herself grinning. “It’s perfect. Wyatt, she’s perfect. Jess,” she adds, semi-guiltily, “congratulations; she’s gorgeous.” Lucy supposes this is true, the definition of ‘gorgeous’ for newborns being generally accepted as including ‘quite red and somewhat squashy.’ And she really is perfect: round-cheeked and frowning in concentration as she confronts existence, squirming slightly against her father’s chest.

“Do you want to hold her?” asks Wyatt.

Lucy knows that there’s only one acceptable answer to this question, and she hadn’t anticipated having a problem with it, but the creature in Wyatt’s arms is so small, so breathtakingly small, and so fragile, and she’s not sure she can bear the chance of doing this wrong, of not measuring up, of angering Jess or disappointing Wyatt or somehow endangering this tiny piece of the future.

“Please.” Lucy jumps; she consciously stops herself from whipping around to face him. Her first thought is that his response comes as a sort of deus ex machina, a miracle to save her from making a fool of herself. Then Flynn adds, speaking directly to Jess: “If you wouldn’t mind.” Lucy wonders if the other two can hear the need in his voice. She does not trust herself to look at him. She looks, instead, at Jess. So do they all: Wyatt, already half-risen from his chair, already prepared to trust the other man with this, as well as his own life; Flynn with an intensity that Lucy can feel in the air. Jess, for her part, considers Flynn, her head a little on one side. Lucy wonders if they’re both thinking of Chinatown, or of the night that came before. Or perhaps not — Jess has been a bartender; she’s professionally good at reading people, and she has, Lucy reminds herself, a lot of experience in sizing up people who ask for one thing when desiring, helplessly and hopelessly, something else.

Jess watches Flynn, and a small, considering smile comes onto her face. She lifts her right hand, runs a finger slow and deliberate over a thin, white scar that crosses below the knuckles. Lucy is at a loss, but Garcia, next to her on the couch, makes a noise that she thinks might have become a groan under other circumstances. She wishes she dared reach to touch him.

Then Jess says: “Sure.” Her smile broadens, though she blinks rapidly, as though chasing away tears. “You’ve been looking out for her for a long time.”

Lucy looks a question at Wyatt — Do you have any idea what’s going on here? — but his infinitesimal shrug tells her that whatever just happened, he’s as much in the dark about it as she. And then Wyatt, her sweet, loving, loyal Wyatt, puts his infant daughter into Flynn’s arms. Lucy is acutely aware of holding her breath. She thinks Wyatt might be too. But Flynn’s motions, if slightly unpracticed, are easy enough. Liberty Grace is held gently in front of him, as carefully as if he were miming precisely this action. Her head fits in the palm of his hand.

“There you go,” says Wyatt. Lucy reflects fondly that if he’s trying not to openly beam, it’s not working. He is radiant with pride; and she supposes that he has more than ample reason to be, given everything that has brought them all here, to this moment. He told her once — three beers in and many nights ago — about Chinatown, about how he dated the beginning of his friendship with Flynn to the moment when he turned to the other man and begged him to go after her. (Well, no, not in so many words, Luce, but he knew what I meant.) When they had gone to reclaim Rufus, Jessica had still been fighting on the opposite side. And now… Lucy tells herself sternly that of the four adults in the room, she has the least excuse for getting choked up. But Garcia is bent over Liberty Grace with the grim lines of his face softened into unspeakable tenderness, and the corner of his mouth twisted in something far more complicated. Lucy Preston, if you do not take hold of yourself…

“She is exquisite,” he says, his voice reverent. “Truly.”

“Thanks,” says Jess, drawling, easy. “We kind of think so.”

“I’m just glad it’s a girl,” says Wyatt.

“Had my heart set on it,” explains Jess. Flynn unfolds himself from the couch, returns a restless Liberty Grace to her mother. “And Wyatt wasn’t prepared to raise a baseball team trying for one. Coward.”

Wyatt just shakes his head. “This becomes less existentially terrifying, right? Come on, Flynn; lie to me, man.”

Lucy watches him; he sits back down without meeting her eyes, tilts his head to one side. “I can’t, I’m afraid.”

“Christ.”

Jess just laughs. “Oh, babe. You’ll be fine.”

“You will,” says Lucy, hoping he’ll believe it. “You will.”

His gratitude is touchingly transparent. “Thanks,” he says. “And thanks for the stew.”

“Oh, that’s — ” Lucy hesitates over the name, over introducing one more variable into this situation — “that’s all his doing.”

“Not quite true,” says Flynn. “But I saved you from a tunafish casserole.” Their shared laughter, thinks Lucy, feels like one more miracle.

Chapter Text

Lucy shakes the December rain from her coat, dumps her overstuffed briefcase onto the hall floor with a satisfying thump. “I swear,” she says, “if I get one more question to which the answer is ‘It’s on the syllabus’ — ! And I am not calculating their damn GPAs for them. Honestly, if they’re trying to do algorithms to figure out how much time to spend studying they’re already screwed and… Garcia! What smells so good?”

“Madjarica.” This, of course, leaves her none the wiser. But madjarica would appear, by the looks of things, to be a sinfully-tempting cake, its thin, puffy layers alternating with chocolate filling.

Lucy can’t help grinning. It might be a quarter of a century ago; she might just have come in from school, no less wet, no less irritated, to find that her dad had made hot chocolate, that she and Amy were allowed to have as many marshmallows as they wanted. “Okay,” she says. “I give up, I give in, I cede, I surrender. What is madjarica and how — how? — do you know how to make pastry?”

He turns from the coffeemaker and she sits down as if her legs had been knocked from under her. He is smiling, and his eyes are as sad as she has ever seen them. “It’s rather like Dobostorte; I think you can blame the Hapsburgs. As for your second question… I’ll tell you the story sometime.”

Lucy swallows. “Okay. Well, um… thank you. Really.”

“This, by the way, is a sponge; though I do know how to make pastry.”

“Of course you do.” She makes the rejoinder absentmindedly.

“I’ll show you how to do a shortcrust if you like.”

“That would be nice.” She’s still tense, even after the first sip of coffee, waiting for the bad news, for the other shoe to drop. He’s found an affordable lease and thanks for everything, it’s been great, but he really should take it, he’s trespassed long enough? How would she feel about him bringing dates home, and would she like to? After all, they’re just close friends… who have survived several wars and sleep together because they have the nightmares to prove it, and who happened to, once, kiss each other so that the world and time itself fell away.

“The government,” says Garcia Flynn, “has finally found a use for me.”

“Oh!” She is almost sick with relief, and she’s sure he can see it, and it doesn’t matter. Lucy sticks her fork into the slice of madjarica, lets the light sponge and the chocolate melt in her mouth, lets the sugar rush hit her like joy. It’s all right, it’s all right, she’s misread everything and it’s all right and this is a celebration. “Congratulations,” she says, through her mouthful of cake. “Really,” she adds, because she suspects that her non-verbal freakout is still all too visible to him. “That’s great news.”

“Glad to get me out from underfoot, eh, Lucy?”

“You know that’s not true.” Quite possibly not, says a voice in her head. Well. On the whole, Lucy thinks, that’s not really her problem. “So,” she says brightly, picking up her coffee cup, relaxing into the warmth of the kitchen, “what are they having you do? Am I allowed to know?”

“I’ll be working as a translator.”

“Great.” Super-articulate, Lucy.

“In the Ukraine.”

She manages, just, not to spill her coffee. She cannot seem to get her breath. She takes another forkful of cake because even if it exposes the fact that her hands are trembling, at least it gives her something to do.

“They say,” he continues gently, “that it should take about three months. I am not, of course, making the mistake of assuming that this is true.”

Lucy swallows her madjarica. “Of course not.” She takes a deep breath. “Would it, um, mess up your flavor profiles if we put vodka in the coffee?”

“All of my ancestors,” he tells her solemnly, “would wholeheartedly approve.”

“Good.” She rises, finds herself a little unsteady on her feet. That’s a great sign. What she finds herself thinking, as she fetches the bottle from the cupboard, tops up their respective cups, is that this should have come later. This conversation is dislocated in time; it should come later, after they have defined the parameters of their partnership, after they have had a chance to settle more fully into their new lives. It should, thinks Lucy, come after she’s told him she loves him, or after she figures out whether what he feels for her is love, or merely the desperation of a broken man to prove that he can protect his own.

“Isn’t…” she begins, when she has resumed her seat… “isn’t that area kind of unstable right now?”

“That’s rather the point, Lucy.” Damn the man, he seems genuinely amused, at ease in her kitchen chair, accepting matter-of-factly that he is, once again, heading into an unofficial war zone. “We’ve always known they wouldn’t let me stay behind a desk.”

“Oh.” The spiked coffee burns on the way down, a welcome rush, a welcome distraction. “I… I’m not sure I did.”

“Ah.” They sit in silence for some moments. Lucy focuses on taking deep breaths, on telling herself that they’ll be fine, that this is fine. And anyway, who gave her the right to feel this way about the situation? It’s not as though he’s abandoning her. It’s not as though she’d ever dream of suggesting that he not go, if he did ask her opinion on the subject. She stares at the clock on the wall behind him. All the time in the world, she’d told him. How naive it seems now, that promise, and how naive that hope.

“More cake?” he asks.

“Please.” When she has finished her second piece of cake, and her cup of coffee (topped up with hot before she thought to ask for it), Lucy says, because she cannot think of how to say anything else, “You’ll miss Christmas.”

He sighs. “Yes. I am… sorry to be leaving you alone.” She tells herself that, by now, she should be better prepared for these moments of sudden and breathtaking transparency.

“No, it’s — it’s fine. I’m just…” She dismisses that, forces a smile. “I’ll go to Denise and Michelle’s. Or Wyatt and Jessica’s, if they don’t want to be on their own; I could take Libby and give them a Christmas nap.”

“They’ll be fighting for the favor of your company.”

“Yeah.” Lucy toys with her fork. “We just won’t get to trim a full-size tree this year.”

“Next year.”

She lets out a breath. “That had better be a promise.”

“If you like.”

“I do like.” He reaches for the bottle of vodka, half-fills each of their empty cups, and they drink to it, partway between teasing and a solemn pledge. “By the time you get back,” says Lucy, “I will make the best damn shortcrust pastry you have ever tasted.”

He smiles. “Is that a promise, Lucy?”

“Absolutely.” The clink of their ceramic cups sounds too loud in the silence, but it is better than listening to the ticking of the clock, which runs so mercilessly against them.

Chapter Text

“What the hell?” There are tears in Jiya’s eyes; she herself looks surprised as she wipes them roughly away. “He didn’t even say goodbye!”

They’re having Taco Tuesday at the Logans’ apartment, Libby asleep in the bedroom, abundant takeout arranged on the coffee table.

“It’s not as though he’s going away forever,” says Lucy, too defensively. She is not going to put herself in the position of justifying this man’s questionable decisions to their friends.

“Well, no,” says Jiya, reaching for her beer, “but — ” No one asks her to finish that thought; in this company, she doesn’t have to.

“He’s seen worse,” says Rufus, resolutely matter-of-fact, not looking up from the pico de gallo. “The Ukraine won’t know what hit it.”

Lucy laughs, a little unsteadily. “He’s going over as a translator. He’s not supposed to be hitting anything.”

Wyatt snorts. “And that seems likely to stop him.” Jess swats him in the arm. “Ow.” He’s sitting on the floor at his wife’s feet, and looks up at her with such tenderness that Lucy feels a knot in her chest loosen. They’ve made it through, against all the odds; they are building a life. Maybe it’s not too much to hope that she’ll be able to do the same thing, that she is doing the same thing, even if it doesn’t always feel like it.

“So,” says Rufus, “just as a point of interest, did he say goodbye to you?”

Lucy makes a face at him. “If that’s meant to be a euphemism, Rufus, certainly not.” Jiya laughs, gets beer up her nose, and is handed a napkin by Wyatt. “And… no, not really.” She does not say aloud that this was a reprieve, and that both of them had known it; that it was a tacit bargain with time and with fate, and that they had both known that too. “He did,” she says, “make me a cake. And he showed me how to make pastry before leaving.”

There is a moment’s collective silence. “Man,” says Rufus, “I do not get your relationship.”

“Oh, trust me,” Lucy assures him, “neither do I. But I love him.”

“Oh,” says Rufus, after another and still more comprehensive silence. “Well. That’s a thing.”

“Sure is,” says Lucy. “Does anyone else want more guacamole?”

At the end of the evening, Wyatt walks her to the door, gets her coat out of the overstuffed closet.

“Are you okay, Luce?”

She frowns at him. “Yeah? What’s that supposed to mean?”

He sighs. “Look, I’m not sure whether I’m the worst person to be asking you this or absolutely the best-qualified, but… this Flynn thing. Are you okay with it?”

She raises one eyebrow. “I presume you’re asking about the whole being-in-love with him thing, not implying I have some kind of — what? rights of possession?”

“Lucy…”

“Wyatt, if this is some kind of attempt to tell me which emotions are good for me…”

“No,” he says quickly; “no, it’s just… I think I’ve used up your quota of time spent on fucked-up dudes.”

Lucy laughs. “You would not be saying that if you weren’t drunk on two beers and chronic sleep-deprivation.”

He musters indignation for about half a second. “Probably not.”

“Look,” says Lucy, “I know you worry about me as a friend. I do. But I’m not waiting for anything from him. It’s not a question of mixed signals. It’s just… complicated. I’m not sure either of us is ready for whatever the next step would be. That’s our problem,” concludes Lucy, drawing on her shoes, “figuring that out. What’s the next step after saving each other’s lives and each other’s sanity and moving in together, but before dating? Have we skipped dating?”

“Hell if I know.”

“Yeah.”

Wyatt gives her a small, rueful smile. “Okay. Take care of yourself, Luce.”

“Yeah.” She manages a smile in return. “See you soon.”

***

She ends up going to Wyatt and Jessica’s for Christmas. They arrange it on the Tuesday before Denise calls to ask her if she has plans.

“I do, actually.” Lucy has the phone desperately pinned between ear and shoulder, her hands in a bowl of flour. She wonders how much she can fudge the direction that she should somehow get the butter blended in so that the mixture ‘resembles coarse breadcrumbs.’ Who the hell uses coarse breadcrumbs as a reference point? Is there some tribe of hippies or housewives — or hippie housewives? — that she knows nothing about? “I’ve promised to get Libby to sleep if it requires reciting the presidents of the United States in all known timelines. It’s so kind of you to offer, though, Denise… Tell Michelle I’ll miss her cooking.”

“I will. Come over for leftovers later in the week — you’ll get the cooking and avoid the in-laws.”

“I’d love that. Let me know what I can bring.”

“A bottle of wine would be great.” Lucy doesn’t think she’s imagining the beat of perplexed silence preceding Denise’s reply. Well! One of these days, she’s going to have to surprise her former boss with her newly acquired competence in the kitchen. One of these days after she’s figured out what it means to overwork dough.

The first attempt at a shortcrust pastry with a consistency resembling coarse breadcrumbs shows her why she can’t get away with leaving lumps of butter in the dough: they melt, the drier bits of the pastry tear, and her pie sticks to the pan. Fortunately, undergraduates aren’t particularly choosy, and the dish is satisfyingly empty when she reclaims it after the history department party. She googles ‘things to do with shortcrust pastry,’ turns a second trial run into a quiche, and another into shells for pasties. The latter turn out to be an ideal late-semester lunch, capable of being belatedly stuffed into her briefcase and then microwaved at 2 p.m. or whenever she remembers that she should probably eat.

For Christmas, she takes Wyatt and Jessica an apple pie. Jess praises it generously; Wyatt’s comment is monosyllabic, but he has three pieces. They listen to Frank Sinatra, and play lazy rounds of Scrabble, and Lucy sings Libby to sleep with songs that are not lullabies. Fly the ocean in a silver plane. See the jungle when it’s wet with rain. Just remember, till you’re home again — you belong to me.

***

Lucy schedules her research trip over the winter break. If she’s lucky — if, that is, she’s able to find plenty of extant material — she’ll need to go back over the summer. But it only makes sense to have a reconnaissance mission to figure out what’s actually there. Thanks to climate change, she and her rental car don’t even get caught in a serious snowstorm as she navigates the picturesque byways of New England. She finds some letters, though fewer than she’d like. She finds, thanks to the commercial ambitions of Britain’s colonial subjects, a number of household accounts, and even an amazingly disorganized account book in which complaints about the price of red thread, complaints about servants, and complaints about the vicar (there’s a theme here) are combined with irritable and anxious comments on ‘the vex’d question of Taxation.’ Lucy makes a note to come back for that one in the summer.

The archivists are less grumpy than expected; one of them even buys her a coffee. Under other circumstances, Lucy might have asked the woman out to dinner, but…. From each of the places she stops, she sends him a postcard. There’s a voice in her head that asks what she hopes to achieve, sending mail to her own address for a man who isn’t there. Sometimes, the only retort Lucy can find to give the voice is that she’s supporting the U.S. Postal Service, which is a worthy objective in and of itself. At other times, she admits that it’s a way of reassuring herself — of assuring his future self, and how weird that is to think about, in the context of their time-bound lives — that they are still connected. I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapped; and then I’ve a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly. Lucy tells herself that she’s read Jane Eyre too often.

Lucy has to remind herself that she always finds the spring semester harder than the fall. It’s shorter; the students are more tired. The weather starts out gray and miserable, and turns into the kind of glorious sunshine that tempts students and faculty alike to do something — anything — that doesn’t involve configurations of desks, airless lecture rooms, and recalcitrant technology systems. Lucy teaches the second half of the US history survey (averaging a decade a week, come on, everyone, no dawdling!) and a course on the Revolution, which she actually enjoys. Still, by the time spring break comes around, she feels that she’s more than earned a night on the couch with Now, Voyager, a giant bowl of pasta, and slightly too much wine. She’s loved the movie since college. It feels strange, now, to realize how many times she’s watched it without realizing just how painfully relevant Charlotte Vale’s struggles with her iron-willed mother were to her own life. She wishes that watching Bette Davis and Gladys Cooper negotiating mother-daughter issues felt more like catharsis.

Eventually, of course, Charlotte finds her way out: not a permanent escape — wise Dr. Jaquith knows that would be impossible — but a place to find out who she is and what she wants. Lucy thinks she understands better than she once did why Charlotte seems to find that terrifying, flinching away from the relentlessly gentle man who comes to find her on a freesia-scented balcony. “Do you believe in immortality? …I want to believe that there is a chance for such happiness to be carried on somehow, somewhere.” “Are you so happy, then?” “Close to it.” Lucy manages not to cry until the scene on the mountaintop. What happens in the single bed, between them, is inevitable as fate — and not shown, not even hinted at in the Hays Code’s usual lexicon of suggestion. But the camera finds them again in the small, cold hours of the dark, as Charlotte sleeps, as Jerry looks at her with tenderness and sorrow, as though realizing that he has broken a vow to protect her by not protecting her from himself. Lucy weeps in earnest through the airport scene. They are both terribly noble about their parting, Charlotte’s arms full of flowers, their farewells restrained — until he disappears around the corner, and even that is too much for her; until she pulls him back, her mouth hungry on his, her hand desperate on his sleeve.

Lucy wakes the next morning still on the couch, her throat still tight with tears, the residue of red wine sticky and bitter at the bottom of her glass.

Chapter Text

Three months become four. Lucy designs her final exams. She receives word that her proposal for a conference on transnational approaches to early American studies has been accepted. She allows herself to hope that Garcia might agree to come with her; Germany’s wine country in the golden days of autumn should be fairly persuasive. She signs up three new history majors, and makes sure her department chair knows about it. She sleeps badly. She wakes up more than once with her pillow wet with tears, chasing the scent of cloves, dreaming of labyrinths, or locked rooms, or fields of mint in the sunshine. And then, one night when she is halfway through a pile of essays and a cooling pot of tea, she hears a key in the lock.

Lucy drops her pen. She gulps down the rest of her mug of tea, her throat suddenly dry. She scrambles to her feet, makes sure her stiffened limbs will hold her, and goes to meet him.

He is standing in the hall as if irresolute. She wonders what he could possibly be waiting for — and then wonders if, perhaps, he has used up the last of his formidable reserves to get himself this far, and can’t quite figure out what should happen next. He looks paler than when he left, and thinner, but he is reassuringly whole, undamaged. He looks up, and meets her eyes.

Lucy asks herself what her next course of action should be. Should she clarify that, really, she’d quite like to kiss him under circumstances that don’t involve him surviving risky situations, thank you very much, and then just go for it? Offer to take his bag? Ask him how the flight was? Ask him if he’s eaten?

“Garcia.”

He smiles, but his eyelids flutter briefly closed, as if she’s given him permission to yield to weariness. “Lucy.”

She crosses the hall, takes the handles of his bag in both hands. His own hand she finds chilled. From the Black Sea through a series of airports to California — it’ll be a miracle if he doesn’t catch something. Very gently, she loosens his grip, sets his bag down on the floor. She links her fingers through his. “Garcia,” says Lucy again, and wonders how she went for so long without saying his name. “Welcome home.”

She’s not sure what she expected, but it wasn’t the sob in his throat, the suddenness of his arms around her waist, his clasping her to him as though desperate, his head against her shoulder.

“Hey,” says Lucy. Her instinct is to run a hand through his hair, but (held as she is) she can’t quite reach to do so. “Hey, hey.” He inhales sharply, all but gasping for breath. “You’re all right,” says Lucy, half-crooning, hoping it will be enough, hoping it’s what he needs to hear. “We’re all right.” And then, because it’s a truth that threatens to choke her: “I missed you.”

He draws another ragged breath, and whatever he says then, it is not in English. “We’re all right,” says Lucy again. It’s a somewhat odd sensation to be having this conversation (such as it is) while several inches above the floor. Perhaps she should ask him to put her down before they end up collapsed in a heap. As if responding to the thought, he lifts her away from him, sets her gently back on her own two feet.

“Are you…” Lucy swallows. “Are you all right?” He nods once, slowly. It’s the opposite of reassuring. She reaches to lay a hand on his arm, tentative until the moment that she feels him lean into the touch. “Okay,” says Lucy. If she had any rights over the man, she thinks, she’d insist on making him a hot toddy and packing him off to bed. As it is, however… “Do you need anything?” Oh, for god’s sake, Lucy, he’s not a houseguest. What’s next, telling him about clean towels? She withdraws her hand, allowing herself a gesture that is not quite a caress.

He moves to hang up his jacket, shakes his head slightly. “Thank you, Lucy.”

“Okay.” She takes a deep breath, tries for lightness. “Want anything?” To her surprise, he turns to look at her as abruptly as if startled, his eyes dark, his hands still anchored in the folds of his jacket.

“Could you…” he says, and stops.

“Yes,” says Lucy. “Yes.”

He swallows. “Would you… might I…” He clears his throat. “Might I watch you make pastry?”

She is on the verge of laughter; she is on the verge of tears. “Of course.” She adds, smiling: “I’ve been practicing.” She goes to the kitchen without looking back to make sure that he is following. (…nor must he backwards bend his gaze till he has journeyed out of Hell, for fear the gift be all undone.)

“Unsalted butter,” she says, beginning to lay her supplies out on the island. “Salt — I don’t quite get that, but who am I to question the wisdom of the ages? — flour, water. I nearly cried before figuring out that I needed the water to be really cold.” She mixes her dry ingredients together. “You want to get me two table knives?”

He does so, stays beside her, leaning against the counter. She wonders what she’ll do with him if he actually falls asleep on his feet. “The first few times,” says Lucy aloud, as she cuts in the butter, “I just did this with my hands. It seemed stupid to get more things dirty. But apparently this helps the consistency, because the butter stays cold.”

“I’ve always known you were a genius.”

She grins up at him. “Gotta keep up my reputation.”

“Is there,” she asks, as she pours in the water, “a mystical secret to figuring out just how much water the dough needs?”

“There isn’t.”

She half-pouts. “I thought you’d have arcane knowledge for me.”

“Sorry to disappoint.” He sounds so exhausted, so dangerously close to genuine defeat, that she stretches out a hand for him, groping blindly while watching the dough that she’s shaping with the spatula. He catches it briefly in his, and she supposes that is answer enough. She does get her hands into the bowl then, feeling for lumps in the dough, working it till it comes together. She doesn’t need more than an extra handful of flour, which she’s prepared to count as a victory.

“So,” says Lucy, brushing off her hands, “there we are. If we chill the dough overnight, we can have quiche tomorrow morning.” She puts the bowl in the sink, washes her hands properly. She turns around to find him looking at her as though she’s the Holy Grail and its guardian in one. Lucy swallows.

“So,” she says again, and goes to him. “I’ve learned about ridging the pastry,” she says, putting her arms around him. Gradually, almost hesitantly, he returns the embrace. “It’s very satisfying,” says Lucy, “beating things with a rolling pin. I’ve learned that there are techniques to rolling out dough. I’ve even learned about blind baking.” He makes an inarticulate noise, and lowers his head to hers. Lucy stands, and waits, and listens to his heartbeat. Eventually, she decides that there’s at least one question which she needs to have answered before the morning. “It was just translation, wasn’t it?”

He exhales into her hair, a breath which might be laughter or something else. “More or less.” Oh, that’s comforting. “I didn’t know,” he continues; “I did not realize what it would be, to be apart from you.” Oh.

“Well,” says Lucy, and she tightens her arms around him, “you’re home now. You’re home now.”

Chapter Text

She tells him to precede her upstairs — Go on! — and, with a remarkable lack of argument, he does. He looks back at her on the threshold, gives her a one-sided smile. Lucy returns it, if unsteadily. She wonders if, somewhere, there’s a bit of a timeline she missed, some explanation for why he takes nothing from her but friendship and looks at her as though she’s opened the gates of Paradise, or as though she’s made sense of the world. (And wouldn’t that be nice.) She finishes cleaning up in the kitchen, returns to the living room, decides that whatever she was going to say about that last paper will definitely have to wait for the morning. She rinses out the teapot, gets the lights and the locks, and goes upstairs.

He is, unsurprisingly, already asleep. Looking down at him, Lucy realizes with a jolt that she’s come to think of it as his side of the bed. She changes, and washes up, and he doesn’t stir. Climbing under the covers, she finds herself suddenly close to tears with relief. She doesn’t quite dare to touch him — not after more-or-less-translation — but she curls up close to the center of the bed, close enough to feel his warmth, close enough to be soothed into sleep by the rhythm of his breathing.

She comes half-awake sometime before dawn. He has turned to mirror her posture, his breath all but palpable on the back of her neck. She listens; she couldn’t swear that he isn’t crying. Lucy holds her breath. He does not speak her name, nor does he move to touch her. Lucy manages a vaguely interrogative noise. She feels him go still. She is more than half expecting him to turn away, to move to the edge of the bed, to let them both pretend that she sleeps undisturbed. But his hand comes up to cover her shoulder, his thumb tracing the line of her collarbone. She could, she thinks, let it rest there, and let that be all.

It is, in the end, the easiest thing in the world to turn to him. She settles herself under his touch without looking up to his face. For one thing, she’s not sure she’s prepared to see his expression. Maybe, too, this is all he wants, and all they need: for her to be a warm weight in his arms, for them to anchor each other in safety. Then he removes his hand from her shoulder, and his thumb traces down the line of her jaw. Oh. She turns into it, kisses the heel of his palm, does not quite catch his skin between her teeth. She uses her tongue: up his lifeline, down to his pulse. Lucy hears his breath catch. And then he shifts his hand to cradle the side of her face, stopping just short of lifting her chin. That she does for him.

“Lucy.”

She smiles, because suddenly it seems that she cannot do anything else. Perhaps it was always going to be this way, tentative and tender in the dark. “Yes,” says Lucy, for the second time that night. “Yes.” She raises one hand to his mouth first, exploratory, tracing at last the lines of it. He has wept, she realizes, and she loves him with an intensity that hums in her blood, that aches in her bones. She lets the same hand move to the nape of his neck. It is not the first time, of course, that his own hand has come to rest at her waist; it is the first time that she wonders whether his touch will ground her or take her apart. It is the first time that she thinks it might do both.

As soon as she is kissing him, she cannot quite remember what she expected it to be like. This is a question that becomes a demand that becomes a certainty. And she loses herself entirely, beyond time, the taste of him warm and sweet and sure. When he draws back, their breath still mingles; he still holds her firmly against him. Lucy raises her free hand to brush his hair back from his face. He has not opened his eyes.

“Lucy?”

She’s not quite sure what the underlying question is. “Yes, love,” says Lucy, because it feels as though that is the answer to all possible questions. “Yes, my love. Yes.”

***

If there is, even in the light of day, even through an exhausted sleep, something a little bit desperate about the way his hand has remained tangled in her hair — Lucy decides she can live with that. Easily. There may be a lifetime of questions, a lifetime of answers, behind his willingness to so steadily, so patiently avoid acting on his own desires. Well, Lucy reflects, pots. Kettles. Time enough for them both to satisfy desire now; time enough to devise and discover new ones. Time enough. She traces with two fingertips the contours of the scar on his chest, opposite the heart, sunken now and faded. She cannot imagine that it will ever become for her — for either of them? — one scar among many. Perhaps it will always be impossible to say where and when the two of them began. But one place, she thinks, might be the San Francisco alleyway where he assured her without words that she was worth saving, even broken; where she turned to him, trusting, for comfort; where, holding each other, they became unable to tell whose blood and whose trembling were whose.

“Hmm?”

Lucy kisses him lightly, briefly; an assurance of a possibility. “For a man with many languages…”

“Mm,” he says, and pulls her to him, his hands on her hips. Lucy is afraid that the noise that she makes comes close to a very undignified squeak, but he doesn’t seem to mind, smiling at her. “Good morning,” he tells her formally, and leans up to kiss her on the lips. “Guten Morgen — ” the hollow of her throat — “dobroye utro, bonjour, buenos días, buongiorno, sabah al-khair, dobro jutro…”

“Garcia Flynn!” gasps Lucy, and then she cannot speak at all.

***

“There is much to be said,” he remarks to the ceiling, “for lazing, I find.”

Lucy laughs. “What we have been doing, Garcia Flynn, is not lazing.”

“Ah.”

“This might count,” she concedes, stretching luxuriously. “But I want coffee.”

“Is that a hint?”

“A shameless one.” He hums thoughtfully, as though her word choice suggests interesting possibilities, but Lucy wriggles away and scrambles unceremoniously out of bed. “No, nope, no, I am teaching at 2 this afternoon. Coffee!”

Having showered, she selects her outfit with some care (soft fabric, high collar, long sleeves.) She finds she likes 1970s-style floral patterns much better when they aren’t surrounded by egregious things like mustard-colored jackets, or bell bottoms, or mustard-colored bell bottoms. Going downstairs, she catches herself humming: I looked for every loveliness… Lucy shakes herself slightly.

He looks up when she enters the kitchen, and smirks (there is no other word for it) in a way that suggests he knows exactly why she’s wearing a blouse that buttons to a ruffle at her chin. Lucy gives him a look she hopes is repressive, and gets her coffee.

They consume their belated quiche in silence, though Lucy does hook her foot around his calf after he’s gotten them each a second cup of coffee. She feels as though, mostly, she’s waiting for her pulse to start behaving normally, for her skin to stop feeling luminous, electrified. She tries to concentrate on her lecture notes on political subcultures of the late twentieth century, but it all seems curiously distant. Garcia, meanwhile, seems to be subsiding steadily from smug (justifiably smug, she acknowledges, but still) to broodily introspective. Lucy sighs, and gets up from her chair.

“Hey,” she says, tossing the postcards onto the island in front of him. “You’ve got mail.”

The glance he gives her is quick, sidelong, half-suspicious. He arranges them swiftly so that he can evaluate all the evidence: Faneuil Hall, a lighthouse, a coastline, a Souvenir of Hartford, and a vintage-style Greetings from Connecticut (the nutmeg state.) He runs his tongue over his lower lip, which does absolutely nothing for her equilibrium.

“Lucy?”

“Read them,” she says, and starts taking ostentatious notes on Black Power feminism.

Faneuil Hall: Dear Garcia — Having wonderful time, wish you were here. That’s how these things usually go. Neither seems quite adequate. It’s cold, and I miss you, and I wish you could have been with me to breakfast on piles of eggs and toast and hash browns before dawn, to walk up Boston Common in the dark. Maybe the cliché isn’t too far off, at that. — Lucy

Lighthouse: Dear Garcia — The Atlantic coast at this time of year is not for the faint of heart. Somehow I suspect you’d love it. I walked out to this lighthouse yesterday (the archive closes at noon on Saturday.) I thought of all the ships it has guided home, and I thought of you. Till soon, I hope — Lucy

(Surreptitiously, she watches him trace the lines of her handwriting with his fingertips, as reverently as though the cheap cards were witnesses to some great event, everyday testimonies of the epochal.)

Coastline: Dear Garcia — I do wish you were here. The winter evenings are too long, too silent. Sundays in this small town were no more subdued a hundred years ago, I am sure; perhaps less so. I walked on a beach not unlike this till I could not tell sand from salt on the wind. I had hoped to be tired enough to sleep early. I wish I knew you were safe. — Lucy

Souvenir from Hartford: Dear Garcia — Good news! I have discovered the accounts of an irritable colonist, and I shall have to come back over the summer. Come with me? Hartford is full of charming restaurants and people who recommend them to me, and I wish you were here. Come with me; we’ll stuff ourselves with Jamaican food and get drunk on fancy cocktails and I’ll dither over the manuscripts till we’ve tried all the tacos in town. Come with me? — Lucy

Greetings from Connecticut: Dear Garcia — I don’t know why it’s called the nutmeg state. I’ve had a productive research trip. The term starts soon. These are familiar rhythms, familiar patterns. And yet — I hate imagining them without you. I promise to feed myself. I know you’d write if you could. I know you won’t see these, but please... please come home soon. — Yours, Lucy

She has them quasi-memorized, down to the last please, crossed out and then rewritten. She watches him gather them together, then brace both hands against the edge of the kitchen island. The ticking of the clock seems loud in the silence. And then he breathes as though he had momentarily forgotten to do so.

“Lucy.” His voice is rough, she is not sure with what need.

“Yes?”

“Lucy.” She waits. He meets her eyes; his breath is still coming a little too quickly. “I didn’t… I couldn’t know that it was safe, to send you word.”

“I know.”

He stands up from his chair then, and slowly, deliberately closes the space between them. Lucy puts her tablet down, and gets to her feet. She has tilt her head back to meet his eyes, but not for long.

“Lucy,” says Garcia Flynn for the third time; and he takes both her hands in his, and he goes to his knees. Lucy shivers slightly.

“It is not,” he says, “because you have saved me more times than I can count, and in ways I cannot name.” Lucy swallows; it is now she who cannot get her breath.

“It is not,” he says, “for your beauty, nor even for your brains. Professor,” he adds, and smiles up at her. She musters a shaken smile in return. This apparently is enough, for he lowers his head to rest against her clavicle.

“It is not,” says Lucy, “what? I mean, what is not…” She is sure that he must hear her wildly beating heart, that he must hear the tears in her voice.

“Lucy,” he says softly, a vibration against her skin. He releases her hands; she doesn’t move. As if it were a permission, he puts his arms around her, half supplicant, half claimant. “J’ai l’âme lourde encore d’amour inexprimée.” Oh. “Ma chère, ma chérie, mon trésor, mon amour… Mon cœur ne vous quitta jamais une seconde.” She takes his face in her hands, then; for this she wants to look him in the eyes. She is beginning to cry in earnest, and she doesn’t care. With infinite gentleness, he smiles up at her, and continues, each syllable deliberate: “Et je suis et serai jusque dans l’autre monde celui qui vous aima sans mesure, celui…” She kisses him. It is enough. Beyond reason, beyond measure, it is enough.

He rises to stand before her, to wipe away her tears, to hold her face in his hands until she smiles. “You deserve,” he says, “new words, invented languages.”

Lucy looks up at him. They have lost everything; they have gained more. “I’m not in a hurry,” she says. She swallows; her voice still shakes when she asks: “Do you have a lifetime?”

For answer, he kisses her again. Lucy Preston is late for her afternoon lecture. She counts it time well lost.