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nobody said it was easy

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Lucy Preston has never been quite sure what to make of her soul mark. As a young girl, she admires the strong scrawl of the handwriting along her inner forearm even as she puzzles over the circumstances that might lead “No, ma’am” to be the first words her soulmate would say to her.

Older Lucy goes through phases. Sometimes, she wants to meet her soulmate as soon as she can, and she makes sure she greets everyone she meets with a yes or no question, especially if they seem like the type whose handwriting might resemble the words on her arm. Other times, she decides anyone who would call her ma’am when she is anything less than 40 isn’t worth having as a soulmate. Depending on her mood, this means she either avoids speaking first, since it is likely her words will be a response to something she says, or she makes sure to say a declarative sentence or ask a complicated question that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no.

Amy, whose soul mark is an enviable “good Christ, you’re beautiful,” in flowing script, periodically reminds Lucy that there are plenty of circumstances that could lead to Lucy’s soulmate calling her ma’am for reasons that are perfectly, well, reasonable.

After Lucy comes home from her first day working at the university, railing about her mark because one of the other professors in her department had seen it and made a sarcastic comment about the possibility of her soulmate being one of her students—“One of my students, Amy, for fuck’s sake, as if I would ever.”—Amy begins ticking off other explanations on her fingers.

“Don’t worry, Luce,” she says soothingly. “They could be military, or you could be their boss, except not in a problematic way, or they could be… Southern!”

“Southern, Amy?”

“You know, super-polite?”

Lucy scoffs. “Ma’am. Do I look like a Ma’am to you?”

=========

The first words Jessica says to Wyatt don’t match his soul mark, but his match hers. Hers aren’t even particularly non-specific; it’s not like the first thing he says to her is howdy (he’s got too many Aggie friends with nothing but that as their soul mark, and he’d long since decided he was going to avoid generic greetings with new people). No, he bumps into Jess one day on the sidewalk and apologizes profusely for making her spill her groceries, and she gapes at him before asking “What did you say?”

His soul mark is a question. It’s just not that question. Still, Jess is beautiful, and she’s funny and kind, and when she shows him her words, scribbled across her shoulder blade, they’re in his handwriting.

When he asks her to marry him, surrounded by the Texas landscape they both love, neither of them care that his words don’t come from her.

When she dies, he wonders if maybe they should have. If maybe it had been a sign that he wouldn’t be enough for her.

=========

Lucy is still feeling residually annoyed about the department refusing her tenure when she is dropped off in a holding room of some kind by the same Homeland agent who picked her up from her house. She tries to catch him as he leaves so she can phone Amy and let her know what’s happening, at least as much as she can, but the agent leaves and Lucy finds herself alone with a man, about Lucy’s age, who may or may not be sleeping.

She sits awkwardly, unsure of what’s going on and what about her life as a history professor could possibly be relevant to an investigation… operation?... being conducted by Homeland Security. She glances again at the man slumped in a chair with his feet up on the coffee table. He doesn’t look particularly professorial.

“Are you asleep?” she whispers, fingers worrying the locket containing Amy’s and her mother’s photos.

“No, ma’am,” the man responds, without opening his eyes, and as the skin on her forearm prickles at the words, it occurs to Lucy that she’d asked a yes or no question quite without meaning to do so.

=========

Wyatt hears someone, presumably another Homeland agent, different than the nervous junior agent who’d greeted him at the door when he’d reported to Mason Industries, usher someone new into the holding room. He bustles out again, the new person—a woman, judging by her voice—calling after him in a fruitless attempt to get his attention.

It’s not worth it, Wyatt thinks caustically, though he says nothing and keeps his expression neutral. Whoever this woman is, she’ll find out quickly enough that these types of people will only tell you what (they think) you need to know, and only when they’re good and ready.

The woman must be wearing sneakers, because her steps are quiet as she moves further into the room and sinks down onto one of the other chairs. There’s silence for a few moments, and then—

“Are you asleep?”

Wyatt freezes, and the words written in cheerful print on the inside of his wrist feel like pins and needles, but he forces himself not to visibly react. He didn’t have Jess’ words. Maybe this woman won’t have his, and he’ll never have to tell her.

“No ma’am,” he says quickly, like ripping off a band-aid.

The woman gasps softly, and he thinks bitterly that maybe if he hadn’t been fated to say this woman’s words in addition to Jessica’s, Jess would still be alive.

=========

“You… you said my words,” Lucy stutters out, the words on her arm still tingling not entirely unpleasantly, shocked not just by the fact that it happened but that he’s being so blasé about it. He hasn’t even opened his eyes. A horrible thought occurs to her. “Did I… say yours?”

It takes him longer to answer this time, and his jaw tenses and releases while Lucy watches him, waits to breathe until he answers. “Yes, ma’am,” he finally says, and Lucy lets out the breath she’s been holding in a rush.

“And that doesn’t… interest you?”

The man doesn’t respond, and Lucy thinks of years of frustration over her words and decides she hadn’t been preemptively annoyed enough if this is the way this is going to go. “Fine,” she says, voice going several degrees colder. She notices his shoulders tense up, decides it serves him right if she’s made him feel even a single pang of guilt.

“Do you have any idea why we’re here?” she asks finally, needing to break the silence and wanting, against her better judgment, to engage this man—her soulmate—in conversation.

“No, ma’am,” he says, again, and Lucy snaps.

“You know,” she says, annoyance saturating every syllable, “we’re pretty much the same age, so you can just stop calling me ma’am.”

=========

Wyatt doesn’t want to like this woman. This woman might be why, at least in a cosmic sort of way, Jess is dead. Wyatt knows that there are plenty of polyamorous soulmate bonds but this woman has never met Jess, can never meet Jess, and perhaps the universe only made him Jess’ soulmate to hold the time until it was almost time for him to meet his supposed real soulmate, and it isn’t fair.

But when she breaks out the icy, annoyed tone and tells him to stop calling her ma’am, Wyatt can’t help himself.

He opens his eyes, finds himself slowly smiling as he takes in the sight of a pretty brunette glaring at him from across the room. The air between them almost crackles with tension as the moment draws out, neither of them speaking. The woman is starting to shift nervously under Wyatt’s steady gaze, though she hasn’t looked away, when the door to the holding room opens again and a woman in standard government agent business attire strides purposefully in.

“Lucy Preston,” she begins, and Wyatt’s soulmate jumps to her feet. “I’m Agent Christopher, Homeland Security,” the new arrival continues. “You’ve got quite a reputation,” she adds, and Wyatt thinks he sees a hint of a blush creep into the woman’s—Lucy’s—cheeks as she shakes Agent Christopher’s hand. Lucy brushes off the agent’s compliments, and Wyatt files away the exchange to think about later—what kind of woman takes no credit for her own accomplishments and instead deflects attention to her mother? There’s something there, he concludes, something raw.

Then Agent Christopher turns her laudatory greetings on Wyatt, addressing him by rank and name, and out of the corner of his eye as he shakes her hand, he sees Lucy start to sit down and then stand up again in surprise when Agent Christopher mentions him being Delta Force. She’s still staring at him in surprise when Christopher bustles out, telling them to follow her. Wyatt does, with no comment, and hears rather than sees that Lucy hesitates, sucking air through her teeth in frustration before picking up her purse and hurrying after them.

=========

Lucy feels Wyatt’s gaze on her as she struggles with the confusing seatbelts on the Lifeboat, trying to sort out all the different reasons she is panicking so that she can maybe calm down enough to buckle in and not die while traveling in time, because that is now a concern Lucy has.

Reason to panic number one, she thinks when she glances up and briefly meets Wyatt’s sardonic eyes. I met my soulmate, and he doesn’t seem too thrilled about it.

Reason to panic number two, she adds internally, time travel is a thing and I’m about to do it because reason number three, someone is already in the past trying to break it.

“Are all these seatbelts really necessary?” she asks the pilot, Rufus, forcing herself to take deep, even breaths despite that meaning she has to interrupt herself to do so.

“Oh yeah,” Rufus replies without looking back at Lucy or Wyatt. “You’ll see,” he adds, and Lucy thinks this is entirely too ominous. She takes another deep breath and continues struggling with the buckles.

“You okay?” Wyatt asks, his voice shockingly calm given their circumstances.

“I’m claustrophobic,” she admits—might as well, he is my soulmate after all—“and apparently about to travel in time, so—“ she breaks off when Wyatt lets out a long exhale and she catches a faint whiff of whiskey thanks to their close quarters. “Have you been drinking?” she asks incredulously.

Wyatt just grins. Lucy is rapidly developing a Pavlovian response to that grin—annoyance. “Didn’t know I’d be working tonight,” he drawls, then adds, “Ma’am.”

Lucy slides the last buckle in place and looks up to glare at Wyatt. “Stop calling me ma’am,” she says coldly. This soulmate thing is turning out way more annoying than I imagined it would, she thinks.

The door to the Lifeboat shuts, drawing Lucy’s attention away from Wyatt, and Rufus says something about holding on, and Lucy feels the panic closing around her throat. She tugs at her seatbelt one more time, looks up at Wyatt plaintively. He might not be her favorite person right now, but he is her soulmate.

Something in her eyes must get to him, because he softens almost imperceptibly, but just enough that when he smiles this time, Lucy actually finds it comforting instead of infuriating.

And then everything is shaking violently, and there is a long tug at the pit of Lucy’s stomach, like on a rollercoaster but harder and longer and much more nauseating, and she grips the straps of her seatbelt tightly, half-forgotten prayers running through her mind at light speed. Then suddenly, everything stops. She looks up at Wyatt, eyes wide. The smile is gone; his eyes are open but flat and he looks even more likely to throw up than Lucy feels. “You okay?” she asks.

Wyatt doesn’t blink but does, with some minor but visible effort, focus enough to meet Lucy’s gaze. “Totally good,” he says, the words coming out with a slow flatness that concerns Lucy. Then Rufus hits a button, opening the door to the Lifeboat, and Lucy finds herself venturing out into 1937, wearing anachronistic clothing and with very little idea of what to do next.

=========

Wyatt tries to focus on the mission but like an insistent drumbeat or a bad memory you can’t stop thinking about, he keeps seeing the lady reporter’s face, so like Jessica’s face, and thinking about how she’s going to die and Lucy—his brand new soulmate Lucy—insists that there’s nothing they can do to change it.

He does have to admit Lucy’s a quick thinker. He’s still stewing over her edict that they can’t change anything, can’t save the reporter, but he gives Lucy a look of warm admiration after she spins a tale about Dr. Dre, Nurse Jackie, and the Spanish Flu that has the officials at the Hindenburg landing scrambling to help them find Flynn.

However smart and quick-thinking Lucy is, though, Wyatt doesn’t want to believe she’s right. Wants to believe that even if he couldn’t save Jess, he can save Kate, the reporter who reminds him so strongly of his lost wife. But then there’s nothing to save her from, and Wyatt clashes with Lucy over the wisdom of bringing a modern gun to the late 1930s while she quietly panics over the fact that history has just been radically changed, and then they’re arrested.

It’s when they’re in jail, when he can’t get away, that Lucy finally asks him about the reporter. Why he would do something as counter to his assigned mission as actively try to change the timeline. He tries to avoid answering, and he isn’t sure if it’s to protect his own vulnerable spots or if it’s because he’s worried about hurting Lucy by talking about Jessica. But Lucy is stubborn, and she presses, looking at him with those expressive eyes of hers, and talking like she already knows what makes him tick.

“She reminds me of my wife,” he finally says, cutting Lucy off. “They even look alike. A little bit.”

Lucy blinks at him, surprise written across her face. She swallows, takes a slow breath. “I didn’t know you were married,” she says softly. Her fingers stray to her arm, brushing softly up and down her skin, and for the first time Wyatt notices his handwriting across her forearm. He winces, won’t look at Lucy’s face, focuses instead on the words.

“Jessica died,” he admits, quietly.

“I’m so sorry,” Lucy says. She pauses, then asks softly, “Were you and she…?”

“I said her words,” he says, then shakes his head. “She didn’t say mine. It didn’t matter, or we thought it didn’t.” He sighs. “It was my fault. Jess’ death. If I’d done just one thing different, if I hadn’t left her alone on that particular afternoon… I could have stopped it.”

He looks up at Lucy finally, is grateful not to see pity on her face, but rather sympathy. “I thought we were being punished, that I was being punished, because I couldn’t be enough for her.” Lucy reaches out to him then, not touching him but offering her hand, and he takes it. “I thought if I could just save Kate… I couldn’t let her…”

Lucy squeezes his hand. “I’m sorry,” she says again. He accepts the small comfort for a moment, then sighs and gets up to pace.

Later, when he realizes he can use the underwire from Lucy’s bra to pick the cell’s lock, he swears it isn’t because he’s thinking about Lucy in her underwear. He would also swear on any holy book you put in front of him that he doesn’t not-really-accidentally catch a glimpse of her bare back, nearly glowing in the orange light of the jail room, except that she definitely catches him doing it.

Their eyes meet across their cell. She doesn’t look angry. She looks like maybe she’s daring him to keep looking and Wyatt thinks they’re going to have some serious things to discuss when—if—they make it back to 2016.

=========

It’s the quiet faith in Wyatt’s eyes when he tells her to, effectively, go hijack the Hindenburg that really galvanizes Lucy. Later, she’ll ask him why he was so sure that she would be able to make the landing happen, and he’ll say something about the Spanish Flu and call her Nurse Jackie. For the moment, though, it’s enough that he believes, that her soulmate who she barely knows but still somehow implicitly trusts to protect her, as if that trust is written in her DNA just like his handwriting is on her skin, believes that she can handle it.

She grabs a knife, and with incongruous thoughts about how a few hours ago her biggest problems were the frustrations of the tenure process and her mother’s declining health, she leads Rufus to the flight deck.

The Hindenburg explodes, and Lucy feels the ragged edge of panic threatening her ability to help rush all the innocent civilians to safety. She tells herself it couldn’t have been the bomb, it had been too long, so there’s every reason to hope that Wyatt isn’t dead. Even as she directs Rufus and others to carry survivors further away from the wreckage, she looks wildly for Wyatt. Don’t leave me, she thinks. Don’t leave me before we even really find each other.

She thinks maybe if she hadn’t been looking so hard for Wyatt, she’d have noticed Flynn before she ended up face to face with him. She stares in shock at the journal he holds up, words in her handwriting she knows she didn’t write.

“Ask them why they really chose you,” he says, implacable in the flickering light of the massive fire behind them. “Ask them about Rittenhouse.”

Before she can even begin to formulate a response, he’s spotted Wyatt rushing toward them, gun drawn. Flynn grabs her roughly by the arm and pulls her close against him, so that she’s facing Wyatt, and presses his gun to her temple.

“I know for certain you won’t shoot,” Flynn calls out. “You can’t risk your soulmate like that, Logan.”

“Wyatt, please,” Lucy whispers, and she’s not sure if she’s asking him to put down his weapon or take the shot anyway.

He shoots, except he chooses to aim for Flynn’s shoulder instead of his head, and Lucy wonders if he’d have done the same if it had been anyone else being held hostage by Flynn.

After everything, Kate dies anyway, and Lucy doesn’t know what to say to Wyatt to make it better.

As they leave Mason Industries, Lucy stops Wyatt. “We’ll have to talk about things,” she says. She gestures to her forearm, where his handwriting is covered now by her sweater. “You know.”

He nods, rubs his wrist absently. “I know.”

“If it hadn’t have been me… If we didn’t have each other’s words…” Lucy forces herself to meet Wyatt’s placid, unreadable gaze. “Would you still have shot Flynn in the shoulder?”

Wyatt shrugs. “Bad lighting.”

“Wyatt.”

He reaches out and, slowly enough that she can pull away if she wants, takes her wrist and pushes up the sleeve of her sweater so he can see the words on her forearm. He traces them lightly with his fingertip, and Lucy shudders a little at the touch. He looks up at her then, and she cocks her head to the side in a silent question.

“I was taught to choose my shots,” he says quietly, “based on risk and reward.” He pulls her sleeve back down and drops her wrist. “I made my choice and I don’t regret it.”

He starts to turn to walk away, and Lucy grabs the wrist he’d touched moments before when she alluded to their status as soulmates. She only has to nudge his jacket and shirt sleeves up a bit to reveal her handwriting there. She studies the words silently for a moment, brushing her thumb across them once, twice. “Thank you,” she finally says, looking up into his eyes.

“Don’t mention it,” he says, voice low. “We’ll meet tomorrow for coffee or dinner or something,” he adds when she drops his arm. “Talk about… things.”

She nods. “I’ll call you.”

“Bye, Lucy,” he says before turning to walk away.

“Bye,” she whispers.

An hour later, she’s standing in her living room with her mother staring at her as if she’s concerned Lucy’s having a nervous breakdown, and Amy’s gone, and she pulls out her phone because the only coherent thought left in her head is call Wyatt, because who else can she talk to about this madness, after all.

It rings before she can scroll to Wyatt’s name in her contacts list, and as she assures Agent Christopher she’ll get in the car being sent as soon as it arrives, she decides she’ll just talk to Wyatt before they get back into that damned machine. She grips her locket tightly, comforted by the picture of Amy she knows is still inside, and decides to work harder than ever to keep Flynn from changing anything else.