Leaving on a Jet Plane


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Scene Title Leaving on a Jet Plane
Synopsis I don't know when I'll be back again.
Date March 21, 2021

Red Hook: Rue's Garden Apartment

“Look, no. I know, okay? I know. I know you’re—” Rue Lancaster drags her fingers through her wet hair, freshly dyed a shade of honeyed blonde, pacing her living space in frustration, past an umbrella tree that reaches for the sunshine that comes in through the windows to the garden. “I’m telling you, because you’re taking care of the house until I get back. Because I can’t— I just can’t, Elliot. I can’t.

Steps halt at her latest pass of her beau, turning sharply to lay soft hands on his face. She’s been trying to explain to him how to care for the plants she’s added to her space. What to feed the small, dull orange betta, upon which she’s bestowed the horrifically uncreative name of Ginger Rogers (at least the fish is actually female), and how often to change the water in the medium-sized tank with its plants and sunken ship. The state of her sourdough starter (which is called Matryoshka, for the record). What temperature the apartment needs to be kept in order to keep all these little living things she’s brought into her life from dying while she’s gone, attempting not to do the same herself.

“Because I’m coming back,” Rue insists without believing it, “and you’ll still be here, waiting.” That part is easier to believe, and she absolutely hates it. “So I’m telling you.

The flight is looming ever closer. The reality of departure is becoming inescapable.

It’s hard to suppress a crooked smile, so Elliot doesn’t bother. He places his hands on Rue’s jaw, fingers behind her ears. “I promise I will remember all of these details,” he assures her. “And for the record I love what you’ve done with the place and we should hang out down here sometime.”

“This throw pillow?” he says, turning her face toward her couch, “Fucking inspired. And I’m not gonna lie, that sourdough will make a frightening and unhealthy number of grilled pizzas. Too many.” He doesn’t point out that he might not be back when she returns from her operation. He might not be back from his own operation. Might never be back.

He turns her face back to his, eyes full of manic meaningfulness. “I’m probably going to take Ginger upstairs for ease of daily fish maintenance though.”

His smile breaks her heart and holds it together all at the same time. She can’t help but return it, some of the anxiety easing out of her just to have his hands on her, like he could somehow hold steady her emotions. “Ginger likes the sunlight, but not too much. And don’t put her by any mirrors. They freak her out.”

Half a chuckle stows away on a hard exhale. “I sound crazy. I officially have become one of those people that has things and I don’t like it. I’ve lived out of a bag so long… I forgot what it’s like to have things to leave behind.” But it isn’t things she’s talking about. Rue’s chest rises and falls in erratic rhythm, trying to stave off what’s inevitable, but doesn’t have to happen in front of him.

“Better take Matryoshka, too. So you don’t forget about her and then there’s an explosion of glass all over my kitchen. A yeast monster slowly taking over my apartment like flan in Final Fantasy.” There may not be a console out, or even a television, but Rue’s still a gamer nerd at her core.

“Absolutely,” Elliot assures her, pulling her in for a comfortably loose hug as he looks about the space over her shoulder. “That’s the yeast I can do.” It’s strange to see the apartment looking so lively. The year he spent living in the garden apartment wasn’t as bleak as it sounds on first pass, but Rue makes the space feel occupied in a way he never did. He’s glad all of the existing furniture went into storage.

“You’re adjusting to the life of a non-transient really well,” Elliot says as though honestly surprised. “Did you get rid of your red and white checkered handkerchief on a stick yet? That’s the next big step.”

There’s no groan for Elliot’s pun. The effect it has sees Rue relaxing into the hug she’s dragged into, laughing if only for the space of a soft breath. Her arms wrap around him too, one hand grasping the opposite wrist to hold herself to him. She’s come a long way. She started with a mishmash of secondhand furniture. Oh, the sofa was new, but it was boring as hell and going to look ratty before long. Even though she knew the world might end, Rue still replaced it.

They say you can’t take it with you, after all.

So now there’s the cozy suede couch, upholstered in a silver grey that matches the tattered ballet shoes that hang from the wall of her bedroom across from her bed. That piece of furniture was also replaced. A headboard and footboard covered in purple fabric playing host to a new mattress that suits her better. She spent four hours trying out mattresses at the store until she found the right one.

“No. I use it to clean my aviators now,” Rue murmurs, letting her cheek rest against Elliot’s. “Gotta have it at hand if I need it again.” More sheepishly, she finds herself admitting, “I couldn’t handle the look of exasperation on Seren’s face when they kept hoping to see me in a place that I didn’t decorate like a prison cell or an army bunk, honestly.”

Lifting her head, Rue fixes Elliot with a playful smile. “I could split that kerchief in two. We could run away together.”

Elliot chuckles and shakes his head. “Tempting,” he says, “Though we probably wouldn’t make it far before the OEI scooped us up and put us in jail until the end of the world. Maybe they’d let us have a shared jail cell but probably not, Marcus Raith is an asshole.”

He steps backward to rest against the wall, pulling Rue with him awkwardly. “Sorry,” he says, “Excuse me.” He leans his temple against her forehead, eyes cast over the living space at the front of the house. “Personally my goal is to save the world and then get back here for reunion sex marathon. Like neighbors lodging a noise complaint stuff.” Said off-handedly, though Rue can see his quirk of a smile.

“I wish we were going together,” Rue admits. Splitting up this way, which they’ve discussed already, feels like a giant middle finger from the aforementioned Marcus. She knows he’s better suited to go to the other world, but she wants to be there to have his back, to know he’s safe.

To know that whatever happens, at least they’ll be together.

But in a different circumstance, he’d be having her back (and Nick’s) while she worked this quiet campaign against Mazdak. They’re both equipped for that, too. Unfortunately, both jobs need doing, and so here they are. In this moment. Hours from parting.

While his movements may be awkward, Rue’s steps forward are taken easily, like she knows exactly where to place each foot in this dance that leads them to the wall. “Fortunately, my upstairs landlord is a pretty chill dude. I play the music real loud all the time and he’s never once called the cops on me or threatened to have me evicted.” There’s a peck of a kiss placed to the edge of that smile that somehow conveys a heat to it. “You’ll save the world and be back in time for breakfast.” If he’s going to spin this fantasy, then she’s going to twine her own yarn into the cabling.

Taking Elliot’s face in her hands again, Rue has given enough space between them so she can turn him to look at her and they can meet eyes. “If I miss my connecting flight and don’t get to catch you before you go…” Trailing off, the silence is left to stretch long enough for an interruption.

Elliot sighs through his nose at the thought of it. “It’s been months since we were offered the job in the Simon and Marcus ambush interview, and there’s still no word on when I’ll be leaving to even discuss the operation in advance,” he says. “With any luck that delay will buy us time to reconnect.”

His own fears are extreme: that they’ll never see each other again because even in a best-case scenario, the scientists operating the infinite improbability drive have no idea how to get them back home. He can’t hide that apprehension, and doesn’t feel compelled to here in the safety of his home with a woman he loves.

“I know.” The acknowledgement comes on a soft breath. They’re in the same boat — god, what a terrible analogy — or at least facing the same storm. A seriousness in their exchange, one that isn’t feigned, is asked for with the vulnerability shown in those wide blue eyes of Rue’s. “I want you to know that it’s okay.” There’s no attempted flash of a smile to provide a smoothing over they both know won’t assuage either of them. It isn’t their way. Practicalities were important in war, and what is this if not war?

“I need you to know,” Rue restates, looking down only for the length of time it takes for her tongue to dart past her lips and relieve the dryness. “When you’re in that other world, if you find another me…” She holds his gaze and blinks just twice, breath held in her chest.

“You can fuck her. I’ll understand.”

Her jaw is very tight after that allowance she’s granted, brow slowly knitting together, fretful. And still, for all her trepidation in the wake of this, she holds steady, and finally nods her head. “Oh, thank god,” she breathes out without otherwise changing her outward demeanor. Like maybe getting that off her chest had helped her somehow. “I was beginning to think I wasn’t going to be able to manage keeping a straight face under insane amounts of stress and pressure anymore, but I just pulled that off.”

Still, she doesn’t break.

But there’s a tremor.

Elliot fights valiantly to suppress a loud and undignified cackle, showing only as a frantic tick of his cheeks as he rests his hands on Rue’s shoulders. His voice quavers a bit as he tries to say something, coming out only as a wheeze. He pinches the bridge of his nose and releases a wail of laughter before collapsing back against the wall. All he can do is shake with laughter for a while as he fights fruitlessly against tears.

“Holy fuck,” he finally manages, wiping tears from his eyes with his thumb. “Was unprepared.” He seems poised to continue but loses it to another round of sharp, wheezing laughs into his hands.

Only once he starts to laugh does Rue allow herself to do the same. She collapses into him when he collapses into the wall, shifting the lay of her hands and the grapple of her arms to tangle with him in a renewed embrace. She’s content to rest her head against his chest, shaking along with him as they both laugh at her awful joke.

This is their way. Deflecting from their true problems with humor, diffusing their tension that way. “Hana taught me to take away someone’s weapon,” she sighs out as she catches her own breath, “but it was really Avi and Jensen that taught me to disarm someone. Those two fuckin’ idiots…” Her voice trails off for a moment. It’s quieter when she finds it again. “I wonder if they ever felt like this. Without the sexual tension, I mean. Hell, maybe with it. I don’t know. I’m not judging.” The chuckle that follows is only half-hearted.

“Avi strikes me as the kind of guy who’s been going to the same prostitute in place of therapy for thirty years,” Elliot says, voice still quavering from the laugh he’s still on the edge of breaking back into. “Probably not a role model for healthy coping mechanisms.” An unrelated chuckle breaks free but he attempts to tamp it down by clearing his throat.

“Also I think talking about sexual tension in relation to the boss may have just made ours evaporate,” he laments, patting Rue on the back as though resigned to this new sexless life. “Which is too bad, really.” He lets out a sigh, oh well.

This time it’s Rue’s turn to break first, and easily. She sputters a wheezing laugh, has to extricate one arm from behind Elliot’s back so she can cover her mouth. The second comment about coping mechanisms is all too true, and she can’t help for a moment but to wonder if that’s meant to be a reminder. Going back into the field means slipping back into the habits she learned from Aviators, after all.

But then he’s talking about the possibility of the premature death of their sex life, so any introspection is left on the backest of burners. Rue makes a show of leaning back so Elliot can see the way she gradually rolls her eyes upward to the ceiling in thought. “Nope. Not ruining a thing for me.” He shouldn’t think too hard about that one. “And what the fuck, Hitchens? Look at me!” That hand that was stifling laughter is sweeping to gesture at her form now. “I am smokin’ hot. And also still wet!”


From the shower.

Nailed it.

Elliot takes a moment to look Rue over with a reluctant sigh. “Shower, mmhmm,” he supposes. “Well, I can’t disagree, you are incredibly hot. I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that, actually. It’s becoming a problem. Is there anything you can do to tone it down a few notches? Or are we stuck with this…” he gestures at her in an all-encompassing manner as though unsatisfied, “…piping-hot, goddamn radiant supermodel thing.”

Wrinkling her nose, Rue shakes her head slowly. “No, I’m sorry. That would mess with the whole Mata Hari thing I’ve got going on. I gotta strike while this iron is still sizzlin’, honey. This has a finite lifespan. I’ll have to actually learn some life skills once all this starts to even hint at sagging. The amount of runway between me and that moment is rapidly disappearing.”

This is the yo-yo. They come so close to actually letting themselves address the gravity of what they’re facing, then snap that string back and pull it up into the realm of humor again. It’s not sustainable.

But they still have time before they hit that point. “The fact that you haven’t pinned me against that wall and started kissing me senseless yet is a fucking crime, bee tee dubs.” Rue hits Elliot with a look that asks the age-old question, are you fucking kidding me? with a side of what is wrong with you?

"As long as you're sure your landlord isn't going to start banging on the floor," Elliot says with a shrug, might as well. It seems like an easy setup for something flashy, but he merely leans in to kiss Rue where she stands. His hands settle at her hips, fingers tuck into the belt loops of her jeans, tug her toward him only slightly. Just enough to maintain contact.

“Well, he might,” Rue admits, “but that’s going to depend entirely on what you decide to do.” She’s still grinning when he draws her in, waiting to accept his kiss with an eagerness that doesn’t seek to ask for too much. Her hands brace against the wall as she leans into him. It may not be the energy she had in mind, but certainly doesn’t dislike it.

Elliot is comfortable to linger on the kiss for a long while, slowly growing in intensity. His hands slide to the small of her back before he breaks the kiss. He pulls her into a hug, resting the side of his head against hers again. "I'm going to miss you," he says quietly, fingers splayed across her back and closing into fistfuls of her shirt.

As they go on, the restraint required not to throw herself into abandon to avoid her feelings leaves her chest almost painfully tight, but she never presses for more. When the kiss breaks, she lets out a shaky breath and rubs her cheek against his affectionately before settling there. “I honestly don’t know what I’ll do without you. If we were just going to be… If we could VisChat, call each other, or just fucking e-mail—”

The thin tissue fabric of her tank top feels almost flimsy in Elliot’s hands. Rue feels tissue-thin at the moment herself. “You’re my hand up out of the trench. What if I can’t climb without your help next time? What do I do?” The barest hitch of breath near his ear tells Elliot that dam of Rue’s is near to breaking.

"Communication will be possible as long as you're comfortable talking to me through Wright," he suggests. Not the safe for other ears conversations they had through Wright in Sweden. "Though I'll understand if you don't want her to be party to our intimacy."

"If things get bad you should remind yourself that you're not alone. People love you and are invested in your success. And you're the one putting in the hours on your self improvement," he says. "All I offer is encouragement." He sighs, eyes unfocused on the middle distance.

His hands move up her back to rest on her shoulder blades. "Along with other, more potent incentives." His fingers curl around the shoulder straps of her top, pulling it tight against her skin.

“That’s… so not fair to do to Wright,” Rue protests, though her heart isn’t in it. She knows she’ll eventually cave. Her eyes squeeze shut tight in an attempt to ward off the threat of tears. “I know,” Wright would help them stay connected, “and I know,” that she isn’t alone, “and I know,” that he encourages her, while she puts in the work.

“You have to come back,” she begs in a whisper against his ear. “You have to come back. With your shield, without your shield, but not on it.” Rue pulls back so she can meet his eyes again. She’s pained, barely holding it together. She grabs the hem of her shirt and pulls it upward, only breaking eye contact when she needs to pull it over her head.

Elliot is comfortable maintaining eye contact despite the distraction of it being broken by Rue’s shirt. Playfully obtuse. “If you think I won’t fight tooth and nail to get back here,” he says as his fingernails graze her back where once they’d held her shirt, “You don’t know me very well.”

“All the existing candy will have expired a decade ago,” he laments with a shake of his head, Can you believe it? “I’ll expect plenty of sugar upon my return.” he wags a finger at Rue’s face to drive that point home. Then he looks her up and down as though only now realising the state of her dress.

“Suppose I could take some for the road, though,” he muses, fingernails tracing curious shapes behind her ears and down her neck.

But then he closes his eyes, breathes in the seriousness of this, potentially last, conversation. He can’t waste this. His hands slip into Rue’s hair and positions her head to press his forehead to hers despite what it means to him and Wright. Private. “I’ll get back here if I have to claw my way through the void with my bare hands,” he whispers.

“I do,” know him very well. “And you’ll have every single fucking cup of sugar I have to give you, and more.” It nearly causes her to press in and give him that dose for the road, but she knows as well as he does that they will regret the words they didn’t say if they fill each of their last moments with sex.

Those blonde curls are still damp when Elliot’s fingers sink into them, but the action holds her to him and to this moment they’re carving out for themselves. “If you don’t,” Rue warns him, “I will tear open the fabric of reality at its seams to find you and bring you back to me.” The vow made in return is delivered likewise in a whisper. Their pact made in secret.

Elliot smiles that they both have similar intentions. He pulls Rue in for a long hug, memorizes her shape and warmth with his eyes closed. “That’s pretty fucking bad-ass, honestly,” he says lightly, running his thumb up and down over her shoulderblade. “Did you get an ability you haven’t told me about? I’d be hurt if you could have been making portals this whole time and we never used them to rob a bank.”

Rue laughs shakily with that little noise on the end that tells him she’s really on the verge of proper tears this time. “My ability is fffucking spite,” she informs him. There’s a sound from the back of her throat, further denoting the decomposition of her composure. Another. Finally, the shudder and the tears.

She buries her face against Elliot’s shoulder, like it’ll hide her emotion when she’s this quaking and whimpering thing in his arms. “Don’t let my mom say I was an artist in my obit,” she begs, shifting abruptly to her concerns for her own safe return. Her lack of faith in that happening. “She’s always been most proud of me when I’m making art. I don’t deserve that. I don’t want to be remembered as an artist. A photographer, a dancer, an aspiring actress, an empty-headed model!

With her head shaking back and forth against Elliot, Rue lets out a ragged sob. “Promise me.”

Elliot is happy to support Rue, topless and falling apart, while she cries into his shirt. “Rue,” he says seriously but softly, “I swear to sweet baby Jesus, I will sneak into the newspaper and hack some last-minute copyedit if I get even a whiff of artiness. I will describe, in gory detail, how your talents were in making people think you were going to fuck them before shooting them in the face and stealing their keycards.”

He takes Rue by the shoulders, pushing her away from him so he can convey his seriousness with his eyes. “I swear to god,” he says, “You are terrifyingly good at that. The only thing you are better at than that is the actual sex, and I am constantly grateful that you choose to grant me the latter rather than the former. So keep that in mind, because you are a class-A infiltrator, spy, sniper, and praying mantis. One of the best. You’re going to come back.” The levity tapers off, and he makes sure he conveys his honest faith in her abilities.

“Oh, thank god.” In spite of her attempts to sound like her typical sarcastic self, her voice comes out in a whimper. “Make sure everyone knows I was a slut, okay? Don’t let anyone try to put me on the Madonna end of the Madonna-Whore spectrum.” She nods her head quickly, face pulled in an oh-so-serious frown. “Unless we’re talking like Hanky Panky Madonna. That’s fine. In fact, just go ahead and play that song at my funeral. Anyone who doesn’t laugh doesn’t deserve to be there.”

A few more tears are squeezed out while she lets Elliot talk up her skills. Her teeth are bit down onto her lower lip to keep it from quivering and to keep from interjecting. Her brows come up in an expression of her doubt, but also of being extremely touched that he would say those things, that he would praise the fact that she uses her body and her sexuality to further her goals, and without that being fetishized on his part.

Still trembling, she reaches up and wipes at her face and focuses on getting her breathing back under control. “Just don’t blow smoke, okay? We both know there’s a very, very real chance I’m not coming back.” They’ve acknowledged he may not, after all, even if they are refusing to accept that outcome. Rejecting that reality, substituting their own, etc. “But I’m going to… I’m going to fight.” To come back to him. To get him back.

Rue’s shaking fingers lace with Elliot’s. “Come to bed with me.”

“I’ll make sure everybody knows,” Elliot promises. “I’ll play them your Coyote Ugly routine that I may have surreptitiously recorded a while back. If that doesn’t say woman of ill repute I don’t know what will.”

He seems happy with her promise to do what it takes to return. Fingers entangled, he leans forward to kiss her on the brow, at the corner of her eye where tears gather and fall. He’s happy to oblige her request to move, allowing himself to be directed toward her room. “Just so you know,” he says, “I don’t have any of my keycards on me.”

“Surreptitious my ass,” Rue counters with a breathy laugh. “You think I do that thing with the bottle cap just for kicks? That was all for you.” As she starts to lead the way through the apartment and to her bedroom, she takes in all the little touches she’s added to the space. All the ways she’s left a mark and made it hers. Her first real home.

“When all this is over…” Elliot’s tugged through the doorway by his belt, which is also quickly undone and pulled free of its loops with a hiss of leather on denim. “I’m moving in upstairs.” Rue crushes her mouth to his, staggers backward while pulling his shirt up at his back and kicks the door shut with her foot.

The sunlight through the garden window bathes her body, pale and naked, in a golden light. It makes her hair seem almost the color it should be. Head propped up by one elbow, Rue regards Elliot curiously where he lays next to her on his back, his arm tucked comfortably behind his head. “I get it now,” she murmurs softly, a revelation.

Elliot blinks slowly, breathing deep to disturb the sleepiness brought on by feeling safe in an intimate environment. His head turns to Rue partially, then further as he reorients to his side entirely. "Hmm?" He wonders.

He's out of wittiness for the moment, sending his gaze to wander over Rue as she's framed in the light.

He's met by Rue's fond smile, bittersweet. "That song from the Armageddon soundtrack. The Aerosmith one?"

The fingers of her free hand trace along his bicep absently.

There's a look of effort in his eyes as he extracts himself far enough from the fog of relaxation to remember the reference. "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing?" he asks. "I'll be honest I haven't seen that movie since I was like… nine."

Being slightly more awake, he memorizes the way the sunlight pools in the hollow of Rue's throat and collarbone.

“I don’t remember fuck all about the movie. I just remember the song.” Rue commits the feel of his skin to the memory of her fingertips. Each little scar and perfect imperfection goes into the vault so she can access it later, when she’s alone in an unfamiliar bed, potentially with an unfamiliar body next to her, and missing him.

She can access the memory.

Close her eyes.

And pretend.

“This is it. This is what I have. And I…” Rue laughs softly, unshed tears creating another pool for Elliot to study. “I don’t want to miss a thing.” There’s another bubble of laughter that she has to clamp down on before it can become the beginning of a sob. Teeth draw the inner portion of her lower lip in, applying pressure to the soft swell of it between rows.

Elliot nods his head in understanding, as best he’s able with it cradled against his pillow. “We have a unique advantage at our disposal,” he says with a quirk of one eyebrow. “When we’re back here again we can show each other what we were up to in our time away. In so much more detail than just description. Like catching up on a show.”

He smiles warmly, not wanting to give the impression that this isn’t more important to him than watching television. “I fucking love you,” he says, again, making sure it sticks. “And while we’ll probably be too busy at first with something even more exhausting than this”—gesturing at their shared nudity—“there will be plenty of time after.”

“Not just because we both will have just directly contributed to the continuation of all life on Earth,” he says, already impressed with both of them.

Rue nods her head along with Elliot’s reminder of how they won’t just have to regale each other with stories upon their return. They can touch, entwine, and show. They — he — have something no one else can ever have. Well, except anyone else he wants to have it with. She shoves that thought down, choosing to believe it’s only herself and Wright who have this privilege.

He says he loves her and she springs into action immediately, up onto her hands and one knee, the other leg swinging out easily so she can settle that knee on the other side of Elliot’s waist, straddling him. She cups his cheek with one hand. She smiles down at him, a genuine thing bolstered by happiness and her love for him. “We’ll have all the time in the world,” Rue promises.

Then she laughs. Her long hair falls over her shoulders, catching in the sun and making her look like one of those old portraits of crusading women about to go to war. Anointed by God. Even if she is sans armor.

“Index this,” Rue tells him. “If we never see each other again or if I’m… not the same when I come back, ah…” A pair of tears slide down her face which she lifts her hand from his face to wipe away quickly. “I want you to remember me this way. I want you always to remember this moment. To remember how loved you are.” Both hands planted on the mattress at his shoulders, she leans in and presses a soft kiss to his mouth, then pushes herself up again. “Exactly how you are and exactly how you’ll be when you come home.”

He does, he has been this whole time. “I will,” he promises once his lips are free to do so. He presses his forehead to hers, squeezes her upper arms. This, he seems to say, Right here. He lets his head fall back on the pillow, face suddenly changing to dismissive. “But I’m altering the memory to make you a redhead.” He looks away as if wounded and shrugs, but can’t suppress a giggle.

Rue nods her assent quickly. “I’m okay with that. I miss it already,” she admits with a laugh, before dipping back in to brush her nose against his, letting their foreheads touch one more time. She’s about to say something else when her phone emits a series of quiet beeps. Rue freezes.

Lifting her head enough to look into Elliot’s eyes, she wears a look of both resignation and yet one of determination. “I suppose the sooner I go save the world, the sooner I can come home to you.” Rue glances up and out the window. “I have an hour before I need to go. Should we grab a blanket and watch our last sunset together from the garden?” She’s judging where the sun is on the horizon and she thinks they’ll have the time.

Elliot looks to Rue’s phone as an unwelcome intruder. He sighs, knowing it won’t be too long before his own phone rings.

“Sounds lovely,” he says, looking back up to snap himself out of it. “If you can free me from your admittedly tantalizing grapple I’ll get dressed and get us something hot to drink from upstairs.” He doesn’t make any moves to actually extricate himself, in no real rush to see the last of her.

“I don’t want to.” It’s easy enough to admit. Rue does so with light laughter, but with a bitter sadness to it. “I’m going to miss the way your body fits around, under, and on top of mine,” she quips even as she climbs off from him, carefully disentangling herself from the sheets in the same process.

She doesn’t bother to gather up the clothes, instead moving over to where a fresh set is laid out on a chair on the far side of the room. Loose fitting. Comfortable for travel.

Elliot disentangles himself as well. His response is a sigh at first, trying to think of something witty to deflect with again. “I’m going to miss you,” he finally ventures softly. “The close fits and sharp angles all.”

He stands behind her, having nothing here but the clothing he arrived in to put back on. Once at least slightly decent, he spins her toward him, face not masking the seriousness of what he feels.

Rue spares a glance over her shoulder as she works hooks through eye closures. “I know. My elbows are so sharp, we really should’ve been childproofing them around Ames.” If she can continue to be sarcastic, this won’t have to be what it has to be.

She’s just finished pulling a long sleeved red minidress over her head, still smoothing it out when Elliot turns her around. She doesn’t do either of them the disservice of a Han Solo grin, even if she does trot out his words. “I know.” There’s no desperation this time, no tears. Just a tight hug lasting several moments, where she hooks her chin over his shoulder.

Drawing away, she lets her hands fall back to her sides slowly. Rue waits, knowing he must have words, or… “I’m open,” she promises, offering out her hand, “if you need it.” The link would be temporary – for both their sakes. She insisted on not holding it as she travels from him, knowing it will only distract her and serve to further upset her to know she has to say goodbye a second time.

Elliot is happy to be held, and to hold in return. “Pretty sure Ames is invulnerable to harm,” he says quietly. “She could hit one of your elbows at mach four and just ricochet off into a wall.”

With space between them again, he tries to drop a smirk before it distracts him. His eyes are on hers with laser focus. He doesn’t reach out to Rue to set a link into the network. He places his hands on her upper arms, and breathes out as he prepares to say it. “I fuckin’ love you,” is all he says, truthfully and ferociously.

Taking a moment to consider, Rue lets out a hum of agreement regarding the likely outcome of a collision between Ames and the particularly sharp angles of her elbows. There’s a quip in there about it being the girl’s ability, but she doesn’t feel like making more jokes right now.

Not when he looks at her like that. Not when she feels that pull on her heart. Not when she feels the entirety of existence shrink down to just her and just him. “How did I get to be so lucky?” she asks, and it’s not just a flippant question or a deflection. “I love you… so much more than I know what to do with. I’ve never felt anything with anyone else like I have with you…” The way she trails off leaves the and Seren a tacit thing he’s free to infer at his own discretion.

“If I have any regret, it’s that I didn’t tell you how into you I was sooner.” They could have had so much more time than this. And in no way would it have made this moment any easier.

“If I ever go back in time,” Elliot says, rubbing his thumbs over Rue’s shoulders, “I’ll tell you that you said that. But for now I’m happy we got this. Even if we have shit to do before we get back to it.”

He leans his forehead into hers and sighs. He’s not used to the complexity of the way saying goodbye feels. Knowing they both may never make it back, both accept the lie knowingly. He’s relieved that the uncertainty of his raw emotions isn’t given away by a link. He can project more confidence than he feels.

And yet, she knows. She knows, because it’s precisely what she feels. Open and raw like a wound, a nerve exposed. Without disrupting the hold he has on her arms, she wraps her own arms around him loosely, tilting her head slightly to accommodate the press of her forehead to his.

I love you,” she whispers against his mouth with a quiet desperation. Like she can breathe that love into his essence, bind it to him and keep him safe with her oath. “I’ll come back to you,” Rue promises to him. It isn’t his promises or assurances she needs. Elliot is the one she trusts to succeed in his mission. It’s Elliot she trusts to return. And still, she’s made sure to engage in her superstitions to ensure their missions go well.

Elliot doesn’t say Good, though his smile may as well. He runs his hands down her arms and squeezes her hands, then tilts his head toward the garden door. He takes a moment to get the rest of the way decent, then grabs a blanket from the bed to stave off the early spring chill.

“This will be the first year in a while I don’t have time to maintain the garden,” he says as he opens the door and takes the stairs up to the glass bulkhead door above. “Not that I’m great at it either way. Hopefully the wildfire doesn’t get close enough to make it a moot point.”

Feet slid into boots and sweater shrugged on, Rue follows a few steps behind Elliot. Lifting her head, she resolves not to have a negative reaction. Instead, she smiles. “Well, it’ll give us a gross couples project for when we get home, won’t it?”

Once up in the garden patio, she sits down on the plush sectional, her knees drawn up so her heels rest against the edge of the seat. Then, when he joins her, she leans into him and stretches her legs out until her feet press against the arm. “At least the sky will be the same, huh? We can stare up and think about the stupid shapes we’d call each one.”

Rue lifts one arm, points a finger toward the clouds in the sun-kissed sky, and declares: “That one’s a gazelle.”

Elliot rests into the seat as much as he rests into Rue. He finds the way they fit together in the limited space that the comfort of the couch prides. He’s happy to experience the little joys they can experience apart. The sun should beat down on them the same, assuming it shines through the clouds, even worlds apart.

The sky at sunset creates a painting Elliot has never been successfully able to describe to someone not in a link with him. Every sunset a rainbow of hues he can cut into crescents of refracted color. He shrugs as though confounded by her proclamation. “That’s clearly an antelope,” he says. Rookie mistake.

Antelope,” Rue repeats flatly, squinting while she pulls the blanket a bit tighter around herself, huddling closer to Elliot. “That’s like the same thing. You know what? Just for that…” Her finger tracks east and points out another cloud. “That one’s a lion. Now both our prey animals better hope they can whoosh across the sky faster than that sumbitch.”

The seriousness of their cloud competition, something so perfectly normal and them is abandoned, as it always eventually is, for happy laughter. Rue turns herself around in her seat so she can make the peak of her knees over Elliot’s legs instead, resting her forehead lightly against his temple.

“Until those clouds come down from the sky to devour us,” the ginger-turned-blonde spy murmurs without context.

"Finally," Elliot replies, pulling Rue's knees toward his chest. He does a clumsy job of drawing Rue to his side to set her head on his shoulder, happy to take up such a small space with her in the warm tones of sunset. "Eaten by cloud animals is a way better apocalypse than the one we got stuck with."

"Though," he considers, "I was born during a solar storm, so there'd be poetic symmetry to it."

“A solar storm, huh?” Rue grins, happy to be as close to her lover as they both can manage, without risk of needing to be closer again with so little time left until her departure. “Primal. I don’t have that, but it was cooler than cool the day I was born.” That’s only left to hang a beat before she resolves it. “Ice cold.” Leap day child, and it was cold. Go figure.

A kiss is pressed to Elliot’s neck, soft and undemanding. There’s no serious moment of intense eye-gazing, piercing through to souls when she gives voice to her thoughts again. “I don’t regret any of this. Not splitting up to save the fucking universe. I wish we could be together, but I don’t regret anymore that we were chosen to play our parts.” Gradually, Rue Lancaster is finding peace while the sun begins to set on their last evening together. Possibly forever.

“Remember,” she knows he needs no reminders on this topic, “that this is war. If you do something you aren’t proud of later, that’s just how it is. If you decide to treat yourself like shit for it, pretend I’m the one telling you the story of having done the same thing. Then tell me about how I’m fierce, resourceful, and brave for having made a difficult choice, even if it was the wrong one. Because I’m going to do that every time I have trouble looking at my own reflection in the mirror.”

Rue rests her hand just left of center on Elliot’s chest. “I’ll leave my heart with you when I go.”

“Should I take it to another reality with me or leave it here with Ginger Rogers and Matryoshka?” he says playfully, before smiling and leaving a kiss on her temple. “Thank you,” he says in seriousness, placing his hand over Rue’s. “You can take mine with you in its place.” He pulls the stolen blanket tighter around them to keep as close as he can in the moment.

“Thank you,” Rue murmurs, her tone warm with her humor over where he should leave her heart. “Given that San Francisco is no longer a viable option, I’ll be keeping yours close.” Lifting her head, she gently rests her fingertips along Elliot’s jaw, smiling at him while she commits his face to her imperfect memory. “I’ll make sure there’s a clear if found, return to sticker on it for you. So if I drop it like the scatterbrain I am…”

There’s no follow-up to that thought. Just the closing of her eyes and the pressing of her mouth to his.

Elliot’s retort is cut off by the kiss, and he’s happy for it. He doesn’t want to dilute these moments. If all he could remember of their time together was this feeling it would be enough. It’s pure and honest, raw and rough around the edges. He can’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t cheapen it. He can’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t be goodbye. So he doesn’t say anything, living in the moment with no other consideration.

Her brow is stern when she leaves her forehead resting against Elliot’s, lips parted in the wake of the kiss and around a sob she will not allow now — or possibly ever.

“I forgive you for whatever you do that needs to be done,” Rue promises in a throaty whisper. “If you’ll do the same for me.”

"Of course," Elliot quietly reassures her. "We've both operated in the black long enough to do what needs to be done and deal with the fallout when it arises. Don't worry about what you might need to do in the moment. I'm not going to judge you for killing your way to success on this one."

He squeezes her close in a short hug. "I probably wouldn't judge you anyway," he admits. "I think the literal end of humanity weighs heavily on the 'ends justifying the means' side of the scale of black-ops ethics."

Rue returns the hug fiercely, a short laugh coming in the wake of his assurances, carried now on the wind by the butterflies that previously occupied her stomach. “I just needed to hear it. I just…”

She thinks about the things that Wolfhound has done — and not done — in the intervening years since the war and what may have been necessary and what may have been the result of a bunch of kids with PTSD and anger issues, carrying guns and knives and C4 explosives.

“Needed to hear it.” Anything else she might have wanted to say is cut short by the beeping of the phone in her pocket. “Fuck.” Withdrawing the device, she snoozes the alarm. Surely she can spend three more minutes like this. Three more minutes where the world is perfect.

Maybe the last three minutes it ever will be again.

The sunset — their excuse to be out here in the chill, cozied up under a blanket like this — beckons. The sun kisses the horizon goodnight, the brilliant blaze of pinks and the wash of indigo above seeming to teach them how it’s supposed to be done.

The display is too beautiful to ignore. With her head on Elliot’s shoulder, Rue watches the sun slowly make its way toward sinking too far below their sightline to follow. “Catalogue this one too, okay? I want you to help me remember it properly when I get back.”

“Can do,” Elliot says. At the very least he can help her remember it, there’s long odds on properly. He does focus though, noticing separately then combining the watercolor light of the sky, the dry rustle of the winds in the tree, the chill of the air against his cheek, the heat of her body beside his, the way his heart breaks.

“Do you want to remember in composite?” he asks, twisting his hand to be held if she would.

Rue takes the hand without a moment of hesitation. “I want to remember it as much as you’ll let me do.” His hand becomes a lifeline. This moment becomes another promise. Another thing she has to return for. Another thing he must return for. They each have to come back so they can relive this moment and laugh away all this heartache.

The sun makes a shining halo around her head, made golden by the fresh honey color of her hair. Her fingers find the space between his and weave through. “I want you to remember it only as much as you want to,” Rue whispers quietly, absolving him from having to remember any of it, if it becomes too painful.

Elliot brings Rue’s hand up to his mouth, kissing it gently, whispering. “Pain is the Foundation for the brightest memories,” he says. “The holding on despite the hurt.” It doesn’t need to be joy to be important.

He begins to whisper words to her, perfect and personal. Private and pure. Words that wrap together threads of thought and being that few other people could ever hope to bridge. Words to mark the parts of them that stay with the other, that will follow them both past this goodbye until their reunion. Until they may never reunite. Until the brightness of potential might save them from the darkness that shrouds their diverging futures.

This time, when the phone goes off again, Rue tosses it carelessly into the grass to fuss while she swings her knee over and sets herself into Elliot’s lap. They kiss. Fiercely — like she needs him to supply her with oxygen. But there’s no more time to stall; the last sands are running out of the hourglass.

The most beautiful girl in the whole wide garden comes up for air and further rises to her feet, holding out her hands to help her beau join her at this new altitude. But from his seated position, she could never hope to have staged herself to look so radiant. She smiles, unknowing, unaware of just how perfect she is to him in this moment.

The indifferent sun sinks below the horizon.

Rue Lancaster’s halo winks out.

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