You shouldn't, Ava thinks to herself, as sternly as she possibly can. It doesn't help.
The thing is, it's 1955. And that's just so close to 1958, barely a hop skip and a jump what's three years, really. Hardly any time at all. If you think about it - and oh, has Ava thought about it - it's barely even time travel and it's not like anyone would notice, that sneaky little part of herself thinks. Not with Sara gone.
Her thumb rolls back and forth across the time courier in her palm, idly flicking through the settings. Thinking.
"Captain Sharpe," Gideon says. Her voice sounds gentle, almost pitying and it makes Ava's heart do an awful loop-the-loop inside her chest.
"Don't call me that, Gideon," Ava whispers.
"Ava," she amends. "I must advise you -"
"I know," Ava says. "I know, I just -"
She closes her eyes, moves her thumb back and forth. She can count the little haptic clicks with her eyes closed, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1957, 1956 - 57, 58. Ava taps. The portal opens. She stares at it, blurry-eyed with tears that seem to come whenever she least wants them to. It looks almost exactly like the world outside the ship right now but it's not. It's Hub City, 1958. The portal has a specific destination, is open to a chilly spring night and the back of a dive bar. She watches the future-past, the black square of the alley wall and hesitates.
(It violates Time Bureau Courier Training Manual Rule 12 Section 1 Paragraph 2B: Courier Swiftly, Courier Confidently. The thought makes Ava give it an extra few seconds out of sheer spite.)
She stands up. "Gideon," she whispers. "Keep everyone safe until I get back."
"Yes, captain," Gideon replies. Ava doesn't bother to correct her.
Sara is in the back of the bar.
Ava gives herself a moment to process it. Sara, past Sara, is actually in this bar just like Ava's calculations predicted. She's tucked into a corner booth with her back to the wall, her hair loose around her shoulders. She's drinking whisky neat with an enthusiasm that implies that she wants to forget about the world but she's also scanning the room with an assassin's eye, never not watching. If she notices Ava, it doesn't show in her expression.
(It shouldn't. 1958 is Sara's past, sixty years but also two years before they meet.)
Ava can feel herself start to panic. Her hands are shaky and she tries to shove them into her pockets; the gesture ends up with her swiping her palms across the sides of her stupid stupid sensible housewife skirt. This was a bad idea and she knew that from the start but know she really knows it, with an in-her-bones sort of certainty.
(She just wanted - no.)
(She just needed this. To see her, even for a minute.)
It's Sara but it's not. It's Sara in every real sense of the word, but it's not the right kind of Sara at all. This Sara is hard edges and fresh assassin's training, scanning the room for danger while she drowns her feelings in cheap brown liquor. This Sara doesn't know Ava's favourite brand of notebook, doesn't remember their first date, doesn't know about that sore spot on Ava's left shoulder that always needs rubbing out when she's stressed.
Ava takes a breath. Tries to focus on inhaling slowly through her nose, out through her mouth, and not on the sharp, acid feel of anxiety in her belly. She thinks about giving herself a pep talk, telling herself that she can do this but she's still not sure what this is or if it's worth doing so it's hard to really get herself pumped because maybe she can't, you know? Maybe she can't do this and getting herself all excited and confident is disingenuous.
"-drink?" someone says.
She's standing at the bar and there's a woman at her elbow and Ava turns and - fuck her. Fuck her it's Sara, eyes warm and eager and breath heavy with alcohol, inches away from her. Ava's fingers close around the sticky edge of the bar and she squeezes as hard as she can to try to ground herself. It doesn't help. It does leave a perfect sticky patina of old-soda-and-beer residue on her palm and that doesn't fix anything but it does at least provide a distraction. "Sorry," Ava says. "I think I missed that."
Sara looks her up and down, smiles. Ava knows that smile. Knows what that smile leads to and it's so weird, meeting her hopefully-future-maybe-wife for the first time all over again. "I was wondering if I could get you a drink," she says, voice low and smooth. "I'm Sara."
Sara extends her hand. There's hardly any space between them already; her fingertips brush the buttons at the front of Ava's extremely sensible housewife's jacket. Ava takes it, realizes at the very last second that she probably can't introduce herself as herself if she ever wants Sara to be her hopefully-future-maybe-wife. "Carol," she says. "Is, um. I'm Carol. Nice to meet you."
Sara chuckles, gestures to the bartender and two glasses appear at her elbow. "Nice to meet you, too."
Sara takes Ava to her back booth. Her movements are smooth and calculated, like she's looking for something very specific and it's then that Ava takes in the rest of the bar. The way people are paired off, men with men and women with women and the couple groping in the back and - right.
Sara has her drink in hand; if Ava wants to take a sip she's got to slide into that booth next to her. She does, lets the first mouthful go down hard as she tucks herself in against Sara's side. The burn of it helps her focus, gives her a bit more presence of mind as Sara leans in and says, "What's a nice lady like you doing in a place like this?"
Ava had a good few seconds of calm going but it evaporates in the face of Sara's attention. "Oh, me? I, uh - I'm sure I'd just bore you."
Sara's expression turns searching. The way she does when she's coming up with a plan, when all the puzzle pieces are coming together but this time the puzzle is Ava and the plan is - Ava stops that thought before it runs its course. The plan is to see Sara. That's all.
(The plan was to see Sara but now she's here and she's seen Sara and she can't quite bring herself to leave.)
Sara seems to come to a conclusion. She finishes her drink in one gulp, slides the glass to the far side of the table so that she's got space to turn and meet Ava head-on. "Maybe we shouldn't talk at all?"
It's that thing. That stupid cliche, even after all these years she makes my heart go pitter-pat and it's not true all the time but when Sara really flirts hard, well - Ava can't help herself. She still gets breathless. "Yeah," she hears herself whisper, before she can stop herself. "Maybe that."
Sara leans in close and Ava doesn't move away. They kiss and it's the first time but it's also not but also Ava hasn't been kissed since London and she's aware of it in her whole body, how much she's needed to be kissed.
(Sara had leaned in close, snaking her arm around Ava's waist and smelling like beer and sweat and a hundred dancing punks. She'd kissed Ava's cheek, whispered, I'm going to get another round. Ava, in a moment of neediness had grabbed her arm and pouted and asked for a proper kiss, deep and full and if she'd known she would have asked for thirty, fifty more. Would have gone with Sara, would have made sure that she was safe -)
Sara - this Sara, here-and-now-in-the-past Sara pulls away. She's grinning, proud and kissed out and there must be something awful in Ava's expression because everything about Sara immediately shifts. "Hey," she says. "Hey honey, are you okay?"
Ava blinks. Her cheeks are suddenly wet as tears that had been welling up without her consent start to spill over. "Yeah," she lies. "I'm fine, I'm just thinking of -" Ava pauses. You is on the tip of her tongue but it doesn’t feel right. This Sara isn’t Sara, not in the way that matters. “My, uh -“
The pause is just long enough that Sara fills in the blank on her own. Part of Ava wonders which word she chooses. They’re in a time when so many things are left unsaid; maybe it doesn’t matter. “I know what you mean,” Sara drawls. “I’ve got one of those. Mine has wings.”
Ava nods, blinks, flicks through her mental Rolodex to - oh. The thought almost makes her falter. But then Sara smiles, that crooked half-grin with her gaze dropped low and Ava feels it between her legs and she hasn’t felt that in ages and she can’t help herself. It’s fine. It’s okay.
“Mine’s somewhere in the stars,” Ava says.
Sara frowns, genuine concern once again chasing away her eagerness. “I’m sorry,” she says. “It’s not easy to lose someone you care about.”
“No,” Ava says. “No it’s not.”
Sara puts a hand on her shoulder and for a moment she feels so familiar that Ava almost falls apart. Then she does something, this movement where she levers herself up and her knee is in between Ava's legs and she's hovering over Ava, somehow wedged into Ava's lap despite the tiny bench and the table bolted to the floor. "Want to forget about them together?" she says.
Ava closes her eyes. There's a right answer and a wrong answer but she's so tired and this Sara is at least here, is real and before her brain can catch up her mouth is whispering, "Yeah."
Ava's hopefully-future-maybe-wife is good at sex in public bathrooms in a way that - Ava's not sure if that's a skill that Sara's lost or if it just hasn't come up during their relationship, but it's a surprise.
Ava's propped against the sink and half-sitting in the bowl of it, angled sightly so that the faucet is pressing into the soft part of her ass. Sara's got her fingers tangled in the gusset of Ava's sensible period-appropriate satin underwear and all Ava can think about is differently she fucks now. Used to fuck? Ava wrote the literal handbook on time travel verb tenses but even she's at a loss.
What she knows is: Present-day, Ava's-almost-fiancee Sara is always so tender. Not to say that she's not forceful, because Ava always finishes hard and loud and satisfyingly stretched out but there's always a thoughtfulness to Sara's hand. Sara fucks her long and hard but underpinned with caring.
The Sara in front of her, 2016-turned-1958 Sara who is present but also past, fucks with an urgency Ava's never seen in her before. She fucks like it's oxygen, like if she doesn't get herself knuckle-deep into Ava she really might die.
(Ava's not thinking about the important stuff, like what if Sara remembers this and we create a time paradox that erases our entire relationship or is the weird sticky bar residue on Sara's fingers likely to give me a yeast infection. She's thinking about how if Sara doesn't get in her, doesn't fuck her so hard that she sees stars she might die herself.)
(So, at least for tonight, they're a good match.)
Ava's got her hand wedged into Sara's jeans, her wrist at an angle that's almost acute enough to make her fingers go numb as she wriggles her way into the right spot. Sara's body feels the same under her hands. It's so strange that she feels the same and Ava doesn't know why she wouldn't but it's the most surreal feeling: fucking her partner but also fucking a stranger. Ava's fingertips hit home, find the swollen tip of Sara's clit and Sara thrusts into her touch, hips bucking as she grunts into Ava's shoulder. "Fuck," Sara whispers. "Like that."
Ava's about to whisper back I know. Is about to start dirty-talking, because she knows that's what Sara likes when she gets like this but she holds herself back. This Sara doesn't know that she knows that. This Sara hasn't shown Ava the best way to rub her off, she doesn't know that Ava knows the way that she tastes and the choices that Ava could make right now are so numerous that for a moment she's overwhelmed with choice.
Then Sara's fingers curl three-wide into her and she forgets to be worried altogether.
This is new and exciting and strange and difficult and also somehow exactly what Ava's been missing. She sobs out a moan, bites down on Sara's shoulder to keep herself from whining out, love you.
(Sara always liked that. Likes that, Ava corrects herself. Present tense. She still does like that and Ava loves how she chuckles in the warmest, sweetest way when she hits the right spot and Ava whimpers it out: love you, harder, yes, love you, yes.)
Sara groans, shifts her weight so that she can put more of her arm into the way that she's moving inside Ava. Ava shivers against her, feels her orgasm starting to build. She starts to move her own fingers against Sara with more earnestness, rubbing her clit faster, harder. She knows that once she finishes, she'll be useless and she wants - she needs - to see Sara come tonight.
Ava feels it, a sudden slick shudder against her palm and Sara's thrusts faltering inside her as Sara freezes, goes stiff, comes with another groan and a long sigh of relief. Ava curls her fingertips, draws a few lazy circles against Sara's clit as best she can with her wrist pinned against Sara's fly. That does it, draws the second shudder and the most perfect moan out of her and that's it. That's the one that Ava's been missing, the private sound of Sara's release that feels like it belongs to her.
Sara grunts again, almost like she's shaking herself out of the afterglow. "Gotta make sure you get your turn," she sighs.
Ava feels herself clench and flutter at the suggestion; hears Sara's low sigh as she feels it around her fingers. This Sara throws her whole self into Ava's finish. She fucks with her whole body, hard and fast and urgent. Ava comes just as fast and just as urgently, all over Sara's hand and a little on the inside of her skirt.
This Sara doesn't know her well enough to recognize her orgasm on instinct. Has to double-check, say, "You good?" in a soft, rough little voice.
"Yeah," Ava says. She's got her head resting on Sara's shoulder and she shouldn't feel the same, shouldn't feel as familiar as she does. Ava breathes deep and Sara smells just like she always does, like her Sara and it's all she can do to keep from crying.
Sara pulls out and Ava takes her hand back, focuses on massaging feeling back into her fingertips and not the feelings threatening to spill out of her. She feels so full of them she might just split open, like rotten fruit. This Sara isn't planning to stay. This Sara is clearly working through something and honestly, Ava's not in a position to judge.
(This Sara works through things now to turn into the Sara that's yours.)
This Sara is zipping up her jeans, waiting for Ava to stand up so that she can rinse Ava off of her fingers in the sink. They wash their hands together, fingers touching as they pass the sad bar of soap between them. There's no paper towel; Sara wipes her wet hands on her back pockets and gives Ava another one of those crooked smiles. "Anyway, it was real nice to meet you -"
"- Carol," Ava supplies.
"Carol," Sara says. "I'll see you around."
"Yeah," Ava says. "I'll see you."
Sara slips out of the bathroom first, leaves Ava alone to clean herself up. She doesn't bother. She fingers the control of her time courier with damp fingertips, punches in the coordinates for home.
Ava's already undressing as she steps through the portal. Her stockings are falling down around her knees, the gusset torn in Sara's eagerness and she kicks them away. Her skirt is next, then her undergarments.
She's been wearing Sara's pyjamas to sleep. Her sweats are soft and worn-in and Ava slips gratefully into them, finally comfortable.
"Gideon," she says, almost afraid to ask.
"The timeline is intact," Gideon replies. Then, after a long beat: "Do you feel better?"
Ava shrugs. There's a gentleness to Gideon's tone, a real concern behind it that makes Ava want to flinch away. If Gideon feels sorry for her loss then it means she's lost something, and - she refuses. She won't. She can't have lost something, not something this big. She shrugs out of her jacket; it smells like smoke and stale beer (and sex with Sara) and the smell is more comforting than she wants to acknowledge. "Maybe," she says. "Not really."
"If it helps, Captain Sharpe," Gideon says. "I miss her, too."
Ava's surprised to find that it does.