Lark holds the phone up to their ear and idly watches a family pass by on the sidewalk opposite them. It’s warm in the summer sunshine, enough so that they’ve exchanged their habitual hoodie for a lighter long-sleeved shirt. It’s a soft blue-gray, and paired with a long white skirt whose hem is already beginning to accumulate dirt and dust. Well-worn boots peek out beneath the battered hem, with sloppy stitchwork marching along the curve of the right instep. They wait patiently until the line connects, and then immediately jump into their prepared schpiel.
“Anywhere, anywhen in the last two centuries or so. Where would you like to go?” Their grin is evident in their voice, but the questions are sincere. As sincere as they ever sound, anyways.
A tinny voice filters through the line, and they shift a little, adjusting their lean against the side of the building and brushing their hair over their shoulder. They nod a little, mostly to themself, waving at a child who stops to stare at them before the kid is swept away by their parents.
“Yeah, it’s me. Surprise, I’m right outside, mind letting me in?” It’s late afternoon, but the sun is still high in the sky and they can already feel sweat prickling at the small of their back. Ah, summer days. What a lovely season for roasting in too many layers and melting into a puddle of sweat.
This isn’t quite their present time - they’re a few weeks off, the slimmest margin they felt would be safe and also unnoticeable. They can’t quite track down the memory of when they contacted her last, but it’s certainly been a while for them. They tend to take the long way around with these kinds of things, but hopefully they’re still within an acceptable window to show up unannounced at her doorstep. Or if not, they can pretend that it’s acceptable and hope she goes along with it. Being a time traveler is mostly guesswork and pretending to know what you’re doing, with a bit of false confidence thrown in for flavor.
Hey, it’s gotten them this far. It won’t get them all that much further, but they push that knowledge to the side and turn their face towards the sun. No use dwelling on what will come when there’s fun to be had in the here and now. Or the then and there, if they can get a solid answer from their traveling companion.
Certainly not for the first time, and probably not for the last, that single thought pushed itself through the muddied waters of Lily’s mind. She was alone, laying in bed, staring at the ceiling, shades drawn, lights off. All she needed was some sad breakup music to accompany the wet trails that ran from her eyes. Lily Pond, the perfect image of a recent heartbreak. Except it wasn’t recent. She’d tried to convince herself that she didn’t know how long it had been, but she knew. It had been seven months and twelve days since Lily’s entire fucking world had shattered. Her friends, if they even could be called that, had all up and left, the entire Lotus clan hiding underground, leaving her behind. This included none other than her girlfriend, Kira. When Lily had found out about the Lotus leaving, she begged Kira to stay, or at least keep in contact with her, anything. Kira had just shrugged her shoulders and vanished in a burst of neon light.
She was supposed to be over it, she’d told her therapist that she’d gotten over it. And sometimes she even told herself that. But the truth was that she wasn’t. She wasn’t over it, and so whenever she wasn’t at the gym or at class, she was in her shitty apartment feeling fucking sorry for herself. As these thoughts raced through her mind, Lily was snapped out of her spiral of self-loathing by her phone buzzing next to her. Who calls anymore? She picked it up without even glancing at the number, trying to sound like she hadn’t been bawling her eyes out not ten minutes before.
Lily bolted upright at the voice on the other end, casually asking if there’s any time she’d like to visit as if it’s nothing more than a stroll in the park. Well, for them it probably is.
“Lark? What’s up? Where are you?” The questions fell out of Lily’s mouth before she could catch them. She winced internally, hoping they didn't sound too desperate. The voice on the other end was as tired and upbeat as ever, and replied that they’re downstairs. Fuck. “Yeah sure, I’ll come let you up.”
Lily hung up the phone and glanced around her place. Alright, she could make it work. She quickly threw on some clothes that she hadn’t slept in and took a moment to look at herself in the mirror. At least there was no makeup to run. She scrambled down the stairs and opened the door for Lark, smiling as they saw the time traveler for the first time in what felt like forever.
“Y’know, if you give me more than five seconds heads-up, I can be more prepared.” Lily chuckled as she motioned for Lark to follow her back up the stairs. Once back in the apartment, she flopped down into a chair, feet dangling in the air. She looked back at Lark, a half-smile coming to her face. “So, why this sudden time-based questioning?”
Lark hums their acknowledgment, and the line clicks de- off. The call ends, and the line clicks off. That’s a perfectly acceptable phrase. They shake off a momentary inkling of something they refuse to name, and wander over to the door to wait for Lily. It’s a little cooler in the shade of the awning, and they entertain themself with a little more people-watching. Everyone’s outside on a day as nice as this one, it seems.
After a little while (three minutes and fifty two seconds, but who’s counting?) the door opens, and there stands the woman they came to see. There’s something off about her, but they just squint for a second and then smile right back, waving their hand in a looping motion.
“Y’know, you could just ask for more time. Not like I’d have to wait long.” Has she gotten shorter? No, no, Lark is probably just a little taller than the last time they saw her. What is it? With her back turned, Lark allows themself a moment of puzzlement, their smile dropping into a look of concentration.
This is gonna bug them forever if they can’t place it, they already know. They paste the smile back on as they enter her apartment, glancing around briefly before following her example and sprawling on the couch opposite her. They had a plan for today, dang it, and they are following it.
Lily looks at them again, and it finally clicks. She looks… kind of terrible. Not her outfit or the well-sculpted musculature of her arms, or shoulders, or abs, or… stop getting distracted, Lark - not any of that, but her eyes are kind of red and she looks tired and sad in a way they know too well.
Before they can think better of it, the question on their mind finds its way out of their mouth. “I, ah- wanted to see if- Hey, are you uh- I mean, is everything ok?”
Damn. That was probably not the best way to ask about that. But they’d feel kind of bad dragging her away from something… important? For once, their concern is genuine, setting aside their usual theatrics. “I can come back later, or something. If now is a bad time. I figured I’d stop by and see if you wanted to go on a trip with me, but it doesn’t have to be right now.”
Remembering themself, they try for a smile. “Anytime works, really. You know me.”
“Yeah well, I feel bad for making you wait, regardless of how long it is.” Lily chuckled a little as she responded to Lark’s question. It probably would only be a handful of seconds to them, but still. It felt wrong, and an almost trivial use of her friend’s power simply because she was busy. They sprawled out opposite her and for a moment Lily pretended this was normal. That they were just two friends, chilling out together, instead of randomly crossing paths every so often. Correction. Instead of Lark randomly showing up every so often wanting to chat. She didn’t know why, but she figured Lark had something bigger going on that demanded most of their attention. After all, if she had time travel, she’d probably be busy as fuck too.
Lark’s questioning snapped her out of her own head. Why did they have to ask that question? Everything definitely wasn’t okay but she wasn’t gonna spoil Lark’s visit by making them deal with her bullshit. She flashed them a smile, trying her best to hide the sadness in her eyes. She nearly jumped out of the chair when Lark mentioned coming back later.
“No!” The words came out too quick, too desperate. She tried again. “No, it’s just. Y’know. Sometimes you can’t let go of the past.” Lily let out a weak chuckle. “It’s all good, nothing to worry about. I’d love to go on a trip with you.” She left out the fact that, anytime may work for them, but she wasn’t sure when she would be able to pull herself together again. "Uh, let's see. Time, place, anywhere, anywhen." Lily was rambling now, trying to put the urgency of their previous comment behind them. A thought dawned on her, and she couldn't help smiling at it. "Y'know, I've always wanted to do pirate shit."
Lark isn’t fooled for a second, but they do their best not to be too obvious about the fact that they see right through her ‘I’m totally ok I promise’ smile. They just sit up a little, tilting their head to the side. The couch turns their silver hair into a mess of static, but they don’t bother to smooth it back down.
Understanding dawns in their eyes, with a depth that spoke not of pity or sympathy but the empathy of knowing exactly the feeling she spoke of. Without another word, they let it go. “Alright. Cool.”
Ok, so that was two words, but the point stands. They drop back onto the couch with a huff, looking up at the ceiling. It’s a nice ceiling, if a little plain. They wonder how long it would take her to notice if they put a sticker up there.
“Pirates,” they muse, rather than voicing the unstoppable sticker machinations already in motion. Between one moment and the next, they take out their phone, doing a quick google. What? They don’t have all this shit memorized. “Well, the golden age might be stretching my range a little, but we can try. If not,” another brief moment of tapping around on their phone, holding it at arms length above them, “there are still some cool piratey guys in the 1800s. There should be a few me’s around then that I could use as an anchor point.”
There’s a flash of light, and then an entire pile of clothes is dumped directly onto their face. The more-current Lark splutters in offense as a new Lark leans on the back of the couch with a self-satisfied smirk. “Speak of the devil.”
“Why,” questions the Lark on the couch, dropping their phone on the floor in order to struggle their way out of the heap of fabric and leather. They’re laying down, and then in a blink they’re sitting up, most of the pile now scattered on the carpet.
The other Lark is finishing the tail end of a sentence, something like “-toes, lil me.”
The elder Lark, who really doesn’t look that much older - certainly not old enough to justify the nickname - turns their smile on Lily as they move around the couch, settling on the arm of it and ignoring their younger self’s indignance as they section out part of their hair to braid.
“There should be some trousers and a jacket in there for you. Gotta look the part.” They wink, then turn their attention to trying to wrangle their other self’s hair into some kind of acceptable configuration. The younger Lark turns to Lily as well, ignoring the disapproving tut from above as they interrupt the very important hair braiding process.
“Yeah, alright, looks like we’re doing this. Do I at least get a time period?” The last question is addressed to the Lark now sitting on the back of the couch, who leans down to murmur something into their ear. They nod, rolling their eyes slightly at whatever they hear.
“So yeah, we got the appropriate gear, clothes-wise. Which I would’ve asked about next,” they huff, a little pointed, but don’t honestly seem too upset. “Go for whatever look you want, I’m sure it’s here already. Let me know if you need help with the laces or anything.”
Lark let the subject go, which Lily was grateful for. She didn’t like the look in their eyes though. It didn’t say “I’m going to meddle and find out what’s wrong” so much as “I know exactly what’s wrong and I know what it feels like”. She wasn’t sure if that was better. They flumped back down onto the couch, staring up at her ceiling. A moment passed for her, probably several for them, and their phone was in their hands. It was a bit jarring, having a friend who jumped around when you were talking to them like a scratched CD. But of course she’d keep the CD. It had some of her favorite music on it.
“Wait shit, is it really that far back?” Lily began as Lark mentioned the golden age of piracy being a bit of a stretch. “Fuck, I’m bad with dates. We can try something el-” A flash of green light interrupted her protesting as a massive pile of clothes was dumped on Lark. She couldn’t help but laugh as the figure on her couch vanished from sight. They groaned in annoyance and, like a moment simply cut out, the clothes were scattered on the floor and the Larks were mid-sentence. Lily returned the smile to the “older” Lark and just sat there for a moment, enjoying the company of them. There was something oddly relaxing about the way Larks interacted, like siblings with their constant teasing.
A piece of clothing in the pile immediately caught her eye: a long blue sleeveless jacket or vest that looked like it would come down to around her calves. She had never been one for fashion, but suddenly Lily had the vision for the outfit she wanted. It was easy enough to locate some black breeches and soft brown leather boots. She dug around some more until she found a white shirt that could probably fit her and got to work. A spectral blue knife appeared in her hand and Lily began immediately cutting up the shirt, slicing off the sleeves and shortening the midsection. She held it up to herself a few times before taking off more until she was satisfied that it would rest somewhere around the base of her sternum. Eager to see her if her handiwork looked good, she scooped the clothes up in her arms and flashed the Larks a smile.
“I’ll be right back. You can change out here or in the bathroom if you want. Or, well, I suppose you can technically just do it whenever I blink.” With that, she carried her clothes to her bedroom and closed the door behind her.
Lark watches the butchering of the white shirt with amusement, resting their elbow on the arm of the couch and propping their head on a closed fist. Her proud smile catches them off-guard, and the reflexive smile they send back her way lacks all of the grandeur of their usual expressions, small and fond before they shift their hand to cover it and look away.
“Will do,” they answer, though it doesn’t answer much of anything.
As the door to Lily’s bedroom snaps shut, the two Larks exchange a glance. No words are needed between them, because Lark is well aware that any thoughts they have in this moment have already occurred to their future self. The benefits of being the same person, and sharing the same terrible, hilarious brain. The elder Lark ties off one last braid with a short length of twine, and they both stand at the same time.
Lark pulls a sheet of cat stickers from their pocket, tearing it in two and passing the bottom half to themself when the other iteration makes grabby hands. They get to work quickly, their muted conversation happening both in real time and in the space between seconds as they split up to tag out-of-the-way spots with cute little kitty cats.
“What do you think you’ll wear?” The older Lark asks, smoothing a black-and-white kitten sticker onto the underside of the coffee table.
“You would know better than me,” Lark mumbles, barely dodging the light retaliatory whap aimed at the back of their head. They peel another sticker off and slap it on the back of the couch. Then, because it’s an excellent spot, really, they add another sleeping cat beside the first. Wouldn’t want it getting lonely.
“Of course I do, but can we not get into the ‘chicken or the egg’ here and now? Maybe have an original idea for once.” They’re surprised by the hidden edge of annoyance in their voice, and they cast a quick look at their older self, who huffs and doesn’t look at them. “Doofus. Just pick something out.”
“Yeah, yeah. I will.” Rather than dwell on it, they turn away, kicking their shoes off so that they can hop up on the arm of the couch. The ceiling is now within reach, and the other Lark catches the back of the couch before it can tip. They glance at Lily’s still-closed bedroom door and stretch to place the small sticker as near to the corner as they can reach. “How long?”
“Two minutes,” comes the answer, almost before they’ve finished their question. They hum and hop down from the couch to survey their handiwork. They count at least five stickers within plain sight, and another ten hidden with various levels of stealth.
“Plenty of time.” They hold up their hand for a high-five that is quickly returned, and then stoop to pick up a shirt that seems promising. Everything is kind of scattered already, so they kick the clothing pile around a little until they unearth a high-low skirt and ankle high boots. They can’t resist glancing at the other Lark, a moment of hesitation before they shake their head and grab a pair of loose trousers and an oversized coat with long sleeves and deeper pockets.
Stop overthinking it. They can’t let causality make every decision for them.
The other Lark gives them a thumbs up, then disappears with a faint chime. Lark blinks the afterimage out of their vision and hurries to the bathroom to change, trying not to worry about the timer counting down but worrying a little anyways.
They change their clothes and start the very involved process of transferring everything from their old pockets to their new pockets, lightly kicking the door open so that Lily will know where they are if she really does stroll out right at the two minute mark.
Of course, because their internal clock is always accurate, the door creaks open right on schedule. They… alright, they might be just a little twitchy, because they drop one last handful of shuriken into their coat pocket and then pause time to scramble back to the couch, throwing themself down in a casual sprawl just as time starts up again.
So casual. So chill. They kick a foot up onto the couch and busy themself with tying up the laces of their boots. “Everything fit alright?”
As the door shut, Lily began to get dressed, her mind wandering all the while. What did Lark want from her, that was the question. Was it a good thing to be thinking about your friend? Absolutely not. But in her experience, most friends wanted something from you, whether they were willing to admit it or not. Plus, the fact that they just kinda came and went when they pleased and without much warning didn’t do anything to help that opinion.
She sighed as she pulled the newly-made crop top over her head, inspecting the length in a mirror before deciding it was good enough. They wouldn’t be like that, right? They’d checked on her when she’d foolishly let her emotions slip through. But had that been genuine care or did they just not want to bring a sad sack along on their time-hopping adventure?
Lily shook the thoughts out of her head. No. Lark was her friend. She knew that. She tried remembering what Dr. Holt had told her, that it took time for the habits the Lotus had ingrained in her to wear off, that noticing them and acknowledging that was the first step in helping to break those habits. She pulled the boots onto her feet and gave herself a good look in the mirror. The jacket had a bit more heft than she was used to but she’d adapt, and keeping her guns on display would ensure that anyone would think twice before messing with her. She lived by the motto “sleeves are bullshit” and was glad that Lark’s clothing choices reflected that. She was missing a couple things, but she could fix that in a little bit. Mostly satisfied, Lily stepped out of her room and immediately let out a sigh of faux disappointment.
“Really Lark? I swear, I can’t leave you alone for five minutes. Guess the love of stickers hasn’t faded with time.” Her living room had been tagged with seven cat stickers that she could see, and she knew the Larks had probably hidden at least a half dozen more in even more obscure locations. She reached down to grab a belt with an empty scabbard, wondering how they knew. Time travel, as usual, was the probable answer.
“It all fits great. Almost as though the person who got the clothing knows my size.” she teased as she slung the belt around her waist, cinching it tight and adjusted it so the scabbard was on her left hip. She reached over it, as if grasping the handle of some unseen sword, and drew the blade, summoning a cobalt cutlass into her hand. She twirled it experimentally before sliding it into the new scabbard, where it unsurprisingly fit perfectly.
“So what’s the plan? I know I was a bit vague with time and ideas, but I figured future you had some pointers or guidelines.” Lily perched on the arm of her couch, smiling at Lark as she took in their pirate outfit. They were certainly something. “One hell of an outfit you’ve put together. Lark, Scourge of the Seven Seas.”
When Lily walks back into the living room, Lark looks up from their shoelaces, the beginnings of a joke formulating in their mind. Their train of thought immediately derails when they actually see her, unfortunately, because she looks good as a pirate.
Damn it. A little warning would have been nice, they viciously think in the general temporal direction of their future self. It’s no use; they can already tell they’re going to be completely unhelpful about this later. But hey, at least Lily doesn’t look as sad anymore now that she’s got something to focus on. Handsome women shouldn’t be sad, that’s basically a crime or something.
Boy howdy. They push those thoughts aside before they say something stupid and actually do have to remember to travel back here and shut themself up. She clocks some of the stickers right away, naturally, and they busy themself with tying up their other boot so they don’t have to keep trying not to stare at her. “Stickers are eternal and amazing, and I won’t hear otherwise.”
Her comment on sizing earns a shrug and half of a smug smirk. “Don’t discount the mundane applications of time travel.”
She draws their attention again, but at least this time they have the excuse of staring at the spectral sword in her hand rather than trying not to think tricky, unhelpful, unnecessary thoughts. They forget, sometimes, that they aren’t the only one with unnecessarily flashy and color-coded powers. They’ve seen this trick before, they think - Still Creek, or, even further, when they met her as a kid. Huh. They’ve somehow caught up to a time when she’s more comfortable with it.
They aren’t sure what kind of expression they’re making as they glance from the sword to her face. Maybe a little impressed, maybe a little awed, maybe a tinge of melancholy for flavor. They wipe it all away with an enigmatic smile, one of the ones they’ve practiced to perfection over the years.
“Let’s hope I don’t make too much of a name for myself. I already can’t go near history textbooks.” They joke easily, half-truths coming as easily to them as air. “As for the plan, the plan is…”
They take a dramatic pause, but not for too long because they’ve well and truly wasted all their patience on one very important thing. “Have fun!”
Lark gets to their feet and walks over to stand beside her, bumping her shoulder with the side of a loosely curled fist. “Kidding. Kind of. Not really, actually, but there is a little more to it.”
They reach out a hand to tangle in her hair - no, actually, they’re just snatching her hair tie, scratch that. They unloop it with a quick twist and toss it onto the coffee table in the same movement, grinning. “Step one: try not to bring anything back that hasn’t been invented yet. You’ll also want to leave your phone, it won’t work regardless.”
“Can I do your hair? Yeah? Great.” They wait for her assent but not much longer before they section out her hair with careful concentration. This is familiar territory, though it’s rare to work with hair this short. And the undercut… hmm. Nothing they can do about that, really, but pirates probably won’t care too much about weird hairstyles. “Looking the part is important, but there are some ground rules to keep in mind.”
They begin a braid swiftly, trying not to tug too much. It’s a lot easier when they already know what hurts and what doesn’t, they muse. “Try to blend in if you can. Don’t reference events in the future. Try not to kill anyone unless it really is unavoidable.”
Is that all? They have to think about it for a moment, because usually they just follow intuition. The hairstyle is coming together nicely, and periodically they’ll dip into one of their pockets to retrieve a length of twine, occasionally snapping the thread with their teeth. “I think that’s all. Any questions?”
A faint blush touched Lily’s cheeks as Lark stared at her, a presumably half-formed joke hanging from the lips of their slightly agape mouth. She hadn’t put much thought into the outfit, it had just sort of come together, but she’d seen the expression on Lark’s face a handful of times before, on someone else. Why was she getting flustered, she wasn’t supposed to. Lily was thankful when Lark shifted their attention to their shoes, allowing Lily a brief moment to have an internal breakdown about why she was suddenly getting flustered over someone looking at her like she was hot shit. She knew she was, hell that’s why she’d picked the outfit. Of course she knew the reason why, but she refused to acknowledge it. Plus, she was probably wrong anyways. But if she was right…..
Saved by the bell, Lark chimed in again, preaching the merits of stickers, which Lily could hardly argue with. She still had the ones that Lark had given her when they were younger. God that was a weird way of thinking about things. Does that mean she’s technically known them since they were a kid? Lily shook her head, clearing her thoughts. What was with her today? Too much holing up in here, she needed to get out. Speaking of which, Lark was telling the plan and she probably should listen.
She chuckled at the mention of history textbooks, and nodded an affirmation when they asked to do her hair. She certainly had no skill in it, and they seemed to have much more experience. She closed her eyes as she felt Lark’s fingers running through her hair, and unconsciously let out a sigh of relaxation. Her eyes immediately snapped open as she realized what she’d done, and she mentally kicked herself both for the sigh and for her reaction to it. She turned her attention to her friend braiding her hair, going over ground rules for time travel.
“Awww, so I can’t go and stab Blackbeard? That would’ve been cool.” Lily joked. “But seriously, I get it. Try not to change history, because otherwise shit will get fucky. Loud and clear.” She gave Lark a thumbs-up behind her.
“Oh wait, is that why you’re doing my hair? Put it in a more period-appropriate style? Or did you just want an excuse to play with it?” Lily cut off the words a second too late, the flirting coming naturally as she kicked herself for the second time. Friends, friends, friends, friends dammit. The last thing she needed was to push Lark away, too.
Lark is glad to see the thumbs-up, pleased that they were able to get everything across in an orderly manner. Who says they’re terrible at explanations? They totally explained everything that needed to be said. And there’s nothing else to explain. Not now. Not for a while. Their thoughts drift for a moment and they tug listlessly on a lock of brown hair rather than braiding it.
So, suffice to say, her question catches them completely off-guard. Their face goes red and they are suddenly very grateful that they’re standing behind her where she (hopefully) can’t see it. “Um.”
Oh, they really don’t know how to respond to that. What’s a normal thing to say? The world around them goes still, the ambient buzz of electronics cutting out and the air going flat as they pull time to a hasty stop to gather their thoughts. Then they realize they’re still holding onto her hair, and the time stop isn’t very effective at all if she’s also in it oh my god.
They let time resume and try their best to pretend as though the past few seconds never happened. They’re all too aware of her presence now, even as they wrangle themself back under control through sheer force of will. If they pretend everything is normal, then maybe they can make it true retroactively.
One last braid gets tied off, and they paste a smile onto their face and ruffle a hand through the unbraided section like it’s something they do every day. Don’t think about it too much. They just have to do what they always do - fall back on the facade. They pull their hands away just a little too quickly when they go to dig through their pockets, letting their mouth run all the while. “It’s - yeah, some modern hairstyles will earn you some double-takes back in ye olden days. Then again, there are always some questionable choices from the nobility, usually with wigs and everything. So much powder, don’t even get me started. Or the military, but you mainly have to worry about that in other countries. So. Uh. This should be fine?”
That wasn’t supposed to sound like a question. They try again. “This should be fine. Could even just leave it loose, but then it might get a little too warm, and we wouldn’t want that.”
That’s more convincing. They feel very convinced, and steady enough to finish their work. Before they can overthink it again, they begin the process of gathering her hair up to put it in a ponytail, a blue ribbon held lightly between their teeth. This involves a lot of running their fingers along her hairline to get all the stray hairs in line, but luckily she’s got a lot less volume than they’re used to and it’s over with quickly, secured with a knot rather than a bow. They don’t think a bow would really be her style.
“Done. Let’s get going, yeah?” They’re relieved to step away, though they try their best not to show it. They give her time to stand and face them again as they mentally prepare for the jump. When they think they’ve almost got it, they offer her their hand, held out like for a handshake. But rather than holding onto her hand they get a firm grip on her wrist.
“So. Don’t let go,” they say, faux-casual as their eyes brighten in a too-literal sense. Green static lifts their hair on end, their gaze burning neon before they’re off, pulled into the rushing green of the timestream. Their focus narrows to the point of contact as they cast their senses back, further and further and further. Not the future, not the present, into the past. Where’s the anchor? They skim through the eras at their disposal, discarding the ones in the 1900s and reaching for that distant pull.
Like calls to like. Lark calls to Lark. Their atoms revolt as they’re pulled together again and deposited at the furthest end of the road that they can reach in one jump. Their hand burns fever-hot against Lily’s and they sway as the world turns underneath them again. Afterimages swim in their vision. They can feel the sparks in their teeth like pop rocks.
A hand lands on their shoulder, and the impression fades. They shake away the daze enough to turn and look at the future Lark standing just behind them. The air is hot and slow, with the crashing of waves too-distant for a moment before that, too, snaps back into focus. They realize they were canting towards Lily and course-correct to instead lean against the other Lark, releasing her wrist as less than an afterthought. “Cool.”
The older Lark flicks them right between the eyes, and they flinch at the unexpected betrayal. They don’t get the chance to dredge up anything else to defend themself before the other Lark admonishes them. “Small jumps, Lark, especially with passengers. Amateur.”
While they’re chewing on that, their backrest turns their attention to Lily. “Welcome to the 1700’s. How do you feel?”
Lily’s heart sank as that single, noncommittal word dropped from their lips. They could have joked back, or acted confused, either of those would have been fine and absolutely preferable to the anguish she was feeling in that moment. Everything went still, as if holding its breath for Lark to continue their response. Suddenly the world snapped back into place, and they were still braiding her hair. Good. Hopefully that meant they weren’t disgusted with her for even daring to think they’d be into her. She tries to ignore the painful fluttering in her chest as they ruffle a hand through her hair and explain that modern hairstyles can usually cause some issues, which was understandable. Lily made a faint noise of understanding, still trying to catch the butterflies fluttering around her ribcage.
After a handful more close calls as Lark ran their fingers through her hair, what had started as a simple hairstyle change had mercifully finished. Lily hoped her cheeks weren’t burning too much as she stood and smiled at Lark. They put out their hand and she grabbed it, confused. Their grip tightened around her wrist as their eyes began to flash a bright emerald. The bottom falls out beneath Lily, and suddenly she’s immersed in a verdant expanse, both nowhere and everywhere at once. Swimming oceans of green surrounded her, energy crackling through the air, and after a bit of staring she had to squeeze her eyes shut. She wasn’t swimming, wasn’t flying, wasn’t floating. The only constant was the scarred hand clamped onto her wrist, and hers on theirs.
As abruptly as the bottom fell out, it slammed back into place. Lily faltered slightly, the sensations of feeling all returning at once. The warm, sticky air, the crash of waves, the smell of salt in the air. The suddenness of it all almost made Lily forget the hand pressing against her wrist. Almost. Lark begins swaying and Lily’s ready to catch them before another Lark steps in, supporting their other self. Lily plopped down onto the ground, arms resting on her knees.
“Not gonna lie, feel kinda sick. Is that always what it’s like when time traveling?” She stared out at the sea, trying to steady her breathing and ensure she didn’t leave the contents of her stomach in the 1700s. She looked back at the Larks after a few minutes, at the reprimanded one who had brought her here in an apparently ill-advised single jump.
“You didn’t have to show off, y’know. I would’ve been impressed either way.” Lily half-joked, hoping to get some semblance of normalcy going again.
Lark takes a moment to gather their thoughts, adjusting their jacket and fluffing out their hair just to give them something to do. They very pointedly don’t look at their future self, even as they’re steadied onto their own two feet and the presence at their back wanders away. They aren’t pouting. They’ll sue whoever says they’re pouting.
They’re just… trying to think of a good argument. They start with the easy stuff. “Sometimes. Not always.”
Still feeling a little like burnt scrambled eggs, they lower themself down to sit beside Lily. It’s quiet for a moment, and they take this chance to get an idea of their new surroundings. It’s a criminally beautiful day, the sun bright overhead. They’re on a hard-packed dirt path that must belong to a shore town, but they can only infer the presence of other people by the voices drifting in from past the houses bracketing them to either side.
Their older self is hovering a little ways away, and when they catch their eye they look away too quickly. Something’s up, there. Their future self shifts their gaze to Lily, and something indescribably complex flashes in their eyes. They don’t linger, just smiling at Lark and disappearing around the corner of one of the houses.
Whatever. They’ll figure it out later. They return their attention to Lily, watching her carefully. The concern fades quickly enough, replaced by their usual easy-going smile as they bump a shoulder against hers. “What, that old trick? Hardly impressive, I go this far back all the time.”
They manage to keep a straight face for all of a second before it cracks into a rueful grin. They can’t look at her when they’re being honest, so they focus on the line of grass stubbornly clinging to the exterior wall of the house on their left. “It was more for me than you, rappelling is harder than you’d think. We can take the whistle-stop tour on the way back.”
With that cryptic statement out of the way, they push themself up to stand and lean down to offer her a hand up. The sun burns hot at their back, and they’re already itching to get closer to the water where it might be a little cooler. “Ready to go meet some pirates?”
Just past noon on a weekday, they’re betting they know where to find some rowdy customers. There’s got to be a tavern somewhere in this town.
Lily flashed a smile at Lark as they sat down beside them, the future Lark lurking ominously a bit away before disappearing, either literally or figuratively, behind another house. For a moment she just enjoyed the feelings, the sun on her face, the faint salt taste to the air, the warm breeze just gently brushing against her. Lark bumped their shoulder against hers and she chuckled.
“Yeah right, I’m sure you say that to all the girls you bring back to pirate times.” She playfully jabbed an elbow at them. It’s nice, this moment. Just the two of them, maybe a third depending on whether the other Lark was still around, and they were just having a time. She accepted their hand and heaved herself into a standing position, maybe holding onto the hand for a half-second too long, but who’s counting? Certainly not her.
As they mention finding pirates, Lily gave a whoop of enthusiasm. The air felt thicker and the previously relaxing warmth of the sun had already overstayed its welcome and the cool sea breeze now called her name. She fell into step beside them, an arm casually slung over their shoulders.
“Picture it, Lark.” She started in a faux gruff voice. “Ocean as far as the eye can see, all the grog you can drink, and treasure aplenty.”
Lark laughs a little too quickly when she mentions other girls, surprising themself with the sound. Their ears burn at the tips and they lift a hand to their mouth to hide their disbelief. Is that really what she thinks of them?
They try to roll with it regardless of their feelings on the matter. Just like they try to pretend not to notice as her hand lingers in theirs for a second and a half past what’s strictly necessary. “Haha, yeah. That’s me, always ready to snatch a pr- um, a-”
Time flickers, and they’ve regained their cool enough to turn and start walking. They almost miss a step when she throws her arm around their shoulders. Shrugging her off would be rude, so they swallow down the knee-jerk response to do just that. It’s fine, they’re fine, they won’t need to pull a quick escape from her, so there’s no use worrying about it.
They worry about it regardless. They aren’t sure what to do with their arms, quickly shutting down the idea of putting an arm around her waist before they can do more than twitch their hands in their pockets. That would definitely cross the line into too much. Slowly, they relax, bumping their shoulder into her side. “I don’t have to picture it, and soon neither will you.”
Granted, they haven’t been to this precise time, but they’ve been to similar enough places. The people on the street are a little rough and a little squinty-eyed, skin tanned by the sun and hands rough from labor, but no one pays them too much mind as Lark guides them both towards the sound of music and raised voices.
Lark glances at Lily out of the corner of their eye. If they turned to face her they’d be too close, so they don’t, but they watch her expressions as she looks around. This is old hat for them, completely new for her. They try to remember their first trip to the past, but the memories are buried under countless others and they’re pulling up to the tavern before they can unearth it.
“Act natural,” they murmur in her ear, before stepping aside with a little regret as the warm weight of her arm falls away. Then they nudge her again before she can get too serious, and push open the doors to a bustling scene.
The docks are visible through the windows at the back of the tavern, and a fresh sea breeze rolls across several groups of rough-looking men and women and two harried waitresses- no, tavern maids. A bartender- tavernkeep -stands behind the bar, leaning across to laugh with a man sitting on a stool opposite. Someone’s playing a stringed instrument in the corner. It’s a cozy, familiar scene.
Lark doesn’t fit in at all, but they’re going to pretend they do until everyone else agrees.
Lark walked them through the town, the people glancing in their direction. It didn’t seem to be out of suspicion, just the presence of something new brought attention. This attention quickly faded though, and eyes slid off them back to whatever tasks were at hand. Lily’s eyes darted around, absorbing all the sights of a new time. That was a weird thought, that she and Lark were part of history now, that there may be offhand remarks in journals that scholars would study that mentioned the appearance of two strangers with no ties to the land who vanished just as mysteriously as they had arrived.
Speaking of whom, Lily was trying to ignore the glimmers of satisfaction that came with having their arm wrapped around Lark. It was just the fact that she hadn’t been around friends in a while, surely. She wasn’t sure what was more disorienting, to be honest: focusing on the fact that they were centuries in the past, or focusing on their closeness to her. Lily shook herself back to the present, or past rather, as Lark led them towards a building that seems to be of the taverny type.
A warning was whispered into her ear and before Lily could properly overthink the ramifications of how close Lark’s lips were to her, they whisked her into the tavern. It was exactly as you would imagine it, a beat-up place with the salt wind blowing through, rough-and-tumble men and women drinking, laughing, playing games. Lily couldn’t help but grin at the place. It reminded her of the dives she’d frequented during her more rebellious times as a teenager. She dragged Lark over to an empty table a little ways from everything where they would stand out less.
“Holy shit this is exciting! Like this is more than I ever thought it would be!” Lily spoke quickly in hushed tones, her excitement plainly on display. “Should we get drinks? Wait, how does money work? Did you already give it to yourself? Or are you the one who gets the money to then give it to you later on?”
Lark barely has a moment to look around before Lily tugs at their elbow, and they follow her to a table near the corner with her hand scrunched in their jacket. She’s… tactile, today. Which is preferable to having her wander off, but also sets off entirely misguided alarms that they have to mentally smother.
Even so, it’s well worth the effort. More than anything, they want to remember her here, in this moment. Her smile, the way her eyes light up, how she turns to them like they’ve let her in on an amazing secret. In a way, they suppose they kind of have. And maybe they don’t strictly need the extra second to ingrain all of that in their memory, but they take it regardless.
The table is sanded wood, tall enough to stand around and rest a few drinks on. Lark rests an elbow on the edge of it and digs into their pocket, leaning in a little so that she can hear them over the chatter of everyone else.
“Yes, we should get drinks. I’ve got some money, which I guess we’ll earn or… liberate, later.” They give her a conspiratorial smile and flip a heavy coin her way, leaving the rest in their pocket for safekeeping. “It’s… uh, best not to get too caught up in the specifics. How does the economy work back in the present, anyways? Who knows?”
Their gaze darts across the room, drawn to a flash of silver, but their future self is already out of sight again. Instead, they meet the eyes of a heavyset woman with a shock of ginger hair and an authoritative air about her. They offer her a smile, and she raises her mug in their direction before turning back to the game on the table before her.
Coincidence, or not-so-subtle hint? They make a mental note and turn to Lily again, for one last piece of advice they nearly forgot. “Also, try not to get separated from me. You really don’t want to take the long way back, trust me. I mean, I could probably find you, but it’s easier if I don’t have to.”
Lily deftly caught the coin out of the air, spinning it around to examine it. The coin had heft, and the detail on it was obviously less than modern ones. But still, it was recognizable enough to not be easy to counterfeit. She wasn’t sure how Lark had got it, but she decided to just take their advice and not get caught up in the specifics.
She caught Lark getting a raised mug from a woman in the back. Lily chuckled. “Seems like you’ve got an admirer, Lark. Thought we were supposed to be laying low.” She did her best to ignore the fact that they had an admirer right across from them. An awkward silence was thankfully broken by them reminding Lily not to get separated.
“Yeah no I’d prefer not to die this far back.” Lily flipped the coin in her hand. “But I’m gonna separate anyways real quick. Gonna go grab a drink. You want one?” She’d wait for Lark’s answer before sidling up to the bar and flagging down the bartender.
“Laying low means blending in,” Lark reminds her, but it’s barely a mumble. They’re distracted for a moment, running mental math as they try to settle on an approach. Their fingers drum on the table in 3/4 time before they catch themself and tuck their hands back in their pockets. “Sure, get me one.”
They haven’t decided yet whether they’ll drink it, but they’ll stick out less if they have something in their hands. While Lily heads in the direction of the bar, Lark lingers at the table for a moment. They spin a mental wheel and land on ‘eh why not,’ so they make their way over to the red-haired woman.
Closer to the table, they can see a familiar layout to the cards. There are three people at the table with the woman, and space enough for at least three more. Each person has a pile of coin in front of them, and a quick glance is enough to tell them that the ginger is winning handsomely.
The round concludes, this one going to a man with a bandanna tied around his head and an easy smile on his bearded face. Ginger rolls her eyes at him, then looks up at Lark as they rest their hands on the back of one of the empty chairs.
“Hello there,” they greet, gaze sweeping over the table and then back to her. Casual, relaxed. Of course they belong here, why would anyone assume they didn’t? “Room for one or two more?”
Ginger grins, sharp. Her voice is rough. “Well, is it one, or is it two?”
Lark slides into the seat easily and tucks their hair behind their ear just to see if she’s watching them that closely. She is. They play it up, flicking a coin up from behind their hand and rolling it across their knuckles. “One now, but my friend should be over soon.”
“Well, I suppose we could fit you in.” Hook, line, sinker. The coin drops to the table with a clink, soon joined by a few others. As they wait to be dealt in, they check back on Lily’s progress, keeping her in their periphery. Just in case.
Lily gave a brief nod before making her way over to the bar. She was slightly surprised, she’d expected Lark to politely decline her offer. They didn’t strike her as a drinker, at least not one with the sort of misspent youth that she had. Then again, perhaps all that time traveling paired nicely with a cold beer at the end of the day. There were certainly worse ways to relax.
She reached the bar, about to raise a hand to flag down the bartender before he caught her eye. It apparently wasn’t nearly as busy as she thought it would. But then again, it seemed like there were only two types of booze here: strong and stronger. He gave her a quick look that Lily feared meant she would be found out, but he seemed used to odd characters as he leaned against the soft, scarred wood with a sigh.
“What’ll it be?” The scent of tobacco hung heavily around him, and though he’d taken more than a few sips from his mug over the short time she’d been there, his gaze was clear and sharp.
“Two of whatever’s the house special.” Lily slid the coin across the counter, hoping that her tone carried enough of a joking tone to indicate that she definitely knew what this place had and definitely knew how to order it. For a moment she was afraid she’d failed, but the bartender just let out a chuckle, slapping his hand over the coin and dragging it across the bar.
“This should be good for a few. I’ll keep yer mugs full.” He chuckled again before producing two worn mugs filled with some liquid that she assumed was alcoholic in nature. Lily grabbed both, raised one in thanks, and turned to head back to her table. Lark wasn’t there. A brief panic entered her mind, that Lark had just left her in the past. No, they wouldn’t do that. And indeed they hadn’t. She spotted them sitting down at the table with the redheaded woman. Lily moved their way, weaving between people, until she slid into a seat next to Lark, placing a mug in front of them.
“I can’t take you anywhere. Hasn’t been ten minutes and you’re already gambling.” She joked, hoping this wouldn’t all go south. God, how did they do this all the time? She was constantly worried about sticking out like a sore thumb.