Blue’s lips part and move; the air vibrates between the two of them, already full of buzzing insects and the sound of grass in an easy breeze—but the range of frequencies Red perceives has narrowed to a point and she only hears an intake of breath and a:
The morning swallows the words and they’re gone.
She’s standing before her in a light of two suns so bright that it barely leaves any shadows. Red can see every thread of her vermilion shirt against the greenery of the meadow they’ve chosen, every strand of the braid slung over her shoulder, which is, curiously enough, half unmade. She wonders if it’s intended as a joke between the lines or if it’s nothing at all, just carelessness and wind.
There were messages to be read in seeds, tea leaves and bee dances, messages to be read on, but also in paper. Red has rolled knots between her fingers, and they meant: we’re far. She has read dozens of her nicknames in lava and dust, and they meant: time stretches between us, I had enough of it to go word hunting and lay the game at your feet. She has traced rings in the heart of a tree, and they meant: it’s a code no one but you will be able to find and understand before you destroy it; a secret.
They continued to write after Red escaped, circled each other closer and closer, tangling the strands of time, the thread fraying, ruined, unworkable for the Garden and the Agency, but easily followed by someone who knew its structure; making sure not to meet before they’ve made a here and now for both of them. The here and now is Blue, smiling, a short walk from a nearby city and a shorter one from a house they’ve assured has been built recently. Blue is smiling and waiting, because there are rules about messages and they shouldn’t be left unanswered, Red knows. She has read Mrs Levitt’s guide carefully.
“Hello, Blue,” she says, and although her letters always ran long, she finds she has no more to add. Her eyes return again and again to the patch of colour that is and isn’t Blue, and she wants to run her fingers through her hair, ruffle it further, be certain.
They walk. Silence stretches between them and Red becomes convinced there’s intention in the whisper of Blue’s clothing and the shine of her hair, because it’s hard to imagine they could hold so much meaning otherwise. No words, and yet a message. She wonders if Blue can hear the faint hum of her pumps working as they follow a narrow path, and then a wider gravel road to the edge of a forest. Red has walked this road and been in the house before, but she was alone; it’s something quite different with the context for it at her side, opening a small metal gate to the sudden reality and newness of their choice. She rarely got long assignments the way Blue did, it wasn’t Agency’s style. She danced and burned and run, until—this. Sunlit walls white like a fresh sheet of paper.
Red tenses before she understands why.
A rustle, somewhere to the right, less than fifty meters, coming closer, speeding up; a blade almost grazes the skin from the inside of her arm. She has long enough to think—the Agency or the Garden? already? did they forget something, were they not thorough enough, have they been followed?—and to realize Blue is calm at her side, even though her senses are no less keen.
She pauses. Something black shoots out from among the trees, starting to yap the moment it’s out in the open and making a beeline for Blue, who takes a few steps towards it. It is, to all appearances, something vaguely doglike, though perhaps more in spirit than appearances, looking like a creature that has heard about dogs and was working hard on becoming one. It has a body slightly smaller than a wolf’s, holding a promise of growing much bigger. Several rows of teeth that on closer look Red knows are inorganic and diamond-sharp sit deep in its muzzle, but its excited jumps speak of domestication.
And it’s barking like it wants the whole of this little world they’ve braided to hear it, unafraid, straightforward and sure of being understood. It says: I’m here and you’re here. Let everyone hear me. I want you to ruffle my fur and it’s very urgent.
Blue pets it and enters the house, throwing Red a look over her shoulder. The dog follows her inside.
The interior is modest, a few pieces of furniture, large windows. The faint smell of wood and fresh paint, white like on the outside, still not diffused. Red passes several bare shelves and she thinks that she can’t wait to fill them with books they will find and read and discuss.
Blue is sitting down on a small sofa, scratching the dog at her feet behind its ears, an inky splash in the whiteness of the room; and looking at them, Red suddenly finds herself full of words, simple, silly words one doesn’t go hunting for. She wants to ask about the dog. Ask about the shirt, perhaps. She hopes the air of this world will carry them all, and that she will soon make a mess of Blue’s braid, enticingly close when she sits down beside her. That the braid of time they’ve tangled up is strong enough to support them—not forever, there is never a forever, but for a while of here and now.
“Why did you–” she starts to say.
“I brought him with me when–” says Blue at the same time, and Red laughs, loud, discovering with no small amount of delight that she loves to be interrupted.
The dog nuzzles Blue’s knee.
“Did you bring him just because I mentioned a dog in that letter?”
Blue smiles. “I wanted to keep some animal around as well. A cat would do, or, you know, something local.” She sighs dramatically. “But you always say things before I manage to.”
Red thinks on it for a moment. She feels Blue listening to her, and feeling listened to turns out to be very different than imagining being read.
“I don’t think that’s quite true. You always reach out first.”
Blue’s smile grows wider and she takes her hand, lacing their fingers together. A red sleeve brushes Red’s thigh, who raises her other hand to bury it in Blue’s hair. It seems like the immediate future of their correspondance lies in waves of sound, color and shivers down spines; lies firmly in the present.
“And you always answer,” says Blue.